Paper on Work and Education presented at AIPSN Conference, Bhopal

By | August 13, 2022

The paper was written by Prof.Anil Sadgopal for presentation at 17th All India People’s Science Network Conference organized in Bhopal from 6th to 9th June, 2022. The paper was read in workshop at AIPSN conference which was participated by Kishore Bharati members Prof. Arunan and Prof. G.Nagarjuna. The paper gives a brief introduction on the history of Indian education system from the colonial times, highlighting the socio-political character of knowledge in education questioned by Jyotirao Phule in 1882. Further, with the Macaulay this socio-political character become more enslaving and subjugating with English language imposed on education thus cutting Indians from their native roots and their own knowledge and history. Gandhi openly opposed the colonial domination on education and separation of brain-work from hand-work, Gandhi’s Nai Taleem demonstrated a model in which hand-work and brain-work can be merged and how social transformation and social development can be linked with education. This showed a way for an alternative pedagogical paradigm which will be free from exploitation and production of knowledge for social transformation. The paper also highlights on how Post-Independence India education policies ignored Nai taleem model and carried on with Macaulay education model now for profits through privatization and commodification of knowledge for global market. The paper presented at All India Peoples’ Science Network (AIPSN) Conference gives a historic overview of education system of India from colonial period to post-independence period, and how social character of education which can lead to social transformation and eradication of poverty, discrimination, break social hierarchies, and create an equal society is still an unfinished agenda.

The text of full paper read and presented at 17th AIPSN Conference is as follows;

AIPSN Conference at Bhopal (6-9 June 2022)

Engaging with the Pedagogic Essence of Nai Taleem

(Presented at Workshop on Education on 7th June 2022)

Mahatma Jotirao Phule’s historic Memorandum to the Hunter Education Commission in 1882 questioned the socio-political character of knowledge in education imparted by the British Raj. It lamented that almost all the teachers employed in the primary schools were Brahmins, not used to productive manual labour. Their students in turn imbibed “inactive habits” and tried to obtain government service. Instead, Phule proposed that the primary school teachers should be those “who will not feel ashamed to hold the handle of a plough or the carpenter’s adze . . . who will be able to mix themselves readily with the lower orders of society.” Evidently, the alienation of the peasantry from the knowledge and pedagogic content of colonial education became the focus of Phule’s critique.

Phule’s critique appears to be a trailblazer of the civilizational debate that Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj initiated a quarter century later, questioning the ideology of colonial hegemony and exploitation. Gandhi asserted that,

“. . The foundation that Macaulay laid of education has enslaved us . . .”

“. . . by receiving English education, we have enslaved the nation. Hypocrisy, tyranny, etc. have increased; English-knowing Indians have not hesitated to cheat and strike terror into the people.”

Gandhi’s conceptualization of education, therefore, emerged organically from his critique of the exploitative and violent character of modern industrial civilization. It encompassed a range of critical civilisational, philosophical, and moral concerns, as is apparent from such observations:

“What is the meaning of education? If it simply means knowledge of letters, it is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used or abused. . .”

Given the insight gained from his educational experiments in South Africa – first at the Phoenix Settlement before writing Hind Swaraj and later at the Tolstoy Farm (1911-13) – Gandhi could offer a constructive alternative to replace colonial education.

“I would develop in the child his hands, his brain and his soul. The hands have almost atrophied. The soul has been altogether ignored . . . The utterly false idea that intelligence can be developed only through book reading should give place to the truth that the quickest development of the mind can be achieved by the artisan’s work being learnt in a scientific manner. . .”

Gandhi’s New Education or Nai Taleem

Deeply shaken up by the Jaliawalan Bagh massacre, Gandhi gave a clarion call in 1920s to set up National Universities and Colleges for instituting sites of resistance to the Macaulayian framework and also for reconstruction of an anti-imperialist alternative model of national and social development. A series of such institutions, later called Rural Universities, came up in different parts of the country. Reflecting the Gandhian vision, whereby all levels of education were seen as an organic whole for catalyzing social transformation, such Rural Universities invariably promoted pre-primary and school education as well.

In his address on 22nd October 1937 at the All-India Education Conference held at Wardha, Gandhi unfolded the pedagogic essence of Nai Taleem:

“What I am going to place before you today is not about a vocation that is going to be imparted alongside education . . . whatever is taught to children, all of it should be taught necessarily through the medium of a trade or a handicraft . . . Look at takli [spindle] itself, for instance. The lesson of this takli will be the first lesson of our students through which they would be able to learn a substantial part of the history of cotton, Lancashire and the British empire . . . When he is asked to count the number of cotton threads on takli and he is asked to report how many did he spin, it becomes possible to acquaint him step by step with good deal of mathematical knowledge . . . While playing around and singing, he keeps on turning his takli and from this itself he learns a great deal.”

Gandhi further elaborated:

The brain must be educated through the hand. If I were a poet, I could write poetry on the possibilities of the five fingers. Why should you think that the mind is everything and the hands and feet nothing? . . . Mere book knowledge does not interest the child . . . The brain gets weary of mere words, and the child’s mind begins to wander. The hand does the things it ought not to do, the eye sees the things it ought not to see, the ear hears the things it ought not to hear, and they do not do, see or hear, respectively what they ought to. . . . An education which does not teach us to discriminate between good and bad, to assimilate the one and eschew the other is a misnomer.”

Nai Taleem as the Spear-head of a Silent Social Revolution

The civilizational, philosophical and moral context of the struggle for swaraj thus formed the bedrock for the Gandhian pedagogy. The Gandhian proposal of Basic Education was to place productive manual work at the centre of the school curriculum from which would organically emerge knowledge, values and skills. This pedagogy would also link education to rural economy, ensuring that the villages do not become “a mere appendage to the cities” and are not exploited by the latter. Gandhi believed that Nai Taleem would “check the progressive decay of our villages and lay the foundation of a juster social order . . .”

