Mahatma Gandhi’s thought and philosophy on almost all aspects of life is worth reassessing especially in the light of what he has to say on educating the masses and the role of education should play in eradicating evils of ignorance, superstition and other follies specially in the rural sector where infrastructure for basic facilities of life is inadequate and poor. In his Collected Works, a passage written in 1942, amplifies his ideas on the role of the village. He states that ‘my idea of village swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants, and yet interdependent for many other in which dependence is a necessity’.
Gandhi’s thrust towards empowerment through education of the poor and women especially in the rural sector may be better understood when we consider the times when the average life span of an Indian women was only 27 years. Babies and pregnant women ran a high risk of dying young. Child marriage was common and widows were in large number. Only 2% of women had any kind of education and women did not have an identity of their own. In North India, they practiced the purdah system.
An attempt is made here to re-evaluate Gandhian approach to education and its impact among the poor, the down-trodden and the rural sector of the country.
Education for SWARAJ
“The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.” (M. K. Gandhi True education on the NCTE site)
Literacy is not an end of education or even the beginning. All literate men may not be truly educated while the ‘illiterate rural masses’ at time may cultivate refined sensitivity and progressiveness that ‘true education’ is supposed to bring out. “Rural areas are less literate but have a better, more balanced gender ratio than urban areas.
The harsh truth is that modern education has increased social discrimination instead of eradicating it. It is generally believed that the gender ratio is adverse (in favor of men) in those states where the literacy rate is lower and the gender ratio is more balanced where the literacy rates are higher. This is a completely false interpretation. Beginning with a ratio of 972 females per 1000 males in 1901 the proportion was, on the whole, moving down consistently through the decades (except for slight increases in the year 1951 and 1981) and arrived the lowest figure of 927 females in 1991, while the literacy rate has been steadily up from a low of 5.39 per cent in 1901 to a high of 52.21 per cent in 1991.”
Gandhiji advocated a complete reform which he called “Sarvodaya” meaning comprehensive progress. He believed that the difference between men and women was only physical and expressed several times in his writing that in many matters, especially those of tolerance, patience, and sacrifice, the Indian women is superior to the male. Gandhiji declared that there is no school better than home and there is no teacher better than parents.
He said men and women are equal, but not identical. “Intellectually, mentally, and spiritually, woman is equivalent to a male and she can participate in every activity”. “Indian society is a male-dominated one”, Gandhiji used to remind us even illustrating from his own life situation. Gandhiji has illustrated in his autobiography (The story of my Experiment with Truth) how early in his marriage he too wanted to dominate his wife. He often said that paternal society is the root cause of inequality. In his book, there is a very touching chapter about when he asked his wife to clean a public toilet and the resulting conflict between him and his wife. He has written how ashamed he was of himself, and how he took care not to hurt her anymore for the rest of his life.
We may address this issue from feminist perspective as well. The way Gandhi had sensitive approach to the caring and the nurturing traits of women, modern feminists emphasis on the experiences of motherhood, a women undergoing experiences of trauma / rejection etc., as victims of rape, sexual harassment etc., add another dimension. Gandhi glorified women as mother and also for her capacity to undergo suffering to emerge wiser out of that experience that is provided in the ‘laboratory of life’. If we relate it to situational mode of knowing that differs from the contextual mode of knowing. Gandhi comes close to the former.
“In the United States, Jane Roland Martin was one of the first professional philosophers of education to bring a feminist perspective to her work. Jyotsna Kamat finds similarity of Gandhian approach to women-education in the country to some contemporary feminist writings. She writes: “Gandhi will have full support for her feminist concern that the ‘very definition of education’ and the educational realm adopted implicitly by the standard texts in philosophy of education excludes women.” (Martin, 1999, 150)
Apart for referring to certain women-related issues like sexual harassment, feminist authors have focused on gender-linked approaches to knowing their implications for teaching in its various manifestations. In addition, feminist scholarship has sparked philosophical analyses of types of relationships and practices that in the past were generally ignored by philosophers of education. For instance, Sara Ruddick has argued that mothering constitutes a kind of practice driven by the aims of preservation, growth, and social acceptability. Engaging in the practice of mothering, Ruddick argues, fosters certain metaphysical attitudes, cognitive capacities and conceptions of virtue.
From a perspective such as Ruddick’s, mothering appears to be a profound educational significance. Gandhi emphasized on attitudinal change that should come from education in its true sense of the term. Gandhi dose not mean that women should not cook, but only that household responsibilities be shared among men, women and children. He wanted women to outgrow the traditional responsibilities and participate in the affairs of nation. He criticised Indian’s passion for male progeny. He said that as long as we don’t consider girls as natural as our nation would be in a dark eclipse.
