An ethos for education

Published : Jan 20, 2001 00:00 IST

Shiksha aur Jana Andolan (Hindi) by Sadhana Saxena; Granthshilpi, Delhi, pages 215, Rs. 275.

INDIAN scholars who use a socio-historical perspective to understand the problems of education have been rare. Most of the time, studies of education isolate it from social reality, then proceed to raise and respond to questions about the role education can play in development. The prime example for this kind of educational discourse was set by the Kothari Commission in the mid-1960s. The Commission not only disacknowledged the role of social hierarchies and structures of dominance in impeding the progr ess of education but went ahead to make recommendations that were explicitly devoid of the means to counter conservative forces.

Isolated voices of dissent apart, it is only since the 1980s that the trend set by the Kothari Commission had displayed signs of languishing. A new generation of scholars have begun to explore and write about education in imaginative and strident ways. T heir writings differ from earlier works of scholarship not just in style; the range of issues they address is wider and the application of social theory to education is more penetrative. Sadhana Saxena's work belongs to this new kind of educational resea rch. In her recent book, Shiksha aur Jana Andolan (Education and People's Movements), she combines her own experience of popular education and innovation with historical inquiry to produce a work of startling quality and panache.

She presents four case studies of rural campaigns which treated education as a priority. These are: the Telengana movement of the pre-Independence days, the organisation of landless labourers set up by Kishore Bharati in Madhya Pradesh, the anti-liquor c ampaign of Andhra Pradesh women, and Rajasthan's women's development programme. Each case involved an attempt to equip the dispossessed with the initiative to organise transformative action. Saxena's research helps us notice how similar the key concerns were in the four campaigns, despite their strikingly different historical and geographical contexts. One major concern was how education can be linked to a wider, ongoing struggle. Thus, a village library movement became part of the Telengana struggle ag ainst barbaric landlordism, and a state-sponsored literacy campaign provided the occasion in Nellore (Andhra Pradesh) for women to rise against the harmful effects of liquor in their family and economic life.

By examining the trajectory of events in each campaign, Sadhana Saxena draws the conclusion that pedagogical practices work when they reflect social reality in a manner that is partial to the struggling side. This kind of partiality requires a determined rationale on the part of those acting as agents of change. Crippling contradictions arise when these agents lose nerve and succumb to mediatory roles. This is what happened in Nellore and at Kishore Bharati. In Rajasthan, the Sathin programme dir ectly faced the State government's ire when its confidence-building effect on village women exceeded the limits set by officials.

It is hardly surprising that Saxena sees little authenticity in the current drives for universal literacy and elementary education. Her theoretical framework implies that people's lack of enthusiasm for these programmes is a form of resistance. Structure s of injustice contradict the sweet messages of change and empowerment that are conveyed through reading material. The overarching context of the current literacy drives is the structural adjustment programme, which aims to plug the Indian economy firmly into the world capitalist system. The terrible conditions in which the majority of Indians live can only worsen in this new context. In the absence of initiatives to redistribute land and reform the wage structure, we cannot expect to make a dent in pov erty and the popular lack of confidence in the system. Participation in education calls for hope and motivation, both of which are crushed by everyday injustices and insults. Public policy must construct an ethos which favours the victims of this reality as a pre-condition for the success of educational campaigns. That is what this study attempts to tell us.

Krishna Kumar is Professor, Department of Education, University of Delhi.

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