The Agenda for a National Education – Chapter 8, History Notes – Class 8

In this blog, we will learn about the agenda for a national education. From the early nineteenth century, many thinkers from different parts of India began to talk of the need for a wider spread of education. Impressed with the developments in Europe, some Indians felt that Western education would help modernize India. They urged the British to open more schools, colleges, and universities, and spend more money on education.

There were other Indians, however, who reacted against Western education. Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were two such individuals. Let us look at what they had to say.

The Agenda for a National Education

“English education has enslaved us”. Mahatma Gandhi argued that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. It made them see Western civilization as superior and destroyed the pride they had in their own culture. Charmed by the West, appreciating everything that came from the West, Indians educated in these institutions began admiring British rule.

Mahatma Gandhi wanted an education that could help Indians recover their sense of dignity and self-respect. During the national movement, he urged students to leave educational institutions in order to show to the British that Indians were no longer willing to be enslaved.

Mahatma Gandhi strongly felt that Indian languages ought to be the medium of teaching. Speaking a foreign tongue, despising local culture, the English educated did not know how to relate to the masses. Western education, Mahatma Gandhi said, focused on reading and writing rather than oral knowledge; it valued textbooks rather than lived experience and practical knowledge.

He argued that education ought to develop a person’s mind and soul. Literacy – or simply learning to read and write – by itself did not count as education. People had to work with their hands, learn a craft, and know-how different things operated. This would develop their mind and their capacity to understand. As nationalist sentiments spread, other thinkers also began thinking of a system of national education that would be radically different from that set up by the British.

Let’s dive further into the blog on the agenda for a national education and understand the take of Tagore’s idea of education.

“Tagore abode of peace”

As a child, Tagore hated going to school. He found it suffocating and oppressive. The school appeared like a prison, for he could never do what he felt like doing. So while other children listened to the teacher, Tagore’s mind would wander away. The experience of his schooldays in Calcutta shaped Tagore’s ideas of education. On growing up, he wanted to set up a school where the child was happy, where she could be free and creative, where she was able to explore her own thoughts and desires.

Tagore felt that childhood ought to be a time of self-learning, outside the rigid and restricting discipline of the schooling system set up by the British. Teachers had to be imaginative, understand the child, and help the child develop her curiosity.

According to Tagore, the existing schools killed the natural desire of the child to be creative, her sense of wonder. Tagore was of the view that creative learning could be encouraged only within a natural environment. So he chose to set up his school named Santiniketan, 100 kilometers away from Calcutta, in a rural setting.

He saw it as an abode of peace (Santiniketan), were living in harmony with nature, children could cultivate their natural creativity. In many senses, Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi thought about education in similar ways.

There were, however, differences too. Gandhiji was highly critical of Western civilization and its worship of machines and technology. Tagore wanted to combine elements of modern Western civilization with what he saw as the best within the Indian tradition.

He emphasized the need to teach science and technology at Santiniketan, along with art, music, and dance. Many individuals and thinkers were thus thinking about the way a national educational system could be fashioned. Some wanted changes within the system set up by the British and felt that the system could be extended so as to include wider sections of people.

Others urged that alternative systems be created so that people were educated into a culture that was truly national. Who was to define what was truly national? The debate about what this “national education” ought to be continued till after independence.

Read More: How the British Saw Education – Civilizing the Native, Educating the Nation

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