It has been over 70 years since the father of our nation left us, but his ideas remain an important part of our country's social and political imagination. It is impossible to imagine an India which will not have an impression of Gandhian thought and philosophy.
One thing that the Mahatma wanted to effectively change post-independence, apart from the disbanding of the Indian National Congress, was the state of education in India. He wished for a complete overhaul of our education, which he was convinced was thrust upon us, to make things easier for the British to keep ruling over India. After all the years gone by, the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) laid the foundations of an education system Mahatma Gandhi envisioned.
Gandhi wrote in Gujarati about the changes he wanted to see in our education system. VG Desai translated this into English and appeared in Harijan on 15th July and 5th August 1950. Gandhi knew teachers must recognize the talents of each student from an early age, as encouraging the students to pursue their talents will reap significant benefits for the country. He says, "The special aptitudes of each child should be recognized in determining the work he (or she) should do." The NEP also recognizes this need and focuses on critical thinking, inquiry, and analysis-based teaching, which will help identify students' talents from a young age.
Many students and parents complain that some subjects or teaching patterns are carried out only for the sake of the curriculum, providing no rationale for its inclusion and the future prospects of studying such subjects. Gandhi, however, was firm. He wrote, "The reasons for every process should be explained when the process is being carried on."
In furtherance of this, the NEP envisions scientific temper development among junior school students. It also states that there must be a focus on digital literacy, coding and moral reasoning. Many of us have observed that despite having a grasp of subjects taught in schools, many students lacked basic general knowledge. This perhaps was the case in the pre-independence era as the Mahatma mentioned, "General knowledge should be imparted to each child as he begins to understand things. Learning to read or write should come later."
He was adamant that a child must only be taught subjects he wishes to study, adding that "Nothing should be taught to a child by force." This remains true for so many students pushed into streams they do not wish to undertake in the 11th and 12th standard, or even those students who are forced by parental and peer pressure into fancy coaching institutes, which ruins the most important years of a child in school.
Gandhi was a religious man. He had no qualms in calling himself a devout Hindu. Hence, he suggested, "Religious education is indispensable and the child should get it by watching the teacher's conduct and by hearing him talk about it." As controversial as it may seem in today's India, it is imperative that we understand the reasoning behind the suggestion of introducing religious education. When people talk about India's social fabric and the need to preserve it, this move to teach the best of religious teachings to students will not only make them a better individual and a citizen, but it will be a thread that will bind all Indians together.
The NEP lays the foundation of a New India, but these foundations are based on India's ancient civilizational values of truth, honesty, non-violence and patriotism. But above all suggestions, Mahatma Gandhi was uncompromising in the medium of education. He remarked, "All education should be imparted through the mother tongue." He added that "English should be taught only as one of the several languages."
He was adamant on his call for learning Indian languages. He wrote, "To give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them. The Foundation that Macaulay laid of education has enslaved us." He warned that "The foreign medium has caused brain fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses."
The statesman that he was makes us think on the very fundamentals of modern education in India "No country can become a nation by producing a race of imitators. Think of what would have happened to the English if they had not an authorized version of the Bible." It is often said that a small section of the English-speaking elite in India controls our country's entire narrative. Gandhi envisioned that this would happen in the future. His words hold true even today as more than a century after he said and warned, "It is we, the English-knowing men, that have enslaved India. The curse of the nation will rest not upon the English but upon us."
To rid India of this curse, the NEP lays down guidelines for the medium of instruction to be the local language until class 5. This one change will truly usher India into a new era. Gandhi knew that the future of a strong, self-reliant India lies in Indians accepting its civilizational values, being unapologetic about our past and moving ahead without compromising on our culture and beliefs. He knew that this could only be achieved if substantial changes were made in our education system, for the present-day system was introduced only to help the British enslave Indian minds.
The 21st century belongs to India, and for this, our young minds need to be brought up and educated in the right manner. It is time we begin decolonizing our mind, which will happen by creating a structure of education, keeping Gandhi's suggestions in mind and India's best interests at heart.
(The writer is a graduate of Gujarat National Law University, with a keen interest in history, policy and Indology)