In the cause of mass education

Print edition : August 13, 2004

FOR visionaries like Kuruvila Jacob, retirement from service would not mean the end of the road. Although he could fulfil many of his cherished objectives as the head of three prestigious educational institutions over a period of nearly half a century (1931-1979), the distinguished educationist would still have much to offer towards revamping the education system. Neither advancing years nor a hemiparesis attack a year after he settled down in Vellore (Tamil Nadu) post-retirement deterred him from pursuing his activities in the field of his choice. Apart from advising local schools and serving on several committees, he wrote articles in newspapers on issues relating to education. The insightful articles he wrote for The Hindu during the last 10 years of his life make a survey of the post-Independence education scene. Significantly, nine of the 15 articles express his anguish over the failure of successive governments to implement the recommendations of the Indian Education Commission (1964-66) headed by D.C. Kothari.

Kuruvila Jacob and wife Grace with the pupils in MCC School, George Town, Chennai, in the 1940s.-

In the first of the articles, titled "Can we have compulsory primary education by 2000 A.D.?" (The Hindu, October 12, 1982), he identifies the causes for the "national failure" to ensure free and compulsory education for children up to the age of 14 within the 10-year timeframe envisaged by the Constitution. The first major hurdle, he points out, was the very basis of the system of education inherited from the colonial rulers. The system, patterned on public school education in England, was introduced in select areas in India in the early part of the 19th century. It was primarily intended to cater to the elite sections, but was extended to other areas as well. Kuruvila Jacob says that the three main features of the British system followed in India, namely, `single point entry" at Class 1 at the age of six, "sequential promotion", and "full-time institutional instruction", besides the book-centred course content which "cultivated white collar attitudes rather than the dignity of manual labour" could serve only the interests of India's upper and middle classes. Thus, for financial reasons, universal education is impossible under the present system. And, therefore, six nationalist leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari, suggested radical modifications in the system. The article states in detail the essential features of the proposals made by the six leaders; all the proposals were shot down, for one reason or the other, by bureaucrats, teachers and political leaders. A set of proposals prepared by J.P. Naik, Adviser to the Ministry of Education and Member-Secretary of the Kothari Commission, drew on the wisdom of the authors of the earlier proposals and provided for "multi-point entry" and "part-time study". According to Kurvila Jacob, "if implemented with sincerity" the new set of proposals will serve their purpose.

In its recommendations on free and compulsory education, the Kothari Commission's report (1966), hailed by the then Union Education Minister, Justice M.C. Chagla, as "unique" and "the Magna Carta of teachers", called for "strenuous efforts" to fulfil the constitutional obligation as early as possible. It observed: "Suitable programmes should be developed to reduce the prevailing wastage and stagnation in schools and ensure that every child who is enrolled in school successfully completes the prescribed course." In an article (The Hindu, January 31, 1989) Kuruvila Jacob recommends that this and two other recommendations of the Commission, relating to "vocationalisation of higher secondary stage" and "education for moral, social and spiritual values", "be taken up seriously without further delay".

Some of the articles call for greater attention to vocational education and seek to clear certain misconceptions about the Commission's recommendations on the introduction of vocational training. The Commission estimated that at the end of the 10-year schooling period, 40 per cent of the pupils would join the workforce as wage-earners, 30 per cent would step off to join vocational courses, and the remaining (30 per cent) would continue in the general education stream for two years. Kuruvila Jacob points out that the Central Advisory Board for Education, which approved the Commission report, did not understand the provision for vocational education in the higher secondary stage and named it the "Plus Two", which, he says, "is true only for the academic college preparatory course". He explains that higher secondary schools are not expected to run all vocational courses and that some of the courses can be left to polytechnics, industrial training institutes (ITIs) and so on.

Kuruvila Jacob as the first Indian Headmaster of the Madras Christian College High School, in 1931.-

The thrust of Kuruvila Jacob's articles is on the need to implement the Commission's recommendations, many of which "are precious for the progress of the country". He makes a spirited appeal to the authorities "to save the recommendations and not allow anyone out of ignorance to produce new policies which could result in serious loss to the country."

He has also expressed strong views against the residential Navodaya schools, which in his perception may not succeed in the Indian context of mass poverty and illiteracy. On the other hand, he advocates well-equipped and well-administered day schools with dedicated teachers as the right model. "The children of the backward communities emerging from the Navodaya schools and returning to their homes are likely to be misfits," he observes. He states emphatically, "India does not need and cannot afford the ill-planned and inefficient Navodaya Vidyalayas." In his opinion, the "folk schools" of Denmark could be the ideal model for India because the two countries, both based on agriculture, have many things in common.

A few of Kuruvila Jacob's articles touch upon issues relating to the high incidence of failure in public examinations, the poor quality of education offered and the resultant dropout, in all of which poor and backward children are the most affected. Well planned and tested syllabi, good textbooks, efficient teaching methods and remedial teaching to benefit the weaker students are some of the suggestions offered. He has made repeated reference to the efficacy of the method of Mastery Learning developed by eminent educators such as Dr. Benjamin Bloom, which improves the "learning grade" of a student and makes learning a joyous experience.

In a couple of articles, Kuruvila Jacob has thrown new light on the three-language formula introduced in schools in the early 1960s. The formula generated a controversy on linguistic and political grounds. Under the formula, students have to learn English and Hindi, the official languages, and the regional language or the mother tongue. In Hindi-speaking States, besides English and Hindi they would learn one South Indian language. There was opposition to the scheme from both Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi speaking States, the former on the grounds that there was no need for their children to learn a third language that could be of little use to them and the latter in protest against "imposing Hindi on the South". Looking at the formula from a pedagogic angle, Kuruvila Jacob states that it is "unrealistic" and places an unbearable burden on the children. Nowhere in the world are children asked to learn three languages, and that too in three scripts, at the school stage, he has pointed out.

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