Compromising Education: Sakshaar Bharat or Sanskaar Bharat

14th september 2014, the  Prime Minister of a nation addressed its youngest members for the first time not as a politician or national leader but as a mentor,  teacher “marg darshak”. For a nation thirsting for direction and moral guardianship the role of educators is not to be trivialized.

When Baba Ramdev a saffron clad sanyasi drew a large gathering at the Ram Lila ground at New Delhi the emerging,rational, secular, middle class in India was aghast at being unwillingly drawn into the dominant discourse of  hindutva. Long seen as  the non-secular engagement of our nation, grounded on fundamentalist ideals of divisive forces and  irrational sentimentalism rather than  what is the need of the hour, modern rationalism of scientific temperament. It was the same fear and indecision that forced the burgeoning middle class to shy away from debating the legitimacy of Mrs Sonia Gandhi Prime Minister-ship solely on grounds of her country of birth. We are a country of modern rationalist, we do not indulge in irrational dogmatism of traditional religions or question achievement orientation on any other grounds but merit.

My point here is that India is a country of growing middle class, educated and rational, a powerful force to decide its destiny and this class can no longer shy away from its responsibilities towards Nation building. Professor Amartya Sen’s emphasis of the argumentative Indian mind through a systematic and historical documentation  was  an effort to reinstall  and revive the legacy of the Indian identity as a rational thinker.  The reality  however is disconcerting,  and what appears  dominant among the educated  is  a  helpless, desperation  as they try to look for meanings  in social life but only encounter a mechanical and directionless aspirations   that can only be achieved through  moral corruption and social degradation.  We have seen the same desperation in the eyes of the citizens,young and educated , old  and experienced, when they came out in the Streets of Delhi to voice their disgust in the Nirbhaya Case, realizing only too well  that this was  probably one that is documented ,there are thousands that go  unregistered everyday. We have seen the desperate measures adopted by common people, not necessarily always educated ,to  vent out their frustration and  helplessness against the depletion of  moral responsibility that is growing at a much faster rate than the depletion of natural resources . We still naively believe that degradation of environment  is different from degradation of our values. The question we need to ask is, what is it in our education system that keeps us from taking responsibilities, sharing rights and duties, ensuring  tolerance and coexistence and emphasizing the role of balance  and moderation inherent in the universal laws as part of our common value consciousness as humanity.

Mr Modi’s address to the children has for the first time in decades targeted  the very foundation that creates responsible citizenship in a Nation.  Education and Teachers are building blocks of any society or civilization. It is only when an individual learns responsibility that the community flourishes, when the community takes responsibility society flourishes and when society takes responsibility a Nation is born. For the last hundred years of our evolving civilization we have allowed this fundamental block to be misrepresented, misinterpreted and devalued, because individuals were deprived from taking responsibilities , either because of the absence of a role model to emulate in character building or because institutions lacked dynamism in teachers and education system to motivate them, National objectives  was bound to be myopic, non-inclusive  and for short time gains

Lord T B McCaulay, Law Member of the Governor General’s Educational Council was also appointed as President of the General Committee on Public Instructions. He presented his lengthy Minutes in 1835, wherein he advocated education of the upper classes in India and spread of western learning through the medium of English, through which, he felt it was possible to create a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and intellect.

Extracts from his speech of Feb 2, 1835 in the British Parliament, are given below:

“I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief.  Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high caliber, that I do not think we could ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”

Centuries of colonial domination was successful in wiping away our traditional foundations that gave primacy to relationships  and interconnections rather than  isolation and individualism for perpetuating human well being.  In our mad rush to emulate the western paradigm of growth and development , we completely  overlooked and replaced our  Guru Shiksha  parampara with  a  modern  teacher  whose role can be  defined as more of a trainer whose whose primary focus was to churn out a labour force dedicated to contributing to economic growth. Anything and everything that could not be accommodated   within this economic value model was ousted and pushed into the periphery. In our preoccupation to uphold specialized knowledge, cost -benefit ratio and  time efficiency  we have completely overlooked the role of a guardian and a mentor in the life of a human being and their significance for one aiming   to lead a holistic life of balance and wellbeing.

Mr Modi’s  emphasis on the Role of a teacher as a source of continuous learning for the  student not only motivated the spirit of a teaching but also tried to revive the lost glory of the “Guru Shiksha Parampara” in our tradition. Teaching is not simply a non achievers goal in society, a part time engagement for motivated housewives who have time to spare after attending to more urgent household  obligation. Beginning from primary to higher education a teacher fulfills multitude of roles in the life of a student. Ensuring the dignity of a teacher and integrity of teaching  that need to be  supported both as a ‘ specialized profession’  as well as for the spirit of “calling of duty” has to be part of our social ideology. Institutions will then be bound to uphold this ideology.  Mr Modi’s simple anecdotes on Hygiene, environment, energy conservation,  and perspectives of viewing politics as a social obligation for nation building  through  simple examples I am sure made a lasting impression in young minds. His observations about possibilities and opportunities that go unheeded simply because we have never been sensitized  about fundamental issues of human well being in our education, for example  when street lights can be switched off on a full moon night and made into an occasion of celebration  and the story of a little girl who tried to climb a mountain carrying her little brother on her back were meant for simple minds of children but clearly communicated how an individual should see his political obligations not as a burden but as a duty of pleasure.

In the International Literacy Day function The President of India Mr Pranab mukherji  spoke of bringing  the literacy rate  of India not only at par with the world average but also to levels of leading societies of the world. Lauding the National Literacy missions ‘Sakshaar Bharat Programme’  he expressed satisfaction that  2.86 crore learners have been certified  as literate and awarded certificates by National Institute of Open Schooling. While this literacy drive is  significant to improve the numerical statistics  of an educated nation, I doubt it can elevate  the moral character of its nationhood and along with  sakshaar bharat we should also aim at sanskaar bharat.

While aiming to design a holistic, inclusive and locally sensitive model of education we have to be first and foremost be aware that our current education plan is founded on a  self proclaimed colonial designs which needs to be changed to national objectives. In order to do so we have to formulate a comprehensive structure for an education system that is grounded on local and regional ethos. Instead of giving in to the  barrage of contradictions arising out of individualistic capitalism inherent in modern living in our value system, education for North East India  should celebrate the traditionally inherited  legacy of the ‘commons paradigm’ and its embedded values of multiculturalism and  diversity, moral code of the community, collective unanimous decision based on consensus, sustainable resource management and distribution, environmental sensitivity. The communitarian moral social frame can be adopted as an integral part of entire education right from the nursery to the University. Its rich tradition that is an integral part of the mindset in this  region can give an exemplary lead in ushering  a new era of sustainable communities and living   to the entire nation and beyond. Since the region can already boast of an abundance of acquired and lived knowledge base, that is experiential, indigenous, authentic, sustainable, local and diverse. A comprehensive education structure will work to enhance, augment, formalize, democratize and globalize its scope.


Sujata Dutta Hazarika