Home > Kalākośa > Kalāsamālocana Series > List of Books > Culture and Development SeriesThe Cultural Dimension of Education

know about Janapada Sampada 


[ Previous Page | Contents of the Book | Next Page ]

Education for Life and Through Life

Gandhi's Nayee Talim

Devi Prasad

Education in India under Colonial Rule

As part of her struggle for freedom from colonial rule, India needed a fresh approach to educational planning. It was necessary, first of all, to get rid of the educational system the colonial rulers had imposed on the country after destroying its indigenous traditions and institutions, and second, to design its own educational system for helping to build a genuinely liberated and egalitarian India.

By the middle of the nineteenth century a significant degree of awareness of their own identity had developed among the educated elite of the country. It was the dawn of the period of social reformation and growth of Indian nationalism. There were two distinct ways of looking at the issues of reconstructing the social fabric of the country at that point in time of the freedom struggle. Some of the leaders were of the opinion that to be able to rise to the level of the British rulers Indians must educate themselves in the English system. They established educational institutions which aimed at the particular goal. Although they too were interested in discovering their original roots, they probably felt that the British were able to rule India because of their superiority over us in many ways.

On another level movements grew to motivate people to go back to their Vedic culture, in other words, to discover the classical roots of Indian civilisation. They founded gurukuls and other traditional institutions of learning and teaching. According to them India had become weak because she had drifted away from her classical way of life. Neither of these approaches faced the real issues, issues that were related to the question of real liberation and self-reliance.

India had been severely impoverished and her population demoralised. The Indian masses had lost the taste for freedom almost completely. Until the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, the military might of the whole country, if it could have been put together, was considerable. But during the period after the 1857 soldiers’ mutiny, the morale of the people had fallen to a very low ebb. Moreover, the British rulers, having realised the tenacity of the Indian soldiers and realising that militarily they could not enslave India permanently, cunningly and systematically disarmed the nation. So much so that the simple farmer could not own an ordinary gun to protect his crops from the menace of wild and stray animals.

Industrially India, according to Romesh Dutt, was one of the leading countries of the world until the middle of the eighteenth century. But by the end of the nineteenth century Indian industry had been nearly totally destroyed. The country which supplied a great variety of textiles to many countries of the world, specially northern Europe, was now importing cloth from Britain for most of its needs.

Several nations used to get their ships built by Indian ship-builders. Richard Greg quotes in White Sahebas in India the factor of the East Indian Company, who wrote in 1670:

Many English merchants, and others have their ships and vessels yearly built. Here is the best and well grown timber . . . best iron upon the coast. . . . They have an excellent way of making shrouds, stays and any other rigging for the ships.

Lord Wellesley wrote in 1800:

The port of Calcutta contains about 10,000 tons of shipping, built in India of a description calculated for the conveyance of cargo to England.

Taylor, in his History of India, quoted from Mrs Besant’s India Bond or Free:

the arrival in the Port of London of Indian produce in Indian-built ships created a sensation among the monopolists which could not have been exceeded if a hostile fleet had appeared in the Thames. The ship-builders of the Port of London took the lead in raising the cry of alarm . . . . An obliging Government saw to it that the Indian industry perished.

The creation of the worst kind of landlordism damaged human relationships and divided society into strata which were completely alien to the Indian experience. The planned destruction of the panchayat, the system of local government and administration, including the judiciary, had even a worse effect on social relationships.

The colonial rulers could not have been satisfied only by destroying India’s industry, agriculture, administrative and legal institutions and their national defence system. They were hoping to enslave India permanently. The British knew that only material enslavement was not sufficient. Psychological enslavement was the most important and effective mechanism to reach that goal. Thus education became the biggest prey for the Raj.

The colonisers took immediate steps to build a long-term strategy based on ‘educational reforms’. They took every possible step to weaken the educational traditions which were deeply ingrained in the culture of the people and were the most powerful instruments that had retained cultural values among the masses for such a long period.

We should also note the attitude of the colonisers to the literature of Asian countries. In his famous minutes Lord Macaulay wrote:

I have no knowledge either of Sanskrit or Arabic, but I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the more celebrated Arabic and Sanskrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take Oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.

He added:

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern — a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.

The Governor General, Lord Bentinck, said:

I give my entire concurrence to the sentiments expressed in minutes.