Indeed, Nai Taleem was an anti-imperialist construct that countered hegemony and called for building a civilisational critique of colonial education. It, therefore, aimed at preparing young people from the community as ‘organic intellectuals’, almost in the Gramscian sense, to initiate and lead social transformation. This is why Gandhi viewed Basic Education “as the spear-head of a silent social revolution fraught with the most far-reaching consequences”

The Nai Taleem vision was defined by four elements. First, “its holistic approach underscoring the integration of head, heart and hand. . . A proper and harmonious combination of all the three is required for the making of the whole man and constitutes the true economics of education.”

The second element emphasized productive manual labour as a pedagogic medium. Gandhi’s proposal to place productive manual labour at the centre of curriculum, to view it as a moral and transformative force and to use it as a pedagogic medium was truly a revolutionary concept. It provided a materialist and scientific basis for constructing knowledge, evolving values and building multiple skills. The pedagogic potential of productive work made the educational establishment of the British Raj as well as the elite sections of Indian society, embedded as they were in Brahminical-cum-colonial paradigm, visibly uncomfortable.

The third element of Nai Taleem was the essentiality of mother tongue. Gandhi contended that “We have to make them [i.e. Indian languages] true representatives of our culture, our civilization, of the true genius of our nation.” He warned that education through English medium has resulted in “a permanent bar between the highly educated few and the uneducated many” In Gandhi’s perception, “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 . . . prevented the growth of our vernaculars. . .”

The fourth element of Nai Taleem was the principle of self-supporting education. This element perhaps became the most controversial element in Nai Taleem. However, Gandhi defended the principle of self-support by stating: “That will be the test of its [i.e. productive manual work’s] value.” This assertion indeed has far-reaching pedagogic implications. Any productive engagement implies pre-planned, disciplined, assiduous and scientific work with tools and materials until the intended product of social utility is ready!

Social Character of Productive Work and Knowledge: Implications

Nai Taleem constitutes a radical departure from the Brahminical-cum-colonial paradigm insofar it challenged the dichotomy between work and knowledge by placing productive manual work at the centre of school curriculum itself. Thirty years before Gandhi’s Wardha Conference address, the American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey (1907) advanced a social theory calling for introducing occupations into school for educational purposes and advocated a radical revisioning of the social function of schooling. But the difference was the social character of the occupations that Gandhi envisaged for introduction into the curriculum. These occupations included Spinning, Weaving, Cloth Dying, Tailoring, Leather Curing (Tanning), Shoe Making, Pottery, Carpentry, Ironsmithy & Metal Work, Tool Making, Printing, Farming, Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Manual Agro-processing, Horticulture, Forestry, Gathering & Using Minor Forest Produce, Construction, Sanitation and Creating Alternative Energy [e.g. Gobar Gas Plant] Sources. Without exception, all these occupations involved manual work and were undertaken primarily by the lower and oppressed classes/castes viz. Dalits, tribals, OBCs and Muslim artisans, with the women among them playing a significant role.

The political message is inescapable: Accord these occupations and the communities engaged in them a central place of dignity in the education system that was never their destiny in Indian history. Gandhi had invariably recognized, as did Dewey too in 1907, that all such productive tasks had a strong knowledge-cum-skill and value content, including scientific, besides their socio-cultural history. This provided a rich pedagogical base for acquiring knowledge, value formation, and building skills in schools. A recent study of similar traditional occupations by Kancha Ilaiah substantiates Gandhi’s rationale for selecting these productive tasks of the lower social order for educational purpose. Significantly, educationist Krishna Kumar noted that “a low-caste child would feel far more at home than an upper-caste child” in schools pursuing the Gandhian curriculum, thereby making “the education system stand on its head.” In other words, the so-called ‘front benchers’ in most of the contemporary classrooms – hailing from the upper classes/castes – would become the ‘back-benchers’ in Nai Taleem, since the Bahujan children (95% of population) with a rich legacy of productive work in their families would naturally take over the leadership of the knowledge acquisition process.

There was, however, a catch. The above expectation could be sustained only if the present multi-layered school system rooted in discrimination is transformed into a fully state-funded Common School System based on Neighbourhood Schools aimed at guaranteeing free education of equitable quality to all. And for this to happen, the pre-condition would be to reverse the neo-liberal policy of promoting commercialization of education and handing over government schools and other public educational institutions to private players for profiteering under Public Private Partnership (PPP) – an agenda that constitutes almost the raison d’etre of NEP, 2020.

NCF, 2005 offered a historic opportunity to challenge the Manuwadi conception of knowledge rooted in caste and patriarchy as well as the neo-liberal framework of converting education into a commodity in the global market. The core challenge was to view education as an intervention for social transformation. Keeping this in mind, the National Focus Group on ‘Work and Education’ constituted by NCERT as part of NCF, 2005 exercise, submitted a comprehensive action plan for radical transformation of the education system through Nai Taleem. However, as was the experience since 1937 Wardha Education Conference, we could not break the shackles of Brahminical-cum-Neo-liberal capitalist ideology.

Hopefully, this AIPSN Conference would give us yet another opportunity to rejuvenate the 140 years old debate, initiated by Mahatma Phule in 1882 and carried forward by Mahatma Gandhi in the 20th century, on the role of education in re-imaging and reconstructing India in consonance with the Constitutional framework of social transformation!

It is never too late to realize that the core battle for India’s masses is the battle for the social character of knowledge!!

– Anil Sadgopal, Bhopal

June 7, 2022

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