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Education of the hand and the head

I have written previously on Education, my own bias towards Gandhiji's Nai Talim philosophy and my mentor Prof. Prasad's attempts to implement Nai Talim in Post Graduate studies. However, I keep getting disappointed at the lack of any support whatsoever to this (almost 80 year) old but pragmatic approach in primary and secondary education, even when the need for this is observed.

I read this article in Mint by senior policy managers for J-PAL South Asia, they talk about "concern(s) that while enrolment in elementary education has increased, education outcomes have declined, with abilities in reading, writing and other comprehensive skills deteriorating"; suggest "Pedagogical solutions such as restructuring classes by learning level, rather than by age or grade and improving School governance like incentivizing teacher presence and effort, and putting in place properly designed monitoring and accountability structures".

What is lacking however in the whole discourse is making education more suited to vocation and real-world challenges. It is true that students should be able to read and write in order to perform even the basic functions of a modern life, but the reason that students can't read or write is usually not because teachers aren't present.

To illustrate this, consider as to why all students can speak the language well enough, but only fail to read and write? The reason is obvious - ability to speak the language gets practiced from childhood, it is immensely important in their daily routine. Similarly, if reading and writing the language is made a part of their daily routine, with or without teachers, with or without pedagogical help - they'll learn the word!

The question being, how do you make 'learning the word' a part of their daily life? The answer lies in Nai Talim - "The crux of Nai Talim lay in overcoming distinctions between learning and teaching, and knowledge and work. (Vinoba Bhave)". If the curricula go beyond just teaching 'alphabet and numbers', and include vocational activities such as making and selling simple toys - this would involve tasks like creating 'creative boards or charts' for selling, preparing 'sales material', bookkeeping & accounting etc - students find a purpose and a 'routine' to learn the alphabet, learn counting, numbers etc. This is not too different from the custom of lemonade stand set up by kids in the US.

This indeed is education of the head and of the hand as proposed by Gandhi in his seminal article on National Education more than 90 years ago; and as per him, it "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". In today's context, this will also help create a more entrepreneurial minded child as is required for a country like India. We will not then need late stage government incentive programs like Startup India, Skill India or Standup India!

It is appalling that even learned researchers ignore the above philosophy (or remain unaware of it) while proposing solutions to the problem of education in India. Even more appalling that the Ministry of HRD / Education department pays no heed to it!

Image Credit: OLPC @ Flickr


  1. Wah ! .. Gandhianism is visible. Loved to see new generation of Gandhis like you .. Love.. Gandhi not DEAD. He wont and He Cannot !


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