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Towards a Gandhian Educational System
By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in a child and man - body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education. I would therefore begin the child's education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins its training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting, the condition being that the State takes over the manufactures of these schools.
- M. K. Gandhi
Though India became politically independent, the impact of British colonialism continued in all facets of Indian life. Literally independent India followed all institutions and systems of the colonial period with slight modifications. Everybody thought that after independence, the system of education will radically change, but nothing of that sort happened and practically the same system of education continued. Here I am reminded of a couplet by a well known English poet, John Dryden, who rightly said:
‘By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The Priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.'
On the other hand, one should also remember what Lord Henry Brougham said: ‘Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive, easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.’
Education plays an important role in the life of an individual. In fact, school is the place where the life of a pupil is moulded. The great philosopher, Leo Tolstoy said about the impact of his school as follows: ‘It was all my life, it was my monastery, my church in which I redeemed myself while being saved from all the anxieties, doubts and temptations of life.’
Almost all philosophers and thinkers reflected on the education, the role of schooling and the issues connected with it. Alvin Toffler, the author of well-known work Future Shock, and Third Wave expressed his opinion about the educational system, in the following words:
‘In every school system, there is an overt curriculum and a covert curriculum. At overt level, there are differences from place to place. We teach American History, Japanese teach Japanese History. All these systems teach three basic courses. The first course is punctuality. Kids must show up on time or be punished. The second is a course of obedience. Even in schools that pride themselves on teaching kids to think and ask questions, the smartest kids quickly discover which questions not to ask. The third is a course of rote work. The school has the task of breaking the child into a life of routine and repetitive toil. We must teach what life would hold later on—an advanced stimulation of adult life. It is not history that we need to know. It is fabulously valuable experience for students to start thinking about their own and the society’s alternative future.’
In the late nineteen sixties the Students’ Movement took place in the western countries and its leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit severely criticised the then education system because it was creating only a stereotype society or the society of employees. Daniel Cohn- Bendit aptly described the disgusting system of education in the work ‘Obsolete Communism: The Left Wing Alternative …’ many students are becoming increasingly disgusted and sickened not only by this system but by the very culture that produces and fosters it. After the Students’ Movement, the Director General of UNESCO observed: ‘The gulf between young and adult seems to be growing every day not only with university but with society as a whole. With their needs for absolutes, the young are less than ever able to tolerate injustice and disorder of this world.’ If this has to become a reality, then the education system must undergo a drastic change. What is required now is a deep rethinking about the whole system and process of education. It should include not only the teacher-students relationship, but also their relationship with the parents, because the values cannot be taught, but can only be caught. The catching of values by pupils will obviously depend upon the educational system as well as the society in which they live. Learning is a process in itself. Bernard Shaw has rightly said: ‘I wanted to learn, but they went on teaching only.’ Therefore, the learning and teaching process should be the same for the teachers and students. A teacher, who is not able to learn new things, can never teach or meet aspirations of the students. Rabindranath Tagore wrote: ‘A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its flame.’ The teacher must invest his life in the development of the personality of students. To borrow the words of the immortal Helen Keller: (blind and deaf, who touched the lives of millions) ‘I will not just live my life; I will not just spend my life; I will invest my life.’ In the primary schools, students either worship or fear the teacher. In the middle school, they either admire or ridicule him. In the senior classes, they assess their teachers and emulate them. Whatever else students might do, they could never remain indifferent to their teachers. They have become an inseparable part of their lives. A teacher must have a mother’s heart. Mother does not love her children by adopting percentage formula. For her every child is a cent full personality and integral whole. The success of schools or project or plan cannot be measured by its capacity of spending. In any case, it is not an indication of quality or the standard of education. A model or blueprint will have to be developed and created, which will provide for the quality control at every stage. Otherwise, as it is normally said that the success is counted on the basis of the money spent. But standard of spending cannot be equated with standard of education. The whole system of education will have to be an integrated and correlated one, and it must be a system, which can be rightly described as ‘learning and teaching’ system. This system should be organically correlated with social and physical environment of the country.
