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VISION ON EDUCATION:GANDHI & TAGORE:THE INDIAN RESPONSE

EDUCATION IN INDIA IN 1947: IN RETROSPECT

EDUCATION POLICY AS ENVISAGED BY MAHATMA GANDHI:-
With the attainment of freedom in 1947, India embarked on a new era. On 15th August, 1947 people showed a definite and spontaneous indication to embrace the newness of the times. Mahatma Gandhi, whose interest had always been co-extensive with social needs, had all along been advising the Congress to take up the cause of education from pre-independence times. Mahatma Gandhi had, earlier in his career, stated, like Ruskin, that “Speed is not always progress”, and according to that idea he had resolutely set his face against accepting all type of education as of equal importance. So, education, according to Mahatma Gandhi, was not exactly a pursuit of freedom of expression, but a modified method to specifically suit the goal of nation building of the new India. He was thinking of a revolutionary type of education for upliftment of the vast rural India as a prime goal, and due to his insistence National Educational Conference was held at Wardha in as early as 1937 to set the ball rolling. A Committee of distinguished educationists, headed by Dr.Zakir Hossain, was entrusted with planning a syllabus for basic education. The report of the Committee along with the detailed syllabus was published in 1938. In 1938 the Indian National Congress at its 51st session at Haripura accepted, certainly under guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, the principle of Basic National Education, and authorized the formation of an All-India Board to work out a practical implement able program. Next month, the Board was formed, under the name and style of Hindustani Tamili Sangh, under the advice and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, and immediately it’s work took concrete shape. The basic concepts can be noted as:-
1. Free and compulsory education for seven years on a nation wide scale.
2. The medium of instruction must be in mother tongue.
3. Through out this period education should centre round some form of manual and productive work, and all other activities to be developed or training to be given should, as far as possible, be integrally related to handicraft pattern chosen with regard to the environment of the child. The idea was to develop a basic craft model adopted to suit different areas of learning, including say basic Mathematics or Science, and it was even envisaged that those craftworks be sold to the Nation to make education self reliant. Generally speaking, it was felt even at that time that the prevalent education with the colonial legacy led us to learn from books and did not allow us to garner knowledge by perception. The use of craft had been no doubt accepted as an education technique, and the Abbot-Wood report drew the attention of educationists here in India to the subject, but it was never thought of as the medium of instruction before Mahatma Gandhi had boldly placed it as such.

The basic features of the Wardha scheme could be summarized into two relevant factors. They were that education should be imparted through a basic craft at least during the first seven years of basic education, and that the sale of products of craftwork done under the system should make the system self-supporting. The principle that education should be imparted not through passive reception but through a productive activity was an acceptable principle to the educationists of the world. Among all kind of productive activities craftwork was acknowledged to be suitable for educational purposes. Psychologically it was sound as it saved the child from the tyranny of purely academic and theoretical instructions and balanced the intellectual and practical elements in child’s experience. It was also envisaged that by sale of craftworks the student might be able to earn some money as well. Few communist thinkers of India in that era welcomed the Wardha scheme, as Mahatma Gandhi kind of insisted that all work should be purposeful and productive even in the context of basic education. The communist intellectuals thought that education through work would be a revolutionary program for leveling and equalizing, where every citizen would be groomed to perform his/her quota of work. The idea was very much in consonance of the life-philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, as every effort conceived by him was ultimately a struggle for freedom—freedom from ignorance, inefficiency, insecurity, oppression, exploitation, injustice. Naturally, to Mahatma Gandhi, education needed to be designed as a tool to attain freedom, particularly freedom for the rural people of India. Cult of power created by assimilating knowledge without a definite end view would seem to Mahatma Gandhi a dangerous process. He could only conceive education as a dynamic force leading to a definite destination. In Mahatma’s own words” 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 non-violent 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 towards eradicating some of the worst evils of present social insecurity and poisoned relationship between the classes. It will check the progressive decay of our villages and lay foundation for a juster social order in which there is no unnatural division between the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ and everybody is assured of a living wage and right to freedom. Lastly by obviating the necessity for highly specialized talent, it would place the destiny of the masses, as it were, in their own hands.”

A LOOK INTO RABINDRANATH TAGORE’S PHILOSOPHY ON EDUCATION AND A COMPARATIVE STUDY WITH THE GANDHIAN PRINCIPLE:-
Rabindranath Tagore, who is yet to be analyzed in full as one of the world’s prime educational thinker and experimenter, approached education, as he approached life as a poet, with a totality of vision. The dominating purpose of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision was to ensure the production of character on a mass scale, characters which may develop individual possibilities freely within limits of one supreme ideal of ‘Truth, through self-reliance’ which it must accept and strive to realize in cooperation with brothers of the same ideology. It was in fact a war between right and wrong which had as much to be waged externally between one man and another, one class and another, as internally within the mind of each man. Rabindranath Tagore had not disregarded what one might call the operational aspect of truth, but in his system the main emphasis was on its manifestation. One eternal aim of human life is to know and to realize. The noblest ‘Sadhana’ in ancient India aimed at this communion of individual self with the universe around. Education according to Rabindranath Tagore was a process through which the mind could grow and reach out of itself and establish a Yoga’, a community of spirit with man and nature. Necessarily, therefore, Rabindranath Tagore also emphasized character, but in a different manner. Whereas Mahatma Gandhi depended on a common mission as the chief factor in character building, Tagore depended on a common religion, the religion of man. A mission makes an urgent demand and usually obtains a quicker response. A religion is slow in its growth, though it brings in much more of human personality under its compass. In fact in both the views ‘truth’ is indispensable. One must know truth as it affects the life of the human race as also of the individual, in order to live and behave intelligently in the social context. And one must at the same time know truth independently of utilitarian purposes in order that individual mind may find its richest fulfillment. We are aware that the poet, the scientist, the prophet and even the historian to be in pursuit of truths which can not be harnessed to any utilitarian purpose.
Or we may say that whereas Mahatma Gandhi concentrated on the eternal problem of evil and evolved a philosophy of action, something like a simplified version of ‘Karma-Yoga’ suited to the needs and abilities of every man in India, Tagore centered his philosophy on the joy of life, the eternal ‘Ananda’ of realization and expression which did not exclude action, but in fact put fair amount of importance to it. Mahatma Gandhi tried to establish the everyday reality of life in his system and tried to save education from the danger of social ‘escapism’ of any sort. Rabindranath Tagore presented reality in its largest perspective yet attained by man, and tried to save education from the danger of all narrow limitations of place and time and people. Both their arguments were powerful, as both were philosophies, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore lived with deep earnest in their real life. On a closer look it appears that Rabindranath Tagore had a much enlightened concept about education, and yet from the social perspective of emerging independent India, it seems Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of education was perhaps more relevant for India at that time.
We may have a look into Rabindranath Tagore’s own words on education to get an idea what he wanted to profess-“I prepared for my children a real ‘home-coming’ at my school in the Ashrama. Among other subjects learnt in the open air under the shade of trees they had their music and picture-making; they had their dramatic performances, activities that were the expression of life.
A large part of man can never find its expression in the mere language of words. It must therefore seek for other languages—lines and colours, sounds and movements. Though our mastery of these, we not only make our whole nature articulate, but also understand man in all his attempts to reveal his innermost being in every age and time. The great use of Education is not merely to collect facts, but to know man and to make oneself known to man.
It is the duty of every human being to master, at least to some extent, not only the language of intellect, but also that of the personality which is the language of Art. It is a great world of reality for man, – vast and profound,- this world which tends to grow along with his own creative nature.
Teaching of religion, religion of man- to be precise, can never be imparted in the form of lessons, it exists where there is religion in living, and to learn it one has to live it—Religion is not a fractional thing that it can be doled out in fixed weekly or daily measures as one among various subjects in school syllabus. It is the truth of our complete being, the consciousness of our personal relationship with the infinite. It is the true center of gravity of our life.”

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN INDEPENDENT INDIA
What actually happened in post-independent India is that Indian think tank on education just did not adhere to any of the above two ideas. The reasons can be many.

National Attitude on Mahatma Gandhi’s Principle on Basic Education:-First of all, the sudden death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, definitely put his idea on basic education to a halt. It was certainly an unfortunate development, as the Wardha National Education Commission was set up in 1937, and came out with its report as early as 1938, and a National attempt to establish the concept was pursued fairly vigorously. In pre-independent India the provincial governments tried to implement the program in Bihar, Mumbai and UP at to some extent in Orissa. Teacher’s training schools to prepare teachers to train students according to Wardha Commission reports were also set up at various centers in India, one being at Balarampur of Midnapore district in West Bengal. There were of course quite a few critics of Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of a utilitarian type of basic education, but nevertheless it was accepted by the Congress as a national policy to be implemented in post-independence India and a great deal of interest was shown to put the revolutionary idea at work. But in reality, after Mahatma Gandhi’s demise, the whole idea was quietly buried, never to be reopened at any stage in post independent India till date. Whether it was buried because the later generation didn’t like the idea, or it was buried for simply logistic problems, or whether the Government of India at that point of time didn’t have the will and power to dismantle the running education system inherited from the colonial rulers and initiate the gigantic change, can be a matter of debate. But in reality a great vision was left to rot rather unceremoniously. In effect India could not establish an Indian concept of education, as was the dream of Mahatma Gandhi or Rabindranath Tagore and just let the colonial pattern of education to evolve in unplanned manner in post independent India. As the colonial pattern was basically an alien pattern, the education system in India always maintained the alien streak, we can not really say with conviction that the education we had, could really create a deep resonance in our Indian hearts.

