Revamping The Educational System / Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios


In discussing directions for revamping the educational system in our country, the best starting point seems to be the inaugural address of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the Conference of Education Ministers of States and Union Territories, in New Delhi, on August 29th 1985.
I. The Purpose of The Educational System
The first argument of the Prime Minister for revision of the present system is its economic cost. The present system is too inefficient and too expensive in relation to the results achieved, and also in view of the purpose — namely human development for all the people of India.
Human Development as purpose seems to be beyond question. The difficulties arise primarily in relation to spelling out the content of human development and determining the specific means of achieving that development.
Before we discuss these two aspects, there is a question that needs to be raised, namely “whose purpose?”. It is one thing for a government unit or the Prime Minister of our country to state a purpose, and quite another for all the communities, interest groups, the civil service, the teachers, the students, and the parents to accept it as their purpose as well. For the individual family unit in our country, the purpose in sending their children to school or university is certainly not the development of the nation as a whole. It is rather to procure higher ea???g capacity for one’s child, and to seek upward social mobility for the family.
There is thus for example a conflict in purpose between the nation as a whole and individual family units. This problem of national purpose and individual objectives crops up at every level.
Even in devising in the last century the present educational System, different purposes of the colonial government were at play. It has now become a cliche to say that the British (Lord Macaulay) wanted the educational system to train “most obedient servants” for the imperial government. But there was another purpose at work, rarely stated openly, in determining the British colonial government’s overal1 purpose. Alexander Dutt, the architecht of higher education in our country, in the early nineteenth century, was among the few who openly stated it.
The issue came out in open debate between two Christian missionaries working in India, one of them being Alexander Dutt himself, a scion of the ruling class in Britian at that time. The other was William Carey, the son of a shoesmaker, from the working class in England. Both were brilliant and gifted. Dutt had been trained in the top educational institutions of England. Carey on the other hand was largely a self-taught encyclopaedic genius, who while in India, mastered not only Sanskrit and Persian, but also at least twenty of the regional languages of India.
Carey’s purpose was to make Indians more Indian, and to that end translated the Sanskrit classics of India into our regional languages. He was responsible for establishing a printing press in Culcutta and for the printing of the first printed books in more than a dozen languages of India.
Alexander Dutt was among those who scorned these efforts to revive what he regarded as decadent and barbarous in Indian culture. Both Carey and Dutt were missionaries. Both wanted India to become Christian. The difference was this. Carey wanted India to recover its own glorious cultural heritage and in that process for the people of India to recognise Christ. Dutt on the other hand wanted to undermine our resistance to colonial domination, to bulldoze Indian culture and to replace it with western culture. He saw the educational system with British literature and values as the bulldozer, as the bundle of dynamite sticks that would undermine the resistance of that mighty “Juggernaut” of Indian culture.
Dutt not only prevailed in the debate. He was able also to make the colonial government as well as the British East India Company to accept his strategy of using the educational system to overthrow the Indian resistance to colonial rule and domination.
It was this original purpose of the British educational system that we have failed to give due attention to. We have only tinkered with details of that system. It is true that our present educational system, as the Prime Minister also acknowledges, has produced distinguished scholars and scientists. Let me quote him: “we have just to go to any laboratory in the world doing the most advanced scientific research or technological development, or hospital, you find Indians in top posts, Indians who have come through this very educational system”.
Yes, the British-initiated educational system has indeed produced a few Indians who have outdone most British within the terms of their own system. Meanwhile, our national spine bent, our national mind clouded, our national spirit drooping, our national creativity stifled; injustice becomes more deeply entrenched every day; the economic system becomes more and more uneven; the poor perish without hope; the growing middle class with its individualist values sits astride the economy; communal loyalties displace loyalty to the nation; power groups and pressure groups jostle each other to advance group interests; democracy, such as it was, erodes; human rights are trampled upon by those in power using police or goondas; the voice of the Dalit and Adivasis is drowned in the clamour of power conflicts among the more powerful.
Yes, the British ruling classes achieved their main purpose in the nineteenth century. They broke our resistance using the educational system and made us a slave nation. They also achieved their subsidiary purpose of training Indians as cheap labour to run the colonial system for them and in their interests. What we are trying to do is to “revamp” this system to serve a purpose which is the precise opposite of that for which it was originally devised. We want to make our people free and creative, not enslaved and imitative. We want to abolish all elitism and undue privilege. We want people to think in terms of national emancipation, not personal advancement. We want our educational system to help people learn and think, not to memorize and reproduce. Can the old system, considerably revamped, serve the new purpose?
