By Ken Gnanakan

An educationist's response to the on-going 'Right To Education' debate.


Ken Gnanakan (PhD London)

ACTS Founder & President

India is only now waking up to the Right to Education (RTE) and that is highly commendable. This was Mahatma Gandhi's primary concern with a real burden to properly educate the poorer rural masses. However, as the RTE gets implemented, we will need to do a great deal of thinking on what kind of education to introduce. It will be a disaster if the poor and underprivileged are to immediately be given places in the modernized English medium private schools and their questionable curriculum. The consequences could be counterproductive.


Expecting the underprivileged children to get into private "elite" schools and their "elitist" mentalities could not be a more graphic representation of "fish out of water". For one thing, the underprivileged children who have been distanced from adequate educational opportunities will face some damaging influences on their morale when suddenly thrown into such environments. This would be emotionally damaging. Academically and socially they will be required to keep up with those who have got used to that environment. On the other hand, those who are used to the more sophisticated schooling could be temporarily impeded in their progress, but that is the lesser problem.


My suggestion is for a "transitional" phase. The RTE implementation must get back to considering Gandhiji's integrated education programme for the rural masses. He wrote: "I am a firm believer in the principle of free and compulsory primary education for India. I also hold that we shall realize this only by teaching the children a useful vocation and utilizing it as a means for cultivating their mental, physical and spiritual faculties." There should be a gradual entry into educational experiences and the initial approach should be on skills rather than knowledge development.


There is another issue. Gandhiji's aversion to the English education as introduced by the British is well known. 'less English, but more drill, music, drawing, and of course, a vocation', is what he recommended. Some relevant questions will need to be asked as we introduce modern education for all: Is an English medium immediately required for these children? Even if yes, will they cope with prevailing standards?


The question of the curriculum and syllabus for the masses is something that needs to be addressed. It is unfair to expect people deprived of education to be suddenly introduced to a common curriculum. The integrated approach as against our prevailing "head-heavy" systems will gradually transition them into the learning environment of our more modern schools. While we do believe in a commitment to education for all, we will need to recognize the need for appropriate forms of learning to address this.


We will see a very practical suggestion as we look at Gandhiji's educating the underprivileged: "as to primary education, my confirmed opinion is that the commencement of training by teaching the alphabet and reading and writing hampers their intellectual growth. I would not teach them the alphabet till they have had an elementary knowledge of history, geography, mental arithmetic and the art (say) of spinning. Through these three I should develop their intelligence."


While Gandhi was talking about rural education wanting to "to resuscitate the villages of India" I want to apply the same to educating the underprivileged even in urban settings. In a way the academic exposure of the urban underprivileged is no different to those in rural settings, except that the urbanized students are to some extent acquainted with the wider applications of science and technology, although at very basic levels. Instead of Gandhi's recommendation of the spinning wheel (which even Rabindranath Tagore criticized) we could look at several other "entry points" and transition phases for this kind of education - computers, environmental issues, water and energy problems, roads and buildings, health, music, dance and various talents, skills and crafts etc.


The RTE has come in at the right time as India progresses into a becoming a global giant again. But we need to think more holistically in approaching the underprivileged masses and in doing so integrating them into the mainstream of a rapidly progressing India. It is time to think through even our educational models for the urban dwellers. Gandhi was concerned for an all-round integrated development of the child. Once the child is set on the road to progress, he or she is ready to accept the challenge of any socio-economic environment. Villagers and underprivileged urban dwellers can all be integrated together into a wholesome society that is prepared to take its place in the emerging global village.


To comment on this article, please write to ken@gnanakan.com



+ Global Partner of International Needs

+ Affiliated member of the International Council for Higher Education

+ Member of the International Ecological Engineering Society

ACTS is registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act 1960, Registration No: 80/79-80.