A question that people would often ask me is why did you get into education? You are from IIT, you could have taken up a corporate job or built a startup.
Keeping aside the personal interest and proclivity, that drive perhaps all conscious action, there is a purpose for which I chose to work in this area and encourage other friends and colleagues to make this a life mission.
The answer is in two parts – the surficial and the meta; the first order and the second order; the direct and the indirect; the short term and the long term. Let us explore these two parts.
First part first.
Education has a direct bearing on human development. Preparing young learners to do well in their professional and personal life is the fundamental outcome that education should serve. This is implied across all segments of education – primary, secondary, and higher education. The subjects and pedagogy in K12 schools, the competitive exams, the degrees, skilling courses, research programs, etc are broadly geared to fulfill this need.
At the level of the individual, education has the objective of providing a livelihood, generating a sense of character, and instilling civil pride and responsibility in the people. At the level of society and nation, good education leads to economic growth, social cohesion, and scientific innovation. The onus of making ‘successful’ individuals and communities is put on education and rightly so.
Now the second part.
If we intend to create success for individuals and groups of people, what is success? What gives joy to people? What are we seeking as an end goal? What is the purpose of human life? These are foundational questions that are continuously debated and discussed in public life as well as in one’s own mind. The direction for finding answers comes from the perspective from which we look at the questions. We deploy a worldview in finding answers to questions like these. Any worldview consists of certain beliefs about existence, humans, divinity, society, and so on and so forth. The worldview we use shapes the outcomes much more deeply than we usually believe. This directly influences what to teach, how to teach, and what kind of outcomes we expect from education.
This, in my opinion, is a battle of ideas. The worldviews are not simple, and each has its own set of values, restrictions, and flexibility. So Thus the process of asking the right questions and finding the right answers is a complex one. Academia plays a central role in understanding and providing worldviews, and consequently telling us what ideas and objectives that are worth pursuing. This is the larger and the lesser-discussed mandate of education.
Our civilization was a custodian of a certain wisdom, ideas, and methods in the pursuit of truth. The role models, known as the rishis, were leaders who embodied knowledge and worked for the benefit of society. In modern times, teachers, professors, and researchers play the role of understanding, creating, and disseminating knowledge. What is worth knowing and worth pursuing is a battle of ideas and the people in this battle are the people in education.
If we only solve the first part of education, we will end up becoming a richer and more advanced nation, also known as ‘a slightly poorer version of the west’. But that is not India’s destiny. India, like any other civilizational state, has a character of its own and it is essential to align its development to its character. This character is an expression of its worldview. Education is arguably the most potent way to do this for each nation in its own way.
It is mistakenly believed that this self-realization is the responsibility of the self. The Indian approach sees self-evolution in every aspect of human life – personal, business, political, social, familial, and spiritual. The whole experience of life with all its ingredients is a means to support the elevation of human experimentation of truth. Dharampal referred to the Bharatiya ‘chitta’. “The self-awakening of India is bound to remain similarly elusive and transient till we find a secure basis for a confident expression of Indian civilisation within the modern world and the modern epoch. We must establish a conceptual framework that makes Indian ways and aspirations seem viable in the present, so that we do not feel compelled or tempted to indulge in demeaning imitations of the modern world, and the people of India do not have to suffer the humiliation of seeing their ways and their seekings being despised in their own country. And, this secure basis for the Indian civilisation, this framework for the Indian self-awakening and self-assertion, has to be sought mainly within the Chitta and Kala of India.” (Dharampal in ‘Bharatiya Chitt Manas Kaal, translated by Center for Policy Studies). This self-expression and self-awakening cannot happen outside of academia. In fact, education and academia are the source of such a churn in society. First we solve for education and then we solve for other challenges such as governance, economy, healthcare and more.
Why I joined and why others should join education.
The purpose of Rishihood University and my reason for getting into education is to participate in the second-order quest of what is the battle that humans are fighting and what the worldviews provide as an answer to this battle. The Indian wisdom gives a clear answer that the ultimate object of change is the self and the whole life is an effort to refine and elevate the self. While doing this, we get to celebrate the first-order outcomes of seeing our alumni become successful entrepreneurs, wonderful parents, reputed leaders, excellent mentors, conscious citizens, and so on.
To me, this is the most exciting place to be in. It needs the most committed and the brightest to join in. Whether as philanthropists, faculty, researchers, or learners, being in education provides an opportunity larger than life.
Ironically, while this perspective should become the foundational direction for any education program, it is largely missing from the education system. Thus, our mission.
– Sahil Aggarwal, CEO and Co-Founder, Rishihood University