Written way back in 1916, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, which is a is a critique of the then much hailed “ modernism”, has a chapter on Education. Very unambiguously, he explains his strong views on the system of education introduced into India by the British. He himself was a beneficiary of this system but he claims that he had to unlearn what he learned from this western education in order to fulfill his dharma.
In order to appreciate his views – which will appear outlandish to us, as it did to his readers then – we too, will have to, like Gandhi, liberate our mind from the conditioning that it has been subjected to by the legacy of four centuries of colonization.
This is what he had this to say about the western concept of education (Gandhi’s quotes in bold italics followed by my limited efforts to understand/interpret his views.)
Gandhiji: What is the meaning of education? It simply means a knowledge of letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used and abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be used to take away his life, and so may a knowledge of letters.-----------
me: The concept of education that we inherited from the British aimed at increasing knowledge but not wisdom, and intelligence but not the intellect. The failure of modern civilization is the de-linking of the former from the latter, in both the cases, for which the modern education is largely responsible. To this divorce of knowledge and intelligence(literacy?) from wisdom and intellect( education in the true sense?) can be attributed the headlong plunge of modern civilization into disaster on a global scale. It is in this unfortunate severance of literacy from education that we should seek explanation for, say for instance, nuclear research prioritizing the destructive potential over the constructive. Just imagine, what a different place this world would have been if the resources spent on developing nuclear bombs were directed towards energy and medical research! This is an example of how education becomes an abused instrument.
Gandhiji: The ordinary meaning of education is a knowledge of letters. To teach boys reading, writing and arithmetic is called primary education. ………………………..Our ancient school system is enough. Character-building has the first place in it and that is primary education. A building ( by this he means modern education based on western model) erected on that foundation will last.
me. Gandhi strongly believed that education should imperatively impart morality and values that would create in the individual self- respect and respect for others, make him conscious of the spiritual being in him, train him to tap the strengths and potential that lie therein and sensitise him to his role and duty as the member of a superior species. In short, basic or primary education should focus on enabling the student to internalize the concept of dharma. Once this is achieved, modern education can be imparted – ‘a building erected on that foundation will last”, for then, there will be no misuse of that instrument called education. Science without conscience, development without humane considerations, a worldview without factoring in the variety in human circumstances – all these are the products of the narrow definition of education on which the western model is constructed. He goes on to say . . . .
A peasant earns his bread honestly. He has ordinary knowledge of the world. He knows fairly well how he should behave towards his parents, wife, his children and his fellow villagers. He understands and observes the rules of morality. But he cannot write his own name. What do you propose to do by giving him a knowledge of letters? Will you add an inch to his happiness? Do you wish to make him discontented with his cottage or his lot?------- - - -
me: the last sentence. that is exactly what colonization did - alienated communities from their traditional culture, from traditional way of life. The new order, mistakenly believed by the colonizer, to have universal applicability, was imposed. The biggest loser was the African continent. India was affected, but not irretrievably, for she had a highly evolved value based culture to fall back on – a fact that is recorded to have confused the colonizer. They often mention that even the most anglicized Indian, even with his western education continues to remain an Indian at heart.
Gandhiji: Now, let us take higher education. I have learned Geography, Astronomy, geometry etc. What of that? In what ways have I benefited myself or those around me? Why have I learned these things? Professor Huxley has thus defined education: “ That man I think has had a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will…..whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature…whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of tender conscience ….who has learnt to hate all vileness and to respect others as himself..”
If this is true education, I must emphatically say that the sciences I have enumerated above I have never been able to use for controlling my senses. Therefore, whether you take elementary education or higher education, it is not required for the main thing. It does not make men of us. it does not enable us to do our duty.
me: It is important to note that Gandhi believed that the primary duty of education is to make “make men of us”. Gandhi repeatedly reminds man that he is a higher being than the beast. What distinguishes man from the beast is his dharma consciousness. Any system of education that fails to instill this dharma consciousness, or ‘fails to make men of us” is worthless.
Gandhiji: In its (education’s) place it can be of use and it has its place when we have brought our senses under subjection and put our ethics on a firm foundation…..
me: Modern education is constructive or rather becomes not destructive only when its recipient has evolved spiritually enough to be in total command of his bestial self; ie when the material man is managed by the spiritual man.