Life-Centered Education


All over the world nations are confronted with unprecedented challenges: the pressing need for rapid material advancement in the developing countries of the Third World and the increasing incidence of psychological disturbances, crime and violence in the modern industrial nations of the West. Education is regarded as one of the key elements, if not the key, to the development of society, and, therefore, as an instrument for meeting these challenges. But it is now becoming apparent that the present educational system is incapable of playing this role effectively, because it is actually a source of these problems. The system itself needs to be changed so as to generate the solutions rather than contributing to the causes.

The present educational system is composed of two distinct strands which derive from different origins: the first, pure abstract knowledge in various fields of thought which is derived from the European tradition of liberal education for upper class gentlemen and the second, practical knowledge and technical skills relating to material objects and processes which emerged as a result of the recent industrial and technological revolutions. This system suffers from two major deficiencies: it divides knowledge into various separate subjects and disciplines, thereby making it partial and fragmentary; and it divorces knowledge from real life, thereby making it abstract and irrelevant to living.

The modern university derives from the Christian theological schools of the Middle Ages which gradually opened their doors to the non-clerical upper classes and widened their field of study to include a range of philosophical and literary subjects which constituted the “gentleman’s education” of the 18th century. The study of theology and classical language gave birth to philosophy, linguistics and literature, history and psychology emerged from philosophy, economics from history and so on. Along side these subjects another line of biological and physical sciences emerged from the close observation of material and life processes.

With the emergence of each new subject, knowledge became more detailed and study more specialized. The removal of traditional barriers to freedom of thought enabled mind to pursue each line of enquiry to its farthest ends. The development of new instruments of observation made possible the detailed analysis of physical facts which is the basis of modern science. These trends stimulated many fold the accumulation of facts and information and the formulation of abstract theories and concepts to explain them.

The body of knowledge called modern science is the product of mind’s division of existence into innumerable separate fields of study and its unidimensional investigation of each field. At the same time there has been a progressive withdrawal of the observer from the field of observation into the laboratory, a rapid development of theories and concepts, and a growing tendency to view life in terms of abstract thought rather than through direct observation. The result has been a fragmentation of knowledge and an abstraction of knowledge from life.

Impact of the Educational System on Society

These characteristics of our educational system have been transferred to our political, economic and social systems as well, and herein lies the chief cause of the most pressing contemporary social problems. Unidimensional thought and knowledge has given rise to unidimensional action and change resulting in unbalanced growth and disruption of physical, biological, social and psychological harmonies. In the Third World we find problems such as the population explosion, ecological imbalance, urban migration, and educated unemployment which are all the result of unilateral development programmes. In the industrialized West, material and technological advance have outstripped cultural and psychological growth resulting in various expressions of social tension and psychological distress. Exactly 50 years ago a special committee on social trends in America appointed by President Hoover predicted that “unless there is a speed up of social invention or a slowing down of mechanical invention, grave maladjustments are certain”. The Committee reported that the whole organization of society was in a state of disequilibrium and that disharmony in economic life due to rapid technological change was generating disharmony in the social life as well. Far from helping to eradicate the ills of unbalanced unidimensional growth, the present educational system institutionalizes unidimensional thought and specialization, thereby perpetuating and aggravating the situation.

In India, for example, it trains future development planners and administrators to design partial uncoordinated programmes without regard for their impact on other spheres of life. It produces unidimensional technocrats with a high level of pure technical skill, but little knowledge of the strategies by which their skill can best be applied for national development or of the consequences of technological applications on the environment and the society. It perpetuates the values of the colonial period when salaried employment under the British was considered highly prestigious, instead of fostering attitudes conducive to self-employment and entrepreneurship, thus creating the problem of educated unemployment and retarding industrial development. It produces record numbers of scientists, most of whom have been trained to pursue lines of pure scientific research with little or no relevance to the needs of the society. It fosters a rejection of the traditional wisdom of a 5000 year old civilization in favour of western ideas and materialistic values which are barely a few centuries old and which are destroying the very fabric of society and culture.

