Mahatma Gandhi, in spite of not getting recognition as an educationist or a scholar in the academic sense, became nucleus of study and research for many around the world in his life time. Gandhi’s works and views on almost all issues related to his own life and day-to-day practices of common man in particular, are the subjects of analysis, observation, study and research even today, not only in India, but in all the six continents of the globe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. The scientist like Albert Einstein, who was a contemporary of the Mahatma, wrote about his life, works and views. Gandhi finds place in the writings of a Russian philosopher like Leo Tolstoy. A modern historian RB Cribb mentioned about the worth and value of Gandhi’s thoughts declaring his own ethical thinking to be greatly influenced by him. A scholar like Louis Fischer wrote the biography of Mahatma under the title, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. This is, in reality, for the reason that Gandhi is one of the few prominent figures of the world, drawn predominantly from socio-political spheres, who even after so many years of their passing away remain alive in hearts of masses world over on the strength of their exemplary works and the views centred around the supreme human value of Ahimsa.
Those who are familiar with Mahatma Gandhi’s views on different aspects of life know it well that the Mahatma had extraordinary and distinctive viewpoint pertaining to a subject like education. Gandhi illuminated education for its true worthy sense. After Socrates who was of the firm opinion that education is to draw out what is already within, Gandhi was perhaps the second in the entire history of the world to observe education categorically and defined it with sound logic as per the basic spirit in the root of the word education.
Explaining education Mahatma Gandhi said, “By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man –body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education.” [Harijan, July 7, 1937].
He also said, “I hold that true education of the intellect can only come through a proper exercise and training of the bodily organs, e.g. hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, etc. In other words, an intelligent use of the bodily organs in a child provides the best and quickest way of developing his intellect. But unless the development of the mind and body goes hand-in-hand with a corresponding awakening of the soul, the former alone would prove to be a poor lop-sided affair…A proper and all-round development of the mind, therefore, can take place only when it proceeds pari passu with the education of the physical and spiritual faculties of the child. They constitute an indivisible whole. According to this…, therefore, it would be a gross fallacy to suppose that they can be developed piecemeal or independently of one another.” [Harijan, May 8, 1937]
In this very perspective he had also mentioned, “It is a superstition to think that the fullest development of man is impossible without knowledge of the art of reading and writing. That knowledge undoubtedly adds grace to life, but it is in no way indispensible for man’s moral, physical, or material growth.” [Harijan, March 8, 1935]
After a general observation and analysis of the above three statements of the Mahatma about the meaning of education and also the basic spirit in its root, it is easy to grasp the merit of his viewpoint in this regard. After understanding this, no one can deny the uniqueness of his ideas espousing all-round development of one’s personality in particular. However, if one analyses the Gandhian viewpoint of education minutely, particularly in the light of the above three statements of the Mahatma, he will undoubtedly arrive to the following three noteworthy conclusions:
l Education of the Gandhian view is a continuous process of drawing out the best, which is already there within every individual, with the sole purpose of all-round development of one’s personality for making the life meaningful with absolute freedom as per the old Indian dictum of Sa Vidya ya Vimuktaye;
2. The process of education essentially and inevitably includes the development of both –body and mind and, thus, it is the means for self-sufficiency of a human being in all manners, again to pave the way for making the life worth living; for, Mahatma Gandhi himself categorically mentioned, “I hold that the highest development of the mind and the soul is possible under such a system of education”; and
3. The sole purpose of education of the Gandhian view is to make man complete through his all-round development, and self-sufficiency that is attained by co-ordination and harmony; hence, education, in fact, emerges, as the most important aspect of man’s life.
All the above three conclusions, drawn from the short discussion on the subject in hand, prove the significance of the Gandhian view of education in current perspective especially for the reasons as follows:
l From the spirit in the root of the Gandhian view of education, and also from viewpoint of explanation of the subject in hand, development of one’s personality in toto in particular, it emerges as apt and timely –in current perspective as well as in times to come, provided it is applied in its refined form in consonance with the prevailing situations of space;
2. Starting with harmony, the Gandhian view of education pines for co-ordination and wider co-operation, hence this viewpoint becomes exemplary. It does not matter if it calls for starting from individual level to pave the way for the larger welfare of humanity; and
3. It is fully applicable –all over the world and not just to a particular region, or a country like India, due to its potential to self-sufficiency and to achieve an expected goal in life.
