The Education Commission was fully justified in calling its Report, Education and National Development, to highlight the interdependence of education and development. It also tried to indicate how Indian education will have to be transformed, improved and expanded to promote national development. This attempt was only a limited success and gives several pointers for making a second and better planned attack on the problem.
Some of the important ones of these pointers are briefly discussed below:
(1) The Commission did not give a clear picture of “development”, that is, of the future society we should strive to create in the country and the steps to be taken to create it. This exercise has therefore to be taken up afresh. In fact, it is essential to maintain a nation-wide debate on the subject in the years ahead.
(2) While the Commission did prepare a fairly good blueprint of the national system of education, its Report did not highlight the close links between education and society. Nor did it elucidate how the dialectical process of education leads, on the one hand, to a strengthening and perpetuation of the status quo and on the other, to social change and development. The proposals to be framed in future for the creation of national system of education will, therefore, have to be clearly justified with reference to the new society we desire to create.
(3) A very persistent effort needs to be made to educate all concerned to realize that a radical reconstruction of education and a socio-economic transformation have to go together. It is very often found that people believe that major educational changes can be brought about without attempting corresponding changes in society itself. Such illusions do a considerable harm and have to be dispelled.
(4) There is very little understanding about the price that society has to pay to create a national system of education. Not too infrequently, this price is highly underestimated. Very often, people believe that this price is essentially in terms of financial investment, say, six per cent of the national income. It is very essential to educate the people to realize that “money” is the least of all the different prices that society has to pay for creating a good educational system.
Money no doubt is needed for educational reform; but money alone, whatever its quantum, can never achieve the goal. The more significant price that society has to pay for education includes the investment of “thought”; of dedication; of sustained hard work by teachers, students, educational administrators and others; of courage to make hard and unpleasant decisions; and above all of a willingness to change the society itself.
(5) It needs also to be emphasized that every citizen and every social group is an actor, with his or its own unique role, in the national system of education. While therefore different individuals and social groups have their own unique roles to play in education, a national system of education cannot be created by any one individual or social group or even by some of them working together. It can be created only when every individual and every social group plays his or its assigned role.
Of these five valuable lessons, the first three deal with a conceptual clarification of the problems involved and with the preparation of a broad revised outline of a national system of education. We shall consider them first. The last two deal essentially with implementation.
The Future Society:
There are several ways in which the vision of the future society can be presented. We would however like to adopt a simpler approach to the problem, viz., to state the worst aspects of the existing social order which have to be eliminated as early as possible. This will indicate, not only some of the major features of the future society, but also a programme of action.
From this point of view, we consider three aspects of the present society as its worst evils:
The first weakness is the elitist character of our society in which all power—political, economic and knowledge—is concentrated in the hands of a small elite which, despite its internal jealousies and quarrels, always keeps a united front vis-a-vis the masses of people who are marginalized and unable to assert themselves or to plan their own destiny. We created this elite structure of our society some centuries ago when all power was vested in the three upper castes (or social groups) – the Brahmins who monopolized the power of knowledge, the Kshatriyas who monopolized political power, and the Vaishyas who monopolized the money power.
These three castes were described as twice-born, their second birth being their initiation into the study of the sacred texts to which they alone were entitled. This designation, therefore, shows what united these castes together as well as what separated them from the vast masses of people—the Shudras who lived as slaves or workers and the Antyajas or the outcastes like the untouchables who lived precariously on the social fringe.
Our society accepted this unjust organization, gave it a religious and social sanction, and created a philosophical base which reconciled the masses of people to their marginalized status in society and successfully prevented them from rising in revolt.
The advent of Islam did not change this picture materially because the Muslim society itself got divided into similar elite groups and the masses of people and the overall society continued to present the same elitist model, the Hindu and Muslim elites joining hands, in spite of other internal rivalries, to keep the masses of people—both Hindu and Muslim—suppressed and marginalized. Even in the modern period, and in spite of the introduction of secular and democratic trends and the creation of a Western system of education, the same elitist model perpetuated itself.
This is because the elite of the pre-modern period who had social status, economic power in the form of ownership of land, trade and industries, and political power in the sense of positions in government and the army were the first to see the advantages of modernization and get full benefit of the new educational opportunities that were being opened up. This suited the British also who saw in them a group of intermediaries and interpreters who might help to stabilize their rule.