The Prime Minister referred only to the economic cost– efficiency of the system, without taking the cultural cost into account. He recommends modern technology as the economically more cost-efficient tool to shape our nation. He has not computed, nor told us the cultural cost of introducing modern technology into a culturally enslaved and unevenly power-balanced society.
It is true indeed that modern technology can cut the cost of production in many sectors of our economy. In theory it is also true, as the Prime Minister says, that the money so saved can be allocated to poverty eradication programmes. But will it? Unless the power to understand and to decide is in the hands of the people, it is more likely that the money saved by the introduction of modern technology will go to enhance the power of the powerful.
From this preliminary examination of the objectives for a new educational system, it becomes clear that the purpose would have to be stated in more specific terms than that of “human development”. These specific goals should on the one hand be related to the overall goal of human development, and on the other hand be capable of implementation. They should also be related to the major purpose of economic, cultural, intellectual and spiritual emancipation.
II. Specific Goals
We will here mention only three of the specific goals already formulated, and make some comments in the light of the need for cultural emancipation and the problems of implementation: these three goals are literacy, vocationalisation and values.
1. Literacy
Universalisation of Elementary Education up to the age of 14,with intensive and extensive adult literacy programmes for the 15 – 35 age-group. The reason why the literacy programme was limited to the under-thirty-fives must be those of cost and manageability as well as that of maximum return in terms of their contribution to the economy. There may also be a suspicion that those above 35 are harder to teach. It is indeed a big enough task, especially in view of the limits on resources allocated for education in the Seventh Five Year Plan, to provide for the under-thirty-fives. The 15 – 35 age-group alone would come to more than 100 million.
But I believe that there is another principle involved here, which argues against the limiting of the literacy programmes to the upper limit of age 35. I would state this principle as follows: “No radical change in the educational programme is possible, without a similar radical change in the basic social attitudes of the masses”.
If this principle is basically accepted, then it will be seen that what we need is a co-ordinated mass education programme in which the whole nation participates, and from which no one is exempt whatever be his or her age, whether it be politicians or policemen, civil servants or army personal, factory workers or religious leaders, house-wives or medical doctors, old men or little children. It has to be a powerful mass movement in which literacy and health education, environmental protection and tree planting, the building of schools, roads, bridges, community centres, and drainage and irrigation systems are all integrated.
The government and the educational establishment will have to confine themselves to a largely though significantly ancillary role, the real leadership emerging from among the people themselves, from among those ready to sacrifice personal interests and to work hard in a disciplined manner, from among those recognized by the people as true servants of society.
In this context there will be specific goals and specific targets; but the control will not rest with the ministry of human resources development, or even with any of the government ministries. All ministries will have to reorient their programme to this national programme. That goes for the Ministry of External Affairs or the Ministry of National Defence, Commerce or Industry, Agriculture or Foreign Trade, Health or Home.
Such a programme will also overcome the present alienation between government and people, between institutions and persons, between the bureaucracy and the broad masses. It will require imagination, vision and boldness. It alone will overcome our communal rivalries and our regional or local parochialisms, by the broad sweep of peoples’ power directed to creative ends. In the context of this broad—based movement, our literature and arts will come alive in a newly creative way, responding to the mass enthusiasm and peoples‘ needs.
It is this programme which will mobilize the material and human resources necessary for building the millions of elementary schools and village health centres that will need to be created. School chi1dren and teachers, police, army and others will have a role in constructing schools and roads, bridges and community centres.
Such a mass education programme, which one it really takes off, will radically alter the political structure of our country“ It will probably sweep away the existing political parties and institutions. Who knows, it may even sweep away the constitution itself, if the people have enough vision and vitality.
I am glad the Prime Minister raised the question in his inaugural address in these words: “A basic question: can government bear the sole responsibility for the full educational system whether for the rich or the poor?”
The answer to that question is definitely no. But neither is the answer that government plus voluntary agencies can take that responsibility. Only the people, properly mobilized for a creative onward sweep, along the dimension of the cultural revolution in China, but directed to more constructive ends, can achieve this task of educating themselves.
