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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section XI : Basic Education and Students > Basic Education


76. Basic Education

The ancient aphorism1, “Education is that which liberate”, is as true today as it was before. Education here does not mean mere spiritual knowledge, nor does not liberation signify only spiritual liberation after death. Knowledge includes all training that is useful for the service of mankind and liberation means freedom from all manner of servitude even in the present life. Servitude is of two kinds: slavery to domination from outside and to one’s own artificial needs. The knowledge acquired in the pursuit of this ideal alone constitutes true study.

Harijan, 10-3-46, p. 38

Persistent questioning and healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind. Inquisitiveness should be tempered by humility and respectful regard for the teacher. It must not degenerate into impudence. The latter is the enemy of the receptivity of mind. There can be no knowledge without humility and the will to learn.

Harijan, 8-9-46, p. 306

Education must be of a new type for the sake of the creation of a new world.

Harijan, 19-1-47, p. 494

Every one of us has good inherent in the soul, it needs to be drawn out by the teachers, and only those teachers can perform this sacred function whose own character is unsullied, who are always ready to learn and to grow from perfection to perfection.

Harijan, 7-1-36, p. 309

Useful manual labour, intelligently performed is the means par excellence for developing the intellect... A balanced intellect presupposes a harmonious growth of body, mind and soul… An intellect that is developed through the medium of socially useful labour will be an instrument for service and will not easily be led astray or fall into devious paths.

Harijan, 8-9-46, p. 306

Craft, art, health and education should all be integrated into one scheme. Nai Talim is a beautiful blend of all the four and covers the whole education of the individual from the time of conception to the moment of death... Instead of regarding craft and industry as different from education, I will regard the former as the medium for the latter.

Harijan, 10-11-46, p. 394

Our system of (Basic) education leads to the development of the mind, body and soul. The ordinary system cares only for the mind.

Harijan, 9-11-47, p. 401

The teachers earn what they take. It stands for the art of living. Therefore, both the teacher and the pupil have no produce in the very act of teaching and learning. It enriches life from the commencement. It makes the nation independent of the search for employment.

Harijan, 11-5-47, p. 145

It is popularly and correctly described as education through handicrafts. This is part of the truth. The root of this new education goes much deeper. It lies in the application of truth and love in every variety of human activity, whether in individual life or a corporate one. The notion of education through handicrafts rises from the contemplation of truth and love permeating life’s activities. Love requires that true education should be easily accessible to all, and should be of use to every villager in his daily life. Such education is not derived from, nor does it depend upon books. It has no relation to sectional religion. If it can be called religious, it is universal religion from which all sectional religions are derived. Therefore, it is learnt from the Book of Life which costs nothing and which cannot be taken away from one by any force on earth.

Harijan, 21-12-47, p. 480

I hold that, as the largest part of our time is devoted to labour for earning our bread, our children must from their infancy be taught the dignity of such labour. Our children should not be so taught as to despise labour. There is no reason why a peasant’s son, after having gone to school, should become useless as he does become, as and agricultural labourer.

Young India, 1-9-21, p. 277

Literary education should follow the education of the hand-the one gift that visible distinguishes man from beast. It is a superstition to think that the fullest development of man is impossible without a knowledge of the art of reading and writing. That knowledge undoubtedly adds grace to life, but it is in no way indispensable for man’s moral, physical, or material growth.

Harijan, 8-3-35, p. 28

Man is neither mere intellect, nor the gross animal body, nor the heart or soul alone. A proper and harmonious combination of all the three is required for the making of the whole man and constitutes the true economics of education...

I hold that true education of the intellect can only come through a proper exercise and training of the bodily organs, e.g., hands, feet, eyes, nose, etc. In order words an intelligent use of the bodily organs in a child provide the best and quickest way of developing his intellect. But unless the development of the mind and body goes hand in hand with a corresponding awakening of the soul, the former alone would prove to be poor lop-sided affair. By spiritual training I mean education of the heart. A proper and all-round development of the mind, therefore, can take place only when it proceeds pari passu with the education of the physical and spiritual faculties of the child. They constitute an invisible whole. According to this theory, therefore, it would be a gross fallacy to suppose that they can be developed piecemeal or independently of one another.

Harijan, 8-5-37, p. 104

By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in 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 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.

