– by Ritika Chawla, Curriculum Head, ISLI
Education as we know it
Education in today’s world is a comparative between conventional or the so-called English education and an alternative form based on revolutionary ideas such as Nai Talim, provided by Mahatma Gandhi.
There is a considerable role of education in who we are and what we become. The significance of education today is quantified through numbers – test scores, pay packages, fee, highest percentages in board examinations, etc. In a country like India where education aims to provide a means to or rather an ‘escape’ to a better life, we have confused literacy with education. Literacy in itself is no education, but being a quantifiable term again, this is what governments and society aspire for. Linked with this, education influenced by the current industrial economy focuses more and more on material wealth, with the belief that wealth is prosperity and progress for a country. It encourages fierce competition instead of cooperation, along with specialization of skills, instead of holistic understanding.
The focus of institutional education or schooling is to pave a way out of poverty for students in developing countries such as India. But this is a just one-sided story.
The other side of education is the role it is playing in the separation of children from nature, from their family and community, enforcement of a sedentary lifestyle, etc. Schooling today is about the division of knowledge into subjects, instead of being a holistic understanding of the world around us. It further emphasizes on text-based rather than experience-based learning. With the stress on competitions and ranks, the schooling system has set a mould, and those students who don’t fit into this get termed as “failures”. Whereas the real aim of education ought to be to build an equitable and sustainable society.
About Nai Talim (or should we call it New Education?)
The idea of Nai Talim was given by Mahatma Gandhi many decades before we attained independence from the British. Also known as Basic Education for all, Nai Talim was meant for children between the ages of 6 to 14 years, i.e. primary schooling. Based on the principle that knowledge and work are inseparable, this radical educational philosophy aims at providing knowledge through praxis, aimed at bringing about all-round development of the child. Children were also expected to do activities such as cooking and cleaning on their own. In such a scenario, the role of the teacher was more of a facilitator and the lines between learning and teaching were blurred, as the teacher was also expected to learn from the students. The model was child-centric and not teacher-centric. The curriculum was supposed to be integrated with the productive work being the nucleus, from where learning for other subjects could be derived. Nai Talim also spoke about the role of the State and the Community. The productive work of the students was to be bought by the State and also help the community in becoming self-reliant. This, in turn, made the schools financially self-supporting, with the productive work helping to pay the teachers’ salary and other expenses. Nai Talim indirectly implied a radical restructuring of the society in India, where productive handicrafts were being associated with the lowest groups in the hierarchy of the caste system. Knowledge of the production processes involved in crafts, such as spinning, weaving, bookbinding, etc. had been the job of the lowest strata of the traditional caste-based society. A majority of this strata belonged to the category of ‘untouchables’. India’s own tradition of education, as well as the colonial education system, had emphasized skills such as literacy and acquisition of knowledge, of which the upper castes had a monopoly. Gandhi hoped that Nai Talim would change the opinion that manual work was inferior to mental work.
Hence, Nai Talim focused on social transformation, with the change in the established structure of opportunities for education. It hoped for schools to generate resources within for their sustenance and reaching out to all students in a community. This financial independence would have also helped schools to remain politically independent from State’s intervention.
Gandhi said “We will know what type of education to provide if we know what type of society we want”, maybe it is time to build a society that is more sustainable and equitable.
(Excerpt from the published version on ‘The New Leam’ -http://thenewleam.com/index.php/2016/04/13/rediscovering-gandhis-nai-talim-by-ritika-chawla/)