National Attitude on Rabindranath Tagore’s Vision on Education:-At the late part of his life, Rabindranath Tagore requested Mahatma Gandhi to let Visva Bharati University be taken over by the Government of India after independence. In keeping with the wish, in 1951, by passing an act in parliament, Visva Bharati University was converted to a Central University. But it was a case of passive support from Government of India. Government of India promised to support the university financially, but did not take the responsibility to propagate the idea of education as envisaged by Rabindranath Tagore. The Government allowed Visva Bharati University to run according to what the people at Visva Bharati thought. In effect that would mean the University was financially supported but the propagation of the cause of the university was completely left to the university itself, Government of India did not want to either project the ideas on education of Rabindranath Tagore and neither they were interested to be directly engaged in Visva Bharati University. The university was left alone to pursue and further the vision of education by Rabindranath Tagore and the nation called India shunned all its responsibility in this matter.
On the other hand, as time passed, people in Visva Bharati University could not hold on to both the standards of being unique as well as distinguished as was the case when Rabindranath Tagore was alive. Initially Visva Bharati University was given a relatively free hand to maintain that standard, but it appears the university had probably failed on many (but not all) fronts to utilize that freedom. Later on, when University Grants Commission (UGC) was formed, and fund movement from UGC to Universities in India became a highly structured and regulated affair, Visva Bharati University got gradually sucked into the general structure of Indian Universities, and is on the verge of losing its special identity designed so carefully by Rabindranath Tagore. Of course it was primarily a failure of the movers in Visva Bharati University, even then, we, the people of India must admit that the Nation called India did not really support Rabindranath Tagore’s vision on education either. And when we realize that like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, is also an invaluable national treasure, the loss naturally becomes a loss for the nation, not just a loss of a tiny place called Santiniketan, where Tagore established his school. Which could have been a national movement in Education was allowed to degenerate in a small place in Santiniketan.

The Scenario now in 2010:The End Result:-When we take into account the policies on education of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, both stalwarts of pre-independence India, and both being world figures for the sheer brilliance of their manifold visions, it becomes fairly clear that the nation called India paid scant respect, at least to their ideals on education in post-independent India. Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of education, based on the concept of religion of man, is basically not bound to any time frame, and hence can be revived or re-established in any part of the world at any point of time. But Mahatma Gandhi’s principle on basic education was conceived to be a gigantic move to be initiated in new independent India, and hence can not practically be revived after 63 years of Indian Independence in 2010. So, we have lost Mahatma Gandhi’s vision on education forever, whereas we are yet to try to realize the value of Rabindranath Tagore’s vision on education.

The education scene in India in 2010 is somewhat like this, education imparted to the village children is still inadequate in either the utilitarian or holistic terms, or in short education in India could not stabilize the village life of India even after 63 years of independence. The villagers of India still live with an uncertain future probing hard into their lives, neither are they aligned to provide a great thrust to development of India. In higher education, very recently, the Cabinet of Ministers has approved a bill to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India to offer their degrees, which will be put in the Parliament for voting. Only the Left Parties are traditionally opposed to this bill, and their number being not too significant it is expected that the bill will sail through in the Parliament. According to Honbl Kapil Sibal, the present Human Resource and Development Minister of Government of India, this bill is going to open more opportunities to Indian students and the education scenario will get more competitive to encourage an improvement in general standard of higher education in India. Our past experience of co-existence of Multi Nationals, Private Sector and Public Sector in the business sector has conclusively proved that standards do improve over time through competition, even the lethargic Public Sector behemoths in India are no more that inefficient that they used to be, and some of them have in fact risen to the occasion rather strongly. So we may expect an improvement in quality of higher education and few new opportunities to emerge if foreign universities set up their campuses here, and as per initial information universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds, Yale and Columbia have already expressed their interest in this matter.
Now, the private sector of India through ASSOCHAM has pitched in by expressing an interest to run a few ‘innovative universities’ on a profit generating basis. Whatever may be the effect of these ventures, one thing is for sure that higher education is going to be a fairly costly affair and a major part of education will be related to the forces of the market, and there is no indication that basic education is going to change in any perceptible manner.

So, in essence, instead of finding an Indian identity in education, we are again looking forward to the West to teach us…that is the conclusion of this article. And frankly speaking, that’s the path we have been moving along for last 150 years or so!!

(Source: Education Number, Visva Bharati Quarterly, Volume XIII, Part I & II, May to October’1947. Edited by Kshitis Roy.In that year,1947, Visva Bharati University chronicled fairly methodically the Education Policy being framed by the then Congress Government and tried to analyze various aspects of it through articles written by various education thinkers of India and abroad. By then, Santiniketan was in the mode of reconciliation to life after Rabindranath Tagore, and later in 1951 Visva Bharati University was declared a Central University under the aegis of Government of India. The observations made in the following article is a result of methodical study of the ‘Education Number’, a 211 page document, consisting of 28 articles written by Rabinranath Tagore, Jnanendranath Chattopadhyay, Tanayendranath Ghose, Alex Aronson, Anathnath Basu, Priyaranjan Sen, P.S.Naidu, G.Ramchandran, Sunilchandra Sarkar, Kshitimohan Sen, Gurdial Malik, Margaret Barr, Miriam Benade, Marjorie Skykes, Eric Baker, R.K.Balbir, K.D.Ghose, Sampurnananda, Dushyanta Pandya, Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukhopadhyay, Stella Kramrisch, Marthe Sinha, R.Srinivasan, Santosh Kumar Bhanja & Pulin Bihari Sen. The compilation gives us invaluable sight into the minds of prominent Indian thinking on education, also on what the West felt about the new education system that India wanted to evolve.)

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