I hold that the highest development of the mind and the soul is possible under such a system of education. Only every handicraft has to be taught not merely mechanically as is done today but scientifically, i. e., the child should know the why and the wherefore of every process. I am not writing this without some confidence, because it has the backing of experience. This method is being adopted more or less completely wherever spinning is being taught to workers. I have myself taught sandal-making and even spinning on these lines with good results. This method does not exclude a knowledge of history and geography. But I find that this is the best taught by transmitting such general information by word of mouth. One imparts ten times as much in this manner as by regarding and writing. The signs of the alphabet may be taught later when the pupil has learnt to distinguish wheat from the chaff and when he has somewhat developed his or her tastes. This is a revolutionary proposal, but it saves immense labour and enables a student to acquire in one year what he may take much longer to learn. This means all round economy. Of course the pupil learns mathematics whilst he is learning his handicraft.

Harijan, 31-7-37, p. 197

Given the right kind of teachers, our children will be taught the dignity of labour and learn to regard it as an integral part and a means of their intellectual growth, and to realize that it is patriotic to pay for their training through their labour. The core of my suggestion is that handicrafts are to be taught, not merely for productive work, but for developing intellect of the pupils. Surely, if the State takes charge of the children between seven and fourteen, and trains their bodies and minds through productive labour, the public schools must be frauds and teachers idiots, if they cannot become self-supporting.

Harijan, 11-9-37, p. 256

When it is remembered that the primary aim of all education is, or should be, the moulding of the character of pupils, a teacher who has a character to keep need not lost heart.

Harijan, 1-2-33, p. 3

In the schools I advocate, boys have all that boys learn in high schools less English but plus drill, music, drawing, and of course, a vocation.

Harijan, 18-9-37, p. 265

I am firm believer in the principle of free and compulsory primary education for India. I also hold that we shall realize this only by teaching the children a useful vocation and utilizing it as a means for cultivating their mental, physical and spiritual faculties. Let no one consider these economic calculations in connection with education as sordid or out of place. There is nothing essentially sordid about economic calculations.

Harijan, 9-10-37, p. 292

If we want to impart education best suited to the needs of villagers, we should take the Vidyapith2 to the villages. We should convert it into a training school in order that we might be able to give practical training to teachers in terms of the needs of villagers. You cannot instruct the teachers in the needs of villagers through a training school in a city. Nor can you so interest them in the condition of villages. To interest city-dwellers in villages and make them live in them is no easy task. I am finding daily confirmation of this in Segaon. I cannot give you the assurance that our year’s stay in Segaon has made of us villagers or that we have become one with them for the common good.

Then as to primary education, my confirmed opinion is that the commencement of training by teaching the alphabet and reading and writing hampers their intellectual growth. I would not teach them the alphabet till they have had an elementary knowledge of history, geography, mental arithmetic and the art (say) of spinning. Through these three I should develop their intelligence. Question may be asked how intelligence can be developed through the takli3 or the spinning wheel. It can to a marvelous degree if it is not taught merely mechanically. When you tell a child the reason for each process, when you explain the mechanism of the takli or the wheel, when you give him the history of cotton and its connection with civilization itself and take him to the village field where it is grown, and teach him to count the rounds he spins and method of finding the evenness and strength of his yarn, you hold his interest and simultaneously train his hands, his eyes and his mind. I should give six months to this preliminary training. The child is probably now ready for learning how to read the alphabet, and when he is able to do so rapidly, he is ready to learn simple drawing, and when he has learnt to draw geometrical figures and the figures of the birds etc., he will draw, nor scrawl the figures of the alphabet. I can recall the days of my childhood when I was being taught the alphabet. I know what a drag it was. Nobody cared why my intellect was rusting. I consider writing as a fine art. We kill it by imposing the alphabet on little children and making it the beginning of learning.  Thus we do violence to the art of writing and stunt the growth of the child when we seek to teach him the alphabet before its time.

Harijan, 5-6-37, p. 130

What kind of vocations are the fittest for being taught to children in urban schools? There is no hard and the fast rule about it. But my reply is clear. I want to resuscitate the villages of India. Today our villages have become a mere appendage to the cities. They exist, as it were, to be exploited by the latter and depend on the latter’s sufferance. This is unnatural. It is only when the cities realize the duty of making an adequate return to the villages for the strength and sustenance which they derive from them, instead of selfishly exploiting them, that a healthy and moral relationship between the two will spring up. And if the city children are to play their part in this great and noble work of social reconstruction, the vocations, through which they are to receive their education ought to be directly related to the requirements of the villages. So far as I can see the various processes of cotton manufacture from ginning and cleaning of cotton to the spinning of yarn, answer this test as nothing else does. Even today cotton is grown in the villages and is ginned and spun and converted into cloth in the cities. But the chain of process which cotton undergoes in the mills from the beginning to the end constitutes a huge tragedy of waste in men, materials and mechanical power.

