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National Education by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Foreword: Presented below is the article which started my metamorphosis from an anti-Gandhian to a Gandhian. I was a staunch anti-Gandhian in my adolescent days, and even today I disagree with Gandhi's political thoughts. However, I have gradually become a Gandhi loyalist for the revolutionary ideas that Gandhian philosophy represents in the area of development and education. These ideas are relevant even today and will be very useful for planners in India and other developing countries.

Credits: I first read this article as a part of English textbook in my 1st year of Engineering. I had been searching the electronic version of it since then. This copy of the article is courtesy, a website run by Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal, Tardeo Road, Mumbai; I had mailed them about my search for this article to which they responded promptly. I am thankful to them for this.

Published in: Young India, 1-9-1921

So many strange things have been said about my views on national education, that it would perhaps not be out of place to formulate them before the public. In my opinion the existing system of education is defective, apart from its association with an utterly unjust Government, in three most important matters:

1. It is based upon foreign culture to the almost entire exclusion of indigenous culture.
2. It ignores the culture of the heart and the hand, and confines itself simply to the head.
3. Real education is impossible through a foreign medium.

Let us examine the three defects. Almost from the common-cement, the text-books deal, not with things the boys and the girls have always to deal with in their homes, but things to which they are perfect strangers. It is not through the text-books, that a lad learns what is right and what is wrong in the home life. He is never taught to have any pride in his surroundings. The higher he goes, the farther he is removed from his home, so that at the end of his education he becomes estranged from his surroundings. He feels no poetry about the home life. The village scenes are all a sealed book to him. His own civilization is presented to him as imbecile, barbarous, superstitious and useless for all practical purposes. His education is calculated to wean him from this traditional culture. And if the mass of educated youths are not entirely denationalised, it is because the ancient culture is too deeply embedded in them to be altogether uprooted even by an education adverse to its growth. If I had my way, I would certainly destroy the majority of the present text-books and cause to be written text-books which have a bearing on and correspondence with the home life, so that a boy as he learns may react upon his immediate surroundings.

Secondly, whatever may be true of other countries, in India at any rate where more than eighty per cent of the population is agricultural and another ten per cent industrial, it is a crime to make education merely literary and to unfit boys and girls for manual work in after-life. Indeed I hold that as the larger part of our time is devoted to labour for earning our bread, our children must from their infancy be taught the dignity of such labour. Our children should not be so taught as to despise labour. There is no reason, why a peasant's son after having gone to a school should become useless as he does become as agricultural labourer. It is a sad thing that our schoolboys look upon manual labour with disfavour, if not contempt. Moreover, in India, if we expect, as we must, every boy and girl of school-going age to attend public schools, we have not the means to finance education in accordance with the existing style, nor are millions of parents able to pay the fees that are at present imposed. Education to be universal must therefore be free. I fancy that even under an ideal system of government, we shall not be able to devote two thousand million rupees which we should require for finding education for all the children of school-going age. It follows, therefore, that our children must be made to pay in labour partly or wholly for all the education they receive. Such universal labour to be profitable can only be (to my thinking) hand-spinning and hand-weaving. But for the purposes of my proposition, it is immaterial whether we have spinning or any other form of labour, so long as it can be turned to account. Only, it will be found upon examination, that on a practical, profitable and extensive scale, there is no occupation other than the processes connected with cloth-production which can be introduced in our schools throughout India.

The introduction of manual training will serve a double purpose in a poor country like ours. It will pay for the education of our children and teach them an occupation on which they can fall back in after-life, if they choose, for earning a living. Such a system must make our children self-reliant. Nothing will demoralize the nation so much as that we should learn to despise labour. One word only as to the education of the heart. I do not believe, that this can be imparted through books. It can only be done through the living touch of the teacher. And, who are the teachers in the primary and even secondary schools? Are they men and women of faith and character? Have they themselves received the training of the heart ? Are they even expected to take care of the permanent element in the boys and girls placed under their charge? Is not the method of engaging teachers for lower schools an effective bar against character? Do the teachers get even a living wage? And we know, that the teachers of primary schools are not selected for their patriotism.

They only come who cannot find any other employment. Finally, the medium of instruction. My views on this point are too well known to need re-stating. The foreign medium has caused brain-fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses. The foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own land. It is the greatest tragedy of the existing system. The foreign medium has prevented the growth of our vernaculars. If I had the powers of a despot, I would today stop the tuition of our boys and girls through a foreign medium, and require all the teachers and professors on pain of dismissal to introduce the change forthwith. I would not wait for the preparation of text-books. They will follow the change. It is an evil that needs a summary remedy.

My uncompromising opposition to the foreign medium has resulted in an unwarranted charge being leveled against me of being hostile to foreign culture or the learning of the English language. No reader of Young India could have missed the statement often made by me in these pages, that I regard English as the language of international commerce and diplomacy and therefore consider its knowledge on the part of some of us as essential. As it Contains some of the richest treasures of thought and literature, I would certainly encourage its careful study among those who have linguistic talents and expect them to translate those treasures for the nation in its vernaculars.

Nothing can be farther from my thought than that we should become exclusive or erect barriers. But I do respectfully contend, that an appreciation of other cultures can fitly follow, never precede an appreciation and assimilation of our own. It is my firm opinion, that no culture has treasures so rich as ours has. We have not known it, we have been made even to deprecate its study and deprecate its value. We have almost ceased to live it. An academic Grasp without practice behind it is like an embalmed corpse, perhaps lovely to look at but nothing to inspire or ennoble. My religion forbids me to belittle or disregard other cultures, as it insists under pain of civil suicide upon imbibing and living my own.


  1. finally... read the entire thing.

    there is huge gap between theory and practicality... especially with respect to indian culture.

    a 5 yr old kid (who has not eaten his full meal past two days), if confronted with a choice of selecting from a plate full of rice and a bag with few books... what'll he choose...

    i don't deny education is important and is must... not only that ... right eduction is of critical value... someone has rightly said... half the knowledge is dangerous and if that half is wrong, it's a disaster. there are things which can't be undone... and it's difficult to make a mass change at this space, the change is required, but a sudden change will do nothiing but create a chaos ...

    i am not too sure if i have the correct solution with me... infact even if i thought i had, there will be 10 others who'll counter and contradict me... especially those who hate change :|

    PS: i m not pro/anti gandhi, but still i believe not everything gandhi said/did is applicable in today's scenario - may be the philosophy is right, but the change agent is not applicable today (outdated)

  2. Hi buddy..
    Nice post..
    I feel we need to be really very practical to solve the problem of poor education system.. Good or bad, the point is that it is non existant in most of the villages. Teachers arent paid and students are uninterested. Its still a shame that we need to talk about such basic rights after such a long span of independence. Money has to be spend in this field in a big way and ways have to be chalked out to see that it doesnt get into the drain coz of corruption. May be we need to take a proffesional approach. I would go ahead and suggest villages schools to be run on contract basis if the government cannot manage the funds properly and finds short of helping hands.


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