The Danish Peace Academy

Mahatma Gandhi and Higher Education: A Critical Analysis

By: Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Mahatma Gandhi in his article titled ‘National Education’ published in Young India on September 1, 1921 has written that it might be true regarding other countries but in India where 80% of the population is occupied with agriculture and 10% of it with industries, it is an offence to make education merely literary1. It is apparent from these lines that according to Mahatma Gandhi, education is not limited to gain literary knowledge. Although he has tried to confine his above mentioned statement within the Indian perspective, in my opinion education cannot be restricted to the knowledge of letters of alphabet or the study of literature irrespective of the circumstances or the economic resources of any nation in the world. In addition to the literary knowledge, education includes the moral, physical and mental development of a person. In course of time, education has to develop a person in all respects in order to enable him to become self-reliant. A man cannot make an all-round progress or cannot be self-dependent on the basis of any of the qualities of intellect, and physical or spiritual development. To become self-dependant or for his all-round development, it is necessary that he should have moral upliftment in addition to his physical or intellectual development. It is absolutely necessary that he should not only be able to earn his bread, but should be able to fulfil the obligations of his family and carving the path of his progress should ultimately be able to achieve his goal of life.

A young man or a young woman may pass the Graduate or the Post-graduate examination with first division or may further acquire the M. Phil. or Ph.D. degree, but still he/she does not become self-dependant and is not able to channelize his/her future along successful lines by worrying out his/her day-to-day problems. In such a case, will the education received by him/her or the degrees acquired by him/her be regarded as meaningful? In my opinion such an education or such a degree is useless. Probably, you also will regard such education incomplete. It is the reality that can be perceived not only in India but in other countries also. Therefore, Mahatma Gandhi’s statement that education does not mean getting literary knowledge is entirely true even in the context of the world.

Today, there is a large crowd and a lot of competition for getting admission in colleges and universities. It is very true in the case of higher education. Everyone wants to go in for graduation, post-graduation, M. Phil or a Ph.D. degree. It is not all; thousands of students stand in a queue for D.Litt. degree. What prospects are there after getting a degree or degrees? Many of them have no hope for a bright future. Now you tell me, a person, who has spent a major, precious part of his life in obtaining a degree or passing through any level of higher education and who has not received any guidance for future or is unable to make himself self-dependant, should be considered educated? The answer would be in the negative. It is happening so. It appears that education today has failed in giving any direction.

It is a fact that our system of education has been defective for the last many decades. Even after independence, our leaders have not taken such steps, as they should have to reform our defective educational system. Since independence and till now, many committees have been constituted, many commissions have been formed, but how much improvement has been made in the sphere of education? Not much. People like Dr. Radhakrishnan and Dr. Zakir Hussain, the well-known educationists on national and international levels, have been the Presidents of our country. It is an anomaly that education has not been able to give right direction to our youths, or to provide them opportunities for their all-round development or to make them self-dependant. The number of students for higher education has increased every year and is still growing further. If we do not awake in time and bring changes in our defective educational system according to the viewpoints of Mahatma Gandhi, the situation would become so serious that we would not be able to manage it.

Mahatma Gandhi, an advocate of a solid foundation for the human beings was firm on giving free and compulsory elementary education2 to all. In Harijan of October 9, 1937, he wrote that he was firmly in favour of the principle of free and compulsory education for India. He further wrote that at this level along with the training in any trade, their physical, mental and spiritual potentialities also be developed. Under present circumstances, I would like to add further that arrangements should be made for free and compulsory education to all up to the secondary level3 without any discrimination of lineage, gender, creed, caste or sub-caste. The government should do this. I firmly believe that if Mahatma Gandhi had been with us today, he would have held the same opinion.

It is also to be arranged to impart physical and mental training for the growth of good physique and mind and moral education for the formation of character and good conduct on the elementary and the secondary levels. Besides, students should have technical knowledge according to their interest at these levels so that it may enable them to become self-dependant in future. This type of education imparted at the secondary level will incorporate four kinds of education, viz. technical, physical-mental, moral and general [according to syllabus]. After having received the secondary education, the students would certainly become self-dependant and would be able to choose the career they would like to follow.

Each and every student should have a definite aim before he enters the field of higher education; otherwise it is meaningless to pursue higher education. There is general thinking today that they would decide what they would do after having passed B.A. or M.A. or acquired some other degree. It is sheer waste of time and money and they would not achieve anything except groping in the dark. They will have a clear-direction only when the system of education at the secondary level is managed on the lines I have briefly discussed. Regarding this, it can be further said that a student should primarily pursue his studies at graduate level on the basis of the elementary technical education he/she received at the secondary level along with the other three. It is the requirement of the nation and is important at international level as well. There is also the possibility of their becoming self-dependant. If Mahatma Gandhi’s views on higher education are analyzed and reviewed in the perspective of the circumstances prevailing today, the above stated educational system would be according to them. It will be in proximity to his statement by which he expressed his desire that by changing the nature of college education, he would make it conform to the needs of the nation.4

Having become a graduate with technical knowledge any young boy or girl would be capable of seeking self-employment in a country with large population as India and it will be comparably easy for him/her to get a government or non-government job. He or she can also pursue his or her studies further while doing his/her job. In this way, being self-dependant, a young boy/girl can continue his/her studies further to fulfil his/her aim and object. This is what Gandhi wanted. Contrary to it one who is self-employed will not have to run about after graduation for post-graduation or any other higher degree. Apart from this, he will not be required to waste his precious time and money. It will naturally bring down the unnecessary crowd in colleges and universities. Besides, education will be purposeful and will be able to guide in right direction. In short, these are Mahatma Gandhi’s views on higher education and keeping them in mind, the system of education in India will have to be reformed. Mahatma Gandhi’s these views can be our guide and can contribute to the management of our educational system.

Mahatma Gandhi had talked about self-sufficiency of colleges and universities. It meant that these institutions instead of depending on the government-air should be self-financed. India is an agricultural country. Most of the industries are based on agriculture. Gandhi wanted that more and more self-financed Agriculture-Colleges should be opened and they should be attached to related industries, which would turn out graduates according to their requirement. Not only this, they should bear the expenses of their education and the training-staff. Gandhi wanted the same system to be adopted for the engineering or medical graduates. The engineering graduates should be attached to the related industry and the medical graduates to hospitals. The Law, Commerce and Arts colleges can be managed by the voluntary organizations and donations can be procured according to their requirement. Mahatma Gandhi was never in favour of government-aid. He, however, wanted the universities’ control over the colleges and that of the government over the universities.

It is another matter that under the present circumstances, we have not been able to incorporate his views in our system of higher education, but they are worth giving a thought. The self-dependence he has talked about is certainly significant, otherwise how long will the colleges and the universities thrive on government-aid? Keeping it in view, we will have to make a firm and well planned schedule and put it into practice.


1 Mahatma Gandhi's article titled "National Education" is not only the best for solving the then problems pertaining to education, but many of its parts are relevant even today.

2 Up to standard VIII.

3 Up to standard XII.

4 Harijan, July 31, 1937.


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