Thursday, June 19, 2014

Abstract 2014 Simone Holzwarth

Simone Holzwarth, Humboldt-University Berlin


A Postcolonial Social Order through Teaching Rural Crafts? The Debates about Basic Education between 1937 and 1949 
The icon of the nationalist movement in India, M.K. Gandhi, envisioned a new postcolonial social order according to his philosophy of “sarvodaya” (translated as “the welfare of all”). This new social order was to be based on the principles of equality, communal self-sufficiency and the equitable distribution of wealth. In his vision, “the prince and the peasant, the wealthy and the poor, the employer and the employee are all on the same level”. Thereby, he and his followers were convinced that this new social order could only become a reality through radical education reform.

Gandhi called his concept for this reform of mass education “Nai Talim” (“new education”). In order to overcome the colonial legacies in education, he envisioned a new kind of education for all members of society and especially for the village population. In his view, there was a need for the masses to be educated “from the cradle to the grave”, meaning education for all different age groups. At the same time he also saw an urgent need for a radical change of values for education. Instead of concentrating on an urban colonial bureaucracy and economy, Nai Talim should contribute to the evolution of a new “village-minded” social order concentrating on “village reconstruction” and inculcate selflessness and the dignity of manual work in the young generation. In order to do so, teaching and learning were to be practical and based on a „productive trade“, a village craft or trade such as spinning, weaving or agriculture. Through this, Nai Talim should also be self-supporting in the sense that the costs for the salaries of the teachers could be met by the sale of the production of the education institutions. One stage of this all-encompassing education concept, “basic education” (seven years of primary schooling starting at the age of seven), was for the first time officially presented in 1937 and thereafter implemented on an experimental basis in different places throughout India.

On the backdrop of the situation of education and especially primary education at that time, the ideas of Nai Talim were quite revolutionary. Towards the end of Britain’s colonial rule, the majority of the population remained excluded from formal education and education policy was geared towards higher education. At the same time, manual work was highly stigmatized since it was mainly associated with the exploitation of cheap labour in the context of a colonial economy. Vocational and technical skills therefore were mainly not regarded as important and not part of the curriculum of official primary schooling. A complex factor in the predominant ideas about work and education in colonial India was also the category “caste”, operating as a legitimation of social stratification. This dominant complex of representations for thinking about work and education in colonial India is also called the “Brahminical-cum-colonial paradigm”, meaning the interrelation between colonial and high-caste ideas on education.

This paper analyses the debates about basic education between 1937 and 1949 and presents how the different actors working on the nation-wide implementation of basic education conceptualized equality and inequality in the context of education. The paper presents, how in the view of the practitioners of basic education the new education concept would bring about equality in terms of religion, class, caste and gender and therewith help to overcome colonial legacies in education. In the end, the paper will also look at the problems that arouse during the implementation of model institutions of basic education and the criticisms on the concept that arouse in the course of the debates.

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