Learning school education policy from Gandhiji

Learning school education policy from Gandhiji

In a high level meeting held in March 2015, chaired by the human resource development minister and attended by education ministers of states and the secretaries from states and the Centre, challenges in reforming the school and literacy sector were recounted. 

The challenges discussed were: inclusion of public aspirations, private initiatives, educational administrators and other stakeholders, upgradation of quality in education, need for improving learning outcomes, promoting ICT-enabled (information and communications technology) technologies, extending outreach to school and secondary education, searching frontiers of new knowledge by combination of subjects in multi-disciplinary way, vocationalisation of education up to class XII and its linkages to employability and focus on value education and life skills. 

With every new government at the Centre, it has become a practice. However, we seem to have ignored the basics from the beginning. Gandhiji had noted in Hind Swaraj in 1909 that “we want English rule without the Englishman. You want the tiger's nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English.” Interestingly, the English world has long before moved on from their traditional approaches and is deftly handling education and skill development. 

The present country ‘masters’ seem to have missed history. In 1937, education ministers of the then provincial states and noted educationists had met in the Marwadi School in Wardha. Gandhiji was asked to guide the gathering on the education policy for Independent India in the making. 

Gandhiji had said, “It is a crime to make education merely literary… our children must from their infancy be taught dignity of such labour (manual)… It is sad that our schoolboys look upon manual labour as disfavour, if not contempt (now they look at it with contempt)… literary education should follow the education of hand… 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 education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man-body, mind and spirit…It was almost unanimously agreed in 1937 that the then prevalent British education system designed after Macaulay’s philosophy had to be discarded and an education system leading to the reconstruction of Indian society based on Swaraj and Swadeshi should be adopted.” 

The philosophy and the pedagogy were known as Nayi Talim or Buniyadi Talim or basic education. Educating heart by character building and community living, hand by inculcating skills for physical production, and head for intellect development and knowledge building. Why are we confusing vocational training with skill development? Skill development is indeed an important component in education from childhood to the completion of schooling. The skills to be developed have to be from the economic and ecological systems that obtain. 

The wise heads in the villages have been saying this from Mushi Premchand’s time when he was education inspector in 1901, ‘thodubhane e kaamchhode, jaajhubhane e gaamchhode’ (one who studies less leaves the work and the one who studies more leaves the village). 

It is through skilled work that literary education should happen in schools. Shouldn’t the education to children equip them with relevant skills so that they get productively engaged as adults in multi sector economic activities in villages? Shouldn’t the stewards of the country realise that mindless and uncontrolled urbanisation is creating an inhuman and unequal society promoting structural and manifest violence? Proper education is the way to arrest it. 

‘We know all’ arrogance
Why are the mandarins of the HRD ministry not seeking any consultation on this in the “MyGov” scheme? The arrogance of “we know all” exercised by the elite working on policies and programmes and unduly favouring large scale secondary and tertiary sector economic undertakings are going to finish the villages in this country. Such centralised economies also push ‘urban biases’ in education. Rural centres get priority but urban centres get resources. 

Privatisation is not a dirty word, commercialisation is. Profiteering is more so. School education has to be in the public domain with exceptions for experiments and stinking rich as long as they exist. Generally, privatisation when not wisely combined with commons has a serious problem of eating up all the common space in all spheres. 

In the eco-system schemes under any ecological space, commons are non-negotiable for efficient and just survival. They also provide for goods and services to economically poor and socially disadvantageous. Social institutions managed by customary rules ensure access and regulate the use of commons. 

In privatisation, inequality is in design and more the privatisation, higher and deeper is the inequality. In urban areas, principle of neighbourhood common school system is a wise solution ensuring equity and efficiency. Unless this is understood, internalised and brought about as the policy, the issues of access, equity and quality in school education will not get resolved.

Technology is not a fix either. The computer, internet and mobile phone technology aren’t going to ensure equity either. At the Stanford University, which is in the heart of Silicon Valley, site of the largest and fastest creation of wealth ever recorded, the students are doubtful whether for the vast majority of society computer access was a reality. They have noted that even in close proximity to Stanford University, the East Palo Alto community lacked the quality of teaching and resources and adequate access to computer and internet technologies! Let us be cautious in giving ‘tablets’ of hope to the poor, for it may lead to despair.

Let us not relegate Gandhiji into the background with a broomstick in his hand as a symbol of ‘Swachchh Bharat’ only. It is time we bring him back to the class rooms in common schools with a spade, spinning wheel and software.

(The writer is a noted Gandhian economist and former vice chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapith, a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920)(The Billion Press)

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