What is student flourishing on campus

My belief in the potential of young people to co-create a better world has been continuously reinforced through my interactions with them over the last couple of decades. I’ve enabled young people to bring out-of-school children back to school and currently serve as Principal of Srushti Degree College. Young minds have always inspired me.

We are living in a rapidly changing world, which has been further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Digitalization and AI are drastically changing our relationships and how we do things. Social media has bought with it a complete obsession with oneself. The gap between generations is widening at a rapid pace, making it stressful to adapt to continuously changing cultural norms. We definitely need the young minds to share what their world is and their imaginations of how it can be, and the older generation to listen with their wisdom of age. Then together, we can co-create a new world order, where the world is a place of flourishing for ourselves, others, and the earth!

The educational campus is probably the only space where this new generation of young people can be nurtured.

It’s an aspiration for every student who steps into the college campus to seek a bright career and be placed in reputed companies with high pay packages. This is an objective that focuses on building competencies in students is to make them work-ready. Yes, it’s a valuable outcome of education. But can this alone be considered student flourishing?

Can we look at flourishing as the flowering of the student, to be able to experience life in its fullness? Like the lotus flower is beautiful only when it fully blossoms to perfection in shape, color, and beauty, where the petals unfold layer by layer, petal by petal. The goal of human life is to flower fully during one’s lifetime, which is in itself beautiful and truthful. As you unfold your intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual layers, you can experience life fully.

Maybe this idea of flourishing is not what we celebrate today. We admire people who have one goal and strive with single-minded focus to achieve it. People spend a lifetime chasing a fixed goal, consolidating all their energy, time, and attention to achieve it. But is it worthwhile to achieve it at the cost of sacrificing every other aspect of one’s life? What we see is that they usually experience disconnectedness and alienation.

Instead, can a student’s agenda on campus be just to discover their unique potential by engaging in what resonates with them at campus, be it their learning, relationships, or live projects? This brings a paradigm shift in their goal-setting, which should come from within. Students will seek to engage fully in their choice of learning and projects. This opens a new approach to their career and life, which is to engage with life at the moment, more intensely and meaningfully leading to allowing self to evolve, together with others. 

As the student expands their scope of engagement beyond oneself and deepens their intensity of engagement, every experience of life can be transformed into moments of wonder and possibilities. This brings a sense of joy and satisfaction. We could probably call this flourishing.

We have all had moments of this experience of fullness or satisfaction. But there are a few who have had more such experiences. Tagore expressed himself creatively in all art forms and wrote extensively on education, social work, nationalism, philosophy, etc, while also practically implementing his ideas. Leonardo Da Vinci’s creativity did not limit itself to sculpture and painting. His curiosity extended to studying the anatomy of the body or building a model of aircraft. It looks like experiencing one fulfilling moment triggers another.

An idea of flourishing is more acceptable only when it is rooted in the cultural context. Fullness or Bhuma, as described in the Vedas, is the concept of experiencing the infinite. The perception of the infinite lies in the experience of feeling oneness with everything. Being able to participate in all aspects of life brings a sense of beauty and truth. This should be one’s highest aspiration.

For a long time, educationists have spoken about the all-round development of the student. For Tagore, “the highest education is that which makes our life in harmony with each other and our surroundings.” Gandhi talked of education as something that engages the hand, head, and spirit. The idea of education has been the all-round flourishing of the student. NEP-2020, the National Education Policy in India, is also aiming for an integrated or holistic personality of the student.

Education is not just a preparation for a career but also life. It’s the preparation of a holistic personality, which includes physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. It helps one integrate thought and action, emotion and logic, oneself and society, and the utilitarian and spiritual. When this becomes the sole aim in Higher Education, student flourishing will be a natural outcome.

By Lakshmi Hariharan,

Principal, Srushti Degree College