Young Barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi went through John Ruskin’s Unto This Last during a 24-hour journey from Johannesburg to Durban. He could not get any sleep that night, and was “determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book”. In his autobiography, he mentions the teachings as he understood to be: “1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all, 2. A lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s, as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from work. 3. A life of labour, i.e. the life of a tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.”
About the impact these three teachings created on him, he writes: “The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realised. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it as clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with dawn, ready to reduce these principles in practice.”
As the first pragmatic step, he decided to shift The Indian Opinion to the Phoenix Settlement farm ‘on which everyone should labour, drawing the same living wage, and attending to press work in spare time’. It may appear Utopian, but it all entrenched forever the presence of the “last man in the line” in Gandhi’s mind. And for this last man’s welfare in independent India, the only ray of hope for the people was education.
To him, education meant “character building, it means a knowledge of duty.... Education lies in serving others, oblige them without the least feeling of one-uppishness”. Where do we stand in imparting education, and particularly the education of Gandhi’s dreams? Is the welfare of ‘all’ on our minds?
Character building required emphasis on indigenous knowledge, skills, arts, artisans; and the like. It needed focus on agriculture and related requirements of educated and trained personnel.
All this was included in ‘Gram Swaraj’ which was discarded in Gandhi’s lifetime by the new rulers. Consequently, the emphasis on character building got heavily diluted and focused only on higher and higher marks.
We have considerably expended the outreach of education ‘to all’, and the figures of increase in numbers of schools, universities and enrolments are indeed impressive. Unfortunately, the expansion has led to an all-round dilution of quality of the education imparted. It now languishes in the inadequacy of skill acquisition, spirit of entrepreneurship, creative instincts and self-confidence.
Majority of the young people coming out of schools and colleges face an uncertain future. Their numbers are increasing every year. Could a nation remain unconcerned about millions of adolescents dejected and demoralised? When 1.1 million children of 66.6 million leave the UP Board examination simply because the ‘nakal mafia’ has been controlled, it speaks volumes on our “Man-making education”.
When the State School Board results would be announced, at least 50 per cent would be declared failed. Only a small percentage would get a place in higher education. More than half of those enrolled for board examinations would be thrown out of the system and left to fend for themselves.
Could a nation remain unconcerned about the youth power that is either ill-prepared or declared ‘failed’ at practically every stage of education? Even a peripheral overview of the way India prepares its youth for the world of work would reveal glaring inadequacies in our education system. The challenge before the education policy makers is daunting. The wastage and stagnation of the youth power must be prevented. Only then, none would be left in the lurch.
J S Rajput
Former director of the NCERT