Dialogue  April-June, 2011, Volume 12 No. 4

Editorial Perspective

Indian Education in Crisis

Mahatma Gandhi, in his Hind Swaraj, written more than a century ago, has approvingly quoted Professor Huxley’s definition of education:   “That man I think had a liberal education who had been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will and does with ease and pleasure all the work that as a mechanism it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order – whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature…whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience…who has learnt to hate all vileness and to respect others as himself.”

This is in line with our own perception of education. Our education aimed at making self-disciplined, self-controlled, and self-less individuals, living the life in perfect harmony with nature and the society. The individuals learnt to balance their interest (swarth) with that of the society (paramarth). Putting knowledge to practice molding behaviour and thought process of the pupil formed basics of the operational/behavioural frame-work. The knowledge that the same life factor (soul, atma) permeates through the entire creation and is in every body; the soul and the God is the same; there is only one truth, the wise say it differently (ekam sadviprah vahudha vadanti); gave solid foundation to harmonious social behaviour. Truth (Satya), non-hurting others (Ahimsa), non-stealing (Asteya), non-accumulation of the wealth Asamgraha), self-sacrifice (Atma-tyag) etc were the integral part of ordained duty inducted through education, which were imbibed by the pupil as a part of their being and thought process. The individuals were capable of living a simple life with high thinking. All these led to the cultivation of cardinal virtues in the society. The wisdom radiated through the individual and social behaviour; conscience and morality remained integral part of the value system.

Contrary to prevailing colonial myths, and as well-known Gandhian, Dharmapal has exposed in his Beautiful Tree, education was wide-spread in India; no community was denied the same. Earlier, we had Gurukulss, Morungs (youth dormitories, Dhumkurias, etc., for providing social education and training in harmonious living and village defence) and experts’ homes as agencies of education. The skills (shilpa) were learnt at home from the parents, which is still done to some extent. Unfortunately, the negative intervention of the British administration and colonial education resulted in ultimately eliminating the Indigenous system of education. As a result, illiteracy and poverty increased many times.                                                                             

It is said that ‘liberal education liberates’. This, however, does not happen in India due to perpetuating colonial nature of today’s education, which was designed to produce clerks and collaborators.. This education does not develop problem solving capacity of the students, and therefore, millions of degree-holders churned out by our universities and colleges, being unemployable, join the army of unemployed and thus themselves become problem for the society and the nation.               

It is a fact that present Indian system of education suffers from multiple maladies. The lack syndrome is too glaring; it lacks the capacity to have a break from the colonial past and evolve; rather than educating the students, it informs, and informs them badly and haphazardly; the education which they receive does not become part of their being; it does neither mould their attitude, thought process and mindset in positive direction, nor makes them self-controlling individuals with the sense of belonging for the nation and the society. The present system of educations de-links the students from their culture, tradition, religion, value-system and even the mother-tongue. The roots of many of our social and national problems – such as, crime and corruption in public life, the intellectuals collaborating with India’s enemies – may be traced to the present system of education itself. Present day education is the cause of deviant behavior in the society, as it alienates the pupils from their cultural roots and ethos, and thereby promotes cultural and traditional illiteracy. They grow with borrowed and distorted vision of themselves, their society, culture, history and religion.

It is not that the maladies in our education system have suddenly crept in. These were there even more than a hundred years earlier, as Mahatma Gandhi detailed them in Hind Swaraj. Our Kavi-Guru Ravindra Nath Tagore have also discussed the same in one of his papers published in as early as 1919 (The Centre of Indian Culture; reproduced in this issue). He wrote:

“The education which we receive from our universities takes it for granted that it is for filling the arid land, and that not only the mental outlook and the knowledge, but also the whole language must bodily be imported from across the sea. And this makes our education so nebulous, distant and unreal, so detached from all association of life, so terribly costly to us in time, health and means, and yet so meagre in result. So far as my own experience of teaching goes, a good proportion of pupils are naturally deficient in the power of learning languages. They find it barely possible to matriculate with an insufficient understanding of the English language, while in the higher stages disaster is inevitable. There are, moreover, other reasons why English can not be mastered by a large majority of Indian boys. First of all, to accommodate English in their minds, whose imagined habit have been to think in an eastern tongue, is as much a feat as fitting an English sword into the scabbard of a scimitar. Then again, very few boys have the means of getting anything of a proper grounding in English at the hands of a competent teacher. The sons of the poor certainly have not. I know what the counter argument will be. “You want to give higher education through Indian languages, but where are the textbooks?” I am aware that there are none. But unless higher education is given in our own languages, how are textbooks to come in our own languages? We can not expect a mint to go on working if the coins are refused circulation.”

Tagore, while discussing the effect of English education in India, has recalled the negative impact of forced denial of the use of their mother-tongue and the study of their history under the threat of punishment by the British on Irish-speaking boys. Entering the schools with their intelligence and curiosity alive, they used to develop mental numbness, and thus become mentally-crippled. They developed distaste for all study, as the method of teaching was machine-like and the study was parrot-like. Tagore observed that “European education has become for India mere school learning and not culture, a box of matches good for various uses, but not the morning light in which the utility and grace and the subtle mystery of life have blended in one….The use of English inevitably tends to turn our mind for its source of inspiration towards the West, with which we can never be in intimate contact; and therefore our education will remain sterile, or produce incongruities. The diversity of our languages should not frighten us; but we should beware of the futility of borrowing the language of our culture from a far-away land, and making the moving stream we have stagnant and shallow.” Tagore wanted us to “bravely accept the inconvenient fact of the diversity of our languages and at the same time admit that a foreign language, like foreign soil, may be good for hothouse culture, but not for that civilization which is necessary for the maintenance of life.” Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Lohia also wanted Indian languages to take the place of English.

Tagore has a vision for India which remains unfulfilled as yet. He wrote: “And this is why the inner spirit of India is calling to us to establish in this land centres where all her intellectual forces will gather for the purpose of creation, and all resources of knowledge and thought.. Eastern and Western will unite in perfect harmony. She is seeking her modern Brahmavarta, her Mithila of Janaka’s time, her Ujjaini of the time of Vikramaditya. She is seeking the glorious opportunity when she will know her mind and give freely to the world, when she will be released from the chaos of scattered power and the inertness of borrowed acquisition.” This remains a dream for us. The present system of education tenaciously resists change. This was observed even by Tagore more than nine decades earlier. He wrote:

“The current system of education, in which our mind has been nurtured, is as tangible to us as our physical body, so that we cannot think that it can change. Our imagination dare not soar beyond its limits; we are unable to see it and judge it from outside. We have neither the courage nor the heart to say that it has to be replaced by something else, because our own intellectual life, for which we have a natural bias, is product of this system.”                       

New factors have also emerged since then. The elite of the society have developed vested interest in perpetuating the system. The left intellectuals, who came to control the system due to compulsions of Indian politics, as Raj Thapar has detailed in her All These Years continue to be the pillars of strength for every thing colonial –the myths, history and the system. Under such situation, only civil society intervention may bring the desired change and save us from the doom.                                                                                                                     

–B.B. Kumar    


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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