Bahá'í Education In Modern Context

In the Bahá'í Holy Writings, we read "Education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory." It is in this context that we need to attempt to devise ways and means to attain full benefit from this most potent instrument in our hands.

Religion and education have been traditionally geared to achieve one common purpose, i.e., refinement of man's character. The so-well acclaimed golden periods in the history of mankind have been those times when great religions blossomed and human learning progressed by leaps and bounds. Infect, till very recent times, education was mainly imparted by the religious elite at temples, churches, or other such places. In those times, a few men (and women?) got opportunity to be educated. Most of them belonged to the upper strata of society. They were trained in religious tradition, daily administration, language skills, and various professions which they wanted to adopt.

With the advent of modern inventions, like that of the printing of books etc., however, education began to be imparted at a wider scale- especially during the last century. The ensuing scientific, technological, and information revolution totally freed education from the domain of the elite. The universalization of education, with scientific study as its focus, has totally divorced it from the narrow religious thought. This must be acclaimed as a hall-mark of the twentieth century but, sadly, the results have not been very satisfactory.

There is an urgent need for the schools to be brought closer to life. education is being increasingly seen as key to regenerative and restorative processes and further transformation of the world. The idea is to free education from the confines of the school walls and make it life long resulting in the creation of a learning society. In this way, each person will be able to choose his path more freely.

It is against this background that the concept of Bahá'í education can be properly understood. According to Bahá'í Writings, "all schools and colleges should have these three foundations- First, they should be sincere in the service of training of the souls Second, training in morality is necessary ...Third, service to the world of humanity should be obligatory." The development of 'spiritual characteristics and the praiseworthy virtues of humankind' is recognised as the basis of all education. The shift in the focus is quite clear. The Bahá'í education aims at producing men and women of character who are useful to society. The aim is to equip an individual to be successful not only in this world. But in the world to come. Further, there is harmonization of science with religion in Bahá'í education because the Bahá'ís believe that man is both body and soul. The learners are helped to gain from the good characteristics of both without becoming dogmatic in favour of any one of the two. The learners imbibe the true scientific and spiritual values which help them to lead a successful life later on. The harm done by the one-sided education, whether unilaterally 'religious' (as was the case in the previous centuries) or predominantly scientific (as is the case today), is prevented.

We must assert here that Bahá'í education is not merely an ideal, but a sound reality. The Bahá'í experience in education dates back to the later part of the last century when Tarbiyyat schools in Iran were established and which became potent instruments for progress and development of the Bahá'í schools all over the world. Three hundred of them are in rural India. These are actively engaged in the task of introducing the life-giving Bahá'í principles in their immediate human societies. 

Having said this, we shall now proceed further with the task of familiarising ourselves with the broad outlines of the concept of Bahá'í education. As is clear from the above discussion, a great importance is given to imparting human values in the Bahá'í education. In fact, the place of values in education can not be undermined. Plato linked education to his idea of the good. Dewey's disciple Kilpatrick wrote that the teacher must have as his essential equipment "a map of values". Even, our recent documents on education, based on the nation-wide debate that took place during the last few years, have given great attention to value-education. The Bahá'í Writings specify that while at school, children should receive training in unity and accord, faithfulness and sincerity, justice ad fidelity, firmness and steadfastness, philanthropic deeds, and love and service to all humanity, wisdom, good conduct and integrity, trustworthiness, kindness to parents etc. They should learn good behaviour, acquire a proper way of life, cultivate a noble character, observe chastity and constancy, adopt perseverance, and become firm of purpose. The foremost function of a school according to the beloved Master-'Abdu'l-Bahá, is moral training, character building, and rectification of conduct. The importance of this principle cannot be over emphasised. It is reported that Maxim Gorky was once speaking to a rally of peasants about what science has done. He told them that science had enabled man to fly like a bird and dive like a fish. An uneducated peasant in the crowd stood up and made the observation that is so well remembered till today, "What science has not taught us is how to live among men with amity and concord". The point is that man's character must be well-formed early in his childhood because it is almost impossible to alter it once puberty is passed. 

It must, however, be understood, that values cannot be taught in isolation from the generality of humankind. As Stiffens puts it "the truth is that the first rudiments of education are given very indiscreetly by most parents". In the later stages the child learns a lot from its immediate neighbourhood and the world at large. In the Bahá'í Writings, the responsibility for proper education is assigned to the individual, the mother, the father, the family as a unit, the community, as well as the school and teachers. Bahá'í education begins with the birth, and even before. Great emphasis is laid on the mother's role in nurturing the child, both physically and spiritually, as soon as it is conceived. It has been made imperative for the school to arrange special training programmes for the girls - the would be mothers- to prepare them for this very special responsibility from an early age. This is in addition to their responsibility of providing equal educational opportunities to both the sexes. The young child is very impressionable and learns quickly from the behaviour of the elders around it. Things of importance, learnt wrongly during childhood, can ruin a whole life. Mark Twain brings out the great significance of this truth when he says in his own inimitable style, "Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run."

Elementary education, or the first eight years of schooling, is the stage when the foundation is laid for the life long attitudes, personality, social confidence, habits, learning skills and communicating capabilities of the child, Vocational education, therefore, must constitute an integral part of his education. Every student must also be imparted skills from the very beginning by using which he would be able to earn his/her livelihood later in life. The knowledge of such arts, crafts and sciences should be acquired as are useful to mankind and not of those which begin and end in words, and still worse which are aimed at destroying humanity itself. "Far from the current practice of according varying degrees of rank and prestige to certain professions over others, the Bahá'í school should inculcate and demonstrate the ethic that all work performed in the spirit of service is equal in the sight of God." Progress in education would thus accompany economic progress as has already been demonstrated by some of the developed nations of the world. 

For the first time in history of mankind, education can hope to prepare men for a type of society which does not exist. The solution to mankind's present dilemma can only be found in linking education to life, associating it with concrete goals, establishing a close relationship between society and economy, and by adopting a system of education that fits its surroundings. In the final analysis such a single curriculum must characterize education all over the world as would cement "world unity by means of the great cohesive force of common ideals, a common body of knowledge, a unified objective and a moral and spiritual harmony".

By : Prof. Anil Sarwal