Having spent the earlier years of my life at Wardha and having been associated with the concept of Mahatma Gandhi’s Basic Education, I feel that we should consider Gandhi’s concept of education, which is known as Nai Talim, very seriously. I am aware of the fact that we are living in an era of globalization and we have to look at the issues from a global perspective. But it is my firm conviction that ultimately we will have to “think globally, but act locally.” Therefore, all of us have to do some loud thinking about the system of education we follow and the issues involved in it. Mere thinking, planning and legislations will not solve the problem in this field, because our nation is well known for its maximum legislation and minimum implementation. So far, we are following a top to bottom implementing system, but in that process nothing reaches at the bottom and everything is vanished in between. Therefore, the implementation will have to be oceanic, meaning thereby that there is first a small circle, and then circle widens up. Therefore, the beginning should be from the bottom. Then alone fruits will reach to the bottom. When I travel abroad, I have experienced that people from the western and other countries are eager to know much more about the Nai Talim, because they feel that the present educational system will not solve the problems, faced by today’s world. Instead of cut-throat competition, they feel that education should help in developing the qualities of love, friendship and fraternity. It was thought that the modern education could solve all the problems, but unfortunately, education itself has become a problem. That is the reason why rethinking and relooking about the educational policy, as a whole, is necessary. It is good that compulsory and free education (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) for all at the primary level has been introduced. But that will not be enough. Equality means to treat equals equally. To treat unequal equally results in inequality. The reservations or concessions, as contemplated by the Constitution of India, are meant for achieving the said objective. The starting points of different lives are not the same or common. Concept of equality contemplates equal opportunity. We cannot achieve equality without equal opportunity for all.
In the field of education, there is gradation and classification of the educational institutions. Rich people choose public schools for their children, which are run at the public cost, but where the common public can never go. Others choose convent education. Children of this class, get all the advantages because their parents are educated. Apart from this, they can afford tuitions or attend tuition classes. The last and the worst category is of the children, in whose house, nobody is educated, no facilities such as electricity and water and books are available. They live amidst ruthless poverty. They normally opt for the educational institutions run by the municipalities or the Zilla Parishads or ashram.
Even if we want to achieve the goal of universal education, still inequality persists, because of poverty and other circumstances. Apart from universal education, neighbourhood school system will have to be vigorously implemented because the culture at home and the culture at school will have to be harmonised. Today, unfortunately, students are well disciplined in the school, but they are undisciplined at home. Therefore, the system will have to be one which will reach out to the homes. We want to educate parents through these children. In a sense, it will be an education of the parents also. Ours is basically an economy based on agriculture. Even if there is free and compulsory education, it is noticed that the children are not able to go to the schools at all. This is because of the domestic circumstances prevailing in rural areas where the children have to help the parents in agricultural operations. Elder brother or elder sister is forced to live at home to take care of their younger brothers or sisters, as their parents go out in the field for the agricultural work. Therefore, the whole timetable of the educational institutions will have to be rationalised. It was good, when the British rule was there and as the rulers wanted to go to the hill stations in the summer. Therefore, there was a summer vacation for the educational institutions also. These vacations have no meaning for the Indian situations. Now, we will have to think to give vacation in a season, when the parents can live at home, and when the initial agricultural work is over. Therefore, children can go to the school, because their presence at home is not needed to take care of their younger brothers or sisters, or for the household work. Vacation will have to be harmonised with the agricultural work, so that the children can afford to go to the school or to be precise, their parents can afford to send their children to the school. In our view, this is the crucial question before the system of compulsory education.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech “Youth and Social Action” rightly observes: ‘The largest group of young people is struggling to adopt itself to prevailing values of our society. The second group is of radicals. They agree that only by structural change can current evils be eliminated, because the roots are in the system rather than in men or in faulty operation. They are in serious revolt against old values and have not yet concretely formulated new ones. Ironically, their rebelliousness comes from having been frustrated in seeking change within the framework of existing society.’ It will be almost impossible to think about Nai Talim or swadeshi educational system within the framework of society in which we are living. A total restructuring of political and economic system is a prerequisite for the natural flowering of the education system. It would be appropriate to discuss briefly Gandhi’s concept of Nai Talim or Basic Education. Nai Talim is an educational system that draws out the best in child and man. It takes care of all the problems relating to his body, mind and spirit. It is a system of education for life, through life and throughout life. It was universal education, free for all and free from the control of the Government and others. If you want to have freedom in education, it has to be self-reliant and self-supporting. It was an education through medium of craft. All subjects were correlated to the basic craft. An appropriate craft has to be selected which will ensure socially useful production. It will make the education system self- supporting. This handicraft has to be taught scientifically and not mechanically. This in turn requires highly trained teachers. They should know why and wherefore of every process of the craft selected. Man is born with two hands and the process of education should be “learning by doing” and not from the books alone. A similar system is followed in China and Korea where artisans, like potters, blacksmiths and carpenters and others viz. are involved in the educational system. They teach the students crafts and dignity of productive labour. Their status is that of a teacher.
In today’s educational system, there is no swadeshi spirit. Everything is based on foreign ideas and concepts. Akbar Allahabadi, a noted Urdu poet, described present day education in his Urdu couplet as follows:
तिल्फ़ में बू क्या आये माँ बाप के ऐतबार की |
दूध तो डिब्बे का है, तालीम है सर्कार की ||
The above couplet means that the culture of parents is not reflected in their children because they are brought up on milk powder and government education. Swadeshi education cannot be a borrowed one. It has to be evolved taking into consideration our environment. We wanted to create independent thinking in children and man through Nai Talim. The purpose of education is not to produce clerks who are not supposed to use their brains. Nai Talim aims at producing self-reliant and socially useful citizens trained through real life situations. They will possess skills/ capacities required for all round development of both society and individuals. By its very nature, its emphasis is on character building rather than on providing information. The moot question is whether we want only “Saksharta” (literacy) or our aim is “Sarthakta”(meaningful life).