In spite of such a calculated onslaught on Indian culture, specially its educational traditions, a significant proportion of institutions had survived until at least 1835. Adams, who was an officer in the Education Department of Bengal, conducted an inquiry into the number of schools in that region at that time. According to his calculations there was a school for every thirty-two boys and these schools were provided to most of the 150,000 villages. Writing about the Indian educational system of that time, Max-M¥uller said:

There is such a thing as social education and education outside the books; and this education is distinctly higher in India than in any part of Christendom. It is an education not in the so-called three R’s, but in humanity.

There are documents prepared by some British officials of that period to show that in several regions of the country literacy was very high — 100 per cent among the male population and not very much lower among females. It is the same country in which literacy had fallen to less than 10 per cent by the end of the last century. By and large, India then was considered an illiterate nation!

National Awakening

The end of the last century saw the re-emergence of movements for national awakening, but this time of a different kind — very different from the wars of Tipu Sultan and the Sepoy Mutiny. The emergence of the Arya Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj brought about much awareness among the people of their cultural heritage, which gave them a sense of self-identity.

The Indian National Congress, which had a political character, was formed in 1885. Although it started talking of Indian self-rule, Indians’ participation in the administrative services, etc., the majority of its leadership was English educated and did not speak the language of the people, who did not understand what the Congress leadership was talking about. As these leaders had no contact with the masses, the Congress could not command a popular following.

During the beginning of the growth of the Indian National Congress the British took advantage of the situation and, to some extent, were able to co-opt some of its leadership to neutralise their effect, if any, on the masses. But this time they could not stop the tide of liberation. They could only slow it down by their classical technique of divide and rule.

Gandhiji’s Educational Work in South Africa

Before going into Gandhiji’s educational experiments in India we should briefly discuss his educational experiences in South Africa.

While mobilising the Indians living in South Africa for the struggle for self-dignity, Gandhiji had gone through various experiences and had conducted experiments to find an alternative approach to conflict resolution and re-structuring social relationships through non-violence. Among these experiments those on education are the most important for us here.

After reading Unto This Last he said:

I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin, that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life.

The teachings of the book as he grasped them were: (a) that the good of the individual is contained in the good of all; (b) that a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s, inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work; (c) that a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman, is the life worth living. This experience put him on to a new track more intensely and with greater commitment to search for a better life.

Gandhiji was also editing and publishing Indian Opinion from Durban, which he thought should be moved to a farm, on which everyone should labour, drawing the same living wage, and attending to press work in their spare time. After a discussion with his colleagues about his ideas, with which they all agreed, Indian Opinion was moved to Phoenix, fourteen miles from Durban. Thus the Phoenix Settlement was started in 1904. It became a well-knit family of committed people trying to live their lives under the guidance of Gandhiji.

He was very conscious about the need for the education of the members of the Phoenix Farm, specially of children. He wrote in his autobiography:

As the Farm grew, it was found necessary to make some provision for the education of its boys and girls. There were among these, Hindu, Musalman, Parsi and Christian boys and some Hindu girls. It was not possible, and I did not think necessary, to engage a special teacher for them. It was not possible, for qualified Indian teachers were scarce, and even when available, none would be ready to go to a place 21 miles distant from Johannesburg on a small salary . . . .I did not believe in the existing system of education, and I had a mind to [find] by experience and experiment the true system.

Gandhiji wrote in his autobiography:

When I landed at Durban in January 1897, I had three children with me. My sister’s son aged 10, and my own sons aged 9 and 6. Where was I to educate them? I could have sent them to the school for European children, but only as a matter of favour and exception. For no other Indian children would be allowed. For these there were schools established by Christian missions, but I was not prepared to send my children there, as I did not like the education imparted in those schools. For one thing, the medium of instruction there would be only English, or perhaps incorrect Tamil or Hindi, which too could be arranged not without difficulty. I could not possibly put up with this and other disadvantages. I was making my own attempt to teach them but that was at best irregular and I could not get hold of a suitable Gujrati teacher . . . . I was at my wits’ end. . . .

Gandhiji’s struggle continued. On the one hand he totally rejected the existing system of education, but on the other he did not have a clear alternative to replace it. He had no idea of how to go about the task of educating the children of his extended family. However, he was deeply convinced that only that education is desirable which develops a healthy self-image and inculcates certain values in the individual. He wrote:

Had I been blind to a sense of self-respect, and allowed myself to be satisfied by having for my children the education that other children could not get, I should have deprived them of the object-lesson in liberty and self-respect that I gave them at the cost of literary training. And where a choice has to be made between liberty and learning, who will not say that the former has to be preferred a thousand times to the latter.

