Kunwar Shekhar Vijendra
The National Education Policy-2020 (NEP) seeks to make India a global knowledge super power in light of its rich heritage of ancient & eternal knowledge and thought. The vision of the policy expresses commitment to human rights, sustainable development & living, global well-being and to be a true global citizen. The avocation of knowledge, wisdom and truth has always been Indian thought and philosophy as the highest human goal. Thus, the aim of education was not just the attainment of knowledge but a complete realization and liberation of the self.
Gandhi is known differently as a leader, a preacher but most importantly an educator and a practitioner. The institution of the much-lauded National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has given us a big opportunity to find elements of Gandhi in the everyday realities of education in India. For Gandhi, education was not complete without the element of learning. According to him, the body, the mind and the spirit encompass a person. He believed that the education system only gave dominion to the mind and kept the body & spirit somewhere at the shelf. NEP 2020 after almost three decades has envisaged a similar shift in philosophy wherein it holds that education in its primitive form of rote learning fails to get the expected outcomes of human development. In order to find a remedy, the NEP has put such education at the backseat and has given illustriousness to the idea of learning which is holistic, integrated, inclusive, enjoyable and engaging.
A unique & interesting idea of learning how to learn has also been an integral part of NEP 2020. This will be put to practice through a multitude of curricular and pedagogy reforms. Gandhi also believed that the knowledge, which is imparted through our education system, only caters to the mind and hardly the body and the spirit. He was in fact ambiguous about the wholesome development of the mind too because the education system mostly fills students with information which has no direct and practical utility in their everyday lives. As an unpleasant fact, it still holds true for the current Indian education system.
Any discussion about Gandhi and Education is incomplete without the reference of Nayi Talim which believed in education for life, through life and throughout life. The idea of learning emphasizes greatly on the synthesis between vocation and education, a feature which has come out very prominently in the NEP 2020. Words like ‘behavior’, ‘ethics’, ‘hygiene/cleanliness’, ‘cooperation’ in fact have an uncanny resemblance to Gandhi’s vision of education.
A clear and obvious emphasis has been given to make vocational crafts, arts, physical education etc. an integral component of regular classroom teaching. For Gandhi, skill training and vocational education was important as it makes a student self-reliant and capable of leading life independently. He firmly believed that such education is self-serving, sustainable, and long lasting. Gandhi mentioned skills like handicraft, agriculture, cattle rearing etc. which may not be much relevant today but certainly offers contemporary alternatives like digital skilling, hand-crafts, etc. It will only be possible with proactive role of teachers who are not just the enablers but are also co-learners in this process. Gandhi underlined that students must not act as mere imitators but instead should be brave and bold to have meaningful dialogues with their mentors to create a more engaging learning environment, something which has clearly been the priority of the NEP 2020.
Another very significant aspect of Gandhian way of education is a deeper understanding of inequity and discrimination. Gandhi always advocated knowledge democracy and supported for knowledge to be owned, viewed and disseminated by everybody. This idea of knowledge equity has been a part of different National Education Policies in India and emerged emphatically as The Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) in the present NEP. In addition to giving equal access to education to these marginalized groups, Gandhi also offered a powerful idea of ‘lok-vidya’ or the knowledge of the people which finds a small place in the NEP 2020.
Gandhi’s life and principles have echoed the importance of local knowledge and local wisdom. A very critical tool to explore this local wisdom is through the means of language, something that Gandhi ardently talked about throughout his life. Gandhi vehemently opposed the idea of English as the medium of instruction as learning. The NEP 2020 adequately highlights the importance of multilingualism, especially the inclusion of mother tongue, in the process of learning and how earlier the children are exposed to their native languages, the better they become at relating their realities. Gandhi in some sense was indeed ahead of his times.
According to Gandhi ji, the education system should be such that it does not burden rather it is accessible, acceptable and omnipresent. Therefore, as long as possible the teaching should be in mother tongue. He was of the opinion that no one should be deprived of the education at least for fourteen years and the education should be free and accessible. He envisioned an education system that would help in the overall development of personality. He emphasized on compulsory training in key skills like farming, horticulture, cotton spinning, wood art, blacksmithy, pottery etc. He advocated enriching of various regional languages along with the development of science & technology subjects which cannot be taught in mother tongue.
The NEP entails solid provisions to improve the current status of education and enhance accessibility, affordability of the seekers of education in vernacular languages or bilingual form wherever possible. The policy supports Gandhi’s idea that the end state of education should not merely the obtaining of degree but the learners should get the skills and empowerment so that we produce entrepreneurs who are job givers and not merely job seekers. Only such products can contribute in nation building.
The 21st century demands scientific and technical skills as well, this will require modernization of traditional skills and skilling in the emerging disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, block chain technology, robotics, quantum computing, bioprinting, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, DevOps etc. Keeping this in mind the NEP has expanded the Ghandhian thinking in the field of education & learning by incorporating the humane factor along with the most sought after skilling factor. The ancient knowledge, rich culture and traditions have been highlighted appropriately in NEP, which shall definitely realize Gandhian dream of education.
The much neglected Guru- Shishya Parampara is being restored and the Guru has been kept at the center of the policy. The much needed affinity between the teacher and the student shall be restored which will definitely contribute in fruitful learning and Nation building. The teacher shall be given the due honour and place in the society. This will motivate the teacher to perform better to turn their disciples not only to skilled person but also into better human beings.
This article is an effort to understand Gandhi and his philosophies of education vis-à-vis their inclusion in NEP. Some of Gandhi’s idea around education may have their own pros & cons but it is also true that Gandhi lived and preached in a highly transformative period for India, when the economy was at its low, countrymen were not educated, political instabilities were in existence and the county was facing multitude of problems. Gandhi gave us the much needed preliminary ideas to build the nation. His belief was right that Education is going to be the very first step towards prosperity and self-sustenance and no doubt, its steady prolongation in form of policies like the National Education Policies re-affirms those beliefs.
The world is undergoing some really tough times. The Covid-19 pandemic took the country by surprise and led to some unprecedented situations. Gandhi and his thoughts have never been more relevant as they are today. We need to acknowledge each other’s diversities & identities and respect each other. The most prominent way to begin this conversation would be through the means of Education. It is only through meaningful education that we will be able to create a more responsible and confident generation of learners who will be global citizens in real sense. Until that happens, Gandhi and his philosophies shall never fade away from our memories and NEP-2020 is the best example of the adoption of many of his principles & ideas about education.
(The author is Co-founder & Chancellor, Shobhit University; Co-Chairman, ASSOCHAM National Council on Education; and Advisor & Central Board Member, Harijan Sevak Sangh)