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Gurukul system Vs Anglophonic education: Which learning system is better for children?

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By Gaurav Sharma

Education is not about flooding the brain with mass volumes of data. It is not about maximising the economic prospects of an individual, or providing the means to be at the top of the food chain of success.

It is about acquiring a skill set which is to be constantly reinvigorated and reworked. This skill set, apart from providing social and economic well-being and intellectual fulfillment, should usher in a creative revolution in the psyche of the individual.

It is about taking the student beyond the familiar chartered territory into the unknown. Something that emancipates a learner from the shackles of the mind.

But, does our modern education system actually offer such knowledge?

Working towards economic prosperity within certain social structures is the thrust of the present education system. This can be quite clearly seen in the reflection of the society around us.

One of the most developed nations, boasting of the best education systems in the world such as Harvard, MIT among others, is a host to regular bouts of school shootings, binge alcoholism and umpteen suicides.

The pressure created by the Anglophonic education system to get better grades for better pay is pushing more and more students to take refuge of intoxicants and immediate sense pleasures. This leads them further below the mind, instead of taking them beyond it.

So, if our present education system has such massive pitfalls, isn’t it time we evaluate it more broadly and find out the crucial missing link of the puzzle?

When we make a comparative analysis of the traditional Gurukul system with the present system, we can easily find some answers to this pertinent question.

While some people might claim that the Gurukul system was biased as only the sons of Brahmins and the kings were permitted in such schools, the reality was that any worthy student–possessing the required determination, desire and willingness could join the Gurukul.

The shishyas or students, lived together as equals, irrespective of social standing.

Under the guidance of the Guru, the children led a simple life bereft of immoral habits. Moreover, what really set the Gurukul students apart from the present lot of students entering the workforce was their knowledge of Yoga, meditation and Sanskrit language.

The spiritual disciplines that they strictly followed in the Gurukul, provided them with the mastery of body and mind. Also, by serving the Guru in performing menial jobs inculcated humility deep in their hearts.

This was not to say that they were limited in their knowledge. A wide array of knowledge in the Scriptures, Philosophy, Literature, Medicine, Astrology, History, Warfare was imparted to students

The Vedic knowledge that was taught in the Gurukul made the pupils at ease with their own mind and body. The profound spiritual knowledge made them more peaceful, loving and respectful of other living entities.

The real goal of life that of Mukti or liberation from the fourfold cycle of birth, old age, disease and death assumed paramount importance, and artha or wealth was meant to be used for the welfare of the society.

And, it was ensured that this purpose of life was taught with single-pointedness during the fragile formative years of the child, through the Gurukul system.

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Angola Fossils Bring A New But Familiar Ocean in View

These fossils are the patrimony of Angola, these are their heritage, and for us to be able to bring them to the Smithsonian and ultimately back to Angola.

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Angola Fossils
This full-size fossil reconstruction of a sea turtle from the prehistoric South Atlantic looks very similar to the giant sea turtles which still swim in our oceans today. VOA

Some may be familiar with mythical sea monsters. For example, Scotland’s infamous Loch Ness Monster “Nessie,” and Giganto — fictional beasts of comic book fame. But millions of years ago, real-life sea monsters lived and thrived in what we now call the South Atlantic Ocean.

South Atlantic Ocean basin

As the continents of South America and Africa separated millions of years ago, scientists say a fantastic array of ferocious predators and other lifeforms colonized the newly formed body of water off the coast of Angola.

That diverse collection of marine reptiles included mosasaurs (aquatic lizards), plesiosaurs (which exhibited broad flat bodies, large paddlelike limbs, and typically a long flexible neck and small head), and the more familiar giant sea turtles.

But a catastrophic asteroid that hit earth 66 million years ago wiped most of them out, according to scientists.

Today, thanks to a project called Projecto PaleoAngola among Angolan, American, Portuguese and Dutch researchers, paleontologists have been able to visit the coastal cliffs of Angola to excavate and study what remains of these giant animals.

“We knew that there were fossils there, we just didn’t know how good they would be,” says Louis Jacobs, collaborating curator and professor emeritus of paleontology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

“Nobody had been there, so this was a vast, unknown terrain and we wanted to get there.”

