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Principles of Education of St. Marie Eugenie and Mahatma Gandhi

Education transformatrice

Education today, like many other economic and societal sectors, is in a state of disequilibrium. Developing countries are forced to compete with more developed countries in a competitive knowledge-based global economy and are far behind in providing educational opportunities at the post-basic levels. Knowledge and skills are rapidly changing and expanding in a global village interconnected by world-wide Web, world trade and commerce. Education is no longer a monopoly of the state or a “protected industry” because of expanding economic liberalism and increasing political pluralism. Education and training can now be practiced by anyone, anytime, anywhere. These challenges have raised serious questions about the purpose, mode and operational processes of education. To respond to these challenges, there is a need for a new and clear vision of education to empower individuals and communities to thrive and contribute to more equitable interdependent societies, politically, economically and socio-culturally. St. Marie Eugenie and Mahatma Gandhi are educators who advocated and followed a philosophy and certain fundamental principles of education which was radical in their time, but which still ring true in the 21st century. This article hopes to discover the core meaning and practical applications of their main principle of education.

St. Marie Eugenie of Jesus (1817-1898) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) were partial contemporaries but there were differences in the culture, religion and the socio-political situation of their countries. They both had rich parents who were involved in politics so they too had political affiliations and ideologies. The socio-political situation of France during St. Marie Eugenie’s time was a troubled one from the point of view of social, philosophical, artistic and ecclesial life. However, it was rich in change and innovation. St. Marie Eugenie loved her time and looked at it with hope. She formulated her educational principles with a vision of humankind and society. She saw education as a process of liberation for the human person and for the transformation of society. The main concern of her educational plan was to approach all the sciences and subject matter from the perspective of faith. To educate is to allow the good in each person to break through the rock that imprisons it, so that it can blossom and shed its radiance. For St. Marie Eugenie the beginning and end of education was Jesus Christ. The intellect has to be conquered by Jesus Christ, so that in the thinking, reflection and judgment of students Christ will be revealed to others. She advocated the “christianization of the intellect.” 

On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of “an all-round development” at a time when people lost all confidence in the British education, a legacy of the colonial rule. To him true education must draw out and stimulate the intellectual and physical faculties of the children to the awakening of the soul. The brain must be educated through the hand. He emphasized the ideals of education being a preparation for life, or being a training of the whole man to achieve ‘self-realization.’ There is a relation between the training of the heart and the mind. By spiritual training he meant education of the heart. To develop the spirit is to build character and to enable one to work towards knowledge of God and self-realization. Gandhi’s education ideals are geared on personal as well as community transformation. 

Gandhi’s physical experience of discrimination and prejudices made him an advocate of the physical/political revolution to free the body, mind and heart. His issue was poverty and discrimination while that of St. Marie Eugenie was pride and egoism leading to intellectual dissipation. St. Marie Eugenie’s approach was centered on Jesus Christ, faith formation, character formation, unity of life, co-operation, and visits to the poor, among others, to make her students’ friends of the poor. On the other hand Gandhi was interested in craft-centered education to raise the social status of his students to self-sufficiency and to the realization of their self-worth. So he integrated cooking, gardening, shoe-making and other crafts in his educational practices. There was a coordination of hand, head and heart.

Both St. Marie Eugenie and Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the importance of the training of the mind. Train the mind of the child not simply to accumulate, memorize and repeat facts but also to acquire strong principles and values. To Mahatma Gandhi the training of the mind ‘should lead to the awakening of the soul’ or to ‘the enlightening of the mind with light of faith’ in the words of St .Marie Eugenie. Thus, if we blend St. Marie Eugenie’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on training the mind as part of the “invisible curriculum,” it can be said that to train the mind is to teach the mind to reflect, to judge, to discern and to act, as well as to allow it to concentrate, to meditate and to pray. When the students’ minds are directed to higher pursuits of life, the result is that their hidden potentials are revealed. Only when goodness, beauty, truth, wisdom, peace, strength, unselfishness, humility, loving concern for others and other virtues become evident is a person transformed from a sensuous being to a true human being.

St. Marie Eugenie and Mahatma Gandhi strongly recommended the adoption of a ‘spiritual and ethical culture,’ and they looked upon ‘religion as the innermost core of education’. While St.Marie Eugenie’s character formation was centered on forming students’ mind and heart in (faith) to the person of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi was open to different religions. By religion he meant the true eternal principles that inspire every religion. Character formation of the students depends on the person of the teacher and the witnessing values of his or her example. St. Marie Eugenie insisted the educator should know the individual child personally and after knowing him or her, teach him or her to know himself or herself. Certain qualities essential for the teachers to lead the young to maturity are intelligence, love for Jesus, humility and courage. He or she should be a person of prayer, humble enough to discern the plan of God in the souls entrusted to him or her and has the courage gathered from his or her living faith. To Gandhi, “the teacher must transfer his or her soul to the student’s soul.” 

Teacher-pupil relationship should be based on respect and mutual trust. To Gandhi the teacher has a great role in attaining the ultimate aim of self-realization. Through love, the right type of teacher would be able to draw the best that is in the child through understanding, sympathy and appreciation of each child’s precious individuality. Sweet compulsion of love should be the rule in education. His emphasis was on activities and occupations of real life and all activities depended on the life and character of the teacher. St. Marie Eugenie says a trustful simplicity must be established between educator and the students, without undue restrictions, in an atmosphere of cordiality and joy. A unique feature of Gandhi’s educational philosophy is the application of non-violence in the training of the child as a prospective citizen of the world. Every act of students should be accomplished by love until “class and communal hatred is eliminated and exploitation is eschewed.” 

In spite of their differences, they understood and believed that education plays a vital role in curing the evils in society. It is critical in shaping the future of humanity. They looked at reality and responded to the needs of the society of their time with zeal and conviction. And they found that transformation starts from the individual persons and leads to the transformation of society. So in education they propose to touch the hearts, minds and bodies of the children to raise them above the human inclinations. The vision, mission and commitment of St. Marie Eugenie and of Mahatma Gandhi are the result of their personal spirituality. Their educational principles can be blended and summarized as follows : To educate is to liberate the person and to educate is to transform the society.

Sr. Geeta Prayikalam, r.a.

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