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Gandhi on Children's Education
by Kamaladevi Chattopadhaya
Quoted from Kamaladevi Chattopadhya's memories "Inner Recesses, Outer spaces"
I was in Gandhiji's Sevagram for a small intimate discussion organized by Nai Talim (Basic Education). This new orientation had made a convincing appeal to me. The New Education System in Europe that I had surveyed had the same basic approach as Nai Talim or Basic Education as it was popularly known. Our ancient belief was that a child's psyche is alive, absorbent, active, from the moment it draws its first breath. If education is the total flowering of a growing personality, there has to be a harmonious coordination of all the human-faculties, and their adjustment with the outer world. This had to include the manual, involving skill and labor with materials.
Gandhiji valued children, so was deeply concerned about their education, particularly in the early years. For him the basis of education should ensure the cultivation of the hearts of the young. 'What would it matter if they learnt everything but did not know how to live in brotherliness with their fellow beings?' he queried.
He decried strongly "stuffing children's minds" with all kinds of information instead of stimulating and developing them. "I would develop in the child his hands, his brains, his soul. Now the hands have almost atrophied and the soul has been ignored".
Madame Montessori met this need for the child to touch, feel, construct but through use of modern objects especially contrived. While Gandhiji wanted the child to employ articles that were in use in its immediate home life, in the field or any other sector in which the family was involved. Through these experiences the growing entity explored, discovered the why and wherefore of many operations and came to understand and adjust itself to the world it has to live in. He believed this process stimulated the creative spirit in the child, and made it productive materially and aesthetically. Gandhiji's basic education aimed at: 'Work experience through the early school stage and vocation in the senior secondary', to equip them adequately. Most parents and administrators scoffed at this as perpetuating the varnas --the caste system, and rejected it. What we see today is a child of four or five carrying a book load heavier than itself. Since we can't go back to the old ashram system we had to find a current alternative. Nai Talim was one such.
As I look around today I see education of the young lacks substance. Looking back I realize that the old style teaching, the village schoolmaster way, may have been too simple yet it was direct and intimately touched the child's life. For instance he would start geography with your own neighborhood fields, arithmetic with counting your little possessions, calculation measuring your own walls, history round your monuments, religious thoughts through the lives of local saints. In this context the child both sees and feels, for these factors are part of its life, not read in cold print. These give reality to the child through experience. What is close and familiar to it, it easily relates to itself. Lessons that are dry, abstract, are only a mockery. Even a cast or a mould becomes meaningful only through an experience. What is therefore visible in its own horizon it then extends beyond it to the country, to the world beyond. These thoughts kept running like a chain in mind. How vital Nai Talim had been and how fruitful a revolution could have been wrought, had India adopted it.
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