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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 43 New Delhi October 12, 2019

Envisioning Gandhi in Draft New Education Policy in India

Sunday 13 October 2019

by D.M. Diwakar



The Census of India 2011 suggests that about 30 per cent of the population is below 15 years. The United Nations Population Division’s report projection suggests that the youth population in India will be 34.46 per cent by 2020 and India will be the youngest country of the world with an average age of 29 years. By 2030 India will have the largest number of working population (962 million) in the world. In order to impart appropriate skills for lives and livelihood proper schooling and education is extremely important. Although this has been the concern of Indian leaders since the freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi had the vision of the National Education System with a worldview of a non-violent social system, originally articulated in his Hind Swaraj. He articulated his vision of education further also as available in his Collected Works. This led to many deliberations through various committees and commissions since the Zakir Hussain Committee after the Wardha Conference on National Education in 1937 culminated into various sets of recommendations for the betterment of education in India. Two National Policies on Education were promulgated. The first National Policy was put in place in 1968 and the second in 1986. The third is the latest Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) 2019, which the Government of India has placed in the public domain for discussion and feedback from a cross-section of the society across the States of India. This appears, prima facie at least, as a healthy sign of a democratic process in policy-making.

This paper is an attempt to understand and locate the DNEP 2019 in the realm of the Gandhian vision and framework of education. It examines as to how far this DNEP 2019 corresponds to the concerns of the Gandhian vision of education in India. Towards this end, this exercise has been divided into four parts besides setting the context. Part one refreshes briefly with essential elements in the Gandhian vision on education. Part two deals with salient features of the DNEP 2019. Part three examines the DNEP 2019 in the light of the Gandhian essence of education followed by a conclusion and implications of the DNEP 2019. For discussion this exercise mainly depends on the writings of Mahatma Gandhi and the DNEP 2019, besides passing references to other relevant policy documents, official reports and literature. Thus, this paper is intended to look into this DNEP 2019 to explore a connection with the Gandhian spirit, if any.


Gandhian Vision on Education

The Gandhian vision of education can be traced in his seminal writing, the Hind Swaraj, consistent with his vision of reconstruction and develop-ment, where he argued for an education which ensures dignity of labour as the process of learning and reduces the gap between mental and physical labour. It deals with the objectives of education towards understanding ethics, character-building, observance of duty, rules of morality and happiness rooted in the culture and life of the people beyond mere learning of letters. Receiving such education makes one worthy to realise the ideals and draws the best out of the individual potentials. Gandhiji was of the firm opinion that true and original education remains natural, environment-friendly and useful in life and results into all round development (moral, cultural and material improvement) of the individual and society with self-reliance and dignity of labour. Therefore, education through the mother tongue is the best medium.1

At the level of thought the Hind Swaraj was a reference-point but still how to go about it remained a question. The Banga Bhanga Movement ignited to formulate an alternative education system for India away from the Macaulay framework. After coming back from South Africa, Gandhi was concerned about the effectiveness of the strategic place and decided to work from Ahmedabad primarily with three considerations: (i) he was confident to do better service through the Gujarati language; (ii) the task of the revival of cottage industry was in his mind, for which weaving was historically part of the legacy in Ahmedabad; and (iii) financial support, which he was confident to get if he worked in Ahmedabad. Hence he started a Satyagraha Ashram at Kocharav.2 He wrote: “We in Ashram believe that the great harm that is being done to the country will continue so long as education is not given along national lines. Accordingly a National School has been started as an experiment. The aim is to give higher education through the mother tongue and in a manner that will impose no strain. ... In this experiment both mental and physical education is provided. A curriculum extending over 13 years is visualised. This will include, besides training corresponding to a graduate’s instruction in the Hindi language, in agriculture and weaving.”3

Gandhiji could realise the need for an alter-native education system when he returned from South Africa and travelled throughout India. Speaking on education at Allahabad on 23.12.1916 he said: “Education through English had created a wide gulf between the educated few and the masses.”4 The first mention of his experiment of alternative education can be traced as the National Gujarati School in a letter written to Narandas Gandhi on January 17, 1917. He further elaborated this in his speech at the National Gujarati School on January 18, 2017, in which he dealt with the aims of education beyond job and money, prospectus, education in the school in the Indian language, first three years oral engagement in three dimensions—physical in agriculture, weaving, carpentry, and ironsmith, intellectual in mathematics, history, geography, chemistry and language, and religions, its explanation, free education, paid teachers, and syllabus for the first year. He did not wait for the government to offer education; rather he preferred to start his experiment to build public opinion in favour of the National Gujarati School for the government to come forward to support.5

