Ancient Nalanda University

Education in India

Many historians, scholars, and researchers will argue that (along with China and Egypt) India birthed formal education. The history of Indian education certainly does not begin with Nalanda, but it is one of the most well-documented institutions in ancient India. It is likely there were thousands of such institutions scattered about India.

See Also : Everything You Need to Know About Education in India

Nalanda was a well-known Mahavihara (or large Buddhist monastery). Its characterstics lead scholars to refer to it as a university. It was very well supported by rulers and attracted scholars from all over the world including scholars from east Asia and central Asia.

 Art depicting Xuanzang's return from Nalanda - Xuanzang returned from India. Dunhuang mural, Cave 103. High Tang period (712-765)

Historical records discuss the great library of Nalanda, which was said to be housed in three large, multi-storied buildings. The materials of course primarily addressed religion, but also grammar, astrology, medicine, literature, logic, astronomy, and much more.

Nalanda Layout

Another important part of Indian traditional education is the Gurukala system. In this system, if an individual wished to study, they would seek a guru.   The curriculum offered by a guru encompassed all areas of life and philosophy. If accepted, they would study every subject underneath the scholar and their studies would end when either they or their guru felt they had reached an appropriate point.

Depiction of Vashishtha teaching Rama and his brothers

Traditional systems came to be replaced by foreign systems as a result of trade and exploration. The first foreign system to influence Indian education was that of Islam, but it had little lasting or substantial impact. It was European reform that has come to be the standard of education that dominates India today. Unfortunately, this system was not designed for the purpose of education, but rather to create clerks for a ruling class. Though the system carries benefits and Indians can not only compete with other countries in a viable way, but best them; it still suffers from the limitations that exist within such a system. It has received harsh criticism throughout India for its perceived shortcomings, and in particular it is viewed by many as a stumbling block that holds India back from achieving an imagined ideal.

Anti-reservation Protest

In the photo above, students march against a government policy that they feel opposes meritocracy.

Reality, however, tells a different story. Though aspects of education in India, like rote instruction, seem dated and regressive, they are still there because they are effective. India’s government is also taking action in education that (so-called developed) nations have failed to do like dramatically increasing the penetration of technology in the classroom. An example of this large effort is to place tablets in the hands of millions of students.

  Press Conference for the Announcement of Aaakash Tablets in the Classroom

Aakash tablet

This creates a classroom which fully exploits the capabilities of technology in education: students can read dynamic digital books and access related information like definitions or research data as they are studying or consuming a text, or during lectures; assignments can be sent using a school’s software, or email, rather than archaic hardcopy (which is as ridiculous as using traditional mail for daily business communication instead of email); students can interact with their teacher in a quiet (and private) way if they have questions instead of interrupting the class during a quiet activity, and they have easier access to their instructor during off hours; and there are many more possibilities. This also reduces the costs of an educational facility.

Some worry about monitoring the students’ activities, but the reality of this technology, especially if schools use their own well-designed systems, is that there is easier and more reliable tracking. Traditional methods do not allow for that level of transparency. The technology also allows teachers to be better teachers. Through creative use of the technology, use that is also inexpensive, teachers can “meet students where they are” and more easily give each student what they need.

This technology accelerates and simplifies many aspects of teaching methodology. It will allow a teacher with limited resources, and only so much time in the day, to truly serve their students. This technology has already been in use in a limited way in universities all over the world for well over two decades, but now, courtesy of technology development and lower prices, it has reached a point where it can truly be implemented.

There are many criticisms hurled at Indian education that are identical to those in virtually any country in the world, but when you sift through the anger and emotion, what you find is that there are three things essential to quality education that everyone will agree on: a focus on enlightenment rather than simply training someone to perform tasks; proper funding that allows educators to do their job effectively; and a culture that truly values education.

One area of continued debate is examinations. There are many who find the associated stress to be a nightmare. There are others who question the actual value of exams, and can only see a negative impact. The reality is that there must be a goal and a way to measure acquisition within education. You cannot judge someone’s acquisition by measuring the size of their hands or counting the hairs on their head. India does an excellent job of preparing people to tackle the challenges of our world through ensuring they have mastered their discipline.

 IIT Entrance Exam

In the photo above, students sit for the well-known IIT entrance exam, which hundreds of thousands will attempt, some many times, but only thousands will be accepted.

No one would choose a lawyer, doctor, or engineer that was not rigorously tested; how they feel about a mail clerk may be different. Some appear to take issue with the fact that exams democratize education. There are those who want their circumstances to dictate their future rather than their hard work, and exams have a habit of weeding those people out. This is not to say that exams are a panacea. There are certain things that exams cannot test, but in the next decade and beyond, modern computer exams and advances in hardware may have strong solutions for this.

 D-Wave Quantum Chip

The image above is of a quantum chip. Quantum computers, when created, would allow functionality that current computers do not offer such as true randomization. They will also allow much faster speeds; calculations that take current computers years to perform would take seconds with a quantum computer.

Despite the criticism, India holds a place on the world stage of competitive educational systems. It is also much more dynamic and dedicated than the individuals it is competing with. Many of the criticisms lodged at Indian education are obvious (repetitive) propaganda promoted by the west. It is quite interesting that the alleged flaws within the system produce some of the most sought after intelligent labor in the world.

American and UK engineering companies, hospitals, and businesses rely on Indians because their own educational systems have failed to produce enough intelligent labor that they can trust to get the job done, and apply their training and creativity in solving complex problems. Indians are the lifeblood of America’s Silicon Valley.

The only apparent divide that exists in education between India and nations like the US is that India does not have the benefit of bizarrely huge funds accumulated over hundreds of years from free and dirt cheap labor. Another interesting aspect of this is that US universities are experiencing a dramatic decrease in the number of foreign students attending their institutions.

More and more students are finding that they are no more competitive coming from those universities than they are coming from their own.


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