Education for All — for Peace, Development, Skills

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 5 Oct 2020

Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

World over, education is considered essential for all and most countries have good facilities for imparting education to its citizens. What does the broad term education mean? Does it mean reading, writing and doing some mathematical exercises such as addition, etc?

It encompasses these attributes but it means much more than this. Good education imparts some knowledge of one’s history and geography; about kings, dynasties, their battles, their palaces or forts; about rivers, mountains, lakes, deserts, what type of crops grow in different climates, and so on. A student should also have some idea of villages and towns where there they may be factories for mass production.

Today’s world is driven by science and technology — various electrical and electronic gadgets and computers and internet. So a student should have some knowledge of these subjects, failing which he would face difficulties in life.

Again, medicine and nursing are important areas of study that subsequently lead to promoting health and eliminating disease in people. There are different types of medicine — the western type of medicine and surgery and the Ayurvedic type prevalent in India, Sri Lanka etc based on the use of plants and herbs and the concept of prevention of disease. There is another lesser known type — the Unani   system that presumably started in Greece that was known as Unan.

Climate change, global warming, melting of glaciers are posing grave threats to not only our lives but also the environment or ecology around us. Many countries have made a study of environment essential. India’s constitution was amended to make free right to education up to age 14, and also study of the environment essential in schools. Because of this right, schools were opened in remote regions of the country where the number of students could be very small — sometimes even ten or twelve.

Of course education is at the school level and at College, University and research levels. Realising its importance, many countries have well known institutions that not only impart education but also bring glory to the country.  To take some examples, USA has MIT, Harvard University; England has the reputed Cambridge and Oxford universities. France is well known for Sorbonne and Ecole Normal Superieure  and other institutions. Germany also has several excellent institutions including Heidelberg, Humboldt and others. The   University of Amsterdam    in Netherlands is also of high grade in imparting education in various disciplines. Portugal also has some fine institutions one of which is the University of Lisbon.

Russia also boasts of some specialised institutes — Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Moscow Aviation Institute, and others. There are  academic institutions in other countries of Europe which are not being referred to here. There are some excellent institutions in the Eastern part of the World — Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand etc. India had two excellent institutes in prehistoric times Taxila and Nalanda. The former is now in Pakistan. The latter was burnt by some bigoted invaders. Fortunately, Nalanda has again been rebuilt by India. There are some good universities in today’s India including Delhi University and IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and others.

I have referred to academic institutions that do reach and impart education in various areas and disciplines. But at the school level certain skills are also being provided. In fact, Gandhi in his book   Hind Swaraj (Home Rule) written in 1909, talked about modern civilisation, why India was colonised by the British, and Nai Talim (New Form of Education). The book was quickly banned by the British colonial government for being seditious.

In this book, Gandhi stressed on education for girls and also on skills. There was a huge gap between the numbers of girl students in comparison to those of boys receiving schooling. He had written that if you teach a boy, only he gets education. On the other hand if you teach a girl, the education is for the family including her children after she gets married.

For Gandhi, education should be child centred, uphold dignity of labour and common social values. He also was clear that education should not be only academic in nature but also impart various types of skills — relating to the domestic sphere or the community or farming. Skills also help a child to understand some of the academic components of what he is learning. For example, a spinning wheel — charkha consists mainly of a wooden wheel. It is driven not by any machine but by hands of the spinner to produce indigenous cloth called khadi. If something goes wrong, it will not be possible to drive the wheel. A skilled person would be able to remove the problem and make the charkha  function properly again. Gandhi advocated children learning how to keep their homes as well as toilets clean.

Implements or tools do get damaged and need some repair. A cart wheel often needs to be looked into after some time. Similarly a leaking straw roof of village huts needs repairs. If a student has acquired some skills, he would be able to take care of some of these problems. In today’s language this type is called vocational training although today the gadgets that need repairs are of a different nature — electrical, technical and more.

One of the main reasons that education is strongly promoted by governments is its relation to development. Most countries that have good academic institutions are developed in most areas — food and nutrition, housing, employment facilities and democracy. There is an economic and social gap between the rich and the poor but to a much lesser extent than in undeveloped nations where the conditions of the poor in all aspects of life are abysmal. Many countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America fall in the latter category, with exceptions such as Japan, China, Egypt, Brazil and partly India. So development and education are interlinked.

In India, many poor families send their children for schooling at least up to secondary (class X) level for education and ability to get a good job. Many students of such poor families do drop out from schooling due to various factors. Occasionally, one comes across some poor students performing excellently and going for higher education in Universities, and doing well in life.

So strong is the feeling of good education for a decent life among the Indian population that students overcome all odds to pursue their objective. One case recently came to light when a few girl students went on a hunger strike in a village. Why? Their school had classes only up to standard 10. For studying beyond, up to Class 12, the girls had to walk a few km to go to another school. Their protests for up gradation went in vain. Ultimately they went on a fast and their efforts to have Class 12 in their school, succeeded.

There is a proverb in Hindi that states ‘If you study, you will become a rich prosperous man.’ The reverse is also true.

Let us all strive together to have good, decent education in the world. We will then have great scholars such as Marie Curie who discovered radioactive elements, Albert Einstein who developed the brilliant equation connecting energy with mass m and square of velocity c. We also had an Indian mathematician named Ramanujan whose brilliance was recognised by no person other than G H Hardy  of Cambridge University more than a century back.

Ultimately good education provides not just ability to read, write and do simple mathematics, but also skills and social values of students. In addition it generates a more humane, harmonious civilisation.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Oct 2020.

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