Yes, it has to be done without the risk of destabilisation, as the P.M. has rightly remarked. That is where the people and the government should work together, with vision, wisdom and strength.
2. Vocationalisation of Education
Prime Minister Gandhi saw the main problem of vocationalisation as creating the need for trained manpower. At this point the Prime Minister brings in the vision of India at the beginning of the next century, which is less than 15 years away. He says all the three sectors of our economy, i.e. agriculture, industry and services will have to be revamped in order to use high technology to reduce cost of production. And according to him, if something so vast has to begin to function 15 years from now, we must start laying the foundations in a new educational system to provide the needed manpower in the immediate future.
And therefore the need for electronics and computers, as well as for laser technology, which are the leading basic elements of technological progress. There is no reason for not examining some of our inhibitions against high technology. One inhibition stems from the fear that modern technology would undermine India’s rich traditional heritage and make us even more enslaved to the mind and culture of the west. Another one comes from advocates of environmental protection and resource conservation. The religious leaders of the majority community in this country have also the fear that a high-tech civilisation will favour non-Hindu religious, especially Christianity. These fears and inhibitions need to be consciously recognised and rationally analyzed. We have not the time for it here.
All I can say is this. Small may be beautiful, but big is not necessarily bad. Low technology, middle technology, and high technology are not alternatives to choose between, but necessary elements in a variegated mix. Japan and America may go for a mix in which high technology dominates, but they cannot do without middle and low in some preparation. In our Indian mix, middle and low may still dominate for some time, but we cannot afford to neglect or exclude high technology. To do so would be to invite economic disaster and to lose all our outside markets for manufactured commodities.
But our mix cannot be on the same proportion, as that of America or Japan. The most important component of any national mix is the people of that nation. And if it is in this component that we in India are the second richest nation in the world. In order to provide for all our people, we will need a lot of low technology, a big amount of middle technology, and a considerable investment in high technology. The proportion will have to be worked out by experts, taking into account our specific objectives and our available resources including people. In working out this proportion we will also work out the proportion of technology to be taught in our schools, colleges and universities.

The debate then should not be on high technology versus some mythical appropriate technology’, but about the proportions of high, middle and low in a “currently appropriate technological mix” in the economy and in the educational system. We must not forget that an ordinary fishing net and the common ox-plough are products of technology and cannot be too easily abandoned or neglected.
In inaugurating the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Indian Philosophical Congress (Hyderabad, l985), the Prime Minister asked the philosophers to study the question whether there is an intrinsic conflict between modern technology and the cultural heritage of India. He also asked us to consider selecting some basic values from our heritage that we could profitably integrate with the technological civilisation of the 21st century to which we stand irrevocably committed.
Here we are already in the realm of technology and values, and to this we must now turn, as the third specific goal in the educational system for the India of 15 years from now. But before we turn to this we must reiterate our position that the vocationalisation of education cannot take place simply by increasing the number of technical jobs, and limiting our vocational education to technical education for the few.
The right context for vocationalisation is the mass movement for human development to which we have already made reference. We do not want an India in which a few who are trained in high technology can get higher wages and special privileges. We want the people to know something about high technology, even if they cannot operate the machines themselves. High technology usually brings high risks. These risks are borne not by the technicians alone, but by all people, as we saw in the case of the Three Mile Island, Windscale and Chernobyl nuclear disasters. In India we have not equipped our people to understand the hazards of nuclear technology even for peaceful purposes. Electronics and Laser Technology remain closed books to our common people, even to most of the “highly educated” people.
Vocationalisation would thus mean introducing all our people to the potentialities and hazards of new technologies and helping them to participate in sane and sober decisions about national options. This can be done only in the context of a mass education programme. We are already faced with the embarrassing situation where parents know so much less than their children and cannot even have an intelligent conversation about most matters. By making the younger generation technologically more literate we must not alienate them from the older generation. This means vocational and technical education should take place in the context of a mass educational movement.
