A National Education Programme For India
Towards Some Clear And Achievable Goals
The following affirmations apropos the draft National Policy on Education presented to the Parliament in May 1986 are offered for discussion and refinement or revision:
A national policy on education has to be developed by the people of the nation. The draft provided by the Department of Education of the Ministry of Human Resources for Development provides a good starting point for a public debate which involves more than the Community of formal education: The draft proposals are all indicative of much thought and good discernment of the directions for change in institutional education.
The proposed national policy is meant to mark a historic change of direction in the age-old process of education (1:1) The present draft hardly provides the basis for that radical and historic change. It puts forth a reformist policy which does not deal with the fundamentals. Its ‘Cardinal Principle‘ is stated to be : education for all, education for acculturation, education for trained manpower for the national economy. It is through these elements that it sees education as a unique investment in the present and the future.”(2:l-4).
The fact remains that the vast majority of our people remain unlettered and unable to organise themselves for their own emancipation. Extreme poverty, disease and malnutrition persist. Scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes and many others are the victims of oppression, the officials of the Government themselves participating or abetting the oppression in many cases. Peasants and workers continue to be exploited. Women continue to receive unequal treatment. The present draft has only thought in terms of providing equal access to all –to educational institutions at elementary and higher levels (4:l—8).
It also speaks of “adult education linked with national goals such as alleviation of poverty, national integration, environmental conservation, energisation of the cultural creativity of the people, observance of the small family norm, promotion of women’s equality etc” (4:10). and asks that the whole nation “pledge itself to the eradication of illiteracy, particularly in the most general terms suggested (4:12).
One of the contentions of this paper is that fundamental reform in the educational system is not feasible except in the context of a programme for social and political reform in society as a whole. Even in the matters of value inculcation or national awareness building, a school-based programme cannot succeed when a different set of values and different regional or communal awareness prevail in society. Educational reform has to be an integral part of social reform. A serious attempt should therefore be made to make the national adult education and literacy programme much more comprehensive, and integrate developments in institutional education within the framework of a national education programme.
It is therefore the contention of this paper that this aspect of adult education for the whole nation should provide the matrix for the institutional educational programme, including elementary and secondary education, as well as technical and professional education. The mobilisation of all the people of this country, both the literate and the illiterate, towards a national programme of self-education, can generate the resources necessary to build a structure that not only provides education for all children of school-going age, but also radically transforms our national Consciousness to think more in terms of the welfare of all than of personal, family or group benefit.
Such a national programme will —
a) provide for all citizens including school children giving 4 to 6 hours a week for physical or technical labour, using skills already present or specially provided.
b) this labour shall be directed mainly to rural and urban development including construction of roads, bridges, schools, irrigation systems, water supply, health and
nutrition education, social forestry, adult literacy campaigns, teaching of skills and awareness building.
c). all departments of Government, including national defence and external affairs should participate in formulation and implementation of this programme, and the army and the police shall be asked to work shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the people.
d) since this is a national programme, the participation of all political parties should be solicited and secured from the outset.
e) the literacy programme should extend to all literates and semi-literates — not just the 15-35 age group.
f) special emphasis should be given to rural development.
g) cultural creativity including art, drama, dance, painting, street plays (street drama), music and video-tapes should be a major instrument in the programme – not just talking and learning to read and write.
h)special efforts should be made to scout for local talent, and give leadership training and responsibilities to such people.
i) women including house-wives, nurses, teachers, school-girls and professional women, should be given leadership roles wherever possible.
j) temples, mosques, churches, etc. as well as their religious leaders and functionaries should become centers and agents for promoting inter-religious and inter-communal respect and understanding.
k) promoting awareness of national and international problems, issues and aspirations, including world peace and a just socio-economic order should form an important part of the programme.
l) financing of the programme should be partly by government allocating funds and partly by voluntary contributions from the people.
Once the people’s movement matrix for adult education is set in motion, the other aspects of the new policy fall into place in a better way. However some aspects of where we are today need to be given greater attention — especially (a) our educational history, (b) the socio-economic vision embodied in our Constitution, and (c) the technology-value relation.
The most important re-assessment in our educational history relates to the original purpose of our colonial overlords of the early nineteenth century in setting up the system. The popular myth that Lord Macaulay set up a system to train civil servants and clerks to man the colonial system, contains some truth, but does not explain the whole purpose of the British. This other purpose cane out clearly in the debate in the British Parliament in the 1830’s regarding the educational programme priorities of two British missionaries in and around Calcutta.
William Carey, son of a cobbler, from the working class in Britain, founder
of Serampore College and teacher at Presidency College in Calcutta, insisted on the University’s convocation being held only in Indian languages — mainly Sanskrit, Persian and Bengali – and also insisted that all British students had to be proficient enough to give an address in one of these languages (Persian was then more Indian than English today). He also actually supervised translation of the Sanskrit classics of India into the regional languages of India, so that the elite cultural wealth of our country would be available to the common people. He introduced the printing press in Calcutta and used it to disseminate the newly translated books.
