ARTICLES > EDUCATION > Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of education
Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of education
By Ravindra Kumar*
"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 the moment it begins its training. I hold that the highest development of mind and the soul is possible under such 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."
- M.K. Gandhi

The above-mentioned short statement of Mahatma Gandhi is sufficient enough to comprehend his views about education - his philosophy of education. It is also enough to open eyes of those who take Gandhiji’s views on education lightly just as was done in case of his philosophy of non-violent action - the Satyagraha before its successful application in South Africa and later at Champaran (Bihar), Kheda (Gujarat) and other places in India. Before this, his philosophy of non-violence - Ahimsa Darshan was considered merely theoretical - utopian. But, after the success of his non-violent actions in South Africa and Satyagrahas at Champaran, Kheda and other places in India, the whole world could assess the worth and girth of Gandhi’s non-violence philosophy. Non-violence-based mass actions of Mahatma Gandhi put to rethinking even those who were of the opinion that not a single problem of class-struggle had ever been solved in the world-history without violence.

After getting familiar with the Gandhian view of education, especially keeping in the centre Gandhi’s own statement quoted in the beginning of the discussion in hand people who do not consider him to be a scholar in academic sense will realize how sound, significant and worth considering viewpoint of education the Mahatma always held close to his heart.

Gandhi’s views of education coming out through his statements, his write ups appeared from time-to-time in various periodicals - Young India, Navajivan, Harijan Sewak and Harijan in particular on different aspects of knowledge, learning, study etc., and his addresses in educational institutions, in fact, beautifully introduced the revolutionary nature of his philosophy of education. Such a philosophy focussed on all-round development of one’s personality - leading one to achieve his goal of life. Mahatma Gandhi is, therefore, in my view, one of the most leading educationists the world has had in its entire history.

So many viewpoints on education have been presented before the world from ancient times to the modern era. Many great people starting from Socrates (of the West) to J Krishnamurti (of the East) have put forth their worthy views on meaning, basic spirit and purpose of education.  But, Gandhi’s concept of education takes all such views within its scope. It is similar to his concept of Ahimsa - non-violence. Those who are familiar with the Gandhian concept of Ahimsa, they will agree that non-violence of the Gandhian view wreathes up all aspects and concepts of Ahimsa emerged or developed from time-to-time in different parts of the globe. Everyone can find Ahimsa of his imagination in the Gandhian view of non-violence.

If we study Mahatma Gandhi’s statements, his speeches and write ups, it clearly appears before us that he presents a broad education philosophy. A number of articles written by him on Buniyadi Shiksha, ethics, morality and sanity in education and his address at the Wardha Conference on Indian Education in 1937 evidently reveal that Mahatma Gandhi takes education as a lifelong process. This process ends only with one’s last breath. All human beings - a child, an adolescent, a young and an old are within its ambit.

Secondly, education is a process of acknowledging and developing the virtues one already possesses within. Further, it is a process of making life innovative, lofty and momentous on the basis of development of self virtues. Education is, according to its real meaning and basic spirit, the way to achieve salvation - Moksha. It is the process of making life meaningful as per the expectation of an old Vedic phrase which says, "SA VIDYA YA VIMUKTAYE", i.e., with education, we finally attain liberation.

Literacy - Akshara-Jnana, learning in a school and study, internship and research in a college or a university, according to described syllabi at different levels, which eventually completes with obtaining a certificate or a degree is not the essence of education. In other words, it is not the end or the goal of education. It is just a part of it. It can also be said that it is just an essential part of the process of education. It is well proved from programmes like adult education conducted under the guidance and supervision of Mahatma Gandhi himself with the purpose of making people of even old age literate.

Purushartha, object of human life referring to the four proper goals of life - Dharma (signifying righteousness), Artha, (representing economic values), Kama (indicating corporal pleasures and psychological values) and Moksha - liberation (demonstrating spiritual values) is connected with the process of education. Therefore, economic self-sufficiency is also an essential purpose of education. But, as Kishorlal Mashruwala, keeping the Gandhian viewpoint in the centre, rightly points out, "It (education) works for an all-round growth of man right from beginning till end; its ultimate aim is to turn human knowledge into his ability... It is not meant for his life and not only for earning his livelihood."

Ensuring self-sufficiency - all-round development of one’s personality is the basic spirit of education. It is the sole purpose of Shiksha and this is, in fact, the essence of educational philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi also.

The first aspect of the Gandhian philosophy of education includes the knowledge one acquires in a primary school, a high school or a higher secondary institution according to the prescribed syllabi; he, further studies according to the set syllabi, gets training and carries out research under the supervision of professors in a college or a university. This aspect of education can be termed as the general education - knowledge one gets according to the set syllabi or just the information one receives from the available resources.