As education spread to wider sections of society and as secular and democratic forces became increasingly stronger, three main changes occurred in these elite groups:
(i) The membership of the group ceased to be almost exclusively based on birth or caste and several individuals of the non-elite castes were co-opted into elite status through the educational system which, while promoting vertical social mobility, also acted as a great screening device to show who should or should not be so co-opted;
(ii) The ranks of the elites were considerably increased to accommodate the new arrivals who far outnumbered those that dropped out for some reason or the other; and
(iii) The elite system was legitimized on grounds of “merit” and was no longer in need of any explanation in terms of previous births or karma. In the Indian society of today, therefore, the ruling elite consists of the top 20-30 per cent of the people who include the modern Kshatriyas or wielders of political power (e.g., the politicians, the bureaucracy, and the army, etc., who constitute the state), the modern Vaishyas or the wielders of economic power (e.g., the industrialists, merchants, etc., who constitute the commercial corporation),’ and the modern Brahmins (e.g., the learned people or the intelligentsia who constitute the university system).
The rest of the population which is 70-80 per cent of the total leads a sub-human existence, is purely marginalized, and is bereft of all power—political, economic or knowledge—and is deprived of education and all other good things of life.
The two main forces of modernization, education and science and technology, have allied themselves with the elite and helped them to improve their standards of living but have not done (or were not allowed to do) a corresponding service to the masses of people. The elite themselves had a brief honeymoon with the people in the pre-independence period to present a united front against the British and to drive them out. But once this goal was achieved, they returned to their original position of a ruling and exploiting group, notwithstanding the many populist slogans they had learnt in the meanwhile to mouth.
In fact, this new society of a modernized elite ruling over a still traditional people is far worse than that of the past when both the elite and people were traditional, when neither of them had any access to modern science, when the gap between their standards of living was not so wide nor felt so keenly, and when the elite did not have access to all the modern means of tyranny and suppression.
(2) Hierarchical Organization:
The second grave weakness of our society, which practically follows from this elitist character, is its hierarchical organization. It will be wrong to assume that the society is divided into only two groups ― the elite and the masses. Actually, it is a highly fragmented society in which there are thousands of small groups (a situation which often gives it an appearance of a society which consists almost exclusively of minorities) each of which is trying to relate itself to others, not in a horizontal relationship, but in a hierarchical order on the basis of some real or imagined advantage.
Even the lowest social group ― the scheduled castes ―is far from homogeneous― it is divided into several sub-groups all hierarchically arranged so that even the attempt to help scheduled castes often ends in helping only those who are the most powerful among the scheduled castes. This hierarchical tradition which has gone deep in our blood is inimical to the values of democracy and social justice and is one of the major obstacles to progress.
The third major weakness of our present social order is poverty which has few parallels in the world. The majority of our people live below the poverty line and a substantial proportion of them lead an almost sub-human existence.
It is this colossal and degrading poverty that is at the root of most of the evils we see around us – low standards of nutrition, bad housing conditions, and inability to benefit from social services such as education or health. This is not merely a question of more production, though it is necessary and is made more difficult by growth of population. It is also a problem of the nature of production as well as of equitable distribution.
There are two other areas where recent trends give us cause for concern. We have rightly adopted the principle of secularism in organizing our public life. The Hindu tradition of tolerance and respect for other religions is a definite asset – and in the past 150 years, we have made considerable progress to develop a secular society and policy. But the recent upsurge of revivalist communal forces, both in the Islamic and the Hindu world, do not portend well.
They can only generate tensions and conflicts and spell great danger to national stability and progress. The second is the rise of authoritarian trends which forebode ill to the delicate plant of democracy we have been nurturing and must continue to foster. Both these developments are recent and have begun to loom large on the horizon after the Report of the Education Commission. But there is no doubt that they will have to be very carefully watched in the days ahead.
Assuming that we are agreed on this analysis, what is the programme of development that we should undertake? Here a preliminary observation is necessary. The current debate on the subject of development in India is divided over two models; the capitalist model which we have actually adopted and which has the largest support, and the socialist model to which we pay a lip service and which is advocated only by a minority. One can have one’s preference between the two.
We, on our part, do not believe that the capitalist model will meet our needs and between the two, would certainly prefer the socialist model. But many will not share this view and maybe, for equally good reasons. The point we would like to highlight is that there can be a third model.
The consumerist society that the Western nations have created, some through capitalism and others through socialism, has led to grave crises of environmental degradation, depletion of scarce and non-renewable resources, intense social and political tensions between and within nations and stockpiling of nuclear weapons which pose a threat to the very existence of man.
