The Ills of Our Present Education and the Gandhian Basic Education as a Remedial Measure

Dayal Chandra Soni


The British Raj came to an end in 1947. All of us know very well that Macaulay, the well-wisher and promoter of British imperialism in India, had changed the traditional system of Indian Education and had established the present system of our education to promote the interests of the British Raj through the subjugation of Indians.  So, even during the British Raj, opposition to Macaulay-Education was sounded by many prominent Indians.  And Mahatma Gandhi, though highly preoccupied with the struggle for political freedom in our country, was very conscious of the ills of Macaulay-Education established in India by the British Raj.  So, even when freedom in India was still ten years away in the future, Mahatma Gandhi gave us a full fledged scheme of educational reform, so that India could adopt a new educational system, which would promote the values of Indian culture, Indian freedom and Indian democracy.  This scheme of education conceived by Gandhiji, and explained by the Hindustani Talimi Sangh under the chairmanship of Dr. Zakir Hussain, was called “Basic Education.”  The word “Basic” as a qualifying adjective to the world “education” was used to convey that this education was to be founded or based on a productive craft-work, which would serve as the nucleus of all educational activity.  This word “Basic,” as an adjective of this newly conceived scheme of education, indirectly and silently declared that Macaulay-Education, which was in vogue at that time, was a “Baseless” education, i.e. ‘education in a vacuum.’

I feel proud that I had the very fortunate opportunity of running a Basic School under Vidya Bhawan, Udaipur, for nearly 15 years, from 1941-1955.  During this period, I had the good fortune of being trained under Dr. Zakir Hussain’s guidance in Jamia Millia, Delhi, from 1941-1942.  Then during 1945, I had the good fortune of spending 10 days in Gandhiji’s Ashram at Sevagram and of talking with Vinoba Bhave in his Pavnaar Ashram.  My next good opportunity came in 1954, when I was included as a member of the team of 18 rural educationists of India, which was sent to the Elsinoye Denmark to study the Danish Folk High School system, under the able leadership of the (late) Nana Bhai Bhatt.  My experience in actually working out the system of Basic Education for 15 years has changed my educational outlook, as well as my educational creed and commitment.

As a result of this change in my educational views, I no longer feel that education is the same thing as today’s schooling is.  I do not agree to the view that schools should have a monopoly over human education.  I am convinced that the very process of human life is an inherent and spontaneous process of education.  I do not oppose schools as such.  But I am convinced that today’s schools were deliberately planned to pollute and adulterate the sacred system of traditional Indian Education.  As for example, the Britishers planned and introduced such a school system in India that would produce learned persons who would be gladly willing to help the British Government in establishing its foreign rule in India and also in strengthening it. This was an immoral adulteration in the purity of Indian education, which must retain its patriotism for the Indian nation.

When India adopted her present constitution, it was laid down in its Article 45 that “the state shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years, from the commencement of this constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.”

The general public opinion, largely, is that this is a very good provision in the Indian Constitution. But, to my mind, this is a very wrong provision in our constitution. Here, you will question me and ask me to explain why I say so. My arguments are as follows:

1.      Nothing, which is imposed by a government as compulsory exercise, can be truly called education. Compulsion is anti-education.

2.      The Government is not a safe and qualified custodian of education. Education is a thing, which is based on mutual love and respect between the teacher and the taught, and a Government cannot be a mediator between the teacher and the taught.

3.      My third objection to this Article is that it is silent about the defining concept of right education. According to this Article, anything that you do in a school is right education and anything that you do out of school is non -education.

4.      My 4th objection to this Article is that is does not lay down that parents will not be allowed to introduce class-distinctions in the schooling system and even the rich and the elite parents will have to send their children to the same schools in which the children of poor parents get their education. This is the most serious sin of this Article. It exempts the rich and the elite class children from undergoing the same educational process, which is provided for the poor children. Thus, class distinctions are allowed to be introduced and implanted, even at the initial stage of life of the future citizens of India.

5.      And therefore my 5th and the final objection to this Article of Indian Constitution is that it does not define and indicate the values, (i.e. moral values) which it aims to inculcate in the so-called educated generation. This education restricts itself to giving only knowledge and expertise to its students. Production of students who will stick to moral values in their conduct or who will strive for doing excellent work in their accepted job is totally ignored.  Morality is a non-issue in our today’s education.  According to our present education, it does not matter whether the so-called educated person exercises morality in his work or adopts immoral means to achieve his ends.  The degrees of B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. will safely stick to him, irrespective of his moral or immoral conduct.

