Building 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat'
India must embrace an educational system both flexible and widespread — bringing literacy and self-sufficiency even to the remote areas of rural India
In the 21st century, people are well accustomed to the swift pace of change, particularly with the arrival of ICT, artificial intelligence and globalisation in a big way. No one was, however, prepared for the sudden upsurge in the pace of change ignited by the Coronavirus pandemic. Every aspect of human life is changing fast and it is not easy at this stage to gauge the extent of this change. Coronavirus has opened up new challenges and lockdowns have given enough time to people to ponder over the post-Corona world that would certainly be significantly different from the pre-Corona routine. I must hasten to add that it would — as per learned experts — be a world in which we have to live with this contagion. Every sector is worried about its future course of action, about how to educate and train its functionaries and workers to create a new work culture, and internalise necessary attitudinal transformation to accept it. Ideation is churning in a big way. In the months of April and May of 2020, spates of webinars, virtual lectures, group discussions, and articles by the 'knowledgeable' are pouring in on every mobile and personal computer screen. The virtual has entered the real face-to-face knowledge exchange in a big way. There is a new interactive world that has emerged visibly.
One of the prime concerns all around is about children and their education. Families have by now spent two months together; parents have closely watched the impact of uncertainty, anxiety and restlessness on the faces of their children. There a is general realisation that with the uncertain duration of lockdowns, social distancing and no vaccine in sight, the focus is bound to shift from the currently suspended face-to-face mode of knowledge acquisition pedagogies to the increased dependence on remote learning, digital learning and open and distance learning. Several universities and even schools have started virtual classes. It is indeed interesting to watch young children with mobiles in hand 'receiving lessons at their home, with parents anxiously sitting around and observing the big 'change'. Things are tough, replete with serious anxieties, tensions, and stressful anticipations but there is a lighter side as well. Many of the 'c/o AirPort Professors' are indeed missing their respectful receptions, comfortable stays in five-star hotels, sumptuous lunches and those most satisfying remuneration envelopes. There is enough time for self-study, interactions with others in virtual space on a one-to-one basis and realising the importance of lifelong learning. It is heartening to find young and old academicians acquiring new skills in the use of new pedagogy and integrating emerging technologies without any hesitation.
This crisis has brought to focus, the increasing realisation that the education of tomorrow must integrate humane aspects of education in every activity, innovation, and interaction. Mahatma Gandhi had learnt it from Ruskin's Book 'Unto this last' and put it in his autobiography. He wrote, 'That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all; that a lawyer's work has the same value as a barber's, inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work; that the life of a labourer, i.e., the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman, is a life worth living.' This was also expressed rather convincingly by John W Gardner, 'An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.' The ideology pursued by the post-independence India was borrowed from the West, it had its positives but its roots were not entrenched deep in the soil of India. Today, after over seven decades, following the heart-rending instances of the movement on foot of the migrant labourers in lakhs has brought us to accept the need of 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat'. Plans are afoot to develop local small scale and cottage industries to give a livelihood to the returnees who are back to their village.
In India top priority must extend to the 'back to the village, return to nature' initiative. Millions of children are witnessing a star-filled sky and clean rivers for the first time. They know, sadly enough, that it would disappear again! The glitz and glare of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation are losing their sheen rather fast. The new ideology of progress must emerge from agriculture universities, rural institutions, from Wardha, Sabarmati and Shanti Niketan, from the ideas of Gandhi, Vivekananda, Gurudev Tagore and others who understood India. It should emerge essentially from treasure troves like the 'Hind Swaraj' of 1909! The foremost requirement is to strive hard to achieve an attitudinal transformation. The return of migrant workers to their home states is going to set the trend for the reformulation of plans and programmes of the Union and the state administrations. India's ideology of progress post-Corona has to be rooted in Indian soil, culture and traditional economic strengths. India can no longer neglect its agriculture, its farmers and local skilled workers and artisans spread across the seven lakh villages that lie on the outskirts of practically every city in India. They need a source of livelihood, a good functional school and an active and alert health centre in their village.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are personal