After getting the journal well settled he wanted to start a school for Indian children. On 13 January 1905 he wrote a letter to Professor Gokhale asking for his support. Following are a few sentences from it:

It is also my intention, if my earnings continue, to open a school on the grounds, which would be second to none in South Africa, for the education primarily of Indian children who would be resident boarders and, secondly, of all who want to join the school but would also reside on the premises. For this too volunteer workers are required. It would be possible to induce one or two English men or English ladies here to give their lifetime to this work, but Indian teachers are absolutely necessary. Could you induce any graduates who have an aptitude for teaching, who bear a blameless character and who would be prepared to work for a mere living. Those who would come must be well-tried first-class men. I would want two or three at least but more could certainly be accommodated, and after the school is in working order, it is intended to add a sanatorium with open-air treatment on hygienic lines. . . .

The school eventually had fifty children. He was determined ‘to find out by experience and experiment the true system’. He took some time to discover it, specially the kind that could be offered for wider application in a country so large as India, for he knew that his home was India and not South Africa.

Gandhiji Returns to India

Gandhiji eventually realised that it was time for him to return to his home country. He reached Bombay with Kasturba on 9 January 1915.

Wise man that he was, Gandhiji decided not to straight away plunge into the politics of the country or even pass any judgement on the situation here. He gave a year to going around the country to see and acquaint himself with the life of the people and their feelings. He wanted to have first-hand knowledge of the rural as well as urban conditions in which the common man and woman lived. This was also the advice given to him by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who was like a political guru to him. The question of discovering the right kind of educational system, however, remained his primary concern.

Within two or three years Gandhiji had to undertake three major satyagraha campaigns — the Ahmedabad Satyagraha related to the textile mill-hands’ strike, the Kheda Satyagraha about the payment of land revenue by farmers, and the Champaran Satyagraha against the exploitation of the indigo farmers by the British plantation owners. The Champaran Satyagraha was Gandhiji’s first major non-violent struggle in India. It was aimed at uplifting the physical conditions and morale of the indigo farmers and liberating them from the grip of the British indigo plantation owners who were exploiting them in a most inhuman manner. This satyagraha proved to be the first profound victory of non-violent struggle against the exploitation of the helpless by the white plantation owners. However, when the satyagraha was still going on, he was thinking of improving the conditions of the poor of Champaran district.

In Satyagraha in Champaran Rajendra Prasad wrote:

He [Gandhiji] was convinced from the very beginning that it was impossible for any outside agency to improve their lot unless their mental and moral condition was improved. This applies to the whole of India but it can be demonstrated beyond contradiction in Champaran . . . . Mahatmaji had accordingly decided that arrangement for spread of education was as necessary among them as the redress of their grievances. Some time before the Enquiry Committee commenced its work Mahatmaji had written to some friends about it and told them what sorts of volunteers he needed for social work.

He did get some of the most educated people from various parts of India to run the schools which he had managed to start. Unfortunately very few educated people from Bihar joined him. Describing the plan he wrote to a Government official:

In the schools I am opening, children under the age of 12 only are admitted. The idea is to get hold of as many children as possible and to give them an all round education, i.e. a good knowledge of Hindi or Urdu, [and] through that medium, of arithmetic and the rudiments of history and geography, a knowledge of simple scientific principles and some industrial training. No cut and dried syllabus has yet been prepared because I am going on an unbeaten track. I look upon our present system with horror and distrust. Instead of developing the moral and mental faculties of the little children it dwarfs them. . . .

Five schools started functioning in the area. Some of his closest companions were with him to carry out the plans, about which he wrote:

I shall endeavour to avoid the defects of the present system. The chief thing aimed at is contact of children with men and women of culture and unimpeachable moral character. That to me is education. Literary training is to be useful merely as a means to that end. . . .

The Champaran Satyagraha came to a successful end. In his autobiography Gandhiji wrote:

The ryots [tenants], who had all along remained crushed, now somewhat came to their own, and the superstition that the stain of indigo could never be washed out was exploded . . . . It was my desire to continue the constructive work for some years, to establish more schools and to penetrate the villages more effectively. The ground had been prepared, but it did not please God, as often before, to allow my plans to be fulfilled. Fate decided otherwise and drove me to take up work elsewhere.

Those schools functioned for a while but were then closed for lack of workers and the vision required for such a pioneering work.

Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati

When leaving South Africa Gandhiji had an important question in his mind. Where should the Phoenix family settle in India? At the suggestion of C.F. Andrews the whole group went to Santiniketan, the ashram poet Rabindranath Tagore had set up in Bengal. Tagore had a comprehensive educational programme, which, to put it briefly, had a precise philosophy and was built around creative activities. He was firm in his conviction that the medium of instruction at all levels should be the mother tongue. Second, for him Nature was the richest centre of learning; and third, creative activities ought to play a central role in the processes of education. Gandhiji admired and respected Tagore’s educational system, but it has to be admitted that his goal was somewhat different, particularly his short-term goal.

