In my opinion what we have reason to deplore and be ashamed of is not so much illiteracy as ignorance. Therefore for adult education I should have an intensive programme of driving out ignorance through carefully selected teachers with an equally carefully selected syllabus, according to which they would educate the adult villagers'' mind. This is not to say that I would not give them a knowledge of the alphabet. I value it too much to despise or even belittle its merit as a vehicle of education. I appreciate Prof. Laubach's immense labours in the way of making the alphabet easy and Prof. Bhagwat's great and and practical contribution in the same direction. Indeed I have invited the latter to come to Segaon whenever he chooses and try his art on the men, women and even children of Segaon.
Q. In our schemes for adult education should the aim be to promote the spread of literacy or to impart 'useful knowledge'?
A. The primary need of those who are come of age and are following an avocation, is to know how to read and write. Mass illiteracy is India's sin and shame and must be liquidated. Of course, the literacy campaign must not begin and end with a knowledge of the alphabet.
It must go hand in hand with the spread of useful knowledge. But Municipal bodies should beware of trying to ride two horses at a time, or else they are sure to come a cropper.
The Gandhi Mission Society, Tiruvennainallur, send me their half-yearly report of adult literary work. The total number of adults educated was 197. But the problem that really faces them is 'how to enable the adults to retain the knowledge thus gained'. The report goes on : 'Nearly half the members who attended the class during the first session have approached the worker in charge to repeat the lessons. In fact they had lapsed into illiteracy. The workers are racking their brains to devise means to prevent this lapse.' The workers need not rack their brains at all. The lapse is bound to occur after the short courses that are given. The lapse can only be prevented by correlating the teaching to the villagers` daily wants. The dry knowledge of the three R's is not even now, it can never be, a permanent part of the villagers' life. They must have knowledge given to them which they must use daily. It must not be thrust upon them. They should have the appetite for it. What they have today is something they neither want nor appreciate. Give the villagers village arithmetic, village geography, village history, and the literary knowledge that they must use daily, i.e. reading and writing letters, etc. They will treasure such knowledge and pass on to the other stages. They have no use for books which give them nothing of daily use.