In 1996, ISKCON’s Ministry of Education (MED) convened a conference in Germany to examine where ISKCON was going in terms of education.
Change of direction
It was felt that the Society’s formal educational structure, which was then almost entirely at the primary school level, was tackling education from the wrong end: that a class of teachers would need to be developed first. And not just teachers for children, but teachers for all levels of education.
Fostering individual talent
Once this strategy was decided the next step was to encourage talented individuals to go out and form the basis of institutions based on their own expertise and abilities. These individuals were given the opportunity to flourish. A number succeeded and began to gather the necessary premises, staff, resources, and experience to begin running viable educational programmes.
Together these institutions are aimed at creating a space for educationally-minded people to share their experience, not only with their students, but with each other as well. There is a need to develop a social interaction for thinkers, an interchange of thought and experience, so they can be most productive and benefit all levels of society.
There is some distance to travel but there are already notable successes, and it is interesting to see how they are beginning to feed into each other. One example of this is the synthesis that is being built between the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS) and the Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium.
The OCHS, an officially recognised affiliate of England’s celebrated Oxford University, facilitates the highest level of study in ISKCON. Students at OCHS are given the opportunity to study up to PhD level while being able to live in a small nurturing community of Vaisnava scholars.
Bhaktivedanta College is ISKCON’s first seminary college. It exists to develop a class of priests, counsellors, ministers, and preachers. It trains them to a high level of understanding of Western and Eastern philosophies; it gives many practical skills including teaching and leadership; and it provides a constant focus on the introspective life.
The OCHS is one of the major sources of teachers for the Bhaktivedanta College, and the Bhaktivedanta College (now recognised by the University of Wales, Lampeter) is becoming a major source of students for Oxford.
This section exists to give an overview of some MED approved institutions and to share some of the materials that have been developed from these programmes.