The Phoenix ‘settlement’ shifted to Santiniketan. After a few days Gandhiji also joined them. He tried various experiments with the help of the poet and the teachers, specially about the way of life educational institutions should develop. No doubt he must have drawn some creative ideas from his and his colleagues’ experience in Santiniketan. There is not much left of those experiments except that every year a day is observed to recall Gandhiji’s stay and the programme of self-help.

Santiniketan was not the place for Gandhiji to make a home and conduct his own experiments. His need was to experiment with the perspective he had developed for the future of India. The ‘family’ went to Gujarat, first to Kochrab and finally to Sabarmati, a place just outside Ahmedabad.

In addition to his preoccupation with national politics there was one subject which occupied his mind all the time. It was education for the masses of India. He knew what ‘education’ meant in pre-British India. At a conference in Allahabad on 23 December 1916 he gave a talk which was reported in The Leader (27.12.1916). Following are a few sentences from that report:

Mr Gandhi then described the ancient system of education . . . even elementary education imparted by the village teacher taught the students all that was necessary for their occupation. Those who went in for higher education became fully conversant with the science of wealth, Artha Shastra, ethics and religion, Dharma Shastra. In ancient times, there were no restrictions on education . . . . It was due to such a system of education that Indian civilization had outlived so many vicissitudes through thousands of years . . . . No doubt the wave of a new civilization had been passing through India. But he was sure that it was transitory, it would soon pass away and Indian civilization would be revivified.

Gandhiji was steadily getting closer to his ideal educational system. But he had yet to try many more experiments before he discovered the true system.

National Education

After the Sabarmati Ashram was well settled, Gandhiji began planning for a national school. Describing its basic principles in the prospectus he wrote:

The education will be physical, intellectual and religious. For physical education there will be training in agriculture and hand-weaving and in the use of carpenter’s and blacksmith’s tool. . . . In addition, they will be given drill, . . . and as part of this, they will be taught how to march in squads and how each one may work with quiet efficiency in case of accidents such as fire. . . . They will have instructions on how to preserve health and on home remedies for ordinary ailments, with as much of physiology and botany as may be necessary for the purpose . . . . For intellectual training, they will study Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit as compulsory subjects . . . . There will be no teaching of English during the first three years".

The medium of instruction was to be Gujarati (the mother tongue and local language) right up to the highest stage. The syllabus included the usual subjects such as mathematics, book-keeping, history, geography, chemistry and astronomy. By way of instruction in religion, general ethical principles were to be taught. The aim of that education was that after a few years the student’s equipment would approximate to that of a well-informed graduate.

It is obvious that although he was more or less clear about the objectives of his ideal education, he had not yet reached the stage when he could put forward a concrete plan of his system which, by definition, had to be entirely different from the existing one with the structure the British had created.

He was firm about education being imparted through the mother tongue at all its stages. In a speech at the Second Gujarat Educational Conference in October, 1917, he said:

It should be obvious to everyone that the first thing to do in this connection is to come to a definite decision about the medium of instruction. Unless that is done, all other efforts, I fear, are likely to prove fruitless.

He put equally great stress on the desirability of having a common language for the whole country. He enumerated five requirements of a national language. It should be: (a) easy to learn for government officials; (b) capable of serving as a medium of religious, economic and political contact between all parts of the country; (c) the speech of a large number of Indians; (d) easy for everyone to learn; and (e) chosen without consideration of temporary or passing circumstances. It was evident that English did not fulfil any of these requirements. Gandhiji considered Hindi, eventually Hindustani, to be the language that fulfilled all the requirements.

Gandhiji emphasised the building of character as the major task of education. The third item on which he put emphasis was music and the fourth was physical training. He strongly pleaded for the education of women.

We think our entire life depends on success at examinations. Gandhiji said:

India never knew the institution of examination. The method is of recent introduction . . . . The system has lent itself to serious abuse, every subject being taught with an eye on the examination and the conviction firmly planted in the pupil’s mind that passing the examination was all that was necessary.

In his scheme it was stated:

Having regard to the view that examinations are quite undesirable, pupils in this institution will be tested periodically from two points of view — whether the teacher has made the right effort and whether the pupil has followed. The pupil will be freed from the fear of examinations. . . .

