A Paradigm for Making Education

Indigenous and Contextual


India is a country with an ancient civilisation well known for its system of education. It had evolved an unique system of education called, gurukul, which meant teacher's home, as the education of the student took place at the home of the teacher [1]. With Buddhism, education shifted from the home of the teacher to the monastery. In the Middle Ages some of the monasteries developed into true universities. The most famous was the Buddhist monastery of Nalanda in the 3rd century AD. The 7th century account of Nalanda of Hsuan Tsang reveals that this institution vibrated with intellectual activity and training was imparted not only for the study of Buddhist texts but of Hindu philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine and other disciplines. In monasteries, in addition to oral recitation, teachers used a variety of teaching methods such as exposition, debate, discussion, question-answer, stories and parables. More than 10,000 students of different faiths from within the country and abroad, who had passed strict oral examination, were provided with free education in Nalanda. Many other monasteries all over the country developed as centres of learning [2].

With foreign invasions and changes in the political structures, the indigenous educational system also changed and got increasingly marginalised. The final nail on the coffin was the decision of the British government to promote through education the European literature and science among natives of India. In place of gurukuls, in the first quarter of the 19th century, primary schools on the pattern of similar schools in England were opened in the country. The Government appointed the teachers in the primary schools and thus education instead of being a community responsibility became the responsibility of the State. The reach of the educational system during the colonial period, therefore, became limited. More persons were out of it than who had access to it. This is clearly revealed by the literacy figures at the time of the independence. According to the census of 1951, only 271 in every 1000 men and 88 in every 1000 women could read and write.

In the Article 45 of the constitution of the Republic of India, the commitment of the newly independent nation to provide universal education was enshrined. The Article 45 reads

" The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years."

This task was taken up with earnestness by the State and there has been a phenomenal expansion of education system in past fifty years. But the challenge of providing universal elementary education became increasingly difficult to achieve because gains of the expansion of the school system continued to get offset by the high population growth. The goal of achieving universal literacy receded faster than the effort put in to catch up with it. After forty years of independence there were more illiterate persons than the total population of the country at the time of independence. According to the census of 1991, out of every 1000 men 641 and out of every 1000 women 392 could read and write.

The quantitative expansion of the school system in the independent India continued to follow the model of the primary school education introduced by the colonial government. It was a costly model because it involved construction of school buildings, appointment of teachers and expansion of the bureaucratic structures for the management of the State's school system. Invariably new schools were opened up without ensuring the essential learning conditions. Shortcuts such as starting rural primary schools with only one classroom and appointing one teacher when at least two were required seem to have been indiscriminately followed. Often untrained teachers who did not possess the prescribed levels of education were appointed. It is, therefore, not surprising that researches have also revealed that the post-independence expansion of the school system has entailed dilution of the quality of education. Also, there have been few serious efforts to evolve cost-effective indigenous models of school education relevant to the needs of the people of our country. The end result is that even after 50 years of independence, the colonial legacy of an impersonal school system, marked mainly by its utility as a passport for employment and for upward social mobility, continues as the driving force for running it.

The futility of achieving universal elementary education by following the colonial model can be brought out by a back-of-an-envelope calculation. For the sake of argument let us fix the model of education through formal schooling by stipulating the norm that for taking care of education of a group of 40 children one teacher and one classroom are required. For estimating the additional cost of providing school education to all children in the age group 6 to 14 years we use the demographic projections prepared by the Registrar General of India and the estimates of enrolment in the primary and the upper-primary stages given in the selected statistics [3] issued by the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Government of India.

According to the Registrar General of India [4], the projected child population in the age group 6-14 years in 1996 was 187,704,000. In the academic year 1996-1997 the estimated number of children enrolled in the primary stage (classes 1 to 5) was 110.4 million and the estimated number of children enrolled in the upper primary stage (classes 6 to 8) was 41.0 million. Therefore, about 36.3 million children of this age group were out of school. For taking care of education of the out-of-school children at the rate of one teacher for forty children 9.07 lakh new teachers will be required.

According to the Sixth All India Educational Survey (6th AIES) [5] recently conducted by the NCERT the total number of teachers in position in the primary and upper-primary schools were 20.13 lakh and 10.36 lakh respectively, whereas for educating 151.4 million children at the rate of one teacher for 40 children 37.85 lakh teachers should have been in position. Therefore, additional 7.35 lakh teachers may have to be appointed in the primary and upper-primary schools if the teacher pupil ratio is to be maintained at 1: 40. Thus as per our estimate 16.42 lakh new teachers are required for keeping all the children in the age group of 6 to 14 years in schools. The annual salary of an elementary school teacher including allowances at the entry level of the Fifth Pay Commission pay scales is Rs 85,680. Therefore, the recurring financial burden on the State for meeting the salary component of the new teachers will be Rs 14,068 crore. In addition to appointment of teachers new classrooms will have to be built in schools. Their number can also be estimated. If for each group of 40 children one classroom is to be made available then the number of classrooms required for 187.7 million children will be 46.91 lakh. The total number of classrooms in the primary and the upper-primary schools as per the 6th AIES [6] are 21, 29,300. Therefore, 25, 63,300 additional classrooms may have to be built in the schools. If a modest budgetary provision of rupees one lakh for constructing one classroom is made, the non-recurring financial liability on the State under this head will be Rs 25, 633 crore. Over and above these estimates funds will be required for the training of new teachers, and for providing mid-day meal, books and uniforms for children. Funds of this magnitude are not available with the State. Therefore, the commitment of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years has been reduced to a pipe dream.