After assessing and observing the relevance of the Gandhian view of education, it is also inevitable to comprehend the basic and practical plan or the programme connected to it [particularly without touching and discussing plans or suggestions made from time-to-times in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi himself like that of Wardha Scheme of 1937, contents of which may be worthy of consideration in current perspective, if these contents and suggestions are refined in prevailing situation of the county, or as per the demand of time] we, nevertheless, need to analyze and discuss the steps to be taken in current perspective while having the Gandhian viewpoint as the nuclei for making the process of learning real and result oriented.
In this regard, it can be mentioned here with certainty that the Gandhian view of education starts from the primary level of learning in a school, Pathshala in Indian terms. It is the stage when a child, free of worldly affairs to a large extent; in other words, with purity of heart and mind, can start well. At this very level, as per the desire of the Mahatma and also the stress laid by him, primary or basic level of education must include the process of physical, intellectual and moral development of a student on the one hand and the learning of the handicraft on the other. The learning of the handicraft can be well observed in context of preparing the learner for self-sufficiency by efforts or work in a particular direction, making her or him capable of earning thereby creating conducive situations for a bright future from economic viewpoint.
As the economic aspect is one of the most important aspects of life; it plays a vital role in the making man’s life, which according to Vedic-Hinduism is the Artha –one of the four Purusharthas [aims] of human life to achieve a goal. Therefore, considering this to be the vital in man’s life, Mahatma Gandhi mentioned in short, but very cogently in the Harijan on April 6, 1540, “I hold that any scheme [or plan], which is sound from the educative point of view and is efficiently managed is bound to be sound economically.”
Thus, in short, Gandhi truly emphasized the need of a fourfold education system, essentially comprising of learning as per the prescribed syllabi, that I call general education; physical exercises for the proper growth of body and mind; imparting moral and ethical knowledge for realizing and understanding one’s duty and responsibility towards community, society, nation and humanity as a whole, and making them the basis of her/his day-to-day practices and technical [takniki] know-how for self-sufficiency, prosperity, especially in the economic sphere. Accordingly he also stressed on starting from the primary stage of learning so that a concrete foundation could be laid to build a strong structure of one’s personality. This could be well observed in the spirit of one of Mahatma Gandhi’s write ups that appeared in the Harijan on November 2, 1947 in which he, while making the concept of Buniyadi Shiksha as the nuclei, asserted, “All education must be self-supporting, that is to say, in the end it will pay its expenses excepting the capital which will remain intact.”
This process, in the same manner as it starts from the primary level, goes further with the sole purpose of making one capable of one’s self-sufficiency. For her/his all-round development of personality through learning and working, both, and as said already, it starts from the primary level, proceeding further to the secondary and from the secondary to the higher level of education. In this process the most important and worth mentioning thing is this that it prepares one for self-sufficiency in all manners of the fourfold education system right from the beginning, i.e. primary level of learning. A student gains knowledge and training step-by-step and along with a degree in higher education, and even before that, becomes capable of economic self-sufficiency on the basis of technical knowledge [Buniyadi Shiksha] in a particular vocation along with moral-ethical and physical education.
This process has a sound prospective to make the learner, a student, capable of self-sufficiency, including economic autonomy even before completion of her/his graduation or post-graduation, if she/he goes by the rule book. Without seeking for a government job she/he can become capable enough to start her/his own work [business] on the basis of the skill acquired as the Buniyadi Shiksha in a particular field. Doubtless, the role of teachers in this process in critically important. However, if one goes further for higher studies, she/he must pass through this very fourfold educational process, which, to repeat, essentially includes technical education and the following observation of Mahatma Gandhi, in respect of higher education:
“There would be degrees for mechanical and other engineers. They would be attached to the different industries, which should [manage] for the training of the graduates as per the need.”