National Universities — Vidyapeeths

After the First World War India waited for a change of heart on the part of the British. Instead she received the Rowlatt Act. The people as a whole resented it. In April 1919 more than a thousand innocent unarmed people were massacred in Jallianwalla Bagh, Amritsar, by the army. This outrage wounded India’s pride and she rose in revolt against foreign domination. Gandhiji said that Jallianwalla Bagh was only the beginning:

We must be prepared to contemplate with equanimity not a thousand murders of innocent men and women, but many thousands before we attain a status in the world that shall not be surpassed by any nation. We hope, therefore, that all concerned will take rather than lose heart and treat hanging as an ordinary affair of life.

On 1 August 1920 he wrote to the Viceroy: "I can retain neither respect nor affection for a government which has been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend its immorality". The Congress and Gandhiji declared total non-cooperation with the British Government. The call included a total boycott of legislative bodies, Government schools and law courts.

The Gujarat Political Conference held on 27-29 August passed a resolution which meant that title-holders and persons holding medals should renounce the titles and return the medals; lawyers should try to settle disputes privately and should give up practice in law courts; parents should withdraw their children from any school that had any connection with the Government; college students should give up colleges on their own; voters should refuse to vote for any one seeking election to a council and candidates should withdraw their candidature; and every man, woman and child should follow the rule of perfect swadeshi and should spin cotton.

Although it was a solely political campaign, it had a profound impact on the educational scene in the country. With the call for boycotting schools and colleges having any connection with the government, it was necessary to have some alternative institutions. That was the beginning of the establishment of vidyapeeths — national schools and colleges all over the country. In November Gandhiji founded the National University of Gujarat, Gujarat Vidyapeeth. Such national institutions also came up in Calcutta, Patna, Aligarh, Bombay, Banaras and Delhi. The Jamia Millia Islamia — the National Muslim University — was founded through the joint efforts of Gandhiji and Md. Ali.

These institutions made a significant contribution in the fields of both political awakening and educational awareness. Establishing these centres of learning was a step towards the growth of a new approach to education. They created the spirit of freedom, an element essential for the development of a healthy personality. Second, they prepared a cadre of freedom-fighters for the next ‘battle for liberation’. More important, as experimental centres they were useful for Gandhiji to explore the structural side of his educational scheme, buniyadi talim (basic education), which was started in 1937. By that time institutions like Gujarat Vidyapeeth and Jamia Millia Islamia had fully developed their systemic structures in a way that was favourable for giving a trial to the new scheme.

Nayee Talim

Between 1920 and 1937 a lot happened in the country. People’s awareness of their cultural foundation, their knowledge of the damage done to it by the colonial rulers, and an understanding of the socio-political conditions of the country made it imperative that for building a healthy India mass education in general and education of the individual along with the struggle for freedom were the most important elements. Gandhiji also believed that without gaining freedom, building a new and independent educational programme was not possible.

Most of the revivalist institutions, barring some exceptions, such as Santiniketan and vidyapeeths, had lost their original relevance or had become dependent on government recognition. Some continued catering for the needs of the elite, who looked for government patronage. Santiniketan was deliberately kept apolitical by Tagore, except that some individuals occasionally took active part in the freedom struggle. Without going into a discussion on the why of these issues I shall try to see the relationship between the Tagorean concept of education and nayee talim as developed under the guidance of Gandhiji.

As mentioned earlier, according to Tagore’s scheme there are three centres of education: the mother tongue, not only as the medium of instruction but also as the major means of communication between people; creative activities; and Nature, of which we are an inseparable part.

Gandhiji’s scheme as presented to the nation in 1937 also had three similar elements. He was convinced that the medium of instruction in schools and colleges must be the mother tongue or the language of the area. He also insisted that the language of communication between people of various regions ought to be that which most people understood or could easily learn. In other words, it should be an effective tool for community relationships. For most of its needs, physical as well as spiritual, human society depended on Nature. Nayee talim, as envisaged by Gandhiji, gave top priority to our relationship with Nature. According to Tagore Nature was the most important source of knowledge, human creativity and livelihood. The highest education is that which does not merely impart information but puts life in harmony with all existence.

The third element is meaningful manual work according to Gandhiji, and creative activities according to Tagore. There is very little difference in the two approaches. Tagore did not talk of the economic side of creative activities. For him it was art, something that caters for all human needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. Gandhiji, on the other hand, placed emphasis on it as a vocation for livelihood and a way of gaining knowledge.