Of course, such education could be the aim of the British government in India, because, people educated with high degree of morality would not serve the purpose of a foreign government. But, why should India continue to educate Indians ignoring the moral aspects of education in this post-independence era of our nation is something, which I cannot understand.  The reality, therefore, is that spread of this so-called school education and the spread of moral degradation of the so-called educated people of India are mutually interrelated. Gradually, the standard of our work-ethics has been falling down. People are not ashamed of doing less and less work and being paid higher and higher salaries with many more benefits and perks.

Whoever is educated in schools and colleges, craves for pen-paper and table-chair jobs only and hates to engage himself or herself in productive labor or skilled craft-work. Thus, expansion of education or the spread of education in India, results in increasing the number of pure consumers, who do not do any-productive work to help the economy of the country. And, since, it is the government that sponsors, arranges and advocates such education, therefore, government has to employ these so called educated people even if the government can run efficiently without increasing the number of its employees. A number of today’s government departments are not necessary and most of the government departments are over-staffed. Shirking of one’s duty-work is common and corruption is rampant. For the sake of providing government employment to unemployed youth that are educated and trained in a very disproportionate number, the in-service employees are retired at the early age of 58 years while they are still quite capable of doing good and efficient work. Then, these retired people are entitled to life-long good income in the form of pensions.  Thus, in spite of the fact that India is a free and democratic Nation today, the distinction between the Government bureaucracy as a class and the common people or the masses of our nation is staggering.

Thus, this so-called education is the main cause of the financial crisis that is being faced by not only our state governments but also even by our central government. Hence, let me draw your attention to another article of the Indian Constitution, which directs the states to prohibit intoxicating drinks and drugs except for medical purposes (i.e. Clause 47 of the constitution). But, our state governments cannot adhere to this clause because those people who consume alcohol and wine contribute a great deal of tax income to the state government which is required by the state to meet its expenses on schools opened and run to educate the new generation. Thus, indirectly, the new generation should be grateful to the drunkards of the society who provide money for their school-education on a free basis in accordance with the section 45 of the contribution.

This situation clearly indicates that the Clause 47 of our constitution must be violated and ignored to meet the requirements of the Clause 45 of the same constitution. And even then, the target of introducing universal education, to be accomplished only within 10 years, has not been accomplished during all these years after or since the adoption of this constitution.

But, now rises the most important question, and the question is — “Is this a misfortune of India that this pro-consumption and anti-production pro-intellect and anti-labor education has not spread on the universal scale as expected by the constitution? Or has it been a good fortune of India that such wrong and defective and polluted education has nor spread too much?” My answer to this question is that it has been a good fortune without doubt. I say this because it is really the vast majority of our unschooled people of India, still occupied in productive work and still consuming less, which is the backbone of Indian economy and even of Indian democracy. To say that these people are uneducated is a totally false and absurd statement. These people are educated for life and through life which is led in their families and their communities and which is related and relevant to their local cultural and natural environment.  These so-called uneducated and illiterate people of India have been educated soundly and solidly through “Out of School” Basic Education.

The greatest fallacy of post-Independence Indian education is its self-contradiction. The Indian elite or even the Indian politicians make very loud noises about universalizing school education but they are not prepared to modify the system of education to make it suitable for the masses. They obstinately insist that school education should be only such as would suit and serve the purpose of the elite minority only. On the one hand, they are not prepared to make any changes in the educational system inherited from the British period, which was definitely meant to serve the narrow interests of the elite minority only. And on the other hand, they cry from their housetops to make this same education universal. Look at this hypocrisy!

Perhaps, all of us know the story of a fox who was very friendly to a crane and so he invited him for a dinner. The crane accepted the invitation for which the fox thanked him. But, when the crane actually reached the dining table, he found that the dinner offered was only a liquid soup served in a broad bowl. The fox showed great affection and implored the crane to take the served soup as much as possible. But, the crane could not eat or drink it because of his beaky mouth while the fox consumed all the soup with the help of his long tongue. So, the elite foxes, while inviting, with great pomp and show, the mass cranes to their dining table are serving this educational soup, which (according to the definite knowledge of the elite foxes) cannot be consumed by the mass cranes. This is the diplomacy and the strategy of the elite class and the politicians of India in the post independence period. They invite the masses for the educational dinner, but they serve this dinner of education in a form, which the masses can neither consume nor utilize. Thus the elites are quite successful in being congratulated for their deep concern for the poor uneducated masses on the one hand, and in depriving them from education on the other hand.