According to Gandhi, literacy in itself is no education. He observes: ‘literacy is not the end of education nor it is even the beginning.’ Literary education should follow the education of the hand—the one gift that visibly distinguishes man from beast. True education must be self-reliant and should fulfil the requirements of individual and correspond to the needs of the society. Otherwise, it is not a healthy growth. The function of Nai Talim was not merely to teach an occupation, but through it to develop the whole man. The true education should be easily accessible to all and should be of use to everyone in his daily life. The notion of education through handicrafts originates from truth and love pervading life's activities. Persistent questioning and healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind. If we want to impart education best suited to the needs of the villagers, we should
take the vidyapiths and educational institutions to the villages. In a democratic scheme, money invested in the promotion of learning gives a tenfold return to the people even as a seed sown in good soil returns an abundant crop.
Acharya Vinoba Bhave also expressed views about education or Nai Talim. He said: ‘On the day India attained independence, I had said that as a new flag necessarily followed in the wake of the establishment of a new State, new education or Nai Talim should also follow in its wake in the same manner. I do not see anything but a desire to maintain in now maintaining here the same system of education which suited those who kept the country under bondage.’ That was our first misfortune. The second misfortune was that the standard of living of those who were given education was raised, which was against the cultural traditions of this country. Here, the spirit of sacrifice has been deemed as a concomitant of learning and wisdom. It has been held that while there is not much harm, if those who are uneducated indulge in the enjoyment of sense pleasure for they are ignorant, it is not proper for men of wisdom to indulge in them.
The third misfortune was that work was not linked with education. The result is the tendency in the educated to enjoy pleasures without doing work and to look down upon physical labour, even of their parents.
There is no true joy for the man whose life is cut off from the heavens above and the world of Nature around. This means that the task before education is to change the whole system of values and the ways of life that are current in our cities. How this is to be done? It is not a question only for you and me. It is for the whole humanity.
Whether the children have been educated or not should be decided by the criterion, whether they have developed such qualities as loyalty to truth, spirit of service and fearlessness. What is also to be looked into is how far they have developed practical knowledge and qualities useful for social service.
I am personally of the view that just as judiciary is independent and the government has no authority over it, similarly the educational institutions should be free and independent. If the education is in the hands of the government, it is open to two objections. One, it acquires a rigid form and is coloured by the complexion of the government. Two, all teachers become government employees. The ideal situation would be that education institutions should be in the hands of public men of knowledge and if the government so desires, it may extend some financial help to them.
The philosophy of Nai Talim does not accept the unequal values assigned by our present society to physical and mental work. It takes the position that every kind of service rendered by a man, whether it is physical or mental, is ethical in its nature. The value of an ethical act cannot be calculated in economic terms. The spiritual principle of Nai Talim is that knowledge and work are not two separate things. They are the same thing. It is a mistake to say that knowledge is higher than work or work is higher than knowledge. Nai Talim is based on the concept of unity of knowledge and work.
It is not possible that the people take over educational system into their hands all at once. Until and unless it happens, it is bound to remain in the hands of the government, precluding any reform. Hence, there should be such independent schools in the country as will be able to act as models for the government. By “independent’ I mean that the government will have no control at all over them, be it of any type. If, in spite of it, the government helps them, it does not matter. This is one definition of “independent” schools. There are also institutions, which neither accept government aid nor are controlled by it. There should be three kinds of schools in the country; (1) government schools, (2) schools accepting government aid but not controlled by it, and (3) fully independent schools, accepting neither government help nor its control in any form, whatsoever. The “independent schools” would be looked upon as the model schools. They would be undertaking independent research and experiments to point out the way for the progress of the nation. This will gives us an idea how Vinoba looked upon education and related matters.
