by Sri Ajit Halder
‘Students’ Unrest’ is a serious problem in India; it starts at a particular institution, then the emergent culture of student solidarity provokes disruption of academic activity in other educational campuses. This scenario has always been an unfortunate experience for the whole nation, given that the students should be engaging full-time in the pursuit of learning, receiving skill training, developing adorable personal qualities and becoming useful citizens of the country.
Reflecting upon the issue of ‘Students’ Unrest’, the first thing that comes to mind is the role of India’s educational institutions in shaping the character and behavior of students. In the present context, ‘Character’ refers to how 'good' a person is, pointing at attributes like moral sense, pleasant manners, good behavior shown to others. These student qualities are considered to be desirable by the society. It is abundantly clear that the curriculum of the present educational system has failed to create a congenial learning environment that helps build the character of students. A scheme of imparting liberal religious studies with elements of moral education should be introduced into the present learning system to provide character-forming education. True, the curriculum offers a variety of subjects covering Arts, Science, Technology, Nature Study and Religious Education. It seems, however, that not enough emphasis is given to character-forming education; instead, more emphasis is placed on preparing students to pass examinations. Some changes in the curriculum to include elements of moral studies are thus called for. It will be useful at this stage of our discussion to articulate the causes of students’ unrest, before proposing any changes in the curriculum aimed at rectifying the problem.
Causes of unrest
Students’ agitations are characterized by actions based on feelings of injustice and frustration suffered by the student body and the emergence of a new style of student leadership directing students to boycott lectures and engage in protest demonstrations on campuses (which eventually spills over into the streets). Agitators often resort to violence, destroying or damaging valuable properties. Given this is a problem of law and order, police occasionally opens fire on rowdy students. There have been several casualties in the past as a result of such police firings.
We are discussing the unacceptable behavior of students who are in their late teens, and are thus expected to be mature enough to make reasoned judgment concerning the consequences of their actions. Why do they then follow the ignoble path of violence and destruction? There must be some genuine student grievances which ought to be listened to, and concerned authorities must act to resolve students’ discontent.
It cannot be denied that corruption and moral degradation have crept into our present society. Many senior members and politicians adopt dishonest means to make money. Grown up students see indiscipline and dishonesty all around, and find no noble ideal to inspire them. Then there is the serious problem of unemployment, making students feel uncertain and insecure about their future. All pertinent parties therefore need to work sincerely towards generating a healthier learning environment in our schools, colleges and universities to emerge from this mess.
Any innovation introduced into the existing curriculum should put emphasis on such core values as social and emotional learning, moral and ethical reasoning, critical thinking and cognitive development, honesty, and respect shown towards others. Developing personal qualities as those mentioned above is often seen as the purpose of character-forming education, and being trained in moral education may help attain this objective. This sort of education will help students grow into morally healthy, civil, traditional and socially acceptable members of the community.
Parents and teachers should exercise their guiding influence in shaping the character of students by instilling confidence in them. Student unions acting in a disciplined manner while trying to advocate the interests of their members, and the government pumping funds into the economy aimed at creating more job opportunities should help to ensure a non-disruptive, congenial learning environment in our academies.
Given the moral degeneration in society, it is paramount that students learn how to practice virtues and good behavior and control their tendency towards aggression and violence. So it is now clear that the purpose of education is greater than the propagation of knowledge; feelings are to be disciplined, passions are to be restrained, worthy motives are to be inspired, and above all, pure morality are to be inculcated in all situations. It is thus strongly felt that character-forming moral education should be included into our school education so that it makes an impact on students’ righteous behavior right from an early age. This education should in fact carry on through the college and university education systems.
Liberal religious views, not dogmas, are the foundations of morals and virtues as life-ennobling principles that play a great role in the moral development of a person. Educators must promote morality by teaching the young such values as respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, goodness and civility. Students trained to regard such values affirm human dignity, and define their responsibilities in a democracy.
Content drawn from religious books could serve as the main source of moral instruction to students about honesty, respect for others, kindness shown to fellow beings and animals, dedication to service of the community, piety, patriotism and many other virtues that ennobles the soul. The writings of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo make for spiritually uplifting reading and are highly recommended as essential reads for students. Study of texts on the principles of morality should be complemented with discussions, and students should be encouraged to participate in stimulating debates to develop their power of moral reasoning. Activities of a spiritual nature such as yoga and meditation may be introduced as part of the learning program to bring mental peace and help calm down the restless minds of the younger generation. Students need to be encouraged to use their intellectual and moral resources while making personal decisions based on their inner conscience.
The dominant materialistic approach to life in the current age is diverting students from listening to their inner voice – from where God speaks to humans and sustains them. The vision and mission of Sri Sri Babathakur if absorbed from his discourses and gained through a study of his works may inspire students to lead a spiritually enlightened life. His ‘Sanai Tattva’ is a book containing answers to all questions that may arise in their minds and prepare them on their spiritual journey. Another learned text, ‘Knowledge of Knowledge’ can help students grasp the significance of life-enhancing knowledge so clearly defined by Sri Sri Babathakur in this book.
Student indiscipline cannot be supported, nor can their acts of violence and lawlessness be ignored by peace loving citizens. The essential step to stop student misbehavior though is to remove their legitimate grievances. The severity of the problem demands co-operation and a determined effort to resolve the issue from both the authorities and the student body. The leaders of the country (including educators), should set bright examples of nobility of character and service dedicated towards the welfare of students. Similarly, students must exercise their fundamental rights to raise their voices, sensibly, and behave responsibly. There is hope for the elimination students’ unrest from our community life by achieving the above objectives.