Human education is a very simple and easy goal to be achieved. God has made the human living process itself as an educative process. Man is compelled to do some work so that he could live. But, the work provides a worker, not only with bread, but also with education. Work has been the prime and the constant teacher of man since his advent on this earth. Secondly, the mother tongue of a child is a spontaneous and ready means of communication, which is needed for education. Thus, education is a very simple and cheap process. But, what we have done with education is very surprising. We have black-listed work as the enemy of education and we have thrown it out of the school premises. Secondly, we have banished and expelled the mother tongue of the child student from the school. The child is asked to get educated without the easy and the two natural tools of education (i.e. work tool and the mother tongue tool).  This is how school education has become a great burden and cruelty on children. This is how school education today is a violence against childhood. Now, if the children who are suffering from such cruelty and violence in their education, turn out to be violent against other people in the society, in their adulthood, how can we blame the students? Today, all over the world, there is great concern over the fate of those children who cannot attend schools since they are forced to become laborers in their childhood because their parents are poor and need the money that their children may earn through child labor. This concern may be all right. But, why should we concentrate on the cruelty suffered by the out of school child only and why should we become blind towards the cruelty inflicted by the modern schools on their own pupil-children?  This phenomenon exposes our hypocrisy in a clear way.

Now, if we try to trace the causes of this hypocrisy in depth, we shall discover that the craze for modern development has caused this illness in our educational system. According to us, an educated, civilized and successful person is one who does not have to do any productive labor and who is engaged only in higher consumption, or  intellectual pursuits or passive entertainment. Development today means cricket, TV, and travelling in vehicles which pollute the air. Development means getting the help of automatic gadgets relieving human beings from straining not only their limbs, but also their brains. This defective and degrading concept of human development is the main cause of such futile and cruel education for our children.

Now the most tragic aspect of today’s anti-people, elitist, exploitative, cruel-on-children, pseudo-education is that it is being continued today, in spite of the fact that Mahatma Gandhi had not only conceived a right alternative to this wrong educational system (introduced during the British Raj), but had also given it a clear shape in the name of Basic Education in 1937 (i.e. 10 years prior to our independence).  This scheme of Basic Education was introduced in the whole country during the period of partial self-rule proclaimed in 1935. But this partial self-rule could not continue because of pre-independence political upheavals and so, this reform in education could not continue.  Moreover, Gandhiji was killed in January 1948 and our nation forgot his Basic Education (or – discarded it intentionally).  The result is that today, having witnessed the bad results of wrong education, we are again trying to understand what Gandhiji’s idea of Basic Education was. So, I shall now try to explain Basic Education as I have understood it, as a result of my practically working for it.

Having worked practically and thoughtfully in Basic Education for fifteen years, I am quite convinced that as each new born baby has a mother with breasts to feed him (or her) with her own milk, in the same manner, man has productive work as his mother to feed him with its ‘breast-milk-education.’ But Macaulay had deprived education from its mother’s breast milk by eliminating productive craft-work from his schools. Gandhiji restored the mother (with her breast milk) to the baby, i.e. he restored craft work to school education. Gandhi said that productive craft-work should be the mother of education and the teacher should assist this mother as a nurse in taking good care of the child. Neither books, nor the teachers are the main sources of man’s education. Living is the real source of education and productive work marks life. Today’s work-less schools are life-less schools. They are ‘in fact’ dead schools. These schools are themselves doubtful about the success their of so-called education. That is why these schools provide paper certificates and degrees to declare that the students who have been awarded certificates have “Not Failed” but have “Succeeded in becoming Educated.” Real gold does not carry with it a certificate to prove that it is really gold and not copper. Then why should a really educated man require a certificate or a degree declaring him as an educated human being?  But, the story of certification does not end here and these certificates will also declare the Division or the Merit with which a student has passed his qualifying examinations.  This feature of educational certification is the outcome of the comparative and competitive character of our present system of school education.  Submergence of all distortions and inculcation of a cooperative spirit among the new generation of Indian citizens is opposed in the Indian school system today.  So this system of education is damaging the solidarity of Indian society.

But when you are engaged in a craft-work, you are related to nature on the one hand, because, you get the required raw material from nature, and you are also related to your community because the finished product is to serve human beings. The craftsman is the meeting place of nature and man. This experience is very significant from the educational point of view.  This creates a very valuable triangular concord between the individual, the society, and the natural surroundings.

