In Ireland, a British-controlled education did not bring any benefit and the students were subjected merely to Saxon-oriented curricula. The English language was imposed at the primary and secondary school level replacing Irish. There was even a ban on teaching Irish history and society.
What Tagore emphasised was the fact that merely copying the European way of teaching could not yield any positive result. There was need to innovate in accordance with the aspirations of our country and its historical, cultural and social evolution. An elitist education system, which was not in consonance with the society and its people, w6uld be counter-productive.
It would fail to develop any link with one’s society and thus remain artificial and irrelevant. Tagore contrasted this artificially imposed Western education with the ancient Indian educational system. Unlike the present state-sponsored education, the basic of ancient Indian education was that it was independent, self-sustaining and intimately linked with human existence.
Living with the guru and his family in natural surroundings gave the young impressionable mind an opportunity to develop in a spontaneous manner. This was unthinkable in modern India and the result was the emergence of mechanical individuals rather than thinking human beings.
Education to Develop Human Capacities and Thinking:
Tagore also cautioned against a major drawback of the ancient Indian educational system: it was restrictive. He emphasised the need for an open space, clear blue skies, natural surroundings as a precondition for developing both mind and body. Such an atmosphere existed in pre-British period and its absence explained the basic reason for the failure of the modern Indian educational system.
For Tagore, education was not just about training to get a job but to develop human capacities and thinking. It was a quest for knowledge that would create self-confidence and self-reliance. He desired a system that could be sustained without government patronage.
An ideal basis of educational system in India ought to incorporate studies of Vedic literature, the Puranas, Buddhist and Jain literature along with the more recent ones that emanate from Islamic, Parsi and European civilisations.
This allowed the evolution and a social acceptance of a universal order. What India lacked was faith in universal values and that led to narrowness, a feeling of dependency out of this localism and build an educational system which would emphasise human unity and universal cooperation.
This idealism led him to initiate the project of Visva Bharati. He also asserted that even if we were deficient in resources we could always make it up in human resources by building up modern centres of learning in the tradition of Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramshila where the very best from distant lands came and enriched themselves by quality and meaningful education.
His criticism of the Soviet educational system also emanated from a belief that totally state-sponsored educational system would retard independent thinking and creativity.