I do not think the difference between the two is crucial. While Gandhiji’s approach is obviously egalitarian, Tagore’s sounds elitist. Taking into account the time factor, Gandhiji had the advantage of drawing from Gurudev’s educational experience. He did not only learn something but he also improved on it.

Basic Education Starts in Seven Provinces

The fruit which Gandhiji had nurtured for two decades was now nearly ripe. The political situation in India had changed. After the elections for Legislative Assemblies the British Government had to accept the formation of Congress ministries in nine provinces. In addition to whatsoever these Congress Governments were hoping to do, Gandhiji offered them an educational plan to replace the current system of education. He had written an article, ‘Education’, in the 31-7-1937 issue of Harijan.

How to solve the problem of education is the problem unfortunately mixed up with the disappearance of the drink revenue. . . .

Until then the expenditure on education came from excise (alcohol) revenue. Gandhiji wrote:

. . . as a nation we are so backward in education that we cannot hope to fulfil our obligation to the nation in this respect in a given time during this generation, if the programme is to depend on money. I have therefore made bold, even at the risk of losing a reputation for constructive ability, to suggest that education should be self-supporting. By education I mean all-round drawing out of the best in child and man — body, mind and spirit . . . .

He suggested that the money required for education could be raised by taxing the rich.

This is not a fanciful picture. If we would but shed our mental laziness, it would appear to be an eminently reasonable and practical solution of the problem of education that faces the Congress Ministers and therefore the Congress.

In October 1937 Gandhiji called a conference which was attended by many eminent education experts of the country and the Education Ministers of several provinces. He presented his scheme to them. The conference passed a resolution which agreed that free and compulsory education should be provided to every child of seven to fourteen years of age; the medium of instruction should be the mother tongue; the process of education throughout this period should centre around some form of manual productive work, and all the other abilities to be developed should be integrally related to the central handicraft chosen, with due regard to the environment of the child; and this system of education would gradually be able to cover the remuneration of the teachers.

A little later the Hindustani Talimi Sangh, an all-India organisation, was formed to develop the Basic Education programme all over the country and run experimental schools. The first such school was set up in Sevagram, Gandhiji’s ashram, which also became the central office of the Sangh with Shri E.W. Aryanayakam as General Secretary. Gandhiji chose Dr Zakir Hussain, the head of Jamia Millia Islamia, as the Chairman of the Sangh.

A wave of educational reconstruction seemed to pass over the country. Some provinces appointed education reorganization committees, teacher training and refresher training centres. Some basic schools were opened and some primary schools were converted into basic schools. New literature on Basic Education was published for the use of teachers. A seven-year syllabus was prepared by some of the most experienced teachers of their subjects.

In his report of two years of work Aryanayakam wrote that

basic education was being carried out as an educational experiment by the Governments of C.P., U.P., Bihar, Orissa, Bombay, and Kashmir and a few non-Government institutions. In all there were twelve training schools and two training colleges, seven Refreshers Training Centres and over five thousand schools carrying out the experiment of basic education.

There was so much enthusiasm that even when the Orissa Government closed its basic schools in the second year of the experiment, the people of the province continued the work on their own. Out of the fifteen basic schools, seven continued functioning, which indicates that the system had attracted the interest of the people.

After about two years the Congress Ministries resigned, resulting in the closure of basic schools run by the governments in all the seven provinces. But the ones run by voluntary bodies continued until the launch of the Quit India struggle in 1942, the consequence of which was the arrest of most of the active workers, including those engaged in Gandhiji’s constructive programmes. He was the first to be arrested.

The resolution passed by the Second Basic Education Conference held on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia gives an idea of the results attained by the basic schools during the short period of a little over two years.

This conference records with satisfaction that the reports on the working of basic schools run by the Governments, local bodies and by private enterprise are almost unanimous that general standards of health or behaviour as well as intellectual attainment, are very encouraging. The children in basic schools are more active, cheerful, self-reliant, their power of self-expression is well-developed, they are developing habits of cooperative work, and social prejudices are breaking down. Considering the difficulties inherent in the initial stages of a new scheme of education, involving a new ideology and a new technique, the progress reported holds out the promise that even better results can be expected in future.

Nayee Talim is Born

The Quit India movement of 1942 proved a very intense experience for the country, specially in regard to looking back and reviewing the achievements and difficulties faced by the freedom struggle led by Gandhiji. Within a very few days most of the cadres of the freedom movement had been arrested. Only those remained outside who either went underground or were co-opted — willingly or otherwise — by the State machinery. Members of political parties which were not in favour of the Quit India Call also remained out of prisons.