Alexander Duff, who obviously was from the upper class of Britain, saw the Indian civilisation as a pure obstacle to progress, and wanted to undermine it through an educational system based on the English language and English literature. He regarded the educational system as a bundle of dynamite sticks placed under the colossal structure of Indian culture. The British upper class parliament scooted at the efforts of the Cobbler’s son to revive Indian culture, and predictably sided with Duff’s view. The view that prevailed also among the upper and middle classes of Indians around Calcutta as well as in Bombay (Elphiustone College) and Madras (Presidency College) during the pre-Mutiny (before 1857) days was very Duffian. According to the great Indian historian Percival Spear, there was at that initial stage an exaggerated effervescence in the westernised middle class for all that was western; a radical group in Calcutta accepting the west in toto
“They accepted the western claim to have found the secret of progress based on the principle of reason; they accepted Western humanist values. The only way to mend the abuses of Hinduism, they believed, was to end them. They were much influenced by the French and English rationalists, whose representative in Calcutta was David Hare, the watchmaker. A section of them influenced by Alexander Duff, the Scots missionary, went further and accepted the religion as well as the philosophy and philanthropy of the west.” (Percival Spear, A History of India, Vol.2. Penguin, 1965 p.292 cited by Yogendra Singh, Modernisation of Indian Tradition, Paridabad, 1973 / 1977 pp 89 – 90.)
Of course this pre-1857 attitude o£ our urban western educated upper classes did not prevail; reaction to it paved the way for the Mutiny or the first outburst of the freedom struggle. After the Mutiny the response pattern of the Indian elite to the west was different. Dhoti-clad at home, western suit in the office, our I.C.S elite were proudly Indian at home and intellectually western in public.
They believed in the railways, the postal system and the telegraph: in the school and the University: a universalistic legal judicial structure: urbanisation and industrialization: growth of a pan-Indian nationalist politics, secularism, democracy, science and technology; and above all in the Civil Service itself. The post 1857 Indian elite would agree with what the Kothari commission said more than a hundred years later (l964-66):
“The most powerful tool in the process of modernisation is education based on science and technology. The one great lesson of the present age of science is that with determination and willingness to put in hard work, prosperity is within the reach of any nation which has a-stable and progressive government”.
I think the distinguished scientist S.Kothari, a very devout and intelligent, deeply religious Jain, and the equally distinguished Gandhian J.P.Nayak, both my personal friends, were somewhat uneasy about that categorical statement and continued (in 1964 – 66).
“There is no doubt that in the years to come India’s trade and commerce will grow: there will be more food for all: more education; better health and a reasonable standard of living will be available. But India’s contribution can and should be far more than these material gains. She should learn to harness science, but she must also learn not to be dominated by science”.
This is the Duffian perspective, altered by the post-mutiny national prode, only in the shift from emphasis on British literacy and cultural heritage to what many Indians regard as “Universal” science-and-technology. The national pride also gives them the hope that they are tough enough not to be “dominated by science“. The Kothary commission, the new draft National Policy on Education, our Prime Minister, and most of our civil service, stand squarely on the Duffian perspective altered by post-Mutiny national pride.
This paper is not arguing for a rejection of modern science and the technology based on it. On the contrary, the solution of the mountainous problems facing our nation is largely dependent on modern science and modern technology. There can be no doubt that we in India have not only to keep abreast of scientific technological developments in the world, but also to be innovative and creative in both science and technology, as also in the arts and literature.
Also there need not be any debate on whether we should go for high, middle or low technology or for the mythical ‘appropriate’ technology. Our choice is clearly for an appropriate mix of high, middle and low (in terms of complexity) technologies.
We cannot do without all three, but in the appropriate mix. And the teaching oi science and technology should begin at the elementary level.
Our problem is on the dialectical tension between tradition and modernity. Some fundamental affirmations about this tension can be made in the context of the National Education Policy. A tradition that shies away from facing modernity is no longer vital and deserves to die. A tradition which resists change is a living tradition; capacity for change is a measure of the vitality of a tradition. A living tradition is always a dialogue between the old and the new; so is education.
Oblivion of tradition has been the bane of modernity. There is no future that is entirely free from the past. To think that the past can be entirely forgotten is to be untrue to oneself and therefore intrinsically false. Without memory there is no real hope. To keep memory and hope both alive at the same time is the hallmark of a living tradition. In the context of a National Education Policy that is authentically forward-looking and Future-oriented as well as present facing. persons and societies have to be helped to become past-remembering.
That past educationally speaking, has at least two aspects– one that is universal and the other that is much more particular, in India’s case now, national regional and local. There are four basic elements which are common to all traditions, in danger of being pushed into oblivion by modernity namely a holistic vision, a sense of genuine community, a legitimate social differentiation without separation or marginalisation and an anchoring in the transcendent which enables the search for its realisation. Modernity in its more mature phase should help us to see these four aspects in a more illumined way than in the past. No society can be really healthy without incorporating these four aspects of the tradition in an ever freshly relevant manner. Neither environmental issues nor health problems neither national integration projects nor questions of communal harmony can be adequately faced without revitalising these four aspects of the universal tradition. And a National Educational Policy has to deal with these four aspects at some depth. Part VIII as now stands needs fundamental revision in this regard.
