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volume-26, 28 September-04 October 2019

Gandhian Principles and Precepts on Education

Prof. Anoop Swarup

'What will tell in the end is character and not a knowledge of letters!'

- Mahatma Gandhi

The above quote of Mahatma Gandhi does reveal his farsightedness and the vision for a modern, skilled and developed India, where our youth are employable and independent. Let's have the perspective of our demography as we plan for India's decade, our workforce peaks to have 116 million workers in the age group of 20-24 years against 94 million of those in China. Yes the fertility rate will be down below the replacement level of 2.1% in a couple of years and ILO estimates that the India's workforce will rise until 2031 and would plateau until 2041. Will it be a demographic dividend or a disaster? As the opportunity beckons and the world watches, we have to look forward to capitalise on strengthening the virtuous cycle of reduction in overall dependent population from 49.5% to 41.1%. more savings and more investments in our human resources. To educate, energise, employ and empower may perhaps be the new mantra as presented by the Human Resource Ministry to the 15th Finance Commission recently, provided we invest in our human resources. Let's examine Gandhian principles and precepts in this context to have a better appreciation of formalising the entire narrative of making it India's decade.

Mahatma Gandhi had a holistic concept of human development contributing to national growth and development and believed in the idea of character building, skilling and man making. The concept of trusteeship he believed would pave the way to construct small, self-reliant communities with its ideal citizens being all industrious, self-respecting and generous individuals living in a small co-operatives and community. He wished that skills and some local craft should be made as medium of education for children so that they develop their mind, body and soul in a harmonious way and also meet the needs of their future life. These Gandhian precepts and educational thoughts are relevant for development and providing solutions of the current problems like unemployment, poverty, corruption delinquency, criminality and many others.

No wonder Mahatma Gandhi's views on a classless society and on the 'primacy of reason over religions' through education have inspired and invigorated national decisions and outcomes on educational policy and practice. Let me cite that the Kothari Commission Report (1964 -66) was largely inspired by Gandhian precepts for reforms in schooling, technical training and even higher education guide as a beacon of hope even today. The pursuit of education policy and planning being modelled in the New Education Policy has to promote, pursue and practice skilling and vocational aspects of learning by ensuring, dignity of labour, life skills, character building, value education and other values inculcated early in life. On higher education, he asserted "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".

These tenets of Gandhiji's concept of craft-centric and need centric education finds an echo in the transition from rote learning to affirmative learning now being propounded. This approach is now being hailed as the best way forward for a meaningful and progressive society,  even for nonviolent and nonkilling positive peace.

The framers of our Constitution did include Gandhian precepts in the "Directive Principles of State Policy", not enforceable or guaranteed by the law. We adopted the parliamentary system of democracy, where subservience to the Raj and rule of law had primacy in favour of a bureaucratic, anachronistic and archaic governance model. Unwittingly we fostered an outdated system that put in motion a chaotic and multi-layered oligarchic election process, that defied any reforms or even modern and progressive change for future society. Incidentally and in retrospect such a deceptive governance structure was what Gandhi was vehemently opposed to as evident as early as 1909 through his seminal work Hind Swaraj.

 On the economic front, over the years globalization, privatization and liberalization have often led to  poverty and widening gap between the rich and the poor as pointed in the Oxfam report titled, 'Reward Work, not Wealth' released in 2018  "73 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one per cent, while 67 crore who comprise the poorest half of the population saw just one per cent increase in their wealth". The intricate nexus of education, economics, growth and prosperity was well understood by Mahatma Gandhi, when he spoke of skilled and empowered youth to propel the idea of 'swarajya' and 'ramrajya'.  Indeed, Gandhian ideals and ideas are rooted to the ground realities being neither utopian nor impractical to execute and do deserve a trial on the economic front too considering his revolutionary and scientific approach. Let us imagine and envision the future of the country on Gandhian lines in order to realise the India of Gandhi's dreams.

Gandhiji's own contribution to education has been unique considering that the advent of British colonial rule in India, brought forth an alien system of imperial education contrary to the traditional and time tested, well distilled, holistic and all-inclusive educational system of India. It is in this spirit that we have to urgently repair the damage to Indian education system that has brought in differences of race, caste religion but also the legacy of British Raj governance, class-consciousness and the crave for western materialism.  Gandhiji's important works and writings on education have been meticulously brought forth by Bharatan Kumarappa in his two excellent works 'Basic Education' (1951) and 'Towards New Education' (1953). Gandhiji's philosophy of education is a harmonious blending of Idealism which provides the basis whereas pragmatism puts the precepts into practice. The notion of 'education for life, education through life, and education throughout life" very well sums up the all-round development of the individual and (wo)man making. Mahatma Gandhi's quest for self-realisation was through eternal humility and wisdom that is best portrayed in his philosophy of life long education that had elements of pursuit of truth, nonviolent action, fearlessness and satyagraha.

Gandhiji believed in self-sacrifice and a philosophy of life that helped him in developing his philosophy of Education as a true source of inspiration where Primary Education is to prepare our youth to the ever challenging task of being morally sound,  independent, constructive, productive and responsible future citizens who will be self-employed through skill training. Gandhiji believed that the ultimate aim of life is to seek Truth or God as he explained - "By education I mean all-round drawing out of the best in child's and man's body, mind and spirit. Literacy is neither the beginning nor the end of education. This is only a means through which man or woman can be educated."

More than learning of the three R's Reading, Writing and Arithmetic in school, he insisted on development of H's Hand, Heart and Head. Mahatma Gandhi believed that the separation of learning from labor would result in social injustice. In dynamic societies such as ours, he advocated education for self-reliance and the capacity to earn one's livelihood as the main aim of education. He advocated that learning and earning do go together with vocational education and cultural advancement.

Gandhiji wrote, "To develop the self is to build character and to prepare the self for complete realization and realization of Godliness'. In his scheme of things learning and knowledge must be practice based where the curriculum is activity cantered, so pragmatic and true in the modern-day approach to education. Gandhiji insisted that his system would lead to communal harmony because it would be the same for all; it would thus be "practical religion, the religion of self-help". Gandhiji disapproved rote learning and considered it as defective and emphasized to make skills and vocations as means of education. Gandhiji emphasized on the following principles in his teaching methodology: for mental development, training of senses and parts of the body be given; reading should precede the teaching of writing; more opportunities should be given for learning by doing; encouragement be given to learning by experience; Correlation be established in the teaching methods and learning experiences.

There is perhaps no denying that the present system of education has unwittingly become an instrument to more and more consumerism, materialism, competition, divisions and violence. The erosion of ethics and values, the unrest and divide, and violence, as also the intolerance and mistrust that we see today have once again brought us to go back to our Gurukul past, our quintessential wisdom, and our heritage. The visionary in the Mahatma could foresee such possible developments a century ago and advocate new alternative educational thoughts based on timeless and eternal principles of truth, tolerance, love, self-sacrifice, character building, life skills learning.Thus, the Mahatma did show us the way forward and for our youth to be skilled not for degrees but for jobs and gainful employment for an India of the new century where environment-alism, human consciousness and moral values will rule and usher in an affirmative society for progressive and positive peace. No wonder if the Mahatma's thoughts on education are brought to reality we can make the world a better place to live.

(The author is a peace activist and is the Vice Chancellor of Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal. E-mail: swarup anoop@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.