Lessons from the Gurukul System

I am sure that if you are in the field of higher education you would have come across terms such as experiential learning, holistic education, choice-based system, student-centric education, and transformational education. These have, to a large extent become the buzz words in the field of education, not only in India but in most parts of the world. Many of these concepts were introduced by universities in the west and then slowly found their way to universities worldwide, including India. But the real origin of these concepts lies in the age-old Gurukul System, which prevailed in ancient India. The whole Gurukul system was based on experiential learning and was practice based with subjects such as astronomy, medicine, philosophy, political science, economics, religion, yoga, physical education, and defense studies as its major components. However, there were no exams and no one ever failed. So students had to stay in the Gurukul as long as they were not ready to leave which was determined by the Guru (Teacher). This is very similar to a credit-based system of the modern world. Once the Guru determined that the student was ready to go into the real world he was allowed to go. Thus, the duration of their study was flexible allowing quick learners to leave early and retaining those that took more time to learn. Such a system exists in many countries like the United States where the duration of the degree programs is flexible depending on the speed at which the student can complete the required credits.

The Gurukul system was highly dependent on the Guru (Teacher) who was responsible for the curriculum, the methods of delivery and the assessments. Learning was customized to each student’s needs rather than as a common curriculum. In determining this the Guru (Teacher) played a major role to structure the learning on the basis of their assessments about the students. Ethics and values played a major role in everything that was done during their learning period. But the most important was the fact that the Guru was a role model for the students. Students were proud to be students and had the opportunity to learn from the Guru. Such were the times that made education in India from which the world picked a lot but India lost it and waited for it to be repackaged.

Prof Kamlesh Misra

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