Because of the financial constraints it has not been possible for the State to improve the infrastructure in its schools and the essential learning conditions have seldom been met. This has resulted in lack of confidence in the ability of the State's schools to provide quality education. Even those parents who can ill afford to meet the cost of education of their children prefer to struggle and avail education in private schools for their children. It should, therefore, not shock us when we find that high fee charging private schools have mushroomed even in the rural areas. The worst affected are the children belonging to the tribal groups and those belonging to the scheduled castes. What is the way out of the prevailing impasse?

The way out is to liberate education from the dictates of the western thought and to adopt an indigenous model of education based on the thoughts of thinkers like Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Tagore, Swami Dayanand, Krishnamurthy, Vivekananda and many others who today are silently carrying out experiments on education relevant to the ethos of our country. Cost effective models of education are to be evolved for providing contextual and relevant education for meeting the varying geographical and social conditions. The model of providing a school and teachers in the ratio of one teacher for each group of 40 children may have to be replaced by a gurukul type of a school system in which members from the community take the direct responsibility of providing education to their children. The community may like to allow the premises of its places of worship or some other common area for imparting learning to its children. Also, the community as it is the main stakeholder in the education of its children has to play a proactive role in ensuring that the schools run by the State for its children perform at an optimum level. In operational terms it would mean that schools open for the stipulated time on all the working days and teachers teach with interest. The community may have to critically examine the relevance of the learning materials to their context and give their mind to the teachers of their schools to customise teaching learning as per their requirements.

The parents are also concerned that teaching learning, especially at the secondary stage, is bookish and fails in imparting life skills to their children. The children learn by rote facts and figures on items remotely connected with life of their community. They fail to acquire skills that might help them in becoming viable in the world of work. Not all children possess aptitude for higher learning and will be satisfied if they can learn skills instead of bookish knowledge. To meet this situation some of the secondary schools may have to be turned into skill centres where children can learn some craft.

Another concern in education, particularly at the higher secondary and the tertiary levels, is that in its present form it is not relevant to the emerging demands of the global advancements in science and technology and to the changing nature of the world of work. The general feeling in the youth is that the general tertiary education offered by the universities and colleges is too academic and inflexible. Students prefer to pay any price for obtaining professional education and undergo general education leading to graduate degree as a last resort. As higher education is expensive the challenge, therefore, is to make it attractive to students so that they may like to avail it by paying for it and thus reducing the financial burden on the State of meeting the full cost of higher education.

The recent revolutionary developments in communication and information technology have opened up cost effective approaches for providing the reach of higher education to the youth as well as to those who need continuing education for meeting the demands of fast changing nature of occupations. As the world is gradually entering an Information Age, India also has to re-engineer its education system at all levels to organise itself as a learning society. In this context all educational institutions, particularly of higher education, may have to undergo a paradigm shift for playing a role in building a learning society by making each individual a lifelong learner [7]. The focal point of programmes of the universities and colleges have so far been on exposing the heritage of human knowledge and advancing the frontiers of academic disciplines through research and development. In a learning society every human activity will require inputs from experts for making it relevant to changing technology and constraints of resources. For example, agricultural colleges and universities through their extension activities at the grass roots level contributed to the green revolution in India.

Therefore, what is now required is that colleges and universities assume the responsibility of finding solutions to problems of industry, commerce and of all such other activities of the society for improving the quality of life of the common man. Also, the nature of work in the information age will divide occupations into two broad categories: high-paid knowledge work; low-paid service work [8]. High-paid knowledge work will be performed by those who know how to manage information and process it. The society will give high premium to their skills.

Recognising that Information Technology will be a frontier area of knowledge in the 21st Century and a critical enabling tool for assimilating, processing and for providing value addition to all spheres of knowledge, the Government has decided to launch 'OPERATION KNOWLEDGE' as a part of the Information Technology Action Plan. Under this scheme computers and the Internet shall be made available in every school, polytechnic, college and university and all universities, engineering colleges, medical colleges and other institutions of higher learning in the country as well as Research and Development Organisations shall be networked for improving the quality of education. These inputs would entail that appropriate pedagogy is adopted for providing effective learning when access to global learning resources becomes available through the world wide web and the courses of study at least at the higher education level are made modular and flexible. This would make it possible for each learner to choose his/her learning programme required by him/her for acquiring skills for a selected prospective occupation. In a flexible programme the substantial responsibility for the learning will be on the learner. The learner would have to first learn how to learn and through self-study under the guidance of his/her teachers will construct his/her knowledge. This would necessitate among other initiatives examination reforms, delinking of degrees from jobs and curricular reform for bringing in emphasis on multi-disciplinary courses. Such changes in our educational system will be recognition of the sovereignty of the learner and for making education reality oriented and learner centred.


  1. Basham, A.L. (1954): The wonder that was India, Grove Press, Inc., New York.
  2. Altekar, A.S. (1951): Education in Ancient India, Nand Kishore Brothers, Banaras.
  3. Ministry of Human Resource Development (1998): Selected Educational Statistics (1996-1997), Department of Education, Government of India.
  4. Registrar General of India (1997): R.G.I. Letter No. 6-3/95. DD Vol II dated 24.6.1997.
  5. Sixth All India Educational Survey (1998): National Tables Vol 3 (Teachers in Schools), National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi.
  6. Sixth All India Educational Survey (1998): National Tables Vol II (Schools and Physical Facilities), National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi.
  7. Maheshwari, A.N. (1998): An Alternative Agenda for Higher Education, University News Vol 36 N0 40, Association of Indian Universities, New Delhi.
  8. Gates B. (1996): The Road Ahead, Penguin Books, London, England

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