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Education shorn of values

Education shorn of values

Author: JS Rajput
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 25, 2006

It's that time of the year when children leave the school system. By the Indian reality, most will never enter the portals of an educational institution again.

There are occasions when one wonders why people the world over still admire India for its past contributions to the growth of civilisation and the evolution of thought. How could Indians achieve such spiritual insights that have eternal relevance on the time scale of history? This puzzle now has a contemporary context.

The aura and influence of India in the ancient world was not confined to the shores of India alone. The invaders and the conquerors did retard the progress of India's search for knowledge and the quest for understanding what lies beyond this world. The systems of generating, disseminating and utilising information and knowledge were relegated to the background for obvious reasons.

Yet, we managed to become the world's most illiterate nation. There can be no more comprehensive articulation of the distressing state of education in India than the famous words of Mahatma Gandhi, delivered at Chatham lines, London, on October 20, 1931: "I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was 50 years ago or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of the things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished."

A couple of points that emerged in the scrutiny of the educational records, prepared and authenticated by the British officers between 1813 and 1830 established that almost every village had a school. GL. Pendergast, a senior British officer, wrote about the Presidency of Bombay around 1920: "There is hardly a village great or small throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school; in larger villages, more."

Several such details have been unearthed from the records and indicate the existence of a widespread educational network extending to higher education in various disciplines. Supported entirely by charity and funding from the rulers of the area, these had more than 800 per cent students from what are classified as the lower strata of the society. Poverty or social status never debarred a young learner.

The British began a process of dispossession, ensuring that the revenue sources to the educational institutions got dried up. The collector of Bellary, in his report on indigenous education wrote :"In many villages where formerly there were schools, there are now none." This indicates how the system was allowed to whither away. It's inner strength, combined with India's collective indomitable spirit, however, helped it maintain a semblance of continuity.

Education and literacy relate to every aspect of human life. It applies to both the lettered and the unlettered. In the current context, there is hardly any need to reiterate the importance of education which is good in quality and acceptable in its content, apart from being envisioned as of relevance and utility by the individual and his larger society.

It's natural for people everywhere to be concerned about education and the systems that administer and mange it in their locale. This valid concern extends to the content and process of education, which have to respond to the ever-changing needs and requirements of their society and, hence, have to change simultaneously. Education helps people to learn and know who they are. It acquaints people with their roots, traditions, culture and the systems of learning and knowing. It augments their relationship to their heritage, gives them a sense of achievement and opens new vistas before them.

Every Indian is an inheritor of that powerful ancient heritage that attracts even the most modern-minded young person from every corner of the globe in search of peace, spirituality and in locating the real meaning of life and living.

Growth and evolution of cultures rarely follow linear paths. By the end of the 20th century, it was clear to everyone that the colonial era had damaged the cultural and educational context of hundreds of nations who were materially exploited for centuries.

They needed their own futuristic education systems in place of the transplanted models forced upon them by their alien rulers.

UNESCO now accepts that education in every country must be "rooted to culture and committed progress". Unfortunately, in India, the very usage of terms like "Ancient Indian culture", "Civilisation", "Vedanta", "Sanskrit", etc., makes our Marxist intellectuals squirm. Character assasination, the most potent weapon in their armoury, is thrown in to action: the canard of "Saffronisation".

In his Presidential address for the 1921 session of the Indian National Congress (sadly, it could not be delivered but was taken as read), Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das wrote: "Who can contemplate with equanimity that every year many crores of rupees go out of India without corres-ponding advantage? Morally, we are becoming a nation of slaves, and have acquired most vices of the slaves, we speak the language of the master, and ape his manners, and we rush with alacrity to adopt his institutions, while our own lie languishing in the villages. Intellectually, we have become willing victims to the imposition of foreign culture on us; and the humiliation is complete when we are deliberately breaking away from the past, recognising no virtue in its continuity".

Even after eight decades, this paragraph has relevance. It should be read and understood in word and spirit by those who have inherited the legacy of the great Indian National Congress of the pre-Independence era. It also must be realised that these people, now in power with Left support, are becoming willing partners in the designs of their supporters to cut off India's new generation from its glorious heritage and legacy.

The leaders of the freedom struggle considered the issue of educational change in India with great anticipation and commitment. All of us are familiar with "Basic Education" (Buniyadi Talim) formulation of Gandhi, Zakir Hussain and others. Chakravarty Rajagopalachari expressed serous doubts on what would happen to India when the generation that was in schools in 1950 took over the reins.His concerns arose out of the fact that the young ones were being imparted only "materialistic values", and were totally cut off from their Indian roots. One could cite several reports, resolutions, documents and deliberations emphasising the need to link the Indian education system to the Indian value ethos.thought and intellect. But vested interests resisted it successfully and are still going strong after it.

How does a vocal minority group of Indian intellectuals manage to garner so much publicity in its campaign against Indian culture and heritage? This can be understood if one recalls Kulpati Munshi's reflections on his college days in the early years of the 20th century. He recalled: "I was in the college and came under the influence of John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer. Like some of you, we thought ourselves 'progressives' only when we looked down on our ancient heritage, and looked up to whatever came from the West. Even our great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, about which we knew quiet a lot from our childhood, came into disrepute with us. The Mission houses, through their little books, told us that those of us who drew sustenance from these epics were no better than savages!"

KM Munshi was an exception. He raised a question to himself: "How was it that Indian culture had survived when so many ancient cultures in History had withered away? How was it that the vitality of Indian culture had continued through the ages despite historical vicissitudes?"

Who cares about the Policy and the manner in which it is changed? Otherwise how can those who swear by the name of Rajiv Gandhi become a party to the violation of the National Policy of Education-1986 (NPE-86), which was one of his most progressive and visionary contributions? Half a page specifically devoted to value education in Rajiv's Education Policy vanished totally from the 2005 "prescriptions", which deliberately avoid focus on value-based education. NPE-1986 had emphasised the need for research in Indology, the search of the country's treasure of ancient knowledge and relating that knowledge to the modern reality. All this stands totally wiped out.

(The writer, a former Director of NCERT, is recipient of UNESCO's highest honour in the field of education, the Jan Comenius Medal for 2004)

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