Unemployment and Gandhi’s basic education

Unemployment and Gandhi’s basic education 4th feb.08 npn

Modern education has become an es-tablished norm to think that all education is good and the more one has the better. It is not regarded as a problem although the lack of it is. A child out of school has no chance in the world of tomorrow. Parents were encouraged to send their children to school by concerned leaders, activists, mass media etc, insisting that now, as never before, one’s future is almost wholly dependent upon education. School education has been taken as if it can solve all problems that we are facing today. Ivan Illich once commented that compulsory schooling is being made ‘a ritual’ that everyone must go through. In other word to be a part of this modern world one has to get baptism through modern education.

Several attempts have been made both in international and national level to provide education free of cost to all children. India in its Directive Principles thus made elementary education free and compulsory for all children from 6-14 years. Today, through the programme of SSA, Indian government with the help of World Bank and other international finance agencies is actively trying to fulfill its commitment of providing education to all children. But all these may be just a utopian dream, because today, under neo-liberalisation, there is a worldwide tendency to privatize both health and educational institutions.

Therefore, what we need today is not the question of how to send all children to school. What we need is to ask how the present modern education system works and moulds children and the society at large. What type of education is imparting through modern educational system? Why the present system of education has produced heaps of educated unemployed? Why has the present generation lost dignity of manual labor? Why is class system fast developing in our land? Why are our cultural and traditional heritages diminishing? Is our educational system too much emphasizing on secondary and tertiary sector rather than on primary sector leading to unemployment and inequality in the society? If the World and our government’s commitment of bringing all children to schools are successful it’s likely to create more problems rather than solving them because the present system of modern education is based on elitist minority structure and theoretical know-how. The following discussion throws up some realities about the present system of modern education:

Uniformity: Killer of a child’s Creativity?

Astonishingly, the modern education system treats all children in the same way: they all have to work at the same pace, with the same equipments and textbooks; they all have to learn the phrases and the same words; they all have to acquire the same knowledge and pass the same exams at the same time. Academic knowledge is divided up into annual rations. Only those who have absorbed the ration for the year may go on tot he next level. (Arvind Gupta, Danger School (The Other India Press, 1996, 48). Those who have piled up so many failures, who have fallen too far behind, are rejected in spite of his/her many abilities in other fields. This uniformity and rigidity of modern education system kills creativity of a child. Whatever knowledge they learn from outside school is not counted. There is no freedom of thinking apart from class textbooks. Creative hands and legs of a child are sacrificed in the classroom. Practical knowledge is thus conquered by theoretical know how. Hence, uniformity of the modern education system has produced thousands of unemployed educated youths, which is a thorn in our society today.

Examination: Producer of Efficient Robots

A child’s success is measured in terms of exam pass undermining all other creativity of a student. The annual exam decides the fate of the students. Parents who either rewards or punished a child if she/he fails in the exam supplement this system. Simply reading and memorizing facts and reproducing them at the annual examinations may only produce efficient robots. The exam-oriented system favors memorizing rather than critical inquiry and practical development and application of skills. (Gabriele Dietrich, Towards Understanding Indian Society, Tiruvalla: CSS, 2003, p, 239). As a result school leavers are satisfied to move into white-collar jobs however dull the work may be, whereas the dropouts, considered as failures, move into manual labour jobs.

Textbooks: Carrier of Dominant Culture:

Textbooks are directly related to policy making. Why, how, what and when to learn are all related to policy making which is expressed in textbooks. Textbooks are the food of the students. Unfortunately, the State who is responsible for the policymaking did not made any serious attempts to bring the mass of the poor within the purview of education. The educational objectives, goals, and policies are all enacted and implemented by the State system. The State by its very nature belongs to and is controlled by dominant castes and classes.

The school textbook is responsible for the rise of consumerism by depicting consumerist culture of the dominant class as a normal way of life. It is also responsible for the loss of many of the traditional medicines by portraying Western allopathic system as the most reliable source of healing. Even the Caste system received a generous treatment in most of the India textbooks. There seems to have been no attempt to outline the oppressive caste system, under which the lower castes and women suffered (see Chrsitina Manohar, Feminist Critique and Reconstruction, New Delhi: ISPCK, 2005, 29). One can cite umpteen examples of these kinds. What is disturbing is that most of the texts do not have any relevance to the tribal situation. Instead of reviving, the tribals’ knowledge and way of life are depicted as something savage, uncivilized, unrefined, something to be abandoned and replaced by modern culture of the West or dominant/elitist class. Therefore, what we need today is to reclaim our own history, our own culture, lifestyle, beliefs, etc. so that we do not lose our identity in this fast changing world.