Interdisciplinary Studies as an Inadequate Alternative

The recognition of these facts has led educators all over the world to strive for an alternative approach. There is now a general consensus that the fragmentation of the study of social problems by different academic disciplines separated from one another by rigid theoretical and professional barriers is a major obstacle to the generation of effective solutions. To compensate for this inherent structural deficiency, a greater emphasis is being placed on interdisciplinary and interprofessional research on the problems of development.

Interdisciplinary study can mitigate some of the greater ills of specialization. They can prevent the creation of more planners who view development solely in terms of capital and technology ignoring the impact of political organization, education, social values and culture. They can equip technologists who become development administrators with an awareness of the consequences of rapid technological change on society and the environment. They can help future managers appreciate the political, social and cultural factors which influence the expansion of commerce and industry. They can foster the creation of more comprehensive development strategies in place of one-sided approaches.

But a mere modification of the existing system to emphasize interdisciplinary studies, while welcome in itself, will not be sufficient to overcome the deficiencies of the present system or to resolve the most pressing social problems of developed and developing nations. Studies made from the multiple viewpoints of many separate disciplines instead of from only one discipline are still based on a fragmented approach without a real centre of reference. At most they can generate an awareness of the many aspects and dimensions of social problems. They cannot unite these many diverse aspects in a single integral vision of the whole. At best a multidisciplinary approach can foster greater coordination among the various agencies involved in implementation. It cannot produce strategies which are harmoniously integrated with the present life of the society and designed to release its energies for development.

The basic limitation of an interdisciplinary approach is that it abandons the old centre of vision which is limited to the theoretical framework of a single specialized field without creating a new centre which is capable of integrating the divergent viewpoints of various disciplines. What is really needed is to discover a higher unifying perspective based on fundamental principles common to all disciplines and a new centre of vision which is coterminous with life rather than divorced from it.

If our goal is to create a socially relevant education that can contribute to the resolution of contemporary social problems, then interdisciplinary studies will not suffice. Interdisciplinary studies, even if they become perfect, can achieve perfection only in the mental sphere of pure abstract knowledge which is not integrated with life. In mind different fields can exist in isolation from each other, but in life they are inseparable parts of a single reality. A pure mental education can train the mind, but it cannot solve the problems of social life. For that, mental knowledge must integrate itself at the life center for accomplishment on the physical plane. For the solution to life’s problems, a life centered education is necessary.

The Organisation of Knowledge: An Analogy

The difference between the existing system of specialization, an interdisciplinary approach, and an integrated life-centered approach can be illustrated by an analogy with the organization of knowledge in an encyclopedia. Until recently all general encyclopedias have been compiled by an alphabetical organization of innumerable entries, each entry limited in scope to information on a particular item. This system provides ready reference to specific facts, but at the same time it fragments knowledge into tiny unrelated categories in the same manner as specialization divides life into separate disciplines. This standard format has been abandoned by the 15th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica which was first published eight years ago. The new Britannica is organized in terms of broader topics which present individual facts and ideas in a wider context rather than in isolation, thereby revealing their interrelationships. The organizational chart for this new edition is an outline of all fields of human knowledge and the form of the outline is a circle of knowledge which expresses the fact that all aspects of human knowledge are related to all other aspects. The shift from the alphabetical organization to Britannica’s new format can be likened to the shift from specialization to interdisciplinary studies. In the standard encyclopedia a topic such as Olympic Games is discussed in isolation as a separate entry which describes the history and highlights of the games. In the new Britannica the Olympic games are included in a longer article on athletics contests which describes the Olympics as the most important of many international sporting events. This represents a partial progress away from pure isolation and fragmentation. In an encyclopedia based on an integrated life-centered perspective, the Olympics might be discussed in an article on development of international institutions. The growth of the Olympics and other international sporting events represents a movement toward greater international cooperation between the countries of the world community. The Olympics is far more than just an athletic contest; it is an expression of the movement toward human unity and is symbolic of the greater political and social significance it embodies.

