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An unwavering foundation

Universal access to education is the best way to honour Gandhi’s legacy

An unwavering foundation

In the age of knowledge society, the cognitive capital of a nation indicates not only its present stage of progress and development but also indicate the pace of its future advancement. That simply means how sincerely and carefully its future generations are being educated and prepared and what is happening in its schools and institutions of higher learning. India has much to be proud of its post-independent achievements in education; it has much more to worry about what is yet to be accomplished. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, learning environment in a couple of major universities stands vitiated. It obviously is an outcome of machinations by vested elements to create chaos and obliterate the possibility of a dialogue! The traditional teacher-taught relationship in India has no place for students going to anybody else other than their teacher to redress their grievances if any. Its absence is indeed disturbing.

What is missing in our universities? Gurudev Tagore was very clear on how the learning environment could be energised and upgraded. His key solutions were ideas and imagination. I invariably attempted to comprehend it in these words: Every child is blessed with the power of ideas and imagination. These have to be nourished and nurtured by family, society and school. And to achieve it, nature is the best 'teaching and learning tool'! He was fully aware that our education system does just the opposite; it makes every attempt to impede these two attributes. Every educated person who has gone through rigid school timetables, prescribed textbooks and those fearsome examinations would testify that there was no free time, no time to think. Illustrious visionary Swami Vivekananda could put it in futuristic perspective as early as 1896 in one of his lectures delivered in London, "What we want is progress, development and realisation. No theories ever made men higher. No amount of books can help us to become purer. The Only power is in realisation and that lies in ourselves and comes from thinking. Let men think. A clod of Earth never thinks but it remains only a lump of earth. The glory of man is that he is a thinking being. It is the nature of man to think and therein he differs from animals."

Apparently, we have not heard this for the first time; we know it, teachers and teacher educators teach it to students regularly but if we look within, it would be clear that we often find ourselves deficient on comprehending its implications in our own individual cases. The three words 'Let men think' encapsulates a great goal before us, if one thinks, there is every probability that it would help develop scientific temper and attitude. Is this the missing element in our institutions of higher learning? Scientific temper and attitude is necessary in the present times but not necessarily sufficient! It has to be integrated with humanistic temper. To what extent does the curriculum we transact in our institutions remain actively conscious of this requirement? The continuum that should emerge in the process of education of every child must ensure nurture of moral, ethical and humanistic values. In pedagogical transactions, the motivating force would be- raise questions, seek answers and discover solutions. And that is the dialogical tradition so deeply entrenched in the process of knowledge quest n India.

It remains far more relevant, valid and acceptable in current times than ever before. Mahatma Gandhi wanted education to draw the best out of body, mind and spirit. It is universally accepted

that education that does not focus on character development is of little use. The basic essential in education is to prepare young personals with fully-developed critical thinking faculties, along with empathy, compassion and readiness to contribute to the larger goals of human welfare.

India remembers the Mahatma on January 30 of each year. It is also the time to remember him and recall the values and principles for which he lived and sacrificed his life. Right from his initial days in South Africa, education remained his topmost agenda throughout his life.

He himself said that basic education was his greatest contribution. In this background, on January 30, 2020, a large number of young persons who should be in classrooms, laboratories, on field trips in farms and forests are on streets, managing crowds of fellow-agitators! The protests are against certain decisions taken by the Parliament of India. Indian democracy awards everyone the right to protest and express one's opinion. It has no place for vandalism and violence. So many interpretations are floating all-around; the agitators claim that Muslims would be ousted from India, the establishment totally denies it and claims that nothing of this sort could even be contemplated in India.

Politicians of various hues, ousted from power by the people are envisioning a god-given opportunity to fuel the fire! For around six weeks, over a million people are being inconvenienced every day, over two lakh vehicles have to move on diverted roots every day, jamming other roads as well. Children are not able to reach schools, businessmen and their employees are not the concern of anyone; neither the protesters nor the government! No one remembers Gandhi's talisman- "Whatever you do or launch, think of the last man in the line and ponder how will it benefit him?" Political leaders could have persuaded the organisers to not cause avoidable inconvenience and loss of daily bread to the last man in the line. Think of the family of a daily wager, his children and no earnings for over a month! It is being rumoured that all such people are being compensated every day! If true, is this the tribute we are paying to Gandhi this year on his martyrdom day?

JS Rajput works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are strictly personal

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