The Cultural DImension of Education And Ecology

Preliminary Report of the UNESCO Conference
As part of the UNESCO Chair activities at the IGNCA a four-day International Conference on the Cultural Dimension of Education and Ecology was held in New Delhi from 13 to 16 October 1995.
Thirty two technical contributors from different geo-cultural regions– Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Zimbabwe– presented their view points. Nepali culture was also represented. The conference worked toward building up a culture of peace, tolerance and non-voilence through a sharing of experience and concern between countries of Asia and Africa in discovering the interconnectedness between man, nature and culture as they impinge upon education and ecology. Success in this effort would lead to building up theories of social and cultural development.

The nations in this region broadly share the same ecology. They also share their colonial experience and, unlike some countries in the West, they have a rich cultural heritage. They have a firm faith in diversity rather than in homogenwization. They carry the burden of two cultures; one deeply entrenched in their psyche and the other emerging through contact with the West. They have also developed multi-level identities. The ‘modern’ education system eliminates people from their culture. There is a wide gap between the world of work and the world of books. As a result, the new generation is only partially educated in the real sense of the term. It has a split personality. The ecology of the region is deeply disturbed.

To get out of this morass, innovative experiments are being made in several countries. Gandhian ideals of basic education based upon learning by doing, involvement of the community, love and tolerance serve as beacon lights. Madam Oka’s School in Bali, Prof. Saraswati’s Lab School in Varanasi with multi-cultural approach to education, moral education through the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka, Shri Dwarkoji’s experiment with education of weaker sections in Bodhgaya are eloquent examples of such efforts. Students who have passed out of such schools would make a much better social and moral order than otherwise.

Although significant progress has been made in spreading education in different sections of society, it has not been possible to revamp the system. Also it has been widely decried as unproductive and out of tune with needs. Education is much more than literacy and unless educational strategies are changed results cannot be achieved. The non-formal stream seems to be more cost effective in comparison to the formal stream and has come to stay. Its instrumentality has to be determined. Since non-professional teachers are more effective, teachers education programmes have to be looked into. We may also have to change over from the current colonial objective of education and make it an instrument of service rather than an instrument of power. This would encompass the form, content and strategies of education. Such a changeover would have to bring back the cultural values which have been overshadowed up till now.

Culture in all societies provides for a way of life which is transmitted from generation to generation through well-recognised formal and informal channels. The process of societization adapts the child to his environment, makes him imbibe his tradition so that he becomes a useful member of his society. There is remarkable resemblance between the African model and the Indian model in this regard. The transmission process is given due regard to caring and sharing which are basic human values. All traditional cultures try to optimise the use of available resources in the best possible ways. They are based on traditional values which provide for sustainable development. The growth of population and the incursion of new values, market forces and faulty government policies have led to a destruction of the ecological balance and created crisis for humans, animals and plants. This disturbance impinges on the harmony between the community and the environment and thereby adversely affects the moral and social order. Instances of this phenomenon are to be found among the Oraon, Santal, Paharia and also in Garhwal Himalayas. Such disturbances have important gender implications. Women’s life is adversely affected by cutting of forests, extensive use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides etc. Reduction in the availability of fuel, fodder and safe drinking water and migration of menfolk for employment outside have made life difficult for them.

It is, therefore, necessary to evolve suitable strategies to solve the problems narrated above and restore the balance between culture, ecology and education. Steps taken in tribal Santal Parganas have yielded good results in respect of aberrations created by the excessive exploitation of environment. Men and women have gained in self confidence and improved their self-image. The educational experiments referred above have shown great promise. It may be necessary to question some of the current day dogmas regarding development and quality of life. We may have to redefine good life. Pursuit of consumerism and greed has to be curtailed. The needs of the many have to override the greed of the few. This will involve a drastic change in attitude and mindset of the people at large. In the entire effort, the NGOs have to play an enlarged role. They can formulate and workout people – oriented projects in the fields of education and ecology. Indeed we have to fall back on traditional wisdom to shape a better future. If we do not succeed by gentle persuasion, recourse may have to be taken to ‘Satyagrah’, an infallible instrument Gandhiji devised for such desperate situations.

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