Integrated Life-Centered Approach

The basis of this new approach is to take life itself as the center of perspective and to study it as an integral whole, rather than dividing the subject into specialized disciplines and abstracting it from its living context which destroys a vision of the whole and makes it irrelevant to life. The aim should be to discover the common principles and processes which govern change in all fields of life, rather than constructing partial and limited theories to explain change in each different field. These principles and processes constitute the basic concepts of the Science of the Development of Life.

Each of the sciences of social life has identified basic laws or characteristic patterns of activity in their respective fields of enquiry. These laws are various expressions of universal principles which govern man’s social existence, each law focusing on one dimension of social life which is integral. So long as social scientists view life from the different perspectives of their own disciplines, it is not possible to piece together the enormous number of inter-dependent factors to create an integral vision of the whole and a true view of interrelationships. For that, the partial laws and theories of each discipline must themselves be replaced by the more fundamental principles of which they are all expressions.

Principles of Development

These universal principles which constitute the science of development have been known to mankind from time immemorial and passed on as traditional wisdom and culture from generation to generation. Only in the wake of modern science they have been brushed aside and their value largely forgotten. The laws of development have three main characteristics. First, they are valid on all planes from the material to the spiritual because physical, social, mental, cultural and spiritual development are part of a single continuous and integral process, rather than separate and independent movements.

Second, these principles are valid in all fields of life – political, social, economic, linguistic, cultural, etc. – because all these fields form overlapping and interrelated aspects of one integral whole. Third, the laws of development apply to both the individual and the collectivity, for these two are not separate and distinct from each other and neither exist in isolation. The process of inner psychological development in man corresponds to the process of social, economic and cultural development in society.

Modern thinkers have rediscovered many of the old truths. Sigmund Freud described the process of sublimation by which man and society restrain the expression of instinctual animal propensities and channel these energies upward into higher social, cultural and mental activities. The world-renowned historian Arnold Toynbee identified several such principles and derived from them a unifying theory of history. Toynbee recognized that the study of history in terms of individual countries was an arbitrary approach which distorted reality since each country is part of a larger evolving unit of mankind which he called a civilization. By viewing the past as the history of civilizations he was able to discover certain underlying principles which were valid in all fields of life, in all ages, and in every part of the world. Principles such as withdrawal and return, individual creativity and social mimesis, challenge and response are equally applicable to the social and cultural sphere as they are to economics and politics, to ancient city-states and modern superpowers, to technological discoveries and spiritual realizations, to the individual and the collectivity, the family and the modern corporation, Toynbee’s principle of Challenge and Response, for instance, explains the rapid growth of Japan after the confrontation with the American fleet in 1854, the emergence of Punjab as India’s leading agricultural and industrial area after the devastating communal riots following partition in 1947, the elevation of Jews to the highest positions in business, finance and education throughout the western world following centuries of persecution by that society, etc.

Principle of Harmony

One of the most important principles of life in all Eastern societies is the principle of harmony. In the East harmony is the highest social value upon which the communal life is based. This is in contrast to Western society where the chief characteristic of social life is unidimensional change, progress. Toynbee states the principle positively, “It is one of the characteristics of civilizations in process of growth that all aspects and activities of their social life are coordinated into a single social whole, in which the economic, political, and cultural elements are kept in a nice adjustment with one another by an inner harmony of the growing body politic”*. Sri Aurobindo states the same principle negatively, “All problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony”**. The present problems facing society all over the world derive from the disturbance of the existing harmony and creation of imbalance.