With our more emphasis on artificial intelligence (AI) and computers in school learning, we are optimistic that education now is on the right track. It given more emphasis on “doing”, where “doing”, unlike in Gandhian term, is more mechanical and robotic. ‘Doing’ now means mostly proving mathematical theorems and writing computer programs. In the field of AI the criterion of “what work” is straightforward, clear, and objective in the manner of engineering design; arguments and criticisms from outside the field can make no claim at all against it. It is this type of thinking that makes humans imitate machine thinking; it keeps no scope for any indecisiveness of the human thinker; there is no grey area; everything is either black or white. This mechanical way for testing intelligence makes us ‘mantra vid’, one who knows all the formulas and have all the required information in one’s field, but education here fails to make us ‘atma-vid’, one who is a aware of what lies beyond the surface experience, of values and ideals, the drives and the motivating force that inspires us to ‘know’.
Gandhi comes close to Dewey in this regard. In an address entitled “Education for the Rank and File,” David Snedden drew on the social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer in asserting that society, like nature itself, was governed by often harsh natural lows that must be obeyed. Snedden saw the ultimate aim of education as “the greatest degree of efficiency”.
This meant that for “the rank and file,” that is, “those who do duty in the ranks…., who will follows, not lead,… utilitarian training which looks to individual efficiency in the world of work.”
Dewey thought he saw a social class dualism in David.Snedden’s distinction between vocational educational for the rank and file and liberal education for the few that would lead. For Dewey. All meanings emerged from socio- cultural linguistic transactions. Concepts are cognitive meanings. Dewey warned against hypostatizing concepts through the occupations, something he supports for the kind of philosophical reasons, and education for the occupations, a kind of social pre—destinations he entirely rejected. For Dewey, the most important distinction to be drawn was not between liberal versus vocational education. But between liberating versus enslaving education.
Basic education or Nai Talim is based on the fundamental principle of “learning by doing”. Gandhi is essentially a doer than a thinker and, therefore, his concepts of basic education can be classified as activity method or practical method. It is primarily a method of co-relation of book learning, craft and like- situations. He lays great emphasis on the necessity of training student for manual work under the supervision of teachers. Gandhi is of the Opinion that education should be imparted through craft like gardening, weaving, spinning, carpentry, etc. A realistic scheme of education must be closely integrated with the physical and social environment of the student.
The core of his proposal was the introduction of productive handicrafts in the school curriculum. Was he really wanted was for the schools to be self supporting, as far as possible. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, a poor society such as India simply could not afford to provide education for all children unless the schools could generate resources from within. Secondly, the more financially independent the schools were, the more politically independent they could be. What Gandhi wanted to avoid was dependence on the state which he felt would mean interference from the centre. Above all else, Gandhi values self-sufficiency and autonomy. These were vital for his vision of an independent India made up of autonomous village communities to survive. It was the combination of swaraj and swadeshi related to the education system. A state system of education within an independent India would have been a complete contradiction as far as Gandhi.”
Gandhi sought to keep the centrality of the ‘charakha’ in our education system. This he did in to revolutionise entire teaching programme that traditionally associated productive handicrafts with the lowest groups in the hierarchy of castes. This now kept room for “racial restructuring of the sociology of school knowledge in India, where knowledge of the production processes involved in crafts, such as spinning, weaving, leather-work pottery, metal work, basket making and book binding, had been the monopoly of specific caste groups in the lowest strata of the traditional social hierarchy. Many of them belonged to the category of ‘untouchables’ India’s indigenous tradition of education as well as the colonial education system had emphasized the skills(such as literacy) and knowledge of which the upper castes had a monopoly.
To quote Krishna Kumar: “The social philosophy and the curriculum of ‘basic education’ thus favored the child belonging to the lowest stratum of society. It sought to alter the symbolic meaning of ‘education’ and thereby to change the established structure of opportunities for education. Schools must be self-supporting, as far as possible, not to be dependent on the contributions from the poor students, and also self-sufficiency will protect schools from dependence on the State and from interference by it financial self-sufficiency was linked to truth, and autonomy to non-violence.”
Gandhi and established in South Africa. Phoenix Farm, started in 1904, and Tolstoy Farm, which was established in 1910, provided him with a lasting interest and faith in the potential of life in a rural commune. John Ruskin’s Unto this Last apparently inspired the first of these experiments last. Krishna Kumar writes: “Gandhi drew three lessons from this book, or rather, as Louis Fischer has explained, Gandhi read three messages into the book. The first message was that the benefit of all is what is good economy is all about; the second was that earnings from manual work (such as that of a barber) have the same value as mental work (such as that of a lawyer); and the third one was that a life worth living was that of a laborer or craftsman”.
