Indianisation of education is often negated with allegations of ‘saffronisation’, even without understanding the content and structure of such education. Debating and discussing this model with indigenous roots is inevitable to build India as a capital of human development.
It augurs well that the present Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has initiated a process of eliciting views from the grass roots on the direction and dimension that India’s education policy must take. Such a countrywide education outreach comes after a long hiatus. HRD Minister Smriti Irani has rightly termed this massive outreach as a “process of democratisation of Indian education”, where people on the ground, the local decision-makers, the grass roots opinion-makers, village family members and those part of the village education councils would be approached for their views on the education to be imparted in India. Such an initiative turns the effort of re-imagining Indian education into a truly democratic exercise, shorn of elitism and coterie control. It is a going back to the roots of sorts and trying to explore the spirit of basic education in India.
Ironically, the Gandhi’s political heirs were the first ones to dump his own cherished “basic education” thesis and model, which supported a dynamic involvement of the grass roots in education. Such a dumping of the Gandhi’s education philosophy led to the widening of the chasm between sections and social units by continuing with an education that was devoid of practicality and divorced from the essential spirit and ethos of the land.
Interestingly, such a countrywide effort is a regeneration of sorts as education, in the Indian civilisational matrix, has always been a deeply participative field. The community and the common citizen played an active part in sustaining the vast and complex educational network that evolved out of the Indian civilisational experience. In fact, teachers in the Indian education framework were often parivrajakas who travelled around the land going from village to village “promoting Loksangraha”, general welfare, by disseminating values and knowledge.
The village in India, before it was deprived of its participatory and self-regenerating capacities, was an active participating unit in the promotion and sustenance of education. An inscription of the great monarch Rajendra Chola (1012-1044 CE) for example, mentions how a “village made an endowment for establishing an education centre that would provide “free boarding and teaching to at least 340 students.”
Some of the leading universities of the ancient world, such as Nalanda and Vallabhi received munificent endowments and support from monarchs as it did from ordinary people and village communities. Both, historian Radhakumud Mookerjee in his opus Ancient Indian Education, (1969) and Dharampal, in The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century (reprint 2000) a seminal study of the complex indigenous education network and tradition in India, attest to this deep community involvement in the shaping of India’s educational tradition and system. Dharampal, for example, points to British civil servant GW Leitner’s Report on the “History of Education in Panjab (Punjab) since annexation, 1882” and argues that support for education was a widely prevalent habit among Indians. Leitner (1840-1899) an “orientalist” appointed as principal of the Lahore Government College in 1864 undertook a detailed survey of the then existing indigenous education network and habits in Punjab. “Respect for learning”, noted Leitner in his report, “has always been the redeeming feature of ‘the East’ …The most unscrupulous chief, the avaricious moneylender, and even the freebooter, vied with the small landowner in making peace with his conscience by founding schools and rewarding the learned…There was not a single villager who did not take pride in devoting a portion of his produce to a respected teacher.”
Dharampal also brings notice to the Company civil servant William Adam’s Report on the state of education in Bengal in 1835-38, which concluded, on seeing the extensive network of indigenous schools in the region that there was indeed a deep seated urge for education among the common people.
Not merely was there a physical educational infrastructure, a well laid philosophy and educational ethics and practise too was followed in the Indian educational tradition. In the University of Nuddeah (Nadia in Bengal), a record of 1791 describes, it was a “professed and established maxim that a pundit who lost his temper, in explaining any point to a student, let him be ever so dull and void of memory, absolutely forfeited his reputation, and [was] disgraced” and “when a student [heard] anything advanced, or expressed that he [did] not perfectly understand, he [had] the privilege of interrogating the master about it.” The masters, on the other hand, were bound to give the “young men every encouragement, to communicate their doubts, by their temper and patience in solving them.” Thus long before the term “Knowledge Society”, came into vogue and Knowledge Commissions were constituted with the declared objective of turning India into a “Knowledge Society”, civilisational India was already recognised as a leading knowledge society and educational hub of the world.
Such a vibrant structure survived until the colonial system through a diversion of revenue from land gradually desiccated and destroyed the system altogether. Swami Vivekananda, in a scathing letter (October 30th 1899) famously observed how “all property and lands granted for education” by the Indian governance structure “have been swallowed up” by the colonial government. The attempt, therefore, of eliciting the involvement of village education councils is a move in the right direction to re-ignite this participatory spirit in the formation of a new Indian education thought.
The exercise of evolving a new education policy for India may also recognise and seek inspiration and direction from movements and formulations that sprang up from the psyche of this land and its civilisational experience. The national education movement in the early part of the last century, corresponding efforts all over the country, especially in the western and southern parts, saw a large number of national schools being conceived. A varied and multi-layered debate also enriched the national education movement with most of the stalwarts of the era contributing their thoughts to the effort of re-creating an education system that aspired to evolve from the Indian ethos and to become responsive to Indian aspirations and goals.
Swami Vivekananda, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Acharya Satish Chandra Mukherjee – through the pages of his Indic and educational affairs journal The Dawn Magazine, the Lokmanya himself, Bipin Chandra Pal, through his series on education in New India, Lala Lajpat Rai – in his seminal The Problems of National Education in India, Sri Aurobindo in his A System of National Education in India and the Brain of India, Sister Nivedita in her Hints on National Education in India, Ananda Coomaraswamy in Essays in National Idealism or Gijubhai Badheka, much later, in his celebrated Divasvapna and of course the Gandhi, through his epochal Basic Education treatise, formed active determinants of this debate and produced a copious educational corpus that sustained and shaped the larger education movement. Interestingly, all these education thinkers were not mere theoreticians playing with statistics but were active educationists themselves carrying out experiments in the field.
Even today a great degree of contemporaneity exists in the educational formulations of these visionary leaders and educationists. Despite six decades of marginalisation their thoughts
continue to possess great education power that is hard to ignore if one truly wishes to evolve a new education vision for India. The Indian civilisational education experience was never of the past, it is rather a continuum that points to the future, perhaps the time is ripe to extricate indicators from that experience.
– Dr Anirban Ganguly