This principle is illustrated positively by the example of Japan where harmony formed the very basis of traditional family and communal life. The transition from a traditional rural-based agrarian society into a modern industrial nation is usually marked by a disruption of family life and traditional values and their replacement by larger social institutions like the company which do not provide the sense of security and psychological satisfaction associated with the family. But in Japan the old harmony was preserved during rapid modernization by extending the same principles of family life to the new institutions, in effect making the company a larger version of the family offering the same sense of physical security and psychological identification. The result has been a far lower incidence of social disturbance than in other nations, even those at a much earlier level of industrialization which have destroyed the harmonious integrity of their traditional social existence.

This principle can be illustrated negatively by countless examples, in fact by nearly all contemporary social problems. For instance, the population explosion in India is largely the result of the unidimensional application of modern science in the field of medical and health care resulting in a dramatic reduction in the death rate and an increase in life expectancy. By itself it is a very great developmental achievement,but its very success has created a dis-equilibrium. All illiterate population which has not yet acquired modern education and development-oriented social values has been very slow to adjust its procreative tendencies to the new situation resulting in a continued high birth rate alongside a continuously falling death rate. The strategy adopted to restore the balance is a further application of modern medical technology to bring down the birth rate. This is the most viable strategy in the short run, but it is subject to the same limitation that caused the problem in the first place. A society which is unable to adjust its procreative behaviour to the introduction of the first new technology, i.e. public health care, is unlikely to respond more dramatically to the introduction of a second new technology, i.e. birth control devices. The long term solution lies rather in restoring the lost harmony between technology and social values at a higher level by extending modern education to the entire population.

The problems of pollution and ecological imbalance which afflict the advanced industrial nations are expressions of the same principle. Here too the strategy adopted is to counteract the imbalance caused by the impact of one new technology by the introduction of additional technology. This can provide only a partial and temporary solution. The elimination of every imbalance will be followed by the creation of several new ones, so long as society pursues unidimensional material development without proportionate growth in the social and psychological sphere. As the Commission to President Hoover found, the rapid proliferation of new technologies has destroyed the existing harmony between man and his environment, between his economic and social life, between his social, moral and psychological existence. The report states:

“Our capacity to produce goods changes faster than our capacity to purchase; employment does not keep pace with improvement in the machinery of production; inter-oceanic communication changes more quickly than the reorganization of international relations, the factory takes occupations away from the home before the home can adjust itself to the new conditions. The automobile affects the railroads, the family, the size of cities, the types of crimes, manners and morals”.

Ultimately the problem lies not in technology, but in our fragmented view of life; and the solution lies not in new technologies to counter old ones, but in the creation of a new harmony at a higher level of culture.

Processes of Development

The study of development has been severely hampered by the predominance of fragmentary unidimensional approaches to an integrated multidimensional social phenomenon. The process of development cannot be subdivided into its social, political, economic, cultural and psychological components without sacrificing a vision of the totality and losing the capacity for effective action. The same underlying processes govern change in all these fields and determine their interrelations and interdependence.

To cite an example, of the processes, all development proceeds through a hi"ediw of interrelook.css? the company a by techi1umprnew tecame limeickly thatheg-nterrelookuvstitutionalication. Thd basirs-eqebsies for developmeny atmonr levee isb funment an govgo-frowin.css? t, inxrocess ow What is acquire, for existencehat the presenr levon. atn.css? te must bee wanoped ano releadms, thentte must b ecgovnated intcaufulan constructive skilon. The skishedcss? ty becosor effective onlw thentta is organized iais systamatie mannes to achievo specifir goons. The achievemety becosoaccomerate anampe myment enal institutione are createm to g bodl thesr gooes and channel tis organizee skishedcss? td intesufficienf activice.