During Champaran Satyagraha on April 15, 1917 he wrote a letter to Maganlal Gandhi: “that we should make the experiment of the national school as planned... Let somebody from the Ashram help in teaching weaving.” He also managed funds through donation. Gandhi further elaborated his vision on education on 24.3.1917, when he stressed on education in the mother tongue, “so long we are not free of our fondness for English, we cannot achieve real swaraj”. He rightly attached importance to the education system to attain swaraj: “In my opinion, the key to swaraj lies not so much in the hands of the Government as in our system of education.”7. Therefore, he harped on education for a larger goal of swaraj than just earning bread and butter. Speaking at the Second Gujarat Educational conference on October 22-23, 2017 Gandhi emphasised on medium of instruction8 and love for and faith in the mother tongue with numerous examples “by examining the growth and development of various languages” to save about six years time of thousands students, which may save thousands years of a nation. He was of the firm opinion: “The system under which we are educated through a foreign language results in incalculable harm.”9 It created inhuman fear, distrust and moral hazards.10 Gandhi also dealt with the scheme for national education at length in terms of subjects and languages.11

Gandhi could realise that the basic cause of the exploitation of peasants was their ignorance.12 If they were not properly educated, they might misuse their freedom of what they achieved. Therefore, in order to educate them (children and adults) about hygiene, schools should be opened.13 Initially Gandhi wanted to open four or five schools only in Champaran.14 Writing a letter to Merriman he explained that the basic aims and objectives of schools were to connect men, women and children with culture and impeachable moral character along with hygiene, basic structure and livelihood through upgrading traditional occupation with the help of training and education. Literacy was merely conceived as a means to achieve these objectives.15

Thus, Gandhi was working on many fronts for preparation of the freedom struggle, where the Champaran Satyagraha was a learning experi-ence for a roadmap of the freedom struggle and constructive programmes for reconstruction of society for independence according to his vision articulated in the Hind Swaraj. Graduating to the freedom struggle through the Champaran Satyagraha agitated minds of great educationists the under the leadership of Gandhiji.

Later having broader experiences through the freedom struggle, he convened a conference on Buniadi Talim (Basic Education) at Wardha in 1937 and constituted a committee headed by Zakir Husain; the committee submitted its report in 1938 and recommended for an independent education system for independent India suitably incorporating the vision of Mahatma Gandhi as indicated earlier. The broad features of the recommendations were to impart education through the mother tongue, bridge the gaps between mental and physical labour, with values of dignity of labour, character-building, dutifulness, morality, self-reliance, and equality, embedded with life, culture and prosperity for integrated personality develop-ment.


Draft New Education Policy 2019

This draft report in reference has been prepared by an 11-member committee headed by Dr K. Kasturirangan, a former Chairman of the ISRO, Bangalore. This report is divided into four parts. Part one deals extensively with school education from early child care to pedagogy, teachers, inclusive and equitable education, child rights and protection besides proposals for what to teach, how to teach, numbers, language, curri-culum framework, diversity, etc. Part two discusses higher education for more liberal, quality, learning environment, capacity building for teaching and research, hard and soft infrastructure, effective governance and regula-tions. Part three deals with additional key focus area, such as technology, vocation and adult education and promotion of Indian languages. And part four focuses on transformation of education by creating a National Education Commission followed by addendum of making it happen with finance and way forward, along with appendices.

This DNEP 2019 has many positive propositions. This claims to facilitate a liberal approach to education aimed at transforming the education system to bring in high quality education and research for national development aligning with global sustainable development goals. It accepts all good words with noble intentions for education, such as education as a public good, universal quality education, equitable, vibrant, not for profit and market, extension of RTE for secondary level, reforms in curricular, examination and restructuring ped-agogy, breakfast in primary schools, recruitment of teachers and their capacity- building, multiple language learning, school complexes, network-ing, etc.

However, this DNEP 2019 is a mixed bag having many contradictory provisions as well. For instance, it proposes to replace 10+2 by 5+3+3+4 years without any appealing justifi-cation, advocates for autonomy with curricular framework, pedagogy, and finance for economic viability, which will necessarily promote marketisation of education, where equity and social justice inevitably will be compromised. It claims quality education with much more dependence on technology and open and distance learning. It allows private players, setting their fees, self-accreditation and assessment, and still aspiring for education becoming public goods.

It advocates world-class quality education with large number of students to make it viable financially and independent for their pedagogy without making any reference to the world class.

At the same time it argues for different categories of universities also. And still for a National Education Commission centrally controlled and headed by the Prime Minister. Privatisation of education and fund raising through mandatory corporate social responsi-bility (CSR) has enough space, knowing fully that CSR violation is not a crime now, as the government announced. This report on the one hand advocates for entry of foreign universities in India for global integration but it delinks research from teaching and under. graduation. Moreover, commitment to excel in research a provision of direct admission to Ph.D has been proposed and there is the proposal to do away with initial training for research through an M. Phil programme. The proposal of a single National Entrance Test by a Central Agency is another paradox, when the committee recognises the diversity in education in forms and contents. Thus, DNEP 2019 appears a bag full of everything with or without a logical end. This is precisely why this report is broadly a bundle of good wishes and lacks the backing of evidence like earlier education policies.


Envisioning Gandhi in DNEP 2019 

Gandhiji considered education as an effective instrument for liberation, equality and justice. Education is the science of emancipation, which liberates from all kinds of bondages. Thus, it is not merely a set of skills and skill-ability. It has a much larger canvas than functional literacy or numeracy. It is rather a science for creating human beings and society, which in turn is contingent upon the worldview of education as well as the perspective and vision of social progress. For example, if the perspective and vision is of an egalitarian society, the worldview of education is supposed to be egalitarian. A discriminatory and exclusionary mix of multi-structured and multi-graded education system, that India has inherited from the British colonial rule, can hardly create an egalitarian society. Therefore, the question remains whether mainstream education is merely confined to achieve resources for bread and butter or a worldview to create a harmonious and egalitarian society.

The DNEP 2019 talks of Indian education but turns out to be a collection of many good wishes. It hardly matters whether they can go together or not, because it lacks a worldview of society for which education is supposed to be a tool for liberation. The DNEP 2019 emphasises on letters and numbers.16 Gandhi focused on the lifecycle of education and life-skills through learning as the foundation of education. For him, letters were neither the beginning nor the end of education. Whereas the DNEP 2019 discusses lifelong learning extensively but focuses on reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, mathe-matics, logical reasoning, problem solving and creative approach as its foundation.

Language is another area where it tries to co-opt the Gandhian spirit but can not carry it forward. Although the DNEP 2019 dwells on the mother tongue but unlike Gandhiji, it argues for multiple languages as essential for 0-3 and 3-8 age-group education, which negates learning without burden, if not with joys.17 Gandhiji emphasised on one language of another State besides mother tongue and national language, whereas the DNEP 2019 lays emphasis on English. Gandhiji considered technology only as facilitating and not replacing human body or mind, whereas the DNEP 2019 has over-dependence on digitised education, virtual classrooms, etc., where human limbs and eye to eye contacts are secondary. The major weakness of the DENEP 2019 is that this document suffers from romanticism and is not based on evidences, contrary to the Kothari Commission, which was based on informed evidences. Gandhi was of the firm opinion that true and original education remains natural, environment-friendly and useful in life and results in all- round development (moral, cultural and material improvement) of individual and society with self-reliance and dignity of labour. The DNEP 2019, although it envisions an equitable and vibrant education system, picks up a few elements of Gandhian ethos, such as autonomy, Panchayat, village, SCMC, local language, skill development, but goes with the world view of industrialism. Hence, it lacks the holistic esteem of Gandhian perspectives of decentralisation away from competition. The Gandhian frame-work of education intends to reduce the gap of mental and physical labour away from hierarchy, which hardly finds place in the DNEP 2019.

Moreover, centralisation of regulatory authority as Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog and National Commission for Higher Education and Research are far from the Gandhian spirit of decentralisation and also far from the federal structure of the Indian Constitution, where State and panchayat have little value. The DNEP 2019 has claimed many innovative prescriptions but hardly any innovative solution to bridge the gaps of the present crises in education, that is teaching, learning, training gaps. It argues for problem-resolving education but fails to deliver solutions for growing trust-deficits and despair in the modern education system. Thus, it appears that taking indigenous clues in the DNEP 2019 may give us a feeling of romanticising the Gandhian framework of education but it lacks the Gandhian perspective and approach to education beyond literacy.


1 Gandhi, M.K., (1938):

Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule,

Navjivan Trust, Ahmedabad, pp. 77-82

2 Gandhi, M. K., (1927):

An Autobiography or The Story of my experiments with truth, Navjivan Trust, Ahmedabad, p. 329

3 Gandhi, M.K., Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, Vol. 13, July 1, 1917, p. 456

4 Ibid. p. 318.

5 Ibid. pp. 332-34.

6 Ibid. pp. 363.

7 Ibid. p. 359.

8 CWMG, Vol. 14, pp. 8-36; 131-39.

9 Ibid, p. 16

10 Teachers Appeal from a school principal who survived the Nazi camp:A school principal who survived the Nazi camp the wrote:

“I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chamber built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and killed by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is help your students to be human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopath, or educated mechanics. Reading and writing and spelling and history and arithmetic are only important, if they serve to make our students more human.”

 — An excerpt of a letter written by a Holocaust survivor to educators, published in “Teacher and Child” by Dr. Haim Ginott, child psychologist and author source: https://www. on 5.09.2019.

11 Ibid. p.37-42.

12 Ibid. p. 94.

13 Ibid. p. 78.

14 Ibid. p. 88.

15 Ibid. p. 94.

16 Rangan, K., (2019):

“The principle must be that: if students are given a solid foundation in reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, mathematical and logical thinking, problem-solving, and in being creative, then all other future lifelong learning will become that much easier, faster, more enjoyable, and more individualised; all curriculum and pedagogy in early grade school must be designed with this principle in mind.” Draft National Education Policy 2019, p. 55.

17 “Because children learn languages most quickly during the period of 0-3 years and during the Foundational Stage of 3-8 years—and because learning languages is an extremely important aspect of children’s cognitive development-a key part of the Framework will be aimed at instilling excellent multilingual skills in children as early as is possible and developmentally appropriate.” DNEP2019, p. 49.

The author is a Professor and Head, Division of Economics and Agriculture Economics as well as former Director, A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna. He can be contacted at e-mail: dmdiwa-kar[at]

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