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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION

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Foreword

Kapila Vatsyayan

One of the major programmes of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) is to launch multidisciplinary lifestyle studies of cohesive communities for evolving alternative models for the study of cultural phenomena and the inter-webbing of environmental, ecological, agricultural, socio-economic, cultural and political parameters.

In January 1995, a Unesco Chair in the field of Cultural Development was instituted at the Centre. As a part of the Chair’s activities a four-day international conference on ‘The Cultural Dimension of Education and Ecology’ was held at the IGNCA from 13 to16 October 1995. It called for a cross-cultural comparison and assessment of the problems involved in the fields of both education and ecology.

The proceedings of the conference are being published in two independent volumes. This volume deals with the question of education and development while the other (Cultural Dimension of Ecology) is devoted to critical issues pertaining to the natural environment.

Participants at the conference were men and women of experience and wisdom. They have been participants in the common endeavour of making education more relevant and meaningful. Chitra Naik in her prologue eloquently outlines the historical background of the state in which large sections of the globe find themselves. There are series of disjunctions and they manifest themselves in many spheres, most of all in education, specially formal education.

A system of education was established with the avowed goal of alienating the student from his immediate environment. Consequently, the moment of education became and continues to become the moment of uprooting the child from the culture to which he or she belongs. The numerous skills of literacy, numeracy and reason he acquires, the content of the education which is considered ‘global’ and ‘universal’, all make him or her an efficient tool in a vast machinery. The values inculcated are those of success, achievement, material progress of the little self in a competitive world. More, the marked emphasis on uniformity in a rigid system makes him or her an automaton. The driving force of his aspiration is immediate achievement and ‘success’.

The few who go through the ladder of competition undoubtedly ‘achieve’, but in the process they are uprooted and certainly unaligned with the very ground from which they were nurtured. The larger number acquire minimal skills of literacy and bookish knowledge. Their harmonious world of work, function and ideation and faith is dead, and the new world is powerless to be born. Wastage is prevalent and unemployed educated youth people our lands. They are the human repositories of great energies which can be directed positively or negatively. The situation may differ in degree in different cultures of the erstwhile colonies, now young nation-states, but there is a similarity. With the exception of an infinitesimally small percentage who reach the pinnacle of the system and become global citizens, most others survive at the minimal level of comprehension, litle or no creativity and initiative.

In India, repeated Education Commissions were set up to reform and alter the educational system which was established by closing down madarsas and pathashalas, the gurukul and guild systems.

The reports of the Kothari Commission and the Education Commission of 1986 have called attention to the need for taking the cultural dimension of education into account. These reports recognised the need to reform the system in a manner that the world of work and the world of education, of home, family and education of individual and society, are not in conflict. Much earlier, Gandhiji had advocated a system of education known by its familiar names — ‘basic education’ and nai talim. Here manual and cerebral skills were in balance; the tools of education were through the use of the hands and the utilisation of local resources, natural and human. There was no undue emphasis on literacy.

After fifty years of experimentation, there is a renewed recognition of the relevance of the Gandhian model based on a total development of body, mind and soul, the values of restraint and self-reliance and both self-sacrifice and self-fulfilment through community participation. It is heartening to note that after a lapse of many decades and as a result of disillusionment with the present system of formal education, specially at the primary and secondary levels, many experiments have been conducted both in India and abroad. Mrs Oka’s experiment and its success bear eloquent testimony to its efficacy. The Bose Foundation School is exemplary in its goals of achieving much in modesty. The Rangaprabhat experiment is unique in fostering the innate creativity of the economically disempowered. This is only to mention a few.

Now the question may well be asked: What have all these experiments to do with the cultural dimension of education, normally understood to be restricted to the arts? A reading of the papers by and sharing the experiences of Haku Shah, Dinanath Pathy and Nita Mathur makes it clear that the arts are a potent tool not only for acquiring artistic skills but more for attuning the child to his immediate environment. We will recall that Rabindranath Tagore had instituted Sriniketan in the proximity of Shantiniketan for this precise purpose. So also was the endeavour of Rukmini Devi in Kalakshetra and that of Anne Beasant. The J. Krishnamurti schools aim at a total flowering of the human personality, both within and without. The ‘arts’ no doubt are important and essential. The whole range of creativity through the traditional and age-old ‘crafts’ is even more important. The crafts are culture- specific; they transmit values which represent a symbosis of the function and the ideational, the abstract and the concrete. They can be individual activity, but are more often community activity. They are embedded in the rich oral traditions of this and other countries. This is the closest we can come to an understanding of incorporating the cultural dimension into education.

The plea in these papers from different points of view is to integrate the richness of this vast so-called unorganised and non-formal system into a new model of education or models of education which will not be deculturising, dehumanising and certainly not as wasteful. There is a great need for ‘equity’, for equalisation in terms of ‘status’ and value of the oral and the written, the manual and the cerebral, the local, regional and global. Equally important it is empower the culturally rich but socio-economically deprived, to be ‘givers’ as teachers and leaders, apart from those who have mastered the three R’s.

Why has the intensity of this need increased in the decade of the nineties? The need for a more viable and productive system of education has become essential in a world which has experimented with a monolithic design of living. It has not brought peace and harmony. Tension, conflict, violence and intolerance are widespread. As obvious is the lack of ethical values and the indiscriminate use of the power of religion and faith to create wars and not peace. Where else except in education can new beginnings in creating human beings be made?

The child’s education begins with the mother and then the father, and on to the teacher and from these to the community. Gandhiji had spoken of the expansion of oceanic waves. Education is the centre of these oceanic waves, the fragile fertile body, mind and soul of the child. If the process of education can attune him to himself and the world around, and if he can be skilful but not avaricious, knowledgeable but not arrogant, self-contained and not selfish, self-reliant and restrained by the curbing of greed, will we not have a better world cultrually and otherwise?

The conference was a modest attempt at articulating anguish, presenting a critique and showing the light of little lamps burning. However, it requires many thousands of such small and meaningful lamps of new education for a true transformation to take place.

It was evident that reforming the monolithic, large system was of no avail. Alternative models of significance, be it in education or cultural development, had to be instituted with a full recognition of the principles of plurality, multiplicity and yet inter-relatedness and interconnections. A network of coexistence. This is the spiders’ web or fishermen’s large net which contains all, but with flexibility and movement.

 

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