H. L. Wayland has correctly said: ‘Universal suffrage, without universal education, would be a curse.’ After framing of the Constitution and adopting adult franchise as the basis of election process, it was said that “We must educate our own masters, meaning thereby, a common man, who is real master of democracy.” No political party was interested in this because obviously, if the people are ignorant and poor, then they can manipulate the whole election process to their advantage. Therefore, no political party undertook this sort of education. Today, it is necessary that at all stages of education should be such, which will make a person a good citizen. The preamble of the Constitution lays down broad blueprint of the direction in which the country should move forward. Our agony is that while emphasising upon fundamental rights, incorporated in the Constitution, we are forgetting that, every right has a corresponding duty. Rather, it is to carry out the duties that, rights are given. Duty gives the birth to right and not vice-versa. Therefore, while considering the right to education, we must also consider corresponding duties of parents, teachers, government agencies and the schools. Since we did not realise this in the initial stages, the chapter relating to the fundamental duties namely Article 51 (A) was added to the Constitution by an amendment. It includes the duty of the parents to educate their children. This necessarily calls for the inclusion of fundamental duties of the citizens in every system of education directly or indirectly. This should also be a parts and parcels of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and adult education. I expect, at least the fundamental duties of citizens enumerated in Article 5l (a) of the Constitution of India, will find a place in our educational system. The education will have to be at two levels
— one at students’ level and other at the citizens’ level. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan should cover such subjects, which will help them to become good citizens and realise their duties and responsibilities towards the society, as a whole. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the Minister for Education, when the Constitution was under preparation. He was of the emphatic view that education as a subject should be included in the Union list and that under no circumstances should it be left to the States. He had an apprehension that if education is retained in the subject list of the State, an educated man in India would become a narrow provincialist. In a letter written to the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, Maulana Azad advocated that education should be under Central guidance if not under Central control. He strongly opposed leaving education with the States. According to him, if education was not under Central guidance or control, the intelligentsia of the country would become regional in outlook. Azad also believed that the educational planning should be a Union subject. Nehru also supported his point of view. Gandhi was an advocate of national education. He established national level institutions like Gujarat Vidyapith during the wake of non-cooperation movement. The aim of national education according to him was the inculcation among the young people of the values of patriotism and similar other social and cultural values. So that they rise above the feeling of personal gain or loss.
National education was not just a change in the medium of instruction. Singing the glory of slavery in Gujarati or Marathi instead of in English could not be called national education. A change in the medium of instruction was a matter of details. Similarly, a change in subjects taught could not be equated with national education. Change in the medium of instructions and in subjects or syllabus are incidental to the idea of national education. They would be subject to change as per the changing needs. The content of national education must be truly national. Its object must be to create patriotic citizens who would be prepared to give their lives for the nation’s regeneration. A student is a citizen of tomorrow and, therefore, the custodians of a nation’s future dreams, of what the country ought to be in future. Therefore, the direction and the content of education must not be and cannot be guided by the present needs. Experts in the field of education ought to rise above the trivialities of today and think of the coming world of future generations. That is why education was considered a national question.
National education did not consider intellectual labour superior to physical labour. In fact, one of the purposes of institutions imparting national education was to give dignity to physical labour. It was a national programme to foster the ideals of equality and fraternity and promote genuine nationalist feelings. Our leaders wanted a system of education that would instill among the students feelings of common nationality and fraternity. Under a uniform system of education, the new generation would become truly Indian in outlook. That was the reason why many insisted on avoiding regionalism in our educational system. We think education moulds the minds of men. Today our national situation has deteriorated to such an extent that even an educated Indian is not accustomed to thinking in terms of India. There seems to be a common view that when everyone thinks of his own province, the sum total of Indians will be thinking of India. This is a fallacious view. If every individual thinks of himself, he does not thereby ensure social good. The overall individual interest does not add up to social welfare. Every individual and region has to think in terms of the nation. Many educationists are of the view that if every Indian is imparted the same type of education, then the horizon of the Indian educational system would broaden. That would also result in promoting amity among Indians States by reducing inter- State conflicts. For this purpose, the syllabus and the medium of instruction will have to be the same throughout the country. Such a policy will accelerate our march towards equality. To achieve this, a ‘three languages formula’ was framed, but it did not work, because ultimately regionalism prevailed over nationalism. In substance, we will have to prepare afresh a blueprint of the entire educational system.
It is said that “Indian culture is agriculture.” That should be reflected everywhere, including in education. Rahul Gandhi visited a house of an agriculturist in Vidarbha. He enquired whether any of his sons would like to be agriculturist? The reply was in negative. They told him there is no status or dignity for an agriculturist. Even a Class-IV Government servant is respected more than a farmer. The problem of suicide by the agriculturists cannot be solved alone by giving proper price to agricultural products. The more important question is respect and dignity for productive labour. Today Government employees are paid city allowance, where all the facilities are available. Even a teacher gets an additional income by running tuition classes or taking tuitions. Now what is necessary is to pay rural allowance, so that the teachers will be encouraged to go to villages or rural areas, where though there are schools and the educational schemes, but teachers or tutors are not available. Therefore, all these aspects have to be taken into account while planning the educational policy at the national level. These are my random thoughts relating to educational system. I hope they would provide scope for loud thinking and may be of some help in developing a swadeshi educational system. I fervently hope that someday the system of education will change from Macaulay to Mahatma.
From the book, 'Contemplating Gandhi'