3. Technology, Culture and Values.
Technology and values are not two independent kinds of material that we can put together to our taste, like coffee and milk. In the first place the very concept of ‘values’ should be highly suspect. What would be the Sanskrit equivalent of values, for example. whatever word you put forward, like dharma or mulya, it will mean something quite different, because the concept of value, if we want to get its real meaning, is closer to artha in Sanskrit than anything else. Artha is that which is sought. So is value Value is something we desire and seek because we think it is good. It is a commercial term, as for example when a new Maruti car is offered for Rs.50,000.00, we say that is a good value i.e. something desirable to acquire at that price. Later Max Scheler, Nikolai von Hartmann and others like the present Pope’s favourite philosopher von Humboldt, began to speak about “spiritual values”, “moral values”, and human values, applying a category of commerce to the higher levels of human endeavour.
What we are actually talking about is human personal or social qualities attitudes, and self—discipline. Values are personal and social choices, not legal impositions. They have to be inculcated rather than enforced. Technologies generate their own values; different economic systems give birth to different values. For example in a feudal system, unquestioning loyalty and obedience would be a high value, because it increases production and therefore profit for the landowner. In bourgeois capitalism, a work ethic which makes the worker work hard for the benefit of the property owning class becomes a high value. As new forces threaten the security of an economic or social system, an anti-revolutionary spirit becomes a high value.
Technology also generates its own values, but these values will be different depending on the socio-economic system within which that technology operates. Technology as it progresses, is the power to produce more and more with less and less human effort. When a new technology enters a particular political—economic system, it undergoes a sort of refraction (like a ray of light entering a liquid), in the direction of its moving into the hands of those who already have ruling and economic power in that society.
In order to see this clearly and to prevent the new educational policy from becoming an instrument of enhancing the power of the already powerful, we need a short reflection on the nature of values.
There seems to be no generally agreed definition of the concept ‘value’. Here is one provided by Prabhakar Singh of the Regional Training Centre for the Blind (possibly from an unspecified source). “A value is an enduring organisation of beliefs concerning preferable mode of conduct or end state of existence along a continuum Of relative importance”. (Prabhakar Singh, “Human Values and Value Clarification” in New Frontiers in Education. Vol XVI No. 2., April–June 1986, New Delhi P.70)
A value has thus to do with
(a) beliefs and convictions,
(b) preferences and choices,
(c) human conduct and existence.
Another way of looking at value choices is to think of them in terms of good taste and judgement in educated and trained discernment of good and bad, better and worse, in relation to objects to be appropriated, types of attitude and conduct to be cultivated, and end states of existence including character to be attained.
At this stage it is good to recognize that value choices are rooted in human freedom. We speak of moral values only in relation to moral agents. ’Precisely because they are grounded in fregd9gg_;hey are for ever likely to go beyond the grasp of the rational for the rational deals mainly with the unfree and the determined.
It is this linkage to freedom that makes a value system incapable of scientific validation. Value choices belong to a faculty other than pure reason — namely the faculty of judgment or discernment of the good.
The question whence values are derived, seem to get two answers –the traditional western liberal view that values are inherent in the structure of reality, and the modern western Marxist view that all values are derived from human experience. Some regard certain values like truth and compassion as eternal. Others regard all values as relative to human experience and human judgment. Without attempting to resolve this debate here we can recognize the following factors about value choices as important for revamping the educational system.
i. Values have a cognitive (mind), affective (feeling) and voluntative (will) components, and the educational system will have to help all three aspects. That is why there are difficulties in a position now current in the west that education should seek only “value clarification”, ( Prahhakar Singh, in the article cited, refers to a 1966 book by Louis Raths, Merrill Harmin and Sidney Simon on Value Clarification as an educational Approach.) i.e. study the process or method by which one makes value choices. Value choice is not a purely rational or a purely cognitive act. The feeling capacity, and the will have also to be trained.
ii. Conflict between the desired and the desireable.
Value conflict has its main source in the contradiction between what a person desires and what he is supposed to desire. My desire may be to tell a lie and escape a situation. There is something else in me, however, that tells me that this is not good. I should tell the truth and suffer the consequences. That which is valued is not the same as that which is desired. The desire is the “is”, the given or the desired. The value is the “ought”, the needed, the desirable. Clearly one sees here, in traditional Freudian psychoanalytic categories, the ego faced by the conflicting demands of the Id and the Superego. This relation of value choices to the superego and to Conscience in general have to be kept in mind. Value education is in a sense conscience formation.
iii. Conflict between Personal Values and Social Values.
