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Nelson Mandela’s views & relevance to Education System of India


By Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’

The 18th of July is celebrated across the world as International Nelson Mandela Day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi while paying homage to him, stated, “The beloved Madiba`s work, ideals and principles continue to inspire us. He demonstrated the triumph of peace, equality and service.” Today, through this column, I am sharing his ideas and views in the field of education, in an attempt to connect them to the scope and possibilities for the qualitative growth of the Indian education system.

In his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, Mandela describes how education impacted various phases of his life. Though incarcerated in jail, he obtained his legal education through correspondence courses. The critical question for Mandela concerning education was regarding “the purpose of education”. He viewed education as serving manifold purposes.

Stressing upon Education as the means for personal development and as a vehicle for equality of opportunity, he said: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.” He thus viewed education as having the power to liberate the individual “socially, economically and philosophically”.

For Mandiba, education is not confined to formal institutional spaces. To quote him: “To a narrow-thinking person, it is hard to explain that to be ‘educated’ does not mean being literate and having a BA, and that an illiterate man can be a far more ‘educated’ voter than someone with an advanced degree”. His views are amply reflected in the draft New Education Policy of India. The policy recognises the skill and the value of learning from experts in their fields, even if they do not possess a professional degree. The policy advocates that local experts from various trades like carpenters, masons, etc., will be formally called to schools to impart skill education. And going several steps ahead, the policy also states that students of upper primary classes shall have a ten-day internship with local crafts and trade persons, to not only learn their trade craft, but also to become sensitised to the contributions of such self-learnt experts and skilled persons to the progress and growth of society.

Mandiba believed that Education is a tool for empowerment and transformations. To meet this objective, however, education needs to be contextualised. One of his famous quotes related to education is that it “is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Education was also seen as the enemy of prejudice. Hence, Mandela said “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills that we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.” Mirroring Mandela’s view, the ministry is coming out with a policy which envisages that the curriculum and pedagogy of our institutions must develop among the students a deep sense of respect towards the fundamental duties and Constitutional values, bonding with one’s country, and conscious awareness of one’s roles and responsibilities in a changing world.

In the quest to pursue modern education, one should not forget one’s cultural history. Mandela opined that one needs to know and understand one’s cultural history, for example music, arts, dances and local language. He confessed that in his own personal life he had learnt a lot about his country and its people through cultural expressions. India has a rich cultural history spanning millennia. The Ministry is coming out with a new education policy. The vision of the Policy is to instil among the learners a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit, intellect, and deeds, as well as to develop knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions that support responsible commitment to human rights, sustainable development and living, and global well-being, thereby reflecting a truly global citizen.

Mandela always emphasised discipline, hard work and physical fitness and sincerely practised it in his own life. He said: “I have found that I worked better and thought more clearly when I was in good physical condition, and so training became one of the inflexible disciplines of my life.” He would take time out to jog on the spot during the periods when he was in hiding. Exercise and physical fitness were critical not only for him in his personal life, they also became an inalienable part of his educational philosophy. When Government of India launched the Fit India Movement on 29 August, 2019, to inculcate physical activity/sports into the daily life of citizens, it reiterated the Indian culture of centuries of considering physical, mental and spiritual wellness in a single continuum, just as Mandela did. “Thirteen Lakh” schools and “Eleven Crore” students all over the country took the fitness pledge. Through the firm commitment in the new education policy to treat physical education and skill education as an integral part of the academic curriculum, (and not as an extra-curricular or co-curricular activity), the government will bring back the focus on these areas for ensuring the holistic development of every child.

It’s quite heartening to note Madiba’s views on Computer literacy. In fact, they were quite modern. Mandela urged teachers to ensure learners were computer literate from Grade 1 itself. He thus wanted today’s learners to be in sync with the contemporary technological developments. His views are more relevant in today’s world when most of the learning is shifting towards blended e-learning. The Government of India has launched Prime Minister E-Vidya for providing multi-modal access to education through DIKSHA (one nation-one digital platform), TV (one class-one channel), SWAYAM Air through Community radio and CBSE Shiksha Vani podcast; and study material for children with disabilities. These will usher in an era of availability of quality e-content on the public domain, thus enabling technology to become the harbinger for equity in education.

Nelson Mandela’s vision has the transformative power for education. The path of education in India is established on the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability as outlined in the New Education Policy, and these were very close to Mandela’s heart. Indeed, we take inspiration from him, as we commit to harnessing the creative potential of each learner while empowering them to become “socially, economically and philosophically” liberated for contributing from an equity standpoint in transforming India into a global knowledge hub.

(Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is Union Minister for HRD in Government of India)