Gandhiji was in prison for nearly two years. That was probably the hardest period in his life. His two closest life companions died in the same prison — his wife Kasturba and Mahadev Desai, his right hand. During that period he must have introspected and reviewed almost everything he did in his life or wanted to do. His life-long tapasya as a teacher must have made him ask why he had not yet been able to find the right way, which he had been seeking since he started teaching the children of his large family in South Africa. He must have asked himself many questions including some regarding his experiment of basic education and its future.

When he came out of prison, two of his major concerns were (a) to see the British rule over India end at the earliest, and (b) to plan an educational programme for the people of India which would prepare them for using that freedom to lift themselves up from the conditions they had been pushed into during colonial rule, such as stark poverty, pessimism, ignorance and helplessness.

For the last quarter of a century Gandhiji had led the non-violent war of freedom on political as well as socio-economic grounds. He went on encouraging the people to build alternatives for nearly all aspects of life. The eighteen-point Constructive Programme was for replacing the existing systems and institutions. For instance, development of indigenous industries — textiles, housing, food, basic education, health and sanitation, social equality and cooperative living.

Whenever a suggestion came to him for improving or changing some aspect of Indian life, if he felt that the suggestion warranted attention, he found people, or people came to him to take up the responsibility to organise that particular activity. The building of the leprosy campaign is a remarkable example of that kind. Traditionally leprosy was a most misunderstood disease. Someone with that disease was considered lower than an untouchable. Gandhiji had always been working against such traditions on both medical and socio-economic grounds. In 1946 a man who had the disease and who had cured himself went and told Gandhiji his story. I remember having heard him say to this gentleman: "You have been sent to me by God with the plan that you will organise and lead an all-India movement against this most inhuman attitude towards leprosy". It inspired the man so much that he built an all-India leprosy campaign. Thus it became one of the eighteen items of the Constructive Programme.

Gandhiji’s Constructive Programme was built to provide the country with alternative techniques and institutions to replace the ones imposed by the colonial rulers, and with which the country did not wish to continue after attaining freedom. He had hoped that once India became free she would have a fully tested pattern of political, economic and social structures to run the country on a sound non-violent basis.

His internment in the Aga Khan Palace, as has been said before, was a time of introspection for Gandhiji. After coming out of prison he said: "I have been thinking hard during the detention over the possibilities of Nayee Talim until my mind became restive". He also said:

We must not rest content with our present achievements. We must penetrate the homes of the children. We must educate their parents. Basic education must become literally education for life. . . . It had become clear to me that the scope of basic education has to be extended. . . . A basic school teacher must consider himself a universal teacher. His village is his universe . . . .

A nayee talim conference was called in the month of January 1945. In his inaugural speech Gandhiji introduced an entirely revised and enlarged map of the system. Addressing the basic education workers he said:

Although we have been working for Nayee Talim all these years, we have so far been, as it were, sailing in an inland sea which is comparatively safe. We are now leaving the shoals and heading for the open sea. So far our course was mapped out. We have now before us uncharted waters with the Pole Star as our only guide and protection. That Pole Star is village handicrafts.

Our sphere of work now is not confined to Nayee Talim of children from seven and fourteen years; it is to cover the whole of life from the moment of conception to the moment of death. This means that our work has increased tremendously. Yet workers remain the same. But that should not worry us. Our guide and companion is Truth which is God. He will never betray us. But Truth will be our help only if we stand by it regardless of everything. There can be in it no room for hypocrisy, camouflage, pride, attachment or anger.

We have to become teachers of villagers; that is to say, we have to become their servants in the true sense. Our reward, if any, has to come from within and not from without. It should make no difference to us whether in our quest for Truth we have any human company or not. Nor does Nayee Talim depend on outside financial help. It must proceed on its own way, whatever critics might say. I know that true education must be self-supporting. There is nothing to feel ashamed of in this. It may be a novel idea if we can make good our claim and demonstrate that ours is the only method for the true development of the mind. Those who scoff at Nayee Talim today will become our ardent admirers in the end and Nayee Talim will find universal acceptance.

Whether this is a mere dream or a practical reality, this is the goal of Nayee Talim and nothing short of it. May the God of Truth help us to realise it.

I want to draw your attention also to another thing. I consider the Sevagram centre to be an ideal centre for conducting the central experiment in Nayee Talim, as it is here that the Charkha Sangh (All Indian Spinners’ Association) is carrying out its main experiment. Wardha is the centre for the other village industries . . . . Sevagram does not stand alone; there are nearly 20 villages lying about it in close proximity. Therefore if experiments in Nayee Talim in its most natural form can be carried out anywhere, it is here.

