Mahatma Gandhi always stressed on character building and value inculcation in education. Only those who receive a fulsome education of body, mind and spirit can play an effective role in resisting violence and fighting injustice and oppression. They alone can build a social order that promises human dignity.
Gandhi’s all-encompassing definition of education: “By education I mean all-round development of the best in the child and man body, mind and spirit” is most often quoted by educationists. He was very clear that “literacy is not the end of education nor even its beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated.” Despite the clarity of the purpose of education, which should have guided us post-Independence, the spirit of basic education has remained neglected. And it is this lack of purpose, lack of vision, that can explain the dire straits our education system finds itself in. Impressive statistics of expansion and extension have singularly failed to meet the expectations of a majority of the young. It also can explain why our educational institutions arm the young with a plethora of degrees but with little skill that can be deemed to be productive or entrepreneurial. Of the 400,000 engineers India prepares every year, 75 per cent are found deficient in the skills expected of them. Those who acquire technical and vocational training in private workshops do not constitute more than 10 per cent of the trained workforce. This is highly inadequate.
Much has been written on Gandhian thoughts and experimentation on basic education, or buniyadi taleem. In 1939 Gandhiji wrote in Harijan: “Our education has got to be revolutionised. The brain must be educated through the hand... Why should you think that mind is everything and the hands and feelings nothing? Those who do not train their hands, who go through the ordinary rut, lack ‘music’ in their life. All their faculties are not trained. Mere book knowledge does not interest the child so as to hold his attention fully. The brain gets weary of mere words, and the child’s mind begins to wander. The hand does the things it ought not to do, the eyes see things it ought not to see, the ear hears things it ought not to hear, and they do not do see or hear, respectively, what they ought to. They are not taught to make the right choice and so their education often proves their ruin.”
India still has over 30,000 schools without buildings and nearly 100,000 without blackboards. The state governments are perpetually short of resources and central assistance is invariably inadequate. Even after 60 years and impressive 9.5 per cent economic growth rate, it is but a shame that a large number of primary schools in India still offer substandard primary education.
Gandhi wanted a child’s education to begin “by teaching a useful handicraft and enabling (the child) to produce from the moment it begins its training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting.”
Visit any primary school in China and one would be surprised to see ‘school factory’ products prepared by the children. That is surely a factor that has ensured that China has achieved its universalisation of quality elementary education.
India is still unsure what view it should take on pre-school education. Gandhi saw the work of teachers trained under Madame Montessori. He wrote that “the things were foreign and the poor teacher had not digested what she had been taught.” He added, “we shall be able to propagate scientific knowledge of child’s education only when our teachers are competent”.
No-one was listening. Between 2004 and 2007, the number of teacher-training institutions has more than doubled to cross the 8,000 mark but the decline in the quality of training has been alarming. Gandhi had the blueprint in place. one only has to follow the gridlines. But do we have the right attitude to do so?
JS Rajput is former Chairman, National Council for Teacher Education, and former Director, National Council for Educational Research and Training