Along with this, physical education, which along with physical exercises necessarily includes the bread-labour or productive physical labour - Shareer-Shram, purpose of which is to have body sound and appropriately balanced for social and economic use is the second aspect of the Gandhian philosophy of education. It paves the way for keeping all organs of body active and making one’s approach constructive. Further, the idea of bread-labour leads one to live in a state free from anxieties, fears and lethargy. Quoting the Shrimadbhagavad-Gita, Mahatma Gandhi declared the bread-labour - Shareer-Shram to be a Yajna. He has said that one who eats food without offering sacrifice - lacking bread-labour, he eats stolen food. Physical education along with bread-labour - Shareer-Shram is an important aspect of education of the Gandhian view. The importance of this aspect in man’s life is in no sense less than the knowledge one acquires according to prescribed syllabi or he studies in a school, a college or a university. Rather, it is more important than the first as eminent Russian scholars like Tolstoy and TM Bondaref have admitted the significance of this in man’s life, especially Bondaref considers one’s physical-labour to be a respect for the Divine Law by him.

Connecting life with moral values - developing life on the basis of righteous acts, thus imparting knowledge of morality and ethics is the third aspect of education of the Gandhian view. The acid test of morality and ethics is the proper discharge of one’s responsibilities. It is an appropriate release of one’s duties at all levels, from individual to universal. If this aspect of education remains weak, the whole process of education stays fragile. Therefore, education cannot achieve its goal.

The fourth aspect of education of the Gandhian view is the technical knowledge of today’s language. The Gandhian approach of Buniyadi Shiksha is in the centre of this. In this, one has to be groomed or trained from his childhood - the time of the beginning of his learning in primary school towards his self-sufficiency. In other words, doors for his economic development - prosperity are to be opened. In a write up, especially on basic education Mahatma Gandhi put forth his views about it in the Constructive Programme on April 6, 1940 and insisted to begin this from the villages so that village-children become self-sufficient, and emerge as ideal citizens and lead society and the nation.**

Eventually, in the root of this fourth aspect of education of the Gandhian view remains one very important thing. Through this Mahatma Gandhi wishes proficiency on the basis of the growth of one’s virtues he already possesses within, more especially on the basis of the principal virtue or skill identified amongst all his virtues or skills along with other three aspects of education we have already discussed about. He wishes one’s self-sufficiency including economic self-dependency through that very virtue or skill.

There is, undoubtedly, a need to analyse this viewpoint of the Gandhian philosophy of education minutely. However, what in short is urged here from those all who are associated with the process of education at any level is that they should make endeavours to identify and expand the principal virtue among many virtues one is born with. Further, they should work for his proficiency on the basis of the development of that virtue and pave the way for his self-sufficiency including economic self-dependency.

One can achieve such proficiency in his adolescence at the level of high school or intermediate. He can step forward to achieve this through study, training or research works at the college or university level. This fourth aspect of education of the Gandhian view is, can be repeated, very important. This, in fact, makes Gandhi’s philosophy of education universal, unique, worth emulating and replicating.

Hence, the sole purpose of the fourfold educational programme of the Gandhian view is to ensure one’s all-round development - to accord him a complete self-sufficiency.

Education of the Gandhian view has a high and distinguished place among all the concepts of education emerged around the world from time-to-time. It puts forth a beautiful and worthy layout of education preparing a complete citizen within and without. However, it is an irony that Gandhi’s concept of education could not draw appropriate attention of teachers, professors and educationists or of those concerned with education. Now, it is the need of the hour that proper - prejudice-free analysis of this is made and work is carried out accordingly.

The process of education has been seen mainly connecting it with literacy and studies according to the prescribed syllabi. Obtaining a degree on the basis of studies and getting a job have been, thus, taken as the main purpose of education - an introduction of Shiksha Prakriya. Accepting it mostly the essence of education, the aspect related to studies according to the prescribed syllabi has been given so much importance that the real spirit of education has become ex parte. Resultantly, the basic purpose of education has detached, more or less, from the other three very important aspects we have discussed about in short.

If just one aspect of a viewpoint or approach gets so importance or extension with the least or no appropriate analysis of such a view with respect to its basic spirit and perspective is made in necessary proportion, what else shall we get if not partially or under-developed personalities sent forth by schools, colleges and universities? The same has been received through education for centuries. It is just because we are not tapping the basic spirit of education. It is really unfortunate. Not only in India, but in the rest of the world as well this state remains the same, more or less. For this situation, along with the community of teachers, people in management and the system, and those associated with the process of education at any level are responsible.

Now, it is a high time to adopt the Gandhian view of education and to work accordingly. We must remember that if one who is considered an educated does not develop his personality according to the spirit of education - Shiksha, resultantly he indulges in serving either individual ends or a particular community in place of making endeavours for the large scaled welfare of humanity, which is not the objective of true education and produces only literate beasts, it is indeed a failure of those teachers and professors who prepare just human machines and do not discharge their responsibility in preparing students according to the basic spirit and purpose of education.

**In continuation to his viewpoint related to basic education –Buniyadi Shiksha in the Constructive Programme –Rachnatmak Karyakram Mahatma Gandhi said, "This 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...Basic education links the children, whether of the cities or the villages, to all that is best and lasting in India. It develops 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."


*Dr. Ravindra Kumar is the former Vice-Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut [India]. Also he is the Editor-in-Chief of 'Global-Peace' an international journal of philosophy, peace, education, culture and civilization. | Email: ravindrawpmt@gmail.com