Under these circumstances, it would be perfectly in order to turn away from both these models and seek a third model where sheer consumerism will not be equated with the quality of life and where a new appropriate technology will be developed in keeping with our resource endowment (including population) and our needs, without detriment to our environment. The discovery of this third model is a universal need. It is also a great possibility in India; and the life and thought of Mahatma Gandhi can make a material contribution to it. It is in our best national interests to concentrate on the evolution of this third model.
To combat the elitist trends, in which a smaller number of people come to decide the vital issues affecting the lives of larger number of people, we need, first and foremost, the adoption of a new philosophy: faith in the common man. We must believe in his dignity, in his basic wisdom, and in his inherent capacity to manage himself. We must also be prepared to organize the society on the basic principles of individual dignity and autonomy, adjustments being made therein only when another person’s equal right to autonomy and dignity is affected.
In other words, we must accept the need to transfer effective power from the elite to the masses. Here power means all the three forms of power—political, economic and knowledge—which are obviously interrelated. It should be clearly understood that this also implies a revolt against the growth of extreme professionalism in the modern society which results in a great restriction of individual freedom.
In other words, we must equate the development of our country with the development of our suppressed masses and accept the view that the best input into this development is the people’s awareness of themselves, and of the social reality around them, a rekindling of their faith in themselves, and helping them to organize themselves to solve their problems.
This new approach will liberate the oppressed masses and also elevate the elite by freeing them from the dehumanizing role of an oppressor in which they have trapped themselves. It is obvious that this readjustment of the present relations between the elite and the masses will not be smooth or easy. It may even become violent if the elite do not see the writing on the wall or take their own enlightened self-interest into consideration.
A change of heart on the part of the elite is necessary. But it cannot be a prime mover. Nor can it be successful in the absence of counter-pressures. Perhaps what is needed is a simultaneous effort for a change of heart among the elite and for organizing and strengthening the masses, with the state coming to the aid of the people where necessary.
The problems of inequality and poverty will have to be tackled together. A number of steps will be needed here. Perhaps the most fundamental are a rectification of the extremely skewed pattern of ownership in property and income – without this and without some drastic restraint on the wealth, income and consumption of the top 30 per cent of the population (which we have been unable to do), nothing worthwhile will be achieved.
Equally important is the discovery and use of an appropriate technology which will be suited to the size of our population, to our resource endowment, and to the pressing problems of mounting pollution. Thirdly, we should concentrate on the production of commodities which the common man needs (rather than on the luxury goods required by the elite) and make these available everywhere at reasonable price, if necessary, through a public distribution system; and lastly, we should ensure a minimum standard of living for every individual through guaranteed employment at a wage which will enable him to meet all his essential needs.
It is only in this way that effective economic power will be transferred to the people. On this foundation it will be easy to transfer political power by building organizations of the people to enable them to make effective use of adult franchise, and knowledge power, through programmes of universal elementary and adult education.
The third major programme will be that of social and national integration. This was a serious concern when the Education Commission wrote its Report. It still continues to be so; if anything, recent developments have made it even more serious. The fragmentation of political life and the non-existence of any party which can command loyalties on a nation-wide basis poses a danger to the delicate process of nation-building which is well under way but far from being complete.
Regional rivalries and linguistic empire-building are also adding fuel to the fire. Social and national integration does not merely imply a negative action to counteract these evils. It also means the positive and the more difficult task of changing attitudes, teaching different groups to retain their identity and yet to live together in a society with shared common goals and programmes, and to create in every citizen, irrespective of caste, race, or religion, the sense of common Indian identity to which he will be loyal and for which he will be prepared to sacrifice. There is no doubt that, in the years ahead, a very major political concern will be to promote social and national integration and to deal firmly with all the forces that tend to subvert it.
It is of course granted that neither this vision of the future society nor the programme to create it will be shared by all. It should not be; and it is to be expected that there would be other visions of the future society we should have and other means of creating it. But what, one regrets most is that there is not enough of national debate on the subject. One of our first concerns therefore should be to revive this debate among all concerned – the academics, the politicians, the teachers, the students and the general public.
As this debate proceeds, the problems involved will become clearer; and what is even more important, the number of those who are committed to the radical socio-economic transformation we need will also grow. This will help us greatly in the task of bringing about the socioeconomic transformation itself.