Gandhi’s Ideas of Education and the New Education Policy
Rup Narayan Das

It is worth a while on the eve of Gandhi’s birth anniversary to recall his ideas of education and how they are reflected in India’s New Education Policy (NEP). In the times of artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning, seemingly perhaps it may be out dated to revisit Gandhi’s ideas of education, but then these are only the carriers of the learning process, and not the end product or basic objectives of education. A study of Gandhi’s ideas of education and the NEP clearly reflects a great degree of their convergence. In fact some of Gandhi’s ideas of education have been reinforced in the NEP. The NEP, however, is a comprehensive and compact policy document which addresses the contemporary needs of education in the changing global context while at the same time trying to preserve and promote India’s societal and cultural values. Gandhi’s ideas of education stemmed from his writings in his autobiography, Hind Swaraj, his writings published in Young India and his speeches. It was launched formally in the latter half of 1937 and was called Basic Education. His ideas of education primarily were based on his own experience and thought processes.

Gandhi’s Basic Education pertained to education to be imparted to a child from 7th to 14th year. It had two broad components- Pre-Basic and Post-Basic education. While the Pre-Basic education commenced prior to age of seven, the post-Basic education began from the age of 14. This time line of Basic Education was called New Education or Nai Talim. The timeline of NEP 5+3+3+4 broadly correspond to the Gandhian scheme of Nai Talim. The thrust of NEP on values echoes Gandhi’s emphasis on character building. The NEP says, “The purpose of education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination with sound ethical moorings and values.”1 In Hind Swaraj Gandhi wrote in 1908, "Character building has the first place in it, and that is primarily education. A building erected on that will last.”2 Reinforcing his firm conviction on character building, he wrote in Young India on 1stJune 1921, “My experience has proved to my satisfaction that literary training by itself adds not an inch to one’s moral height and that character building is independent of literary training. I am firmly of the opinion that the Government schools have unmanned us, rendered us helpless and godless. They have filled us with discontent, and providing no remedy for the discontent, have made us despondent.”3 One may not entirely agree with Gandhi, but neither one can dismiss the observation.

The despondency, among the most unsuccessful and even successful people in different echelons of society in contemporary times the world over, to a large extent attests to the lack of character. The cine star Sushant Singh Rajput’s premature death in very suspicious circumstances which is being investigated and its aftermath in Bollywood is only the tip of the iceberg of the malice that afflicts our society, beyond the tinsel town. It also calls for the imperatives of ethical conduct in our personal and professional life. If we look around to the countries both in the West and the East to name only a few, like Japan or Korea and even the Taiwan, we can attribute their all-round success to strong sense of national character and honesty, integrity and hard work. Ethical values are very critical for growth of a nation and individual. No wonder now there is emphasis on ethics both in corporate sector and also in the governmental sector. So much so now there is a paper on ethics for the Civil Services. But ethical values can be inculcated and not learnt. It has to be internalised. It can be imparted through personal and exemplary conduct and not preached, but practised. Gandhi emphasized on ethics so does the New Education Policy.

The emphasis of NEP on mother tongue or home language finds resonance with similar ideas of Gandhi. The NEP mentions that it is well understood that young children learn and grasp nontrivial concepts more quickly in their home language/mother tongue. Home language is usually the same language as the mother tongue or that which is spoken by local communities. Similarly, Gandhi while answering a question as to whether he considered English education necessary for Home Rule, he answered “the foundation that Macaulay laid of education has enslaved us.” Having said this, he hastened to add that he, however, did not suggest that Macaulay had any such intention, but that had been the result. Elucidating further he said, “it is worthy of note that the systems which the Europeans have discarded are the system in vogue among us. Their learned men continually make changes. We ignorantly adhere to their cast-off systems. They are trying each division, to improve its own status. Wales is a small portion of England. Great efforts are being made to revive knowledge of Welsh among Welshmen. The English Chancellor, Mr Llyod George is taking a leading part in the movement to make Welsh children speak Welsh. And what is our condition? We write to each other in faulty English, and from this even our M.A.’s are not free…If this state of things continues for long time posterity will-it is my firm opinion-condemn and curse us.”4 The emphasis of NEP on multilingualism and the power of language endorse Gandhi’s thoughts and ideas.

Yet another aspect of Gandhi’s ideas of education was his preference for education in the home. He wrote in his autobiography that in January 1897 when he landed in Durban he had three children with him-his sister’s ten year son, and his two sons of nine and five years. Faced with the question of where to educate them, he was loath to send them back to India for he believed that young children should not be separated from their parents. He wrote, “The education children naturally imbibe in a well-ordered household is impossible to obtain in hostels.” He therefore, decided to keep the children with himself although he could not devote all the time he wanted to give it to them. These are only some vignettes of Gandhi’s ideas and thoughts on education which resonate in the NEP and they have strong bearing on our society passing through the pangs of transition.

  1. National Education Policy 2020, pp4-5
  2. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, M.K. Gandhi, Navjivan Publishing House, 2015, p113
  3. Towards New Education, M.K. Gandhi, Edited by Bharatan Kumarappa, Navjivan Publishing House, 2005, p3
  4. Ibid pp5-12

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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