Primary Education In India

Samirnath Mallik

It was Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who proposed that the colonial rulers  be asked to establish, even prior to demanding Swaraj, a network of primary schools allover India so that at least 85 % of children are included in it. At that time Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an influential member in the Congress party. Though he respected Gokhale as his mentor initially, he parted ways later, not agreeing with this and other issues. As a result, it was never proposed. Even later the need of primary education was not given any serious consideration. Jawaharlal Nehru made an oblique remark on its necessity, "The poor Indians may be illiterate, but they have common sense to judge what is right and wrong."

The importance of primary education cannot be over-emphasized. It offers one the first step to see the world around him. What is more, it strengthens his voice to utter his opinion, in particular, any injustice against him. Also for a mass movement it provides a cohesive platform for mutual discussions between people and leader, not just listening to the latter.

If more people are further educated, it will accelerate progress of the country.  It will even assist a mass movement; an errant leader may be asked to  change the course of the movement or replace him. I shall illustrate this point from the French revolution, which is an extreme form of mass movement. After sending King Louis VI and his queen to guillotine, a Committee of Safety was formed  under Maximilian Robespierre. This Committee killed many thousands of people with and without trial. It angered the French people, leading to Robespierre himself being guillotined.

Ironically, Gandhi was the worst sufferer from turning down Gokhale's proposal to  ask the Britishers to implement primary education even before demanding Swaraj. When his mission was about to succeed, the 'illiterate mass' which propelled his movement so long, was left out and he was surrounded by men believing in the two nation theory. Gandhi himself had no belief in  this theory, but succumbed to the pressure of these men to win the Swaraj at the  cost of partition of India.

To my knowledge there are many primary schools, particularly those in villages, which are in bad condition. Instead of reviving them, the governments establish new institutions of higher studies. But it can scarcely improve education: If students fed in these higher institutions are not properly taught, it will tend to decrease the quality of education.

Nov 28, 2020

Samir Mallik

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