In early childhood one unconsciously absorbs the influences of ones environment. Children are like malleable metal and plastic clay. They are impressionable and will do what they are told to. The young, growing child acquires and culti- vates qualities, behaviour and conduct by unconscious imitation of the persons surrounding him. At a later stage, the young individual begins to consciously and deliberately choose and develop habits of life and traits of character from examples and ideals. This process goes on progressively during the period of student life and leaves a lasting impression. Therefore, it must be asked: exactly what ideal does the present-day education place before the student? To what extent does the average child of today receive the inspiration to achieve an all-round perfection of body, mind and soul?
Education starts from the cradle. Our first teacher is our mother. What we are during adulthood is largely dependent on what our mother made of us in the cradle. Take care of the mother and you have taken care of the nation. At an age when she alone can have direct access to the childs heart, the mother must instil healthy, spiritual ideas there.
Of even greater importance to the child is his parents way of life. How few people realize this! The child who is new to the world is keenly watching his parents. He sets his standards by them. His learning is their daily contact. If they are negative, then whatever lessons that he academically learns elsewhere, he is sure to become negative himself. If they are virtuous, then external negative influences will have very little effect on him.
Next comes the school. The present education system, however, fails to provide the most essential tools of life: true refinement, culture and character. Our education does not make a person self-reliant, courteous, self-supporting and optimistic. It does not give him a sense of responsibility. The procedure of adapting education to the need and aptitude of the student is conspicuously absent. Education is not a filling in of something from outside. It is drawing out from within of the highest and best qualities inherent in the individual. It is the cultivation and development of these talents and qualities in an intelligent and rational way, so as to help build a balanced personality. The child is not merely a brain to be stuffed with facts. He is an integral personality with the capacity to think, feel, know, choose and act. The head, heart and hand all have to be integrally and harmoniously developed.
Education should always aim at the development of a spiritual attitude towards life. Spirituality does not hinder material progress. In fact, it is an aid to material interests. The real advancement and well-being of every society and nation depends on the right educational base. If an education system is to be effective, it must rest on a spiritual foundation. Only if this is assured will science be able to serve the interests of mankind. A lopsided emphasis, either on humanities or science, will not serve the interests of society. Science is not godless, but science and technology alone cannot ensure perfect peace and harmony. Humanities alone cannot cure the ills of poverty or safeguard the freedom of a nation. There should be a synthetic development of both.
The child is a conscious being, higher than and superior to his mind and intellect, which are but his instruments. He has the capacity for pure, noble sentiments and sublime feelings. He is instinctively drawn to true greatness and grandeur. Every youth is a hero-worshipper at heart. He has a natural admiration for that which is high and heroic. This transforming element is inherent in the youths very make-up. And it seeks expression. It needs to be given a tangible objective on which it may be centred. This objective needs to be a concrete ideal into which he can grow. This will channelize the potential of his entire personality in positive and constructive lines, and lead him towards a sense of fullness, achievement, success and satisfaction.
In India the problem as to who can effectively take up the important and delicate task of arousing the students inherent love of the sublime, the ideal and the good, does not present a major problem. There is a natural provision for this in the very structure of Indian society. Built into the social ideology is a sector of society whose sole function is to live a life dedicated to practising the highest ideals of virtue and righteousness. They are the sannyasins.
Every facility should be provided by the authorities of educational institutions as well as parents for students to come into contact with truly worthy sannyasins of a high calibre. They have to come into contact with the living examples of inner culture and high ideology. This will be more powerful and dynamically efficacious than any moral instruction or study of ethics.
Virtues are not abstract notions. They are dynamic and should be given ample scope for active manifestation by an intelligent daily program of the students activities. A rational timetable for operation both daily and throughout the year should be placed as a concrete framework for the student. This does not imply any rigidity. The timetable should be rationally conceived and suitable for adoption by the wide range of varying temperaments that are likely to be found in the student world. It is here that true idealism will blend and meet cordially with the realities of life.
What the youth of today need to know is how spiritual truths can solve the day-to-day problems that face them. They should get a satisfactory answer to this. Due to the influence of materialistic forces, most students of today turn out to be spiritual bankrupts. They suffer much when they come out of the university and face the stark realities of life. They have no spiritual base, which alone will enable them to face challenges and win the daily battle of life with a calm and balanced mind, a sturdy heart and strength of will.