I don’t often write book reviews- in fact I hardly ever do.
Beloo Mehra’s training and professional experience (see her professional credentials below) make her eminently suitable to pen a book of this scope and depth on this topic.
My admiration for Beloo’s work and wisdom hardly needs reiteration. It is an admiration born one day at a time all through April 2014 as I read each chapter of this outstanding book as it appeared on her blog.
The foundation for my respect and reverence for the completeness of her ideas- being deep in their source and wide in their inclusiveness- was laid slowly. Since then, my respect has only grown; my appreciation has only deepened. There is nothing as thrilling and delightful than to meet a creator so integrated and one who matches her creation with such exquisite perfection.
Indian education must be rooted in the developing soul of India, to her future need, to the greatness of her coming self creation, to her eternal spirit. A truly nationalist education and curriculum are always inclusive in nature, and mindful of the great diversity that makes One India, United India. Indian Education must help children and educators develop love for their nation and a wide, universal appreciation of the diversity in the nation and the world.
When I decided to write about this book, I wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult as it turned out to be. I love every aspect of the book so completely that I’d be able to write about it forever, I thought. And that is exactly the challenge! I am supposed to be concise when everything within me demands to be elaborate, to be detached when I am deeply engaged.
Beloo’s thoughts resonate so well with me that I could indeed write forever about them- exclaiming, being amazed and delighted. But that wouldn’t do at all. I must try not to come across as a incoherent adolescent- too overwhelmed by her experiences to be able to make sense in her words. Let me use an analogy to tell you what I think of the book.
A beautiful garden takes hard-work and meticulous planning.
You can plan the layout of your garden, prepare the soil and then plant the seeds. In due season, the seeds will take root and push their tender little shoots above the soil to let the sun work his magic on them. If it were a perfect world, in a few days, you would have had a garden full or fragrant, colorful blooms to delight in.
But it isn’t a perfect world.
Along with your tender flowering plants, many weeds will raise their ugly heads too. But you knew the weeds would come. You knew it all along; you ought to have, if you are a worthy gardener.
There are two ways to deal with the weeds.
You can pull them out one by one as they come. This would be time-consuming. It would also not give you enough time to nurture your flowering bushes as they ought to be nurtured. The time you should spend giving them support, providing quality nourishment for their growth and pruning them when needed to ensure they grow healthy and strong, would be spent pulling out weeds. Plants don’t only need a weed-free soil to grow well, they need a lot more.
The other way of dealing with weeds is to invest some effort at the time of preparing the soil- before your garden is planted. If the soil is prepared in such a way as to discourage the weeds from coming up- by treating it organically or chemically- very few weeds will infest your garden. This will leave you enough time to devote to the health and well-being of your blooms and to plan ways in which they can be given avenues to be the best they can be.
The ABCs of Indian National Education is a means to tend to our garden in the second way. In her introduction, Beloo gives a clear and concise manifesto for the book- what it IS and what it is NOT. Her purpose is to Put India Back In Indian Education; a purpose in which- if her ideas were to be implemented- she will surely succeed resoundingly.
The title of the book is not haphazardly put together. With it, in five short words, she declares her intention.
ABCs: refer to the foundational concepts on which further ideas would be built. They also refer to the 26 letters of the alphabet through which she introduces 26 ideas/topics/themes that she would like to see as guiding, shaping or becoming part of an Indian National Education.
Indian: All aspects of education must be rooted in the developing soul of India, to her future need, to the greatness of her coming self creation, to her eternal spirit. Her rich spiritual traditions must help in creating the structure on which more can be built.
National: A truly nationalist education and curriculum are always inclusive in nature, and mindful of the great diversity that makes One India, United India. Indian Education must help children and educators develop love for their nation and a wide, universal appreciation of the diversity in the nation and the world.
Education: Ancient Indian wisdom understood the true meaning of education. The word educe means to draw out from within. This matches well with how education was thought of in ancient India. Education is a drawing out and a reminder of the learner’s own inner wisdom and truth. It is likened to the kindling of a fire which illuminates and lets the learner see the splendor that exists within.
Is this book for you?
You might think this book to be a technical treatise of use only to academics and educationists. But you would be wrong.
Whatever the stage of your life at present, this book is for you.
If you are an individual who is tired of endless (and inconclusive) debates and criticisms about Indian education where no solutions are ever offered, this book is for you.
If you are a victim of the education system (as all of us are) and have recently been spewed out by the industrial/information age worker generating machine, who wonders why he was trained for an economic system already dead, this book is for you. No, it will not wipe out what was already done, but it will surely tell you what you can do to help you get out of the mire the machine dumped you in.
If you are a parent with a child about to become fodder for the worker-generating machine, this book is for you. You may not be able to (though why not, pray) change the education policies of the nation, but you can surely supplement your child’s formal education with what she needs to make her formative years truly holistic.
If you are someone who is fed to the teeth with the rat race and are wondering why there shouldn’t be a better way to live life, this book is for you.
And if are an educator… this book is definitely for you. You are the one at the helm of shaping the destinies of this nation. For you to see the bigger picture, to see beyond your own subject and into the other parts which will make your work whole is certainly most essential.
About the author: Beloo Mehra is a Ph.D. in education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Masters in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. She was a professor for many years at Antioch University Midwest in Ohio, USA, teaching courses in curriculum design, academic writing, qualitative and feminist research.
In 2007, Beloo joined Sri Aurobindo Center for Advanced Research Pondicherry, as faculty and in-charge of academic programmes where she developed and facilitated courses in Foundations of Indian Culture, Integral Education and Integral Social Thought of Sri Aurobindo.