The plan he put forward was for the education of everybody in the community. It was divided as follows: (i) Adult education — of the whole community, including the parents of unborn babies; (ii) pre-basic — education of children between two and a half to seven years; (iii) basic education — for children between seven and fourteen years; (iv) post-basic education — fourteen to eighteen years; (v) university level education — beyond eighteen years of age.

The most significant statement from Gandhiji at that time was that after the launching of the new perspective of nayee talim every constructive programme must have its orientation. To put it the other way round, it would mean that all those activities should be considered a part of nayee talim. In other words, all the work that was being done for the attainment of freedom for the country and for the reconstruction of the Indian polity should be educationally oriented.

Nayee Talim at Sevagram

Several organisations which had been engaged in basic education earlier restarted their work. The main centre in this regard was Sevagram. I was fortunate to have been offered a position as art instructor for the first six-month teachers’ training camp with a very active basic school as the practising school for the teacher trainees and a model school for the country wide nayee talim work. It feels strange that instead of six months I continued with nayee talim at Sevagram for eighteen years! When I reached Sevagram in November 1944 I remember noticing the enthusiasm of the teachers and the lively faces of the children. The Teachers’ Training Camp had more that sixty trainees from almost every part of the country. It was indeed a bright and active group of people of ages between twenty and fifty.

After the prayer at six in the morning and then breakfast, we divided ourselves into groups to do the cleaning of every place on the campus, including the lavatories. In fact cleaning of lavatories had the first priority. It is particularly important in India, because cleaning of lavatories has been considered the work of untouchables. When I experienced that aspect of nayee talim I was reminded of Pestalozzi, who said that he descended down to their level (of the poor uneducated) so that he could lift them up with him. A very moving and uplifting experience indeed it was.

Actually, all the staff of the school and other members of the Sevagram community had made cleanliness a science as well as an art, developing its technique thoroughly. It became a separate subject in the school and the community. After those forty-five minutes of community cleaning everybody went to his or her work — some to the farm in which we tried to produce all the grains, vegetables and fruits needed for the community, others to their spinning and weaving workshops, and yet others to other activities, which included lunch for the community. We all took turns preparing dinner everyday. The number of workshops gradually increased according to the needs of the community and the growing educational programme.

After a couple of hours’ break at midday all the children went to their studies related to the day’s work and to other aspects of their life, such as health, culture, etc. In the afternoon there were music and art classes for all the children. Some of the time in the afternoon was also devoted to practice and rehearsals for the celebration of festivals and special occasions. Children and class teachers along with the art teacher decorated the places of celebrations and festivals with alpana, flowers and textiles. Stage craft and management was an important part of nayee talim. We had arrangements for simple sports and games — mostly games that needed no equipment.

Yet another feature that ought to be mentioned here is the character of festivals celebrated and the daily prayer conducted in nayee talim schools. Festivals of all religions were celebrated in as good a way as possible. School prayers were the same as those of Gandhiji’s ashram, i.e., inclusive of all religions. It had a very positive impact on the children about the equality of all religions.

At the end it may be useful to mention here something about self-evaluation by students. A list of headings of paragraphs from the annual self-evaluation by a post-basic student would give an idea of the content of the education he received. Instead of the usual type of examinations the Sevagram school considered self-evaluation — along with evaluation by teachers — a more effective and creative method of judging the all-round progress of a student.

Some of the sub-titles from it were: My health; Social Life; Kitchen work; Community cleanliness; Prayers; Looking after guests; Looking after the sick; Festivals; Cooperative store; My behaviour in the hostel and in my family; Village work; Craft and self-sufficiency; Spinning and self-sufficiency in clothing; Building work; Gardening; Work in the printing press; Language and literature; Mother tongue; National language; Other languages (English); Industrial and agricultural science; Social science; Self study; My aptitude and future studies/work.

There is much to tell and explain about the experiment of nayee talim. It is impossible to put even a tenth of it in such a small space. There is much, though not sufficient, material that is available for further study about the subject. What is lacking is an analytical study of nayee talim. For example, a question is often asked: In spite of nayee talim being such an ideal and practical system of education, why did it not spread as it should have? One day a thorough study on this question will have to be done. For the present purpose, I hope the above should suffice.


[ Previous Page | Contents of the Book | Next Page ]

HomeSearchContact usIndex

[ Home | Search  |  Contact UsIndex ]

 [ List of Books | Kalatattvakosa | Kalamulasastra | Kalasamalocana ]

© 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi