Character formation among youth through acculturation of education is the only hope to address the woes of the nation
For over 50 years, teachers and teacher educators like me have been repeatedly emphasising that 'education acculturates, that education, in nutshell, is a character formation. It is the process of value internalization and transformation of a layperson into a personality. Not only this, education paves the path ahead of a person from humanity to divinity. I fondly quote from a letter Gandhi Ji wrote on January 24, 1922: "We should remember that immediately on the attainment of freedom our people are not going to secure happiness. As we become independent, all the defects of the system of election, injustice, the tyranny of the richer classes and also the burden of running administration are bound to come upon us. People would begin to feel that during those days (British era), there was more justice, there was better administration, there was peace, and, to a great extent, honesty among the administrators as compared to the days after independence. The only benefit of independence, however, would be that we would get rid of slavery and the blot of insult resulting therefrom." Universal education, he was convinced, was the only hope. After around a hundred years, a District Magistrate establishes through his uncivil and arrogant behaviour at a marriage party, that Gandhi Ji and all others who had so much faith in education were not necessarily correct in their premise on the potential of education!
He belongs to the bureaucratic setup that was characterized by its 'Steel Frame" in British times. One could presume he is well-educated, good in studies, qualified from the most prestigious of the competitions for the young persons, and all that. Presumably, must have read NCERT books, all of which publish Gandhi Ji's 'Jantar' on the first inner page. Yes, it is a capsule that comprehensively contains the basic elements of character formation. Gandhi Ji wanted everyone, whether an ordinary citizen or one in a position of power, never to forget the face of the 'man, who was last in the line'! Further, Gandhi's yearning was that whatever one does, the welfare of this person in the last line must be in consideration all along. In short, he expected him to get human dignity — an inherent fundamental right that was denied to him for ages. A District Magistrate enjoys power, authority and perks that could restore human dignity to thousands. Many of them have successfully done that. That, in Gandhian assertion, could 'lead to Swaraj or self-rule for the hungry and also spiritually-starved millions of our countrymen'! What happened in Tripura was unauthorized, uncalled for and indecent humiliation of the dignity of the citizen, so piously promised by the Constitution of India! Which provision of the law authorizes a DM to manhandle any citizen of India? The bureaucratic 'brotherhood' would ensure that the matter is hushed up quietly. I remember when another specimen from this elite brotherhood had slapped an employee in the office in Lucknow over a decade ago, nothing happened to him! Many more could be recalled; each one of these poses a challenge to the process of preparation of future generations. It vociferously indicates the failure on the front of character building and value inculcation.
And the challenge, by no means, comes from the bureaucracy. How oxygen shortage has created havoc for numerous families and patients clearly indicates systemic failure in anticipating future requirements, and mobilizing resources. The system could not envision that in these times of unprecedented national agony and catastrophe, 'unscrupulous element' will not hesitate to create a black market of life-saving requirements generated by galloping numbers of Corona-infected patients daily. People are dying on roads, hospital gates and stretchers inside due to the non-availability of beds, oxygen shortage, and widespread apathy and insensitivity towards the troubles and travails of the common man. Corona testing rates are sky-rocketing, owners of ambulances have a hey-day, and there is no evidence of any functional corrective system or initiative. There is an artificially created shortage of all that could help Corona victims survive the ordeal. Injections, medicines, oxygen concentrators, and anything that is in demand is available, for a price that is determined by the 'possessor', and it gallops in direct proportion to the urgency and agony of the seeker! Trust me, it is all being conducted and manipulated by educated persons, no illiterate one involved! In the mid-1970s, brilliant Hindi poet Dushyant Kumar wrote a famous couplet: 'We all are all partners in crime; some are on bail, others absconding'! Eminent educationist, an internationally acknowledged expert on education of the weaker sections, Professor NK Ambasth laments: "Have we, educationists, not failed miserably in preparing adequate numbers of young persons of character, commitment, honesty, sensitivity, and willingness to serve others! Is this not the time to recalibrate the system fully and totally? It is the national responsibility to ensure that it prepares 'humane' human beings."
There is a lot that is positive and encouraging before the nation. A transformation is possible. Let us hope our social, cultural and learning systems shall work in cohesion and harmony, and attempt to establish the practicability of Gandhian hope expressed in the letter referred to above: "But there is hope, if education spreads throughout the country. From that, people would develop from their childhood the qualities of pure conduct, god-fearing and love. Swaraj would give us happiness only when we attain success in the task. Otherwise, India would become the abode for grave injustice and tyranny of the rulers."
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are personal