It appears that especially in the context of education Gandhi seemed reluctant to commit himself to a purely secular position, but the fact remains that his basic education plan provides no room for religious teaching. In June 1938 he had to explain the matter in the some detail because a delegation of educators demanded to know precisely what his view was on this matter. His answer was: “We have left out the teaching of religion from the Wardha scheme of education because we are afraid that religious as they are taught and practiced today lead to conflict rather than unity. But on the other hand, I hold that the truths that are common to all religion s can and should be taught to all children. These truths cannot to taught through words or through books – the children can learn these truth only through the daily life of he teacher. If the teacher himself lives up to the tenets of truth and justice, then alone can the children learn that Truth and Justice are the basis of all religions.”
Education as a dialogue
For Gandhi creativity is the basic instinct in men that makes him dynamic and living. Gandhi’s conception of basic education was concerned with learning that was generated within everyday life which is the basis on which informal educators work. It was also an education focused on the individual but reliant on co-operation between individuals. Gandhi’s insistence on autonomy and self-regulation is reflected in the ethos of informal education. It was also an education focused on the individual but reliant on co-operation between individuals.
“A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them, He who learns noting from his disciples is, in my opinion, worthless. Whenever I talk with someone I learn from him. I take from him more than I give him. In this way, a true teacher regards himself as a student of his students. If you will teach your pupils with this attitude, you will benefit much more them.” (Talk to Khadi Viyalaya Students, Sevagram, Sevak, 15 February 1942 CW75, P. 269)
Education as a bridge between the local and the global
The dehumanising effect of any education system may preserve order but it will not provide weapons to survive at a time of change and transition, from localization to globalization… It is only an environment, which fosters innovation that borderless minds can be formed and borderless thinking can flourish. It is only breaking up those walls and opening up those windows of mind will bring that fresh wind that will build the ‘Innovative India’ of our dreams.
Mahatma Gandhi sought to safeguard the human dimension of our existence and in this dialectic, man represented the whole of mankind, not just India, and the machine represented the industrialized. This alternate model of development will be decisive in his education policies. Gandhi wanted the reorder priorities, he was not against machine and industry but he was against the mechanisation of humans and dehumansing effect of it on society. Gandhi revolutionized the basic concept of education with more focus on an alternate model of development that will also empower the poor and the village along with benefits to the elite and the cities. No one had rejected colonial education as sharply and as completely as Gandhi nor did any one else put forward an alternative as radical as the one he proposed. But this is not just a usual stereotyped response that one can easily interpret Gandhian search for an alternate education system as a kind of xenophobia. “It would be equally wrong to see it as a symptom of a subtle revivalist dogma.
If it were possible to read Gandhi’s ‘basic education’ plan as an anonymous text in the history of world education, it would be conveniently classified in the tradition of Western radical humanists like Pestalozzi, Owen, Tolstoy and Dewey. It dose not lend itself to be read in the context of the East-West dichotomy that Gandhi did deal with in some of his other writings.”
Yet, the fact remains that Gandhi wanted education – reconstructed along the lines he thought correct – to help India move away from the Western concept of progress, towards a different form of development more suited to its needs and more viable, for the world as a whole than the Western model of development. Adequate definitions of “development” and “underdevelopment” must necessarily be linked to a form of self – reliance rooted firmly in the capacities and interests of the working people. Re-defining development in terms of an expansion of capabilities, or freedoms to lead a life which is valuable, (Sen.1993), Nobel laureate Amartya Sen defines development not in terms of GDP but in terms of ‘the real freedoms that people enjoy.’
In the true sense of the term, development must embody five elements: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security.
Dr. Karan Sing speak out on our behalf when he says: “I belong to the post-Gandhian generation, but it does seem to me, that as time goes by many of us who, when we were younger, tented to dismiss Gandhiji’s ideas as being unrealistic and hopelessly idealistic, are now beginning to realise that perhaps, in the long run, those ideas can be of great value to the emerging global civilization.” In Rio de Janeiro 1992, the Earth summit, there were thousands of green activists who drew their inspiration not from Marx, not from Lenin, not from Adam Smith but from Mahatma Gandhi. There were young people who had been influenced by the thoughts of this man, who spoke to them across the gulf of decades. Gandhi’s emphasis on the individual rater than the machines and on small-scale village production rater than large scale manufacture can bring about peace, freedom and socio-economic development in a reasonable period.
I conclude with the following words of Arya Bhushan Bharadwaj: “We have a look back to Gandhi. After the near failure of both communism and capitalism, we have a look for a Third power which could provide a better and more positive “humane system” for building a better world, a new system that would be free from any sort of violence at the individual as well as at the social level. Here comes the relevance of Gandhi who advocated a new socio-political system based on human values of love and compassion.”