Secondly, in productive craft-work, or industry, the class fellows of a school have to do cooperative work instead of being engaged only in rivalry and competition. This is very significant from the educational point view, because social solidarity of a nation can be promoted and nourished only through a “cooperative” (and not “competitive”) education.

Thirdly, when one is engaged in some craft-work or some industry, one faces many difficulties and problems, which can be solved only with the help of literacy or mathematics or physics or chemistry. Thus, students who are engaged in craft-work, or industry, become curious and interested learners, which is very helpful in their educative process. All abstract knowledge is born of concrete work experience. Thus, concrete productive craft-work or industry is not an obstacle in the search for abstract knowledge. In fact, concrete work and abstract knowledge are friendly and helpful to each other. Thus, practical craft-work, in a school, is not an obstacle in the path of pure knowledge, but it is promoter of pure and abstract knowledge. Craft-work makes the educative process quite easy and quite simple.

Moreover, a child under fourteen year’s of age, is naturally or psychologically interested in craft-work engagement. Craft is the center of his age-interests. Thus, he enjoys the educative process centered around craft-work. He faces no boredom in a school which provides him with craft-work.

Then, craft-work in schools was friendly to the Gandhian concept of decentralized and self sufficient village life. According to Gandhiji, freedom of human beings does not lie in just the freedom from foreign political rule. According to Gandhiji, freedom of human beings lies in freedom from all types of exploitation and all types of dependence on others. According to Gandhiji, over dependence on the state machinery or on the government denotes lack of real freedom. According to Gandhiji, small and decentralized communities or villages should establish their own local self-discipline so that even the courts established by a government are seldom approached for justice and justice may be available from the local village councils or honorable aged persons. Today’s political freedom, specially, under democratic rule, is making the people more and more dependent on the government in all respects and the democratic government also extends more and more allurements to the people to seek popular support of votes. According to Gandhiji, this over-dependence, even on a democratic national government, was a form of slavery in disguise. He did agree that the State could not be abolished totally. But, he believed that the tasks and responsibilities of the State should be reduced to the minimum. According to Gandhiji, spread of education should result in the shrinking of the State. Education that expands the State’s responsibilities and state’s machinery is no education.

Gandhiji believed that State management and State dependence could not be reduced without establishing a self-sufficient and decentralized economy. So, his insistence on introducing productive craft-work or industry in the educative process in the schools also suited his philosophy of human freedom.

Today’s education is uprooting people from their local villages and their ancestral private  occupations. Today educated people are marked with a qualifying seal and are converted into readily available commodities to be hired or exported. Thus, there is a very great deal of turmoil and confusion in today’s world. Mobility of man as well as of material is increasing to a dangerous frequency and speed. Man is not at ease any longer. Fast vehicles have, in fact, not increased but reduced the availability of time. Moreover, it is the most important cause of air pollution and noise pollution. Man was born to seek God who could be sought anywhere locally. Then why is today’s man rushing from one place to the other place? The reason is that education has badly failed to inform and convince man that he is born to seek God through his education and that God could be sought at any place in this world. Today’s education instigates man to make himself the manager of this universe. And science also instigates man to become the manager of this universe. But what are the results? Devastation, in the name and in the guise of development, is the result. The cause of this tragedy lies in our wrong school education which inculcates wrong values of life in the students and so, Gandhiji wanted to reform school education so that man might avert that tragedy of calamity.

Gandhiji’s second suggestion was that, at least, the initial seven years of Basic education, in a school, must be imparted in the child’s mother tongue. It is the mother tongue in which a child can assimilate new knowledge without any difficulty and it is the mother tongue in which, a child can express himself most conveniently. When a school rejects the child’s mother tongue as a medium of education, it makes the assimilation of new knowledge very difficult on the one hand and it suppresses all self-expression of the child on the other hand. What does this ultimately mean? This means that the process of education becomes very difficult for the child because of the change of medium. Secondly, the child’s self expression is thwarted and suppressed. When you examine this phenomenon from the educational point of view, you will be convinced that education is meant to bring out the latent talent of a child, which cannot take place without self-expression. Denying self-expression to a child results in the denial of his education. The word “educe” (according to the Oxford dictionary) means to bring out or develop from a latent or a potential existence. Thus, self-expression is the essence of all education. But Indian schools today are proud in rejecting the child’s mother tongue and are insisting on using English as the medium of education even at the primary stage. Gandhiji tried to correct this mistake by insisting that the medium of education must be the mother tongue of the child.