My plan to impart primary education through the medium of village handicrafts like spinning and carding, etc., is thus conceived as the spearhead of a silent social revolution fraught with the most far reaching consequences. It will provide a healthy and moral basis of relationship between the city and the village and thus go a long way toward eradicating some of the worst evils of the present social insecurity and poisoned relationship between the classes. It will check the progressive decay of our villages and the lay the foundation of a juster social order in which there is no unnatural division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and everybody is assured of a living wage and the right to freedom. And all this would be accomplished without the horrors of a bloody class war or a colossal capital expenditure such as would involved in the mechanization of a vast continent like India. Nor would it entail a helpless dependence on foreign imported machinery or technical skill. Lastly, by obviating the necessity for highly specialized talent, it would place the destiny of the masses, as it were, in their own hands. But who will bell the cat? Will the city-folk listen to me at all?  Or, will mine remain a mere cry in the wilderness? Replies to these and similar questions will depend more on lovers of education living in cities than on me.

Harijan, 9-10-37, p. 293

As to the necessity and value of regarding the teaching of village handicrafts as the pivot and centre of education I have no manner of doubt. The method adopted in the institutions in India I do not call education, i.e., drawing out the best in the man, but a debauchery of the mind. It informs the mind anyhow, whereas the method of training the mind through village handicrafts from the very beginning as the central fact would promote the real, disciplined development of the mind resulting in conservation of the intellectual energy and indirectly also the spiritual.

Harijan, 5-6-37, p. 131

In my scheme of things the hand will handle tools before it draws or traces the writing. The eyes will read the pictures of letters and words as they will know other things in life, and the ears will catch the names and meanings of things and sentences. The whole training will be natural, responsive and therefore the quickest and the cheapest in the land. The children of my school will therefore read much more quickly than they will write. And when they write they will not produce daubs as I do even now (thanks to my children) but they will trace correct letters even as they will trace correct figures of the objects they may see. If the schools of my conception ever come into being, I make bold to say that they will vie with the most advanced schools in quickness, so far as reading is concerned, and even writing if it is common ground that the writing must be correct and not incorrect as now is in the vast majority of cases.

Harijan, 28-8-37, p. 225

The Basic education is meant to transform village children into model villagers. It is principally designed for them. The inspiration for it has come from the villages. Congressmen who want to build up the structure of Swaraj from its very foundation dare not neglect the children. Foreign rule has unconsciously, though none the less surely, begun with the children in the field of education. Primary education is a farce designed without regard to the wants of the India of the villages and for that matter even of the cities. Basic education links the children, whether of the cities or the villages, to all that is best and lasting in India. It developed both the body and the mind, and keeps the child rooted to the soil with a glorious vision of the future in the realization of which he or she begins to take his or her share from the very commencement of his or her career in school.

Constructive Programme, (1961), p. 18

The utterly false idea that intelligence can be developed only through book-reading should give place to the truth that the quickest development of the mind can be achieved by artisan’s work being learnt in a scientific manner. True development of the mind commences immediately the apprentice is taught at every step why a particular manipulation of the hand or a tool is required. The problem of the unemployment of students can be solved without difficulty, if they will rank themselves among the common labourers.

Harijan, 9-1-37, p. 386

We have up to now concentrated on stuffing children’s minds with all kinds information, without ever thinking of stimulating and developing them. Let us now cry a halt and concentrate on education the child properly through manual work, not as a side activity, but as the prime means of intellectual training….

You have to train the boys in one occupation or another. Round this special occupation you will train up his mind, his body, his handwriting, his artistic sense, and so on. He will be master of the craft he learns.

Harijan, 18-9-37, p. 261

Literary training by itself adds not an inch to one’s moral height and that character-building is independent of literary training.

Young India, 1-6-21, p. 172

Let students realize that learning without courage is like a waxen statue beautiful to look at but bound to melt at the least touch of a hot substance.

Young India, 12-7-28, p. 236

Music should form part of the syllabus of primary education. I heartily endorse this proposition. The modulation of the voice is as necessary as the training of the hand. Physical drill, handicrafts, drawing and music should go hand in hand order to draw the best out of the boys and girls and create in them  real interest in their tuition.

Harijan, 11-9-37, p. 250

A wise parent allows the children to make mistakes. It is good for them once in a while to burn their fingers.