The particular aspects of the varying local and regional cultures have to be put into a new framework in India, taking into account both the wide diversity and the need for an integrating principle.
No doubt ours is a secular nation by constitutional choice. But the adjective-noun “Secular nation” is to be understood in contrast with out neighbour nations which are constitutionally Islamic. By secular nation (it is wrong to talk about secularism as a principle) we mean a nation where no religion is more privileged than others, and where the freedom to practice a religion of one‘s own choice is as important as the freedom to profess no religion at all. Secular does not mean anti-religion in our context. It would be dishonest however to deny the importance of religion in the life of the people of India. Our civil servants who have been ‘secularized’ by western education and who may feel that religion is meaningless or reactionary or superstitious, have a duty to respect the Freedom, the integrity and the dignity of those who profess and practice a religion of their choice.
It is equally important that the majority community bend over backwards to keep themselves from unconsciously imposing their particular religions standards on others or seek particular privileges for their religion in the public realm or in education. They have no right, under our constitution to make distinctions between indigenous religions and foreign religions in India. Just as Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism cannot be restrained as foreign religions in Europe or America, Zoroastrianism. Judaism. Islam and Christianity cannot be made under-privileged in the public realm. Hindus have to be careful not to make non-Hindus anti-Hindu.
The draft National policy does not deal with this problem at all, obviously because it is a very hot potato. But the Potato will not cool so easily , and we better find ways to deal with this particular hot potato as we deal with other hot things, with calmness and keeping cool, taking precautions to see that the heat does not hurt. No use denying the fact that most values have been first created-in a religious matrix before they became secular. Religions belong to our past: they are a strong force in the present; they are likely to remain potent in the foreseeable future also, despite expectation to the contrary on the part of those who have reacted against religion.
Should religions be taught in our schools? There are at least three ways in which it should be taught and at least one way it should not be taught. It should not be taught in such a way that it leads to hatred or contempt of other religions; it should not promote the view that any one religion is superior to another one or more true than others; it should not be taught in a narrow dogmatic exclusivistic way. Religion can be taught in such a way that religious heroes with unselfishness and compassion can be admired by children; one could also teach about nonreligious heroes who have manifested the same qualities. One way to teach religions is to focus on heroes and their qualities. A second way is to take what is universally valued in a religion and exalt it– like compassion in Buddhism, or racial equality in Islam. A third way is to take the art and culture in each religion in such a way as to promote respect for religion. Text books and curricula for teaching religion in this way can be produced by a high calibre body like the N.C.E.R.T. Whichever way religion is taught, it must promote national integration and mutual respect among religions. To shy away from this seems un-Indian.
The document devotee three paragraphs to value education (8:4-6). The discussion has shown that the very concept ‘value’ is unclear. The document speaks about combating certain negative values and promoting positive ones from our heritage. It speaks about ‘social, ethical and moral values‘ which have to be cultivated. No indication of a method of arriving at these positive values or of ‘cultivating them is indicated. It seems quite likely that this aspect may fall by the wayside in the light of the controversies that the discussion can generate. It seems essential to state some general facts about these values.
In the national educational programme we are concerned about human values, both personal and social. By human values we mean those trait attitudes, behaviour patterns and human qualities that both constitute and promote human welfare, unity, freedom, justice, peace, dignity and maturity at all levels.
Human values arise in the context of the four basic relations of humanity
a) to the material world of which humanity is a constituent part– economically, ecologically, artistically and in terms of science and technology.
b) to other human beings and to societies, as a whole, as also among societies, among groups, family units etc, in terms of culture and political economy.
c) to one’s own self in terms of discipline, self-control, integrity, capacity to cope with situations, etc.
d) to whatever meaning can be discerned or experienced in relation to the whole with or without a transcendent dimension.
Human values have at least three dimensions — intellectual clarification and perception, (mind), moral commitment and conduct (will), and affective adherence and inspiration (feeling); educational policy should deal with human values at all three levels — mind, will and feeling. There should be some attempt at clarification of values– like justice, dignity, peace, unity, as also integrity compassion, social concern, participation, and perhaps also the process by which we discern the good and the true and the beautiful and apprehend meanings. Commitment to human values and adherence to cannot however be merely a matter oi rational or intellectual clarification. Habits, traits, disciplines, and capacities will have to be acquired through actual life-situations.
In relation to human values also the most appropriate context in which to fight against negative values like corruption, Parasitism, laziness, ignorance, narrowness, cruelty etc. would be the kind of movement for the eradication of poverty, injustice,ignorance and ill-health. Values like heroism and self-sacrifice may emerge in an inspiring way in the context of a production-oriented mass movement.
This document has not attempted a comprehensive comment on the whole draft policy document. It raises some questions about the overall framework and vision behind the projected educational policy. Its intention is to provoke discussion and lead to better formulation oi policy and its implementation. One point needs to be indicated here — namely that those involved in higher education such as teachers, administrations and students could play a catalyst role in the reformulation of educational policy and in its implementation.