This is another obvious source of value conflict, related not so much to the problem of conscience ( as in the para above), as to the need for social acceptance and approval. My own personally acquired value system may tell me that I should accept every human being as a brother or a sister, while another value system.tells me that since he does not belong to my narrow community, he should be regarded as an alien or that. I should regard him or her as an enemy, since he or she belongs to an “enemy nation” or to another religious group which is fighting my religious group , etc, or to a political ideology which is hostile to mine. The examples cited may not quite dramatise the agony of the choice; one.could easily say that one should follow one’s own value system and defy the value system of the group, accepting the consequences. Easier said than done. The question of moral heroism, and the question of suffering for the sake of one’s higher convictions, belong to the heart of value education.
iv. Conflicts between different value systems of groups to which one belongs. Many conflicts arise between one’s loyalty to our nation as a whole, over against particular local, state, or regional,loyalties, or against religious and linguistic loyalties. Children have to be trained to cope with such conflicts and to make right value choices in varying situations. Text books with many such hypothetical situations could be created, and students could exercise their faculty of choice in sorting out solutions.
v. Conflict between practised and affirmed values
In actual practice, some gap seems to be inevitable between values professed or affirmed, and values actually chosen or practised. This is so in the life of an individual, as well as in religious and secular communities which teach a moral or ethical set of values. This unavoidable phenomenon can be an excuse for two wrong courses of action. On the one hand, one can come to the conclusion, that since most moral principles are observed more in the breach, moral principles as such are invalid and useless. This may be a subtle temptation, but a real one. On the other hand, there is an even graver temptation to make the practice of the majority the criterion for the moral norm.
It is clear however, that both temptations are acute where the gap between profession and practice is too wide. The educational system should train the child to deal at depth with this anomaly.
vi. Value and Reward and Reproval Systems.
There has to be a system devised to test a child’s ability for value choices — not only in theory– and of assessing that ability, which will form part of the child’s qualification for responsibilities in life. Reward and Reproval systems have to be carefully tailored, in order to avoid the temptation of “being good” to get a higher mark, or of being too self-deprecatory because of a low grade in value choices. Schools and teachers will have to deal with problems of pride and guilt engendered by value choice assessment.
vii. Hierarchy of Values and Value Adjustment
In many instances, one situation may embody several values, all of which are good, but among which we have to choose or adjust. Take the Silent Valley problem for example. The people in the neighbourhood desperately needed the hydroelectric energy that would have been produced if the forest had been cleared for a dam and reservoir. On the other hand, there could have been a substantial alteration for the worse in the climate, and the death of certain species, as well as probable desertification in the area. One could not have both ‘goods’, but had to make a preferential choice of conserving the environment rather than meeting the immediate needs of the people.
We will present three ways of relating to a natural phenomenon like a mountain, with differing consequences. Take a holy mountain in Tibet, say Kailas. In olden times our people gave it a name, and a personality, associated it with the abode of the gods; Kailas was a mythical personality, to which the people responded in myth and ritual. They had a personal relation to the mountain, revered and loved it. That is one attitude, which creates corresponding sets of values for human behaviour towards it. Then comes along the poet, a Valmiki or a Kalidasa, and sees the mountain as a manifestation of reality and bursts forth in poetry about it. Next comes along a painter in more recent times, sees the mountain in relation to its role in myth and religion, but also as a manifestation of reality. Further along comes the surveyor, measuring it, finding out the number and kinds of trees and other vegetation, giving us a factual description. Next comes along a Geologist, who then sees it in terms of the geological processes that led to its formation, continental drifts, land mass collisions and all the rest. Then comes along another minerals scientist, analyzing and telling us what minerals the geological formations contain. Even later comes the timber dealer and the furniture manufacturer, exploring the commercial exploitability of the trees. Then comes a mining engineer, trying to see where the drilling and mining could begin and where the ore could be transported and processed. Finally comes along the military strategist, looking for the communications and surveillance potentialities of the mountain.
Here we see a plethora of attitudes and potential values in relation to the mountain, varying according to the purpose of the observer. All these values should exist in the mountain itself, or in the subjective mind of the observer, or in the subject-object relation combination. I believe these values are neither exclusively subjective nor exclusively objective. They subsist in the relationship of the observer to the observed, as well as in the two poles of that relationship.
Hence the extreme importance of humanity-world relationships in value analysis, particularly in relation to technology and values.