A 72-million year-old ecosystem

What the team of paleontologists discovered was a treasure trove, giving them an unprecedented look into a strange yet familiar ecosystem.

In addition to mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and sea turtles, there were fossilized remains of a variety of fish and other marine life forms.

Angola, fossils
Modern cliffs of coastal Angola where Projecto PaleoAngola paleontologists excavate fossils of life that once lived in Angola’s ancient seas. VOA

While mosasaurs have been known to exist on all continents and are relatively common in certain places, this particular sample is the largest collection of southern hemisphere mosasaurs known, according to the paleontologists.

“It’s certainly the best locality for these kinds of animals in sub-Saharan Africa and it could be one of the best in the world,” Jacobs said.

Rediscovering a lost world

Eleven authentic fossils from Angola’s ancient seas, full-size reconstructions of a mosasaur and an ancient sea turtle are on display for the first time in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, titled “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas.”

There are also 3-D scanned replicas of mosasaur skulls, and photo-murals and video vignettes transport visitors to field sites along Angola’s modern rugged coast, where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists unearthed the fossil remains from this lost world.

 

Angola, fosiils
The seafaring lizard Prognathodon kianda was a top predator in the Cretaceous waters. Scientists named this species after Kianda, the ruler of the ocean in Angolan mythology. VOA

 

Jacobs, who was part of a team of scientists and students at SMU that helped prepare the fossils for the Smithsonian exhibit, says any visitor “can look and see and compare how the ecosystem and its animals of the cretaceous of 72 million years ago are similar to ecosystems today in the same general areas.”

“The species are different, but the ecological jobs of the species are very similar,” he added.

Giant lizards

Michael Polcyn, senior research fellow at SMU, pointed out an example in the exhibit.

Standing in front of a fossil skull and partial skeleton of a mosasaur, he described the reptile as an “optimized fish eater.”

“You see the long narrow snout, the interlocking teeth — this would be similar to what you would see in the ocean today, in a dolphin for instance,” he said.

He gestured to a graphic posted on the display case depicting a rough toothed dolphin which it described as “the analog for the animal in the modern ecosystem.”

Angola Fossils
An artist’s rendering of Angola’s Cretaceous seas 72 million years ago, dominated by many species of large, carnivorous marine reptiles. VOA

Shell-crushing mosasaur

Another great example of diversity within that ancient ecosystem is the hardshell-eating mosasaur, Polcyn said, which preyed on large oysters which were almost a meter (three feet) across.

“They were really big, so to crack an oyster three feet across you needed the dentition and the musculature to do that, and that’s what you see here in these very strange mushroom-shaped teeth that you see in this animal,” Polcyn explained.

Within the same ecosystem was another example of a top predator, the Prognathodon kianda. Its full-scale skeleton on display in the museum is almost eight meters long.

In addition to top predators like the monster-like mosasaur, the exhibit also includes fossils of gentler creatures; small fish and an ancient giant sea turtle.

“We have a snapshot of this moment in time 72 million years ago that has preserved all of these animals that were living together in one place,” Polcyn said.

Angola Fossils
This mosasaur fossil skull shows how its mushroom-shaped teeth were optimized to crack hard-shell prey like giant oysters. VOA

The big dig

Jacobs says the fossil find in Angola was a big deal for a number of reasons:

“First of all because it’s going into a country that never really had a heritage of fossils,” he said. “It basically was unknown at the level that we are opening it up.”

“Fossils,” he says, “instill a sense of pride in what’s in the country, and it provides something to use for education, and it builds science. And the way it builds science is because every country has fossils, so every country has something to offer, so every country is a piece of the puzzle and the Angola piece is now there.”

Michael Polcyn agrees that unearthing this cache of ancient fossils has been a huge breakthrough on a number of fronts.

Also Read: New Artifacts Found in Cairo, Egypt: Archaeologists

“From a purely scientific point of view it gives us an incredible window into an ecosystem 72 million years ago that is relatively complete,” he says. “From a very human point of view this really shows the people of Angola, and the people of the world, what incredible resources we have in our natural environments.”

And lastly, he says, “These fossils are the patrimony of Angola, these are their heritage, and for us to be able to bring them to the Smithsonian and ultimately back to Angola, on a very personal level, is a thrill for us.” (VOA)