In the previous section I described the Succession Committee and its progress. Here I would like to acquaint you with the work of the Education Committee.
A number of the GBC’s strategic planning committees have broad international mandates. The mandate of the Outreach Committee, for example, covers all aspects of preaching – from how to encourage book distribution to congregational preaching to how to effectively present Krishna consciousness in university settings to all other aspects of outreach.
Similarly, education in ISKCON is a very broad mandate. ISKCON is primarily an educational institution. In his incorporation papers for ISKCON, dated July 11, 1966, Srila Prabhupada listed ISKCON’s seven purposes, five of which directly refer to the propagation of knowledge. (The other two provide support for that education.)
So with such a huge mandate the Education Committee has divided into three teams: Primary and Secondary Education, Devotional Adult (philosophical and vocational) Education, and University Education.
Primary and Secondary
The first task the Primary and Secondary team will undertake is what Ananda-Vrindavanesvari Devi Dasi, long-time educator and past principal of the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula in Vrindavan, calls the safeguarding proposal: to make the Child Protection Teams (CPTs) function more effectively in ISKCON’s current schools. To do this means ensuring schools have active CPTs, then ensuring that these CPTs are trained and continue to be trained. “The primary and secondary team also wants to encourage school CPTs to be proactive in educating students and parents in issues relating to child safety,” Ananda-Vrindavanesvari adds. The devotees serving this effort are already in discussion with ISKCON’s Child Protection Office to see how to bring this about globally.
This group’s second task is to develop an accreditation program for ISKCON schools. ISKCON has schools around the globe, each with its own set of circumstances and legalities, so research has to be done. In the meantime, the team is also compiling an up-to-date list of all existing ISKCON schools and establishing regular communication with them, learning about their needs and how to support their becoming better schools.
Third, the primary and secondary team is working on developing a three-year teacher training course leading to a bachelor’s degree in education, which they hope to launch in September 2012 at Bhaktivedanta College at Radhadesh. This course will certify teachers to teach both inside and outside ISKCON. Graduates will receive their degrees through Bhaktivedanta College’s relationship with an accredited university. (Negotiations with York St. John University in the UK are moving in a positive direction.) Students will choose either the primary or secondary teaching module, and will study education in theory and practice, Krishna conscious teaching methods and content, school administration, and child protection.
Adult Devotional Education
Aside from educating children, the Education Committee also recognizes the need for ongoing adult education. This part of the Education Committee’s work is under the leadership of Nrsimha-kavaca Dasa, ISKCON’s Minister for Deity Worship. “I’ve heard from devotees who have now stepped back from full-time devotional service that the only thing they learned in ISKCON was how to cook. We want to take a look at that and help devotees develop the vocational skills to at least have the chance to make an honorable and sufficient living serving in ISKCON projects,” he says.
ISKCON has been fairly successful in establishing certified courses on Srila Prabhupada’s books through the VIHE, MIHE, Bhaktivedanta College, and VTE programs, as well as in training teachers to offer these courses worldwide. By extending the training to practical devotional skills through high-quality, certified courses that range from introductory bhakta programs to courses on preaching and book distribution, Deity worship, cooking, how to perform yajnas, management, Ayurveda, business, restaurant management – almost any area can be considered, really – then perhaps devotees can use their skills directly in the service of the movement while they also support their asrama. Ideally, this project will work closely with the ISKCON university project.
To establish serious adult education in ISKCON requires increasing awareness among the leaders that it’s important. It also means planning and developing curriculum, then training more teachers in this broader range of subjects. Nrsimha-kavaca Dasa is hoping to create an educational infrastructure that will support the development of campuses worldwide, and to foster a mood of collaboration among them by creating a clearinghouse for information and educational resources.
“We want to provide a framework to inspire devotees to come up to certified standards of education and teaching – in essence, to encourage entrepreneurship in education but to also offer quality control. But to make this happen, we need more help,” Nrsimha-kavaca says. If you would like to help in some way, please contact Nrsimha-kavaca Dasa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An ISKCON University
The Education Committee’s other area of concentration is the development of a university, most likely to be located in Mayapur, India. “Universities are about knowledge generation,” Lila-purusottama Dasa, principal of the ISKCON Vrindavan Gurukula says. “ISKCON’s university should engage in globally acceptable knowledge generation based on the Bhagavata principle.”
Some of the goals of the university are to establish academic programs in all fields of contemporary knowledge with scientific rigor based on Srimad-Bhagavatam, to create graduates who are thoroughly prepared to accept leadership positions in all walks of contemporary society and to instill students with both material and spiritual competence.
Lila-purusottama Dasa adds: “The first and foremost challenge that the university project obliges us to face is our ability to present the knowledge of Srimad-Bhagavatam within a university framework in a contemporary manner without any loss of integrity of the underlying spiritual perspective.”
This is a huge project. Team members are currently soliciting distinguished persons from academia and elsewhere to be part of the various boards they are establishing and making detailed cost estimates. Disciplines under consideration include the sciences and humanities, Sanskrit, and the classical arts.
Please watch for further news as this project develops.
– Kaisori Devi Dasi