Mahatma Gandhi-The Last Phase, Vol. 1, (1956), p. 44

I attach the greatest importance to primary education which according to my conception should be equal to the present matriculation less English. If all the collegians were all of a sudden to forget their knowledge, the loss sustained by the sudden lapse of the memory of say a few lakhs of collegians would be as nothing compared to the loss that the nation has sustained and is sustaining through the ocean of darkness that surrounds three hundred millions.

Harijan, 31-7-37, p. 197

If such education is given, the direct result will be that it will be self-supporting. But the test of success is not it self-supporting character, but that the whole man has been drawn out through the teaching of the handicraft in a scientific manner. In fact I would reject a teacher who would promise to make it self-supporting under any circumstances. The self supporting part will be the logical corollary of the fact that the pupil has learnt the use of every one of his faculties. If a boy who works at a handicraft for three hours a day will surely earn his keep, how much more a boy who adds to the work a development of his mind and soil!

Harijan, 11-6-38, p. 143

English is today admittedly the world language. I would therefore accord it a place as a second, optional language, not in the school, but in the university course. That can only be for the select few not for the millions… It is our mental slavery that makes us feel that we cannot do without English. I can never subscribe to that defeatist creed.

Harijan,25-8-46, p. 284

I must not be understood to decry English or its noble literature. The columns of the Harijan are sufficient evidence of my love of English. But the nobility of its literature cannot avail the Indian nation any more than the temperate climate or the scenery of England can avail her. India has to flourish in her own climate, and scenery, and her own literature, even though all the three may be inferior to the English climate, scenery and literature. We and our children must build on our own heritage. If we borrow another, we impoverish our own. We can never grow on foreign victuals. I want the nation to have treasures contained in that language and, for that matter, in other languages of the world, through its own vernaculars. I do not need to learn Bengali in order to know the beauties of Rabindranath’s matchless productions. I get them through good translations. Gujarati boys and girls do not need to learn Russian to appreciate Tolstoy’s short stories. They learn them through good translations. It is the boast of Englishmen that the best of the world’s literary output is in the hands of that nation in simple English inside of a week of its publication. Why need I learn English to get at the best of what Shakespeare and Milton thought and wrote?

Harijan, 9-7-38, p. 177

I do not believe that the State can concern itself or cope with religious education. I believe that religious education must be the sole concern of religious associations. Do not mix up religion and ethics. I believe that fundamental ethics is common to all religions. Teaching of fundamental ethics is undoubtedly a function of the State. By religion I have not in mind fundamental ethics but what goes by the name of denominationalism. We have suffered enough from State-aided religion and a State Church.  A society or a group, which depends party or wholly on State aid for the existence of its religion, does not deserve or, better still, does not have any religion worth the name.

Harijan, 23-3-47, p. 76

“Should religious instruction from part of the school curriculum as approved by the State? Do you favour separate schools for children belonging to different denominations for facility of religious instructions? Or should religious instruction be left in the hands of private bodies? If so, do you think it is right for the State to subsidize such bodies?”

I do not believe in State religion even though the whole community has one religion. The State interference would probably always be unwelcome. Religion is purely a personal matter. There are in reality as many religions as minds. Each mind has a different conception of God from that of the other.

I am also opposed to State aid, partly or wholly, to religious bodies. For I know that an institution or group which does not manage to finance its own religious teaching, is a stranger to true religion. This does not mean that the State schools would not give ethical teaching. The fundamental ethics are common to all religions.

Harijan, 16-3-47, p. 63

A curriculum of religious instruction should include a study of the tenets of faiths other man one’s own. For this purpose the students should be trained to cultivate the habit of understanding and appreciating the doctrines of various great religions of the world in a spirit of reverence and broad-minded tolerance. This if properly done would help to give them a spiritual assurance and a better appreciation of their own religion. There is one rule, however, which should always be kept in mind while studying all great religion and that is, that one should study them only through the writings of known votaries of the respective religions.

Young India, 6-12-28, p. 406

Real education has to draw out the best from the boys and girls to be educated. This can never be done by packing ill-assorted and unwanted information into the heads of the pupils. It becomes a dead weight crushing all originality in them and turning them into mere automata.