Like the market, the value of competition is highly regarded in the school. It favors individual effort, work, and success over teamwork, solidarity, and co-operation. It inculcates individualism, mistrust of others and destroys communitarian ways of life. It once again endorses ‘survival of the fittest’ theory of Social Darwinism. Those who cannot compete with others in exams are left out as useless in spite of their much creativity in other areas. The so called successful people (academically bright students) become officers and become parasites- living at the expense of the common people (farmers, artisans, etc) without contributing anything to the society. The academically weaker sections of people become manual laborers and contribute much to the society.

Modern education as a means of Investment:

Parents invest in school through their children expecting that their children will bring huge income in return. If one’s education cannot make a big amount, it is useless. Those who cannot secure jobs and earn big income are considered a failure. Now quality education itself is understood not in term of producing responsible individuals of a society but is essentially understood as the ability to make people to get access to high salaried jobs. Therefore, much of the current debate about educational standards and reforms is driven by the belief that we must prepare the young only to compete effectively in the global economy. (David W. Orr, Earth in Mind: On education, Environment and the human Prospect (California: Island Press, 1994, p. 5). Today, the general concern of education is to impart academic knowledge, train the students to pass examination and secure jobs and not much on transforming the individual and society.

Gandhi’s Perspective on Education:

Gandhi’s concept of basic education formed part of his struggle for India’s independence from the British. According to him education is that which liberates. This education must come through working. Western form of school education which is theory oriented was found to be irrelevant in India’s context. Thus he explored education which was in India’s context and relevant to its people.

Gandhi saw the alienating effects of Western education that have been compounded in India by the medium of instruction, claiming that the ‘foundation that Macaulay laid … has enslaved us’. He proposed to return to the vernaculars, whereby all Indians would be conversant with their mother tongue, with their provincial language, and also with the national language which was to be Hindi. Gandhi attacks not just the demerits of the English medium but the whole gamut of British-style education. He feels that the modern education system has resulted in creating a gulf between educated minority population and the masses.

For him, Schooling would have to be in consonance with traditional ways of life, and for that, the fundamental understanding of the meaning of education would have to change. He defines, Education as “that which liberates”. Liberation for Gandhi includes not only freedom from being exploited but equally important, freedom from exploiting others. Gandhi considered the colonial and literary oriented educational system not only as inadequate, but harmful to the person. It was divisive in society, fragmenting for the individual and culturally alienating. Gandhi looked at education as a means of raising the socio-economic condition of the masses. He emphasized that education should seek to build up self-confidence and self-reliance. Education should be craft-centered and productive.

His basic education includes therefore, the giving of physical, intellectual and religious training. Physical education would consist of manual work such as agriculture, hand-weaving and carpentry, and would include a focus on bodily health. Intellectual training would incorporate a number of languages including Gujarati and Hindi, and would exclude English for the first three years. He opined that English could be accorded as a second optional language, not in the school but in the University course. Other regular subjects such as mathematics, history and geography would also be taught.

Gandhi wanted that the whole education should be imparted through some handicrafts or industry. This primary education would include the elementary principles of sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, of doing their own works, helping parents at home etc. The idea of imparting primary education through the medium of village handicrafts like spinning and carding etc, he said was conceived ‘as the spearhead of a silent social revolution fraught with the most far-reaching consequences’. He hoped this will provide a just social order by destroying the unnatural divisions that exist in society (e.g. division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’).

In contrast to the modern education system whose main emphasis is on theory, Gandhi believed in practical education. He understood that true education of the intellect can only come through a proper exercise and training of the bodily organs, e.g. hands, feet, eyes, nose, etc. He feels that knowledge should be acquired through practical work/handicraft. Craft by its nature potentially demands thought, imagination, and responsibility. Gandhi stressed that intellectual development was linked to physical activity and that literary knowledge alone was stifling to growth.

Concluding remark:

Basic education of Gandhi’s is understood then as universally applicable in principle because its learning is correlated with craft. This can be a challenge to the modern education system whose norm is based on centralized text book education, modified to meet the needs and convenience of the rulers. Gandhi’s basic education will not only endeavored to cross borders of rich and poor, high or low, but also gender. His often quote: “Educating a man is educating an individual while educating a woman is educating a family” shows his willingness to give equal opportunity to both boys and girls. Gandhi saw that values must be part of the whole ethos of the school touching every aspect and not a peripheral or extra classroom subject. Co-operation and mutual aid were basic to Gandhi’s view of effective living. Quality education needs common vision. Work provides a way of sharing and achieving. Gandhi stressed on doing rather than idle thinking and seeing work and study as inseparable; responsibility and creativity as inter-connected. Learning should be oriented towards fostering growth in self-reliance and self-direction in practical and mental ways. It is helping to think independently, critically and creatively and to give access to tools of knowledge that children are prepared for responsible citizenship. What we need to talk about education today is not about its quality but its system in which the present form of education operates and shapes both the individual and society.

Z. K. Pahrii, Faculty member, BTC, Pfutsero.Z.K.Pahrii

Faculty member

BTC, Pfutsero.


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