In trying to find ways to enrich education, one of the things I started doing, was reading more about the Indian system of education in the pre Mughal era. And am surprised to know that there is so little information available on the Indian methods of education.
We have been fortunate, however, to pick up 3 gems that we will share here.
- It’s not a lesson. Its a conversation.
Bhaskaracharya wrote a book called “Leelavati Beej Ganit” . The format of the book is a dialogue between Lilavati and the author of the book.
Indian books and lessons rely heavily on the concept of Story telling. If a complete story telling is not possible, we convert it into a conversation between two people, to make it interesting. All of Panchatantra is narrated as a conversation. All of Mahabharata is recorded as a narration from a disciple of Rishi Veda Vyaas to the descendants of the Kuru clan. We use this technique extensively in our books too!
2. The teacher does not teach. The teacher asks questions.
A beautiful thing that we found in addition to the technique of Vartalaap was the technique of asking the right questions. When a teacher wanted the student to learn something profound, they did not give the lesson to the student. They asked the student difficult questions. The student would attempt to answer the Guru’s questions in a satisfactory manner and through this process, would arrive at the answer / gyaan.
The most famous example of this technique perhaps appears again in the Mahabharata, in the espisode where Guru Drona takes the princes to a spot, makes them take aim, and asks them, “What do you see?” All the princes, except Arjuna, respond that they see the tree, the bird, the branches etc. Only Arjuna replies that he can see nothing but the eye of the bird, that he is supposed to shoot. The lesson was that you must focus only on your endgoal and completely eliminate all distractions from your senses. It was not given. It was taken.
3. We do not merely memorise. To be called learned, we must analyse.
It is often assumed, erroneously, that the native Indian method of learning involves, basically, rote learning. Ergo, the oral transmission of the Vedas and the oral tradition of Indian classical music and dance. But that’s simply not true! In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
We first learn enunciation. Then we learn the text. And THEN, the education begins.
Not only did learning involve a critique of the subject at hand, the best analyses were also published with the name of the author (A very rare thing in Ancient India). You might have heard of some books that are ‘Teekas” on a certain book. A Teeka improves upon an original work and adds new perspectives.
Another word that appears often, is “Shastrarth” - literally meaning - the meaning of the Shastras. Sanskrit being the magical language that it is, the same phrase could mean a lot of different things. The ONLY way you could be a scholar, was to interpret that text, and argue your interpretation with other scholars. If you could not do a Shastrarth, you were not a learned person at all.
And this has fuelled in us a hunger to understand more cultural learning aids from around the world. What did education mean before we universalised it to mean the 3 Rs all over the world? How was education imparted? If you know any resources that could help us understand, or if you remember education techniques from your own family, please do share.