Some of Gandhiji’s most strongly and unambiguously expressed views are on education, and this is to be viewed in the immediate context of English medium education that the British induced in India, and the larger context of foreign language education at the cost of vernaculars. Gandhiji has emphatically said that he has nothing against English language and its noble literature, but he is against education in English in India.
This form of education was a systematic psychological assault, in which being educated in English and being able to speak in English with the English was considered the ultimate badge of honour. Gandhiji was against this form of psychological servitude. He termed English medium as foreign medium, and held a firm view that this foreign medium has made us foreigners in our own land. This, he considered the greatest tragedy amongst all others that the British had inflicted on the collective Indian psyche.
Language apart, Gandhiji also found the piecemeal approach towards education in India and the world wanting. It was incomprehensible for Gandhiji that any education system could impart learning that only benefited the mind or the intellect, in total disregard of physical and moral development. He viewed education as an integrated approach to allround personality development that emphasised on physical training and high moral ground along with intellectual and cognitive development. Gandhiji distinctly divided between learning and education, knowledge and wisdom, literacy and lessons of life. He has said, “Literacy in itself is no education”.
Gandhiji also closely aligned morality with education. He believed that knowledge without is evil, it can erode the society like a malicious worm. Also incorporating Plato’s conception in this theme, Gandhiji opined that education should be the stepping stone to knowledge and wisdom that ultimately help the seeker on the spiritual path. Education was not a narrow means of making careers and achieving social status, but also seeking a larger role for self and society. Thus, it transpired that education should not only produce learned minds, but enlightened souls too. Gandhiji also adhered to Hindu scriptures which propagated strict discipline and self restraint, including observance of celibacy during student life.
Gandhiji’s education was to be essentially generative, which can be passed on from an educated person to the uneducated one in a selfless spirit. Herein came the inevitability of vernacular education, because it was only through local mediums that education could become more penetrative in a multilayered, impoverished and vastly deprived society. An educated youth could teach his illiterate parents or siblings in the family only if his education was in local medium. Likewise, community level formal or informal education could also be facilitated in villages through vernacular medium only. It is in this broad context that Gandhiji was opposed to foreign medium education in India. He thought that such elitist education did not meet the requirements of the country, there was no connect between education and home life, or village life.
As regards the youth falling prey to vices small and big during student life, Gandhiji simply found it an unnecessary and avoidable nuisance. How can a single student foul his mouth by converting it into a chimney, he said of the smoking habit.
The above loose structure of thoughts on education, Gandhiji conceptualised in his revolutionary Nai Talim or Basic Education for All, in 1937. Marjorie Sykes, an educationist devoted for life to Gandhiji and Nai Talim pedagogy, writes in her book The Story of Nai Talim, that in Gandhiji’s perception, this curriculum aimed at preparing a good society, not just a literate and/or educated one. Seen from the context of an education system specially developed for a newly born democratic nation, it can be said that Nai Talim aimed to fructify education that gave freedom; freedom from ignorance, illiteracy, superstition, psyche of servitude, and many more taboos that inhibited free thinking of a free India. In Gandhiji’s words and vision, Nai Talim was aimed at becoming the spearhead of a silent social revolution.
The range of teaching tools that Gandhiji prescribed to actualise Nai Talim were as revolutionary and unconventional as the concept itself.
For holistic development of body, mind and soul, he firstly emphasised on useful and purposeful physical labour. Mind is a part of our body, and so are hands, legs, torso, spine. If the mind develops at the cost of the rest of the body, it would be so callous! Moreover, it would result in uncoordinated growth, and that is not what Gandhiji wanted India to become, a nation of strong minds and weak bodies, or vice versa. With the addition of heart or soul, the mindbodysoul combine completes Gandhiji’s vision of inclusive, coordinated education.
Handicrafts, art and drawing are the most fundamental teaching tools in Nai Talim pedagogy. Herein, their function is not visualised too literally as a cottage industry vocation, but as a means of engaging young minds in a learning technique that is timeproven, informal, unstressed, and full of ageless wisdom. Spinning and weaving, which can be aptly deduced to spinning khadi, were Gandhiji’s favourite techniques for implementing Nai Talim.
Gandhiji was so confident about the efficacy of this method that he professed teaching through art and craft even before teaching alphabets. He deduced that it was easier for a child to distinguish between wheat and chaff, than between A and Z. Moreover, it facilitated faster learning, “One imparts ten times as much in this manner as by reading or writing”. Lastly, it was much more economical to impart learning through handicrafts than through classroom lessons.
The Nai Talim pedagogy thus sought to create free and enlightened individuals, who would then constitute a good society, not just a free country.