<. For instance, thl socialcss? tn which han made possibln Ind on developmeny sincn 19he wase wanoped ano releaded by tho freedoe movemend durinath centuso lononstggable tcamost of reesigruhole. atn.css? th wasulmily bestrated bInerdependenic andubonsequest sociahereflems. Tha nel nation inhieated e skishet administrctive systet an >One of the mosesufficienf civ reseiance drries in the world. Bul skill, fos goveopment arr i sufficient tn develof aolation. The populatiot itselhated to acquian knowledge anl skillsuieatet for modern industriae interisate. Thit has been accomplirked by e rapie expansion od the educational systethat alr levons and in all fielon. Thn Ind oNucationaC loogresn which dis organized itseld duriny tho freedof mighs emerget tostean the counyme in is new mighagplaiest govnogyOcover a furedhe new institutioch were createm to g bodl tst sociexisr gooen od the nes goveopmece. w cencial plaurine Commissioh wa deapublishea based of theproetor molns. The administrctivg appatuies way restructoped anf a nee development administrssioh wae createy from thr nationalknown tg the cgral llguagr levee introdoring the importanl elemeon of coordinatios of a palementn thay was pvoniousllacmaki. N new minaocialn industri,he educationae and researchhatheg-nteroch were creatss. dayln Ind on developmena isooarkea it asor molreloolimite reby many developing countrie, for the very fact than ie achievemeoch were notempodsticfor aesidealms. Theh wern made possibld by the psidence oe all the essentiln ge reementsr the vere saml factors whicn made possible thn risn of modern Jap,ce the expansion or the BritisEmpifore, and the tt elemeon oh the Americannfro hi. Weto acquiad a truf perspectivn of thesg eventt ena, they are viized in their totalitysng processes of life, rather thameverele economic, politicicfoy social processes.

This petionavity i>Thithother behavions. Themobacity th expreof knowledge ic liferdepeons on thc lifl skills and capacegies whicy the individuae poocessen. In additireloola parrinate knowledge of the principles and processes of lifeaed life-centeren educatiom shoulgooloola panate knowledge of thc lifl skills and capacegies necessae, for trarelatins knowledge inte achievemery. Thesl skillswere pe ually acquiredubn coconiouslt as an inhieinancy from ths pvonioom generatio, and througn life exrietance, tywo are notahoughd in schooon. The skied itselt cannot bn transferred througA pure mental educatits, butte knowledge of the importurce of thesl skills and theiroldge ic lifc man and should beahougon.

Trnce arf many skills and capacegies necessae, fosuseivalms. The most importanahere the capacity fodspeansi-t maki,of a sense od respoimobacity fo >Oia’knowl life, tur capacity ts organife, tur capacity t ecgovnhe reuvorce(potssentis)ge intb gefn i(s actuacegi)ut in>Oia’knowl lifee reuvorsulsinesscupastence, inrstance,oldrstancen accf mization, etc. As the stesenr arains the importurce og harmony ananother life acquivemeoce for yaf lassing social achievemench he nnr arans the importurce oe essentild humad capacegite. Thil aspees of life-centeren educatiomayld beeformen educatios of petionavies.

This procens. The rituar emphasig placed of these differenl componentmaylvssaed with thr leves andurpoause of thl educatits, bu, tywwshoulgowayses constitute the baie, for thcuragricuhem.

Tsave threl components when studzed in the rituas living contexn of societyskien hels the stesene unde staof the changed througn whichiknowf sociehdsnd papping anm the rrfectiles of future growms. Thehskien helhimto discover the presenopimpog uneries anf futurpotssentisnd which he inape, fohiknowf sele developmentnged as n contribution to the development on his soetyms. Thehskiegooloone stily i>Tmnate knowledge of the petionavite characteristics acquire, foe achievemetd which hd shoul, cuivately i>Tmitselfndth expreoy i>Thif futurl lifeorkon.

I, practican ter,it>Thie Developmend Educatiehskien hele remeed many of thm disconceations ann supstositionh which dq=coguagrocreativs and novreative behavioue ic lion. Ihskieo counterace conrvreativl securint-orientes/vientnged attitudes andla panatd moreynanomicd development-orientef perspection. Ihskier replacs thedeand that developmena ie son thiny ths goveopmencfoy meg bodelheseorie, fos you with e knowledgh that ala reat developmena ie seli unereat,ie sell prokish,ie sele achiaki,of sele developmeen. Ig countries likn Indie stils emethiny from thlegacory of coloniaruhons, ihskiel pubject the values od development-oriented entrepreneurshns ann self-employmentsnopimsatem tl securint-orienten salariejobses.

<. Education iannomevereln the -eqebsation of mental knowledgl and physical skilon. In tht besa sense on the wund, thdurpoause od education in to like tha higheedeaooen od thn mine harmoniously and creativelh expreoehat thl materiar leves trnrwhich humac lionW whef mentaedeaooes and novreatione art integrated witr existenct on the physical pla,rl lify becosoaccfmporbhonssoftic, cultoped anoioach. This is the highesr goas which civilizatioc maniteh foe.

The discovyon of these fundamental principles and their application to integratviouf mentaedeaooed wite physicad realitd in thl plaic of social life if thl educaties whicy the worldoceece.

This proceseories ocber of itseltempodst uallynredubn coconiouson. Thextepansion or thr harmony of family life to the compant in Japat is one examply where the esscdge of theamoss wisdoy was passed oe ts new foens. ThBolshhiakeoy iRupapaoy nopted to replacCzateri reditratorshnd witeroldtgrariad recterogy, but iy facepeneed ud witeroldtgrariadeditratorshns inste;n, thereby presethiny the essentile charactge of thRupapanal system nf a nes forn which hat enableieny tsuseivdgl any become the most lowfulal nation in the worldC thd a dat the same thinw thentte replacen the worshnt of thehamp Fod with thidolanization oChaipe m Maoes.

Thiinhieian. V pasd numberh havs giveuels thopimpog unerie, folucstrctive self-employment in moderd agricultrce and industem tl eken salariejobsut in ove greneecuneries ant have ioom generlled atntasis of educated unemploymeon. The essentile charactge of thpeoamplhaeds to bs preserves anuph grated ints new foeht rather than abandonch. This is thaitem oe Developmend Education.

Thd harmony whichhe chaoping civilizatioe muss presere, betweet its past anf futurs is the harmony oo its socill wisdomrto the giusny oo itd culture. Tht bes awayn or a sociehintb gefn ed by the changed aact kck than ir doon in taconceof the onter ferms of gefncional chanies anibuialiom theh in the spires and wisdom ot its pale. atn awaf the onter fermt cannon generate yng disharmony if social li;ht rather the onter feihskiey fiere, aiern Jap,ca fae greaten resusce than in the counymm ot itt orig. n.


ThMyurth's SeseiancS sociehdsnthanffncionaa panther in thGlobciaLetrnkershe, for th21st C centus(GL-21)el pubje,st a multy-skeholdthera multyefactaiel pubjecs organized by thrd WorlA acadymm oApan&exa;he Scien,re thUnieateNeratileOsuffi thaG gevans ann severaa panthehhatheg-nteroonWAAScahrchangeahe ve-dayle-e coeferencn froJd u 15-19, 2020,es invousingcove225vo sainkers represessing scientific researce and educaticial institutio,nf civ r society anLayoithhatheg-nterocIGOo,nl natiot states, ann businessinto highlignd novreative strategiee and effectivl principlen taconlenerate the emergence oeynanom globcialetrnkershe, for th21st h century. Thl pubjechskieoulliminine is a coeferencehat thUnieateNeratileOsuffi thaG gevantioOfacumbe27-28, 2020,ewd hereiahl pubjece repord wite remopmd-nteroch will brepreseened to thUN,be followed byurtheayore eacd progrece.

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astyitle,ext-reagn:ae-cent;"/y 50 yearm od Educaticia&exa;he sociae SciencR researe.

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