Harijan, 1-12-33, p. 3

The suggestion has often been made that in order to make education compulsory, or even available to every boy or girl wishing to receive education, our schools and colleges should become almost, if not wholly, self-supporting, not through donations or state aid fees exacted from students, but through  remunerative work done by the students themselves. This is only be done by making industrial training compulsory. Apart from the necessity which is daily being more and more recognized of students having an industrial training side by side with literary training, there is in this country, the additional necessity of pursing industrial training in order to make education directly self-supporting. This can only be done when our students begin to recognize the dignity of labour and when the convention is established of regarding ignorance of manual occupation a mark of disgrace. In America, which is the richest country in the world and where, therefore, perhaps there is the least need for making education self-supporting, it is the most usual thing for students to pay their way wholly or partially…

If America has to model her schools and colleges so as to enable students to earn their scholastic expenses, how much more necessary it must be for our schools and colleges? Is it not far better that we find work for poor students than that we pauperize them by providing free studentships? It is impossible to exaggerate the harm we do to India’s youth by filling their minds with the false notion that it is ungentlemanly to labour with one’s hands and feet for one’s livelihood or schooling. The harm done is both moral and material, indeed much more moral than material. A free scholarship lies and should lies like a load upon a conscientious lad’s mind throughout his whole life. No one likes to be reminded in after life that he had to depend upon charity for his education. Contrarily where is the person who will not recall with pride those days if he had the good fortune to have had them when he worked in a carpentry-shop or the like for the sake of educating himself-mind, body and soul?

Young India, 2-8-28, p. 259

The aim of university education should be to turn out true servants of the people who will live and die for the country’s freedom. I am therefore of opinion that university education should be co-ordinate and brought into line with basic education.

Harijan, 25-8-46, p. 283

I would revolutionize college education and relate it to national necessities. There would be degrees for mechanical and other engineers. They would be attached to the different industries which should pay for the training of the graduates they need. Thus the Tatas would be expected to run a college for training engineers under the supervision of the State, the mill associations would run among them a college for training graduates whom they need. Similarly for the other industries that may be named. Commerce will have its college. There remains arts, medicine and agriculture. Several private arts colleges are today self-supporting. The State would, therefore, cease to run its own. Medical colleges would be attached to certified hospitals. As they are popular among moneyed men they may be expected by voluntary contribution to support medical colleges. And agricultural colleges to be worthy of the name must be self-supporting. I have painful experience of some agricultural graduates. Their knowledge is superficial. They lack practical experience. But if they had their apprenticeship on farms which are self-sustained and answer the requirements of the country, they would not have to gain experience after getting their degrees and at the expense of their employers.

Harijan, 31-7-37, p. 197

There seems to be a mania for establishing new universities in the provinces. Gujarat wants one for Gujarati, Maharashtra for Marathi, Carnatic for Kannad, Orissa for Oriya, Assam for Assami and whant not. I do believe that there should be such universities if these rich provincial languages and the people who speak them are to attain their full height.

At the same time I fear that we betray ourselves into undue haste in accomplishing object. The first step should be linguistic political redistribution of provinces. Their separate administration will naturally lead to the establishment of universities where there are none...

There should be a proper background for new universities. They should have feeders in the shape of schools and colleges which will impart instruction through the medium of their respective provincial languages. They only can there be a proper milieu. University is at the top. A majestic top can only be sustained if there is a sound foundation.

Though we are politically free, we are hardly free from the subtle domination of the West. I have nothing to say to that school of politicians who believe that knowledge can only come from the West. Nor do I subscribe to the belief that nothing good can come out of the West. I do fear, however, that we are unable as yet to come to a correct decision in the matter. It is to be hoped that no one contends that because we seem to be politically free from foreign domination, the mere fact gives us freedom from the more subtle influence of the foreign language and foreign thought. Is it not wisdom, does not duty to the country dictate that before we embark on new universities we should stop and fill our own lungs first with the ozone of our mewly got freedom? A university never needs a pile of majestic buildings and treasures of gold and silver. What it does need most of all is the intelligent backing of public opinion. It should have a large reservoir of teachers to draw upon. Its founders should be far-seeing.

In my opinion it is not for a democratic State to find money for founding universities. If the people want them they will supply the funds. Universities so founded will adorn the country which they represent. Where administration is in foreign hands, whatever comes to the people comes from top and thus they become more and more dependent. Where it is broad-based on popular will, everything goes from bottom upward and hence it lasts. It is good- looking and strengthens the people. In such 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 a luxuriant crop. Universities founded under foreign domination have run in the reverse direction. Any other result was perhaps impossible. Therefore, there is every reason for being cautious about founding new universities till India has digested the newly-acquired freedom.

Harijan,2-11-47, p.392

I have never been an advocate of our students going abroad. My experience tells me that such, on returns, find themselves to be square pegs in round holes. That experience is the richest and contributes most to growth which springs from the soil.

Harijan, 8-9-46, p, 308

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.

Harijan, 22-6-’40,p.173

1. सा विद्या या विमुक्तये।

2. Literally seat of learning; University

3. Spindle used in spinning with the fingers without the use of the spinning wheel