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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION
We, the people of the ‘developing’ countries, are struck by the contrast between the present age of ‘modernity’ and the wisdom tradition of a past time. Yes, there are today extraordinary technology, ultra-rapid communications, remarkable information networking, and exciting and challenging changes in science itself. But where is the Man — the enlightened Buddha, the compassionate Christ, the loving Muhammad, the truthful Gandhi? With all the wonders of modern science and technology, where are we going? Are we not moving into the New Age with the burden of a new myth of materialism? Are we not suffering from the disease of machine mindedness? Most of us are asking such questions. Some say that these advances cannot bring into being a normal civilization. Others think that there is a profound way: cultivating wisdom from all the knowledge that mankind has gathered. Now, can we take on the responsibilities called for by the future of humanity?
In January 1995, a Unesco Chair in the field of cultural development was instituted at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. As a part of the Chair’s activities, four field studies were carried out on the trends and problems of primary education and the natural environment. A Conference on the Cultural Dimension of Education and Ecology was held in New Delhi on 13-16 October 1995 to pursue exploration in these fields. The sixteen essays collected here refer to the state of primary education in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Thailand. In particular, the experts have called attention to (a) evolving new perspectives in primary education; (b) developing Man the artist; (c) promoting a genuine culture of peace; (d) re-considering Gandhi’s basic education; and (e) re-examining national policies on education.
Evolving a New Perspective
All cultures do not share the same vision of life. The spirit of a ‘traditional’ culture, for instance, is not the spirit of ‘modern’ culture. This is clearly reflected in their conceptions and practice of education.
How do we resolve this deep dilemma between traditional and modern systems of education? The authors of these essays provide a renewed sense of awareness. In most experiments, what is being evolved is the ‘Middle Path’: without one extreme, without two extremes.
Gedong Bagoes Oka, an Indonesian follower of Gandhi, is in sympathy with the holistic approach, a Gandhian experiment, which
Dwarko Sundarani, a Sarvodaya social worker based in Bodha Gaya, also stresses on
Shakuntala Bapat and Suman Karandikar, with research experience in the rural areas of Maharashtra, favour
Baidyanath Saraswati, Shivashankar Dube and Ram Lakhan Maurya, who experiment with self-organizing educational systems in the ancient city of Varanasi, trust that a humanistic appreciation of tradition with a universal significance can be develoved through
The perspective extensively introduced in these experiments, one would hardly deny, is ‘new’ in relation to the present enterprise of the modern system of education. It is not a new creation of thought or method: its newness lies in the restoration of a self-grounding tradition.
Developing Man the Artist
Modern cultures transform more readily and more rapidly than traditional cultures through ‘deterministic development’, which means making the technologically designed environmental schemes and politically governed social organizations a more or less workable fit. Traditional cultures, on the other hand, blossom by the sacred art, which always
How relevant is art in the age of science? To understand the relevance of art in every age, one has to perceive all of existence in the unity of thought and action, because as a method of gaining self-knowledge, art is an intellectual pursuit and as a creative work, it offers an aesthetic experience of beauty and goodness.
Haku Shah, a distinguished artist and a follower of Gandhi, gives art a natural place in education and points out that
Truly in the spirit of Coomaraswamy (who held the view that an artist is not a special kind of human being but every man is a special kind of artist, or else he is less than a human being), Haku Bhai cites the example.
D. Patnaik, another great artist and a good Gandhian, whose experiments in paintings and plays are widely recognized, narrates his experience.
Dinanath Pathy, a teacher of visual art, is of the view that
Ravi Chopra, a young social worker who runs a photographic training institute for street and slum children, takes the position that
N. Radhakrishnan, an eminent Gandhian scholar who recognizes and ‘sees’ the light in theatre-in-education, calls attention to the fact that it
Nita Mathur, a young student of anthropology who studied the transmission of the Bharatanatyam form of dance among the Tamil Brahmanas, arrives at the conclusion that the dance
The artist-authors of these essays, deep in their experience and imagination, do not mention a definable methodology of art. Instead, they talk of character building, human dignity, and discovery of one’s own self. The introduction of dance into the lives of Tamil Brahmanas at the pre-natal stage is a case in point concerning the view that ‘Man is a special kind of artist’. It also tells us that the transformation process begins in the womb in a natural way.
Promoting a Culture of Peace
The present age of modernity carries within itself an internal necessity called ‘development’. Tradition is viewed as ‘anti-development’. The discourse on tradition versus modernity has one point of agreement: education as a factor in peace.
Pataraporn Sirikanchana, a Buddhist philosopher and historian of religion, highlights the contribution of developer monks to the Thai culture of peace by way of
Experiments at the Bose Foundation School (Saraswati et al.) have shown that there is an echo of positive change in the multi-religious environment of non-literate communities, to the extent that
Nita Mathur makes a reference to the contribution of art to the culture of peace, particularly in that
War and peace are both real. Quite evidently it depends on what one wills: war or peace. Hence the importance of producing the actors of peace. Peace through a spiritual vision of shared responsibility is more enduring than the political economics of peace. The educational system has its own unique process of establishing peace and concord.
Reconsidering Gandhi’s Basic Education
Emerging from the European colonial context and influenced by techno-political expediency, there has been a great ferment in educational thought in India. Many reject the colonial form of education offered to them. M.K. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore gave us an alternative system. Both emphasized the education of the self through creative activity.
Devi Prasad, a famous ceramic artist who had joined Gandhi’s nayee talim (new education) or basic education, characterizes the new system in terms of
Parthasarathi Banerjee, a scientist, comes out with a theoretical formulation.
Here the artist and the scientist have exhibited with an equivalent intensity of conviction that Gandhi’s scheme of ‘basic education’ is a dynamic concept which has the potential for the total development of man. Undoubtedly, this scheme is the most epoch-making event in the history of education in modern India. Its uniqueness lies in its
Re-examining National Policy on Education
With the end of British rule on 15 August,1947 began the preparation of plans for a comprehensive educational reconstruction in India. The idea of planning and administering education nationally is a 20th-century concept. The post-Independence national policy on education is understandably in a state of flux. The picture is unclear, but the narrow national concern is evident in India’s national policy, which aims at
K. Gopalan, a retired education officer of the Government of India, narrates India’s strategies to achieve the universalization of elementary education (UEE), which has three aspects, namely, universal access and enrolment, universal retention up to 14 years of age, and a substantial improvement in the quality of education. Admitting that UEE is still an elusive goal, he highlights some of its major initiatives and strategies that have led to
Neeru Nanda, an educational administrator in the Government of India, writes a critique of the prevailing school system which shows that
A.M. Sharafuddin, an education officer in the Government of Bangladesh, gives an account of the many innovative programmes in primary education launched both by government and by non-governmental agencies, whose major characteristics are that they should
On the role of non-governmental organizations introducing non-formal education programmes in Bangladesh, it has been pointed out that there are some obvious limitations such as the issue of replicability of the programme and the lack of resource materials. The overall impression of the Bangladesh NGOs is that they have been successful in their mission. NGOs in India are generally in favour of hasty expansion. So is the Government of India. Should quality have a prior claim over quantity, the national policy on education will have to follow a different path.
The Unanswered Questions
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi