Gandhi´s Experiment with Education for Rural India: Nai Talim System
Recently I read an article written by KK Khullar on " The Meaning of Education " published in May 2011 issue of KURUKSHETRA Journal for Rural Development and I discovered a whole new system of education which is far more developed, progressive, complex and result oriented for society then the existing syllabus driven education system. Mahatma Gandhi invented this new system during his stint in Africa and named it Nai Talim. To quench my thirst for understanding this system, I surfed on internet and found out a write up which throws the light on birth of the system and its journey to the Golden Jubilee celebration (1937 to 1987). This story of Nai Talim is written by the teacher Marjorie Skyes and reproduced by the student Kanakamal Gandhi covering 50 years’ period from 1937 to 1987. The write up is based on experience of the teacher Ms. Marjorie Skyes had witnessed evolution of Nai Talim and remained very close to Mahatma Gandhi during this entire period of evolution. Write up contains experience of Marjorie Skyes as a teacher and experience of Kanakamal Gandhi as student of Nai Talim system and it gives very vivid and clear picture of development phases of Nai Talim system.
On Golden Jubilee of Nai Talim system in 1987, the writer unfolded the advantages of Nai Talim system and described how it could fill the gaps created by contemporary education system. He also questioned the present system on the parameter of how far it had been successful in developing the economic and social potential of a pupil.
The writer also pointed out the important notion of education for "peace" in Nai Talim system. The importance of teaching "peace" should not be limited to few chapters in syllabus rather it should be an integral part in the form of harnessing cooperation and togetherness among the fellow citizens.
Though the teacher Marjorie Sykes (British teacher from Canada) , who wrote the story of Nai Talim was working in South India and had not much knowledge of India’s struggle for freedom and Gandhiji’s role behind this. Yet the coincidental analogy of her father’s teaching style at Canada in a small school and excerpts of Harijan newspaper about Gandhiji’s Nai Talim education system excited her to be a part of this silent revolution of social development.
Gandhiji in his Nai Talim system emphasized on three basic pillars−" the child education should not alienate child from its family and home", "they should be taught in their mother tongue" and "all children should be treated equally".
Gandhiji explained that there are two parts of education/training−" intellectual training" and "manual training". These trainings be conducted not only in parallel to each other; but these should be entwined like strands in a jute rope and should involve high and major proportion of manual training. He advocated that schools can be self−reliant and self−financed by teaching the students the crafts of village industries. These crafts could be collected, warehoused and marketed by the state for financing these schools. Imagine if every school becomes producer of crafts or anything−sellable. Even teachers can be benefited with more earnings, school could develop infrastructure and even students can get free education with vocational capabilities. Initially there can be hiccups from teachers’ fraternity that
such system opens all together new and many more dimensions that can be difficult to consolidate and to compact in a structured syllabus. Putting it differently it is not a problem of learning new rather it is a problem of unlearning the structured ones and continuous relearning and discovering new dimensions without stopping. For example, a student may fear from mathematics. It may be a case that he likes all parts of mathematics book but may not be able to understand cylinder geometry and he develops fear for entire subject and avoids his chances to come out openly. Such problems should be identified by the teacher and teacher could develop intervention based on practical exercises on cylinder geometry that sparks interest of that student and when he gets interested, he may overcome fear. For instance, he can be given a task to make a cylindrical table lamp with certain measurement and tell him to identify the formulas of cylindrical geometry to fit the exact object built−up.
Before independence, Hindustani Talimi Sangh was established to discuss the pros and cons of Gandhiji’s school of thought−Nai Talim system and the British style of education. Several educationists criticized the notion of indulging child in vocational training and crafts making and they argued that by this the schools might burden child, as a craft labor and that should not be the objective. Another argument by critics was that Gandhiji’s Nai Talim system ignored literary as an important measurable result. Moreover, there was criticism from all corners about the recommended child’s entry age for vocational training by Gandhiji in Nai Talim system. Ghandhiji argued that students should be entered into vocational training and activities at the age of 7 or more but mostly people send their child to school at age 5 or six and British style schools even allowed students in pre education below the age of 5 also. At such early age child’s physical status is inapt for vocational training like craft making, spinning etc.
Most inspiring thought about Nai Talim system was redefining medium of instruction. Gandhiji propagated that medium of instructions must be work, not any language. The language of communication must be the mother tongue of the target students not English or any other language. With this pivotal notion, the training schools (these were called basic schools) were started with first one set up at ’Sevagaon’. The students here showed astounding progress in productivity in spinning of cotton and cloth production. Besides this, they also gained knowledge about varieties of cotton, agriculture of cotton, types of soils suitable for cotton, spinning and spinning tools, geographical and commercial knowledge about cotton etc. In addition, students developed cooperation and togetherness attitude during working in basic schools and respect for all castes, religions and social cadre among the students. The British style promotes individual development while basic−school makes students a team worker, socialite and inventor. Students at basic schools were very enthusiastic and contradicted the skeptics and doubts of many educationists that the students would feel burdened and bored. The students at basic schools introduced new systems of school shop and school savings bank and made their parents learn the crafts, which they learnt at school and helped their families in increasing household income.
With such unlimited dimensions and potentials of basic schools, there were fears about non−standardization and dilution of demarcations in Nai Talim system. The quality and qualification of teachers and training of teachers became a matter of debate. How a teacher could be trained for crafts and lack of literature about crafts also made things scary. Instead of digging out innovative pedagogy to solve such complex problems, the than government and staunch educationists from British style of schooling surrendered to the easy one i.e. maintaining status quo, silence and ignorance.
There was great set back to the basic school system of Gandhiji when Congress also moved in support of closing such schools in Orissa in 1945 and when many members of Hindustani Talimi Sangh were jailed after declaration of "Quit India" movement in 1941, the British feared the basic schools as safe havens and light houses for national movement activities. Consequently,
the basic schools were abandoned and closed.
Later in 1944−45, Gandhiji redefined the role of basic schools and said that these schools are not mere four wall bounded structures that teach only to those who come in to the school but these basic schools must interact with its vicinity and work as catalyst to clean the society’s physical environment and soul of individuals. Gandhiji emphasized not only freedom for India but also freedom for villages of India through developing villages into self−supporting economies. The villages must be socially and economically self− reliant through continuous amalgamation of basic school with its villages in vicinity.
Gandhiji’s silent revolution also included adult education and improving living standards of village society through adult education in Nai Talim system. He envisioned that villages should become self−reliant in a way that they should become an enterprise that should benefit all cadres of village society without any biases. Basic hygiene, practice of having private toilets at home, sanitations, food, infra development, health etc., should be dealt with consensual and well thought planning keeping everybody’s interest in mind. He put the successful case studies of villages that, through Executive Committee and village savings bank organized by basic school students, improved lives of all and sundry and learnt the new standards of living.
Gandhiji’s Nai Talim system drew some inspiration from Montessori school in UK especially concerning the role of parents in child education. As child spends more time at home than at school, similarly, he also learns more from parents then from a teacher. No matter how many times a teacher teaches benefits of good hygiene, the child will not learn until his parents understand and practice basic hygiene at home. This evolves teacher’s role in bringing harmony between child’s learning at home and learning at school.
Teacher should take initiatives in filling the gaps between home’s learning and school’s learning by visiting students’ home and advise the parents to act in accordance.
Gandhiji suggested that curriculum design should develop the student into self−reliant individual who is skilled for earning, has belief in inventing and discovery. Such curriculum should develop students in a way that they become ready−helping hands for themselves and the society also. For example, the student should understand how he should earn, spend; manage his own balance sheets helping villagers to cop up with difficulties, managing gram bank services etc. So right from beginning the student becomes self reliant, confident and understands the village problems, plans to solve the problems and participates in implementation.
For developing such a revolutionary system of education, the teacher’s training becomes crucial and complex. However, out of this struggle, the fountain of learning explodes. For basic school of Nai Talim system, teachers were trained to learn the crafts like spinning, rotating charkha, cotton agriculture etc. and surprisingly, the volume of learning was found much larger when measured. For instance, for weaving a pair of cloth for a man, teacher and student together learn how many meters of fabric to be spun .for the required quantity of fabric, how many spindles of yarn would be needed for required amount of spindles, how much seeds to be sown .how much land is required for sowing how much quantity of fertilizers and water would be required ..how to source water and many more practical aspects. Moreover, this created enormous enthusiasm among teachers and students.
Evaluation of students in Nai Talim system was devised differently. The camps in place of promotional exams were organized. Students were needed to gather at one place in a camp. They would themselves organize their daily chores and organize weekly events for villagers to educate about sanitation, basic hygiene, agriculture etc and no student was left without performing. Students were given projects for creating herb garden in villages by collecting medicinal plants from the vicinity, developing the herbal clinics in which medicinal value of plants could be used for general health of villagers. Such dramatic evaluation developed these basic schools into real community service center. Interestingly it put one basic school entirely
different from another basic school because one village having some thing might not be available with another village. Every village had different set of problems and benefits, which developed its basic school in its own way. More importantly, the student at basic school enjoyed habit of experimenting and discovering. The writer in this story tells about how a girl increased milk production of her household cow by 50% through experimenting with cow’s nutrition and sanitation conditions after learning from her basic school.
Gandhian Nai Talim system was never in favor of promoting money economy in villages. Money economy buys goods from out side world through spending money hence increases dependency on outside world and at the same time, makes villages vulnerable to the outside world. The Nai Talim system introduced development of villages as self−supportive, which means that village produced itself, consumed all of its produce itself, and depended minimally on outside economy. The cycle of village resource utilization and regeneration should run in tandem without external help. Implementation of such system came up with superb examples of developing internally sourced manure that increased crops yield dramatically and utilized human and animal wastes for the same and thus improving sanitation and hygiene of villages. Such scientific experiments were generated by think tanks of basic schools and these think tanks were school’s teachers and students.
This entire story of Nai Talim system of education stretched from 1937 to 1987 came to almost extinction due to many skeptics raised by educationists about the model of basic school. As it was mostly village centric, urbanization made it irrelevant day by day as thinkers of Nai Talim did not extend this model’s periphery to urbanite or aspiring urbanite students. Lack of standardization in terms of qualification and skills of teachers, evaluation of students, model’s integration with higher educations and more sciences that are complex then village industries’ sciences etc led to abandon the Nai Talim system. Basic schools were also perceived to be poors´ schools where parents hesitated to send their child. Parents feared that child would be encapsulated in village system and would not develop to the new edge careers of elitists.
Gandhiji’s system of Nai Talim was criticized as much as his proclamation of Swaraj was appreciated but there are efforts in place to blow oxygen into it. National Institute of Technology & Industrial Engineering−Mumbai has developed creative workshop of young entrepreneurs on the notions of Nai Talim system. NITIE Center for Student Entrepreneurship (NCSE) is trying to develop budding entrepreneurship on the notion of Nai Talim system of Gandhiji. After browsing various section of NCSE, it seems the critics of this system must have ignored the very basic nature of Nai Talim system of unlearning and relearning. The Nai Talim system has immense potential to find out ways to integrate with higher education if it is allowed to do so. The concept of globalization is old now. There is a buzzword− Glocalization. The glocalization means using global practices and expertise to develop the local potential, respecting the local content and give new perspectives to solve local problems, facilitating exchange of success and failure stories of local industries/ village industries. The Nai Talim system can provide the basic matrix to mould the new dimensions, vibrancy and capabilities of abandoned local village industries.
KK Khullar," The Meaning of Education", KURUKHETRA: Journal for Rural Development, Vol. May 2011.
Marjorie Sykes," The Story of Nai Talim− Introduction: A Personal Testimony", March 1988.