When the mother tongue of a student is rejected in a school as a medium of education, the student develops a sense of inferiority for his inherited language and even for his culture, which is enshrined in his mother tongue. Moreover, education, which is not imparted in the local language of the people, cannot percolate or filter down to the family or the community of the student.  The problem of the so-called ‘generation-gap’, from which most of our educated families are suffering today, is the result of discarding the local language or the mother-language of the child as a medium of education in our schools.

The third principle, which was introduced in Basic Education was that the craft-work or the industry adopted by a school must earn a profit which should be utilized in supporting the school or even in partially meeting the salaries of the teachers. Gandhiji knew that state governments rely on income collected by wrong means for meeting the expenses of (state-provided) “FREE” education. This process involved using wrong means to achieve a right end. But Gandhiji, as we know, always insisted strictly on using right means to achieve right ends. So, he insisted that the educative process itself should be financially productive to a considerable degree, so that it may be purified and so that if might exercise some autonomy and some power and influence. Education should be protected from impotency from which it is suffering today. Productive craft-work at the center of all educational learning ensures some power or potency to the school and to the educational system. Only such an built-in potent and powerful system of education can empower people for a fruitful and sustained democracy.

The fourth cardinal feature of Basic Education is that the knowledge to be given to the children must be relevant to their life, including their school craft-work or their physical or their social environment. Knowledge has not to be imposed on the students just for the “storing” of that knowledge. Students today are achieving knowledge just for the sake of storing or collecting it — without having any practical use of it.  Thus, while irrelevant knowledge is being achieved and stored, the students are deprived of such knowledge as would be relevant to their present needs and would be promptly used for the betterment of their lives.  But according to the principles of Basic Education, any knowledge, which is not relevant to the student’s needs for the time being, should not be given. Basic Education does not believe in isolating the child from his surroundings and in trying to educate the child ignoring his local conditions. So, wherever a Basic school is running, the local surroundings of the school shall also be improved by the efforts of the school involving the students. Today, the school is totally cut off from his social and physical environment and the knowledge imparted or gained by him has no relevance to the local History, local Geography, local Economics, local Politics, or local Health. Thus, the syllabus of each Basic School will be different from the other school of the other village or other town. Basic Education will aim not at uprooting people from their locality, but will try to strengthen their roots in the same soil so that they can lead a better life without migrating to the cities to dwell in slums.

But, as we all know, Basic Education was not accepted or adopted by politically free India. Perhaps India still suffers from the old distinction of upper castes and lower castes. Classes have, of course, crumbled but classism still persists. Those who are in power and are the decision makers want that there should be two classes, at least, in the Indian nation, i.e., the elite class and the mass class of ordinary and common people. To my mind, this is the cause of Basic Education remaining ignored and unaccepted.

However, while the elite classes have disallowed the elite-ish school-education to spread among the masses, the masses are still educating themselves through productive work in their families and in their farm fields.

Thus, we can see that Basic Education continues to be relevant in spite of its being rejected by the formal schools of education run by the elite class and the politicians. Just as honesty and good will can never lose their relevance in society even if the schools of today do not promote honesty and good will, Basic Education too, cannot lose its relevance just because the present schools do not recognize its relevance. What we must never forget is the fact that education is not a captive in the jails or the prisons, which are called schools. Education begins from the day a child is born and it continues till he has lived his life and reaches his death. Education does not recognize school bells dividing the periods allotted to different subjects. Life itself is an educative process provided we learn the art of self-learning and educating ourselves. Basic Education aims at making a man his own self teacher or his own self educator. People living on the banks of a lake are taught swimming by the lake itself. Thus, education is a free gift of living. The school’s claim of monopolizing education is a fraud. So, Basic Education is not dead in spite of the schools, which have rejected it.

And Basic Education is not going to die even in the 21st century. Bad impacts of the life-less drudgery schools of today are showing themselves day by day. Man has to return to right education i.e. “living education” if mankind is to survive on this planet called Earth. Today mankind is running blindly and restlessly without any sense of direction. The results are awful. Religions, so long and so far in human history, have of course emphasized pity towards other creatures. But, mankind during its past history never thought that even our natural and physical surroundings needed our pity, or mercy and our compassion so that this mother- nature could preserve its capability of sustaining its creation on earth. But, today a new prophet and a new faith or religion are needed to compel mankind to stop its violence and cruelty against the dumb, but life-sustaining mother-nature. Let us hope that the 21st century will give birth to such a new prophet and introduce such a new faith, such a new creed and such a new religion. Basic Education will prove to be the right type of education for such a new era. This is my hope and my dream.