Resemblance of Gandhi’s ‘Nai Talim’ in NEP 2020 is Unmissable

Mahatma Gandhi sought to revamp the education system through Nai Talim.

6 min read
NEP 2020 does not name the Mahatma even once. However, the resemblance with his “Nai Talim” is unmissable.

The notable changes in school education under the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 resonate with none other than Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of education. Be it eliminating distinctions between academic and vocational streams, or encouraging multilingualism, or providing flexibility to students to opt for courses as per their choice, or efforts to encourage participation of local community.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Nai Talim

In 1937, Mahatma Gandhi seeded an important idea to revamp the education system, at a conference in Wardha, Maharashtra through Nai Talim.

Gandhi felt a need to nullify what the education at the time of British Raj was trying to create – distinctions between knowledge and work, teaching and learning, among others. He also considered education as a medium to combat the dominant societal malice of ‘untouchability’ associated with caste-based vocations, such as spinning, weaving, basket-making, leather-work, and pottery.

Gandhi believed that separating education from work led to birth of many social injustices in the society.

He envisioned his scheme of education as the one that would lead to silent social revolution by eradicating poisoned relationship between classes. He was a believer in the power of education and wanted education to be accessible to all. This, he thought, would then help changing the dominant mindset that considered:

  • manual work as inferior to mental work
  • education to be a prerogative of upper castes alone

“By education, I mean an overall, all around drawing out the best in child and man, in body, mind, and spirit,” Gandhi said.

He wanted an education system in which education and labour are complementary and felt this move in turn would help in eliminating unnatural division between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, rural-urban divide through equitable balances. The dignity of labour and skill-based learning were the hallmarks of the Gandhian approach.

Unfortunately, his efforts did not attain fruition. During the British regime, the British realised that mass education had the potential to bring about a transformation which would stand as a threat to their supremacy. Post-Independence, the changes in the societal norms and values led to change in the meaning and expectations from education itself, in which the Nai Talim approach stood out like an alien.

Education Post Independence

Many notable attempts were made by governments post-Independence. Many schools, mandated to promote Nai Talim, were set by the government across the country. However, over a period of time these schools lost their vigour and vitality to the changing dynamics of the society.

In 1978, the Ministry of Education limited the role of Nai Talim in the form of craft-work alone to be covered through the Socially Useful Productive Work – or SUPW. Later, National Curriculum Framework 2005 included ‘work and education’ section, highlighting its utility in knowledge acquisition, skills formation and value creation.

However, Nai Talim always remained a peripheral system and could never integrate with the mainstream education till recently. The reasons for the lack of mainstreaming of Nai Talim approach happened due to the ways in which this approach was perceived by consumers of education. With the changing structure and form of the society, there were changes in the expectations of outcomes of education.

Reasons for Renewed Hope

However, the NEP 2020 brings in a new hope that Gandhi’s vision would be fulfilled if the policy is implemented with the same intent with which it was drafted. Some reasons for the failure of Nai Talim approach and the remedies of cure offered by the NEP are:

1. Nai Talim approach emphasised on the importance of education through any productive work that we do in our everyday life (learning by doing). However, with the changing dynamics of the society, work itself got categorised into many categories, namely blue-collared work versus white-collared work.

The macro and micro-level factors such as social, economic, political, cultural factors led to change in connotation of work itself. The hierarchy within the work systems became more rigid than what it was earlier. Manual work continued to remain inferior to mental work.

However, the NEP 2020 rectifies this by proposing importance of making children ‘learn how to learn’. It also mentions the exposure of skills and use of one’s hand to learn skills such as gardening and working with clay.

It suggests having ‘no hard separation’ of contents between curricular versus extra-curricular or co-curricular and emphasises treating all the extra-curricular subjects – yoga, woodwork, gardening and electric work as subjects per se.

2. Nai Talim approach focussed on imparting education in mother tongue based on the logic that familiarity in language being used in home as well as school would help the child to see the school as a natural extension of home.

However, westernisation of education and the attraction of the society towards learning English language, projected this model as the one that could be used for rural population only.

The NEP emphasises the importance of three-language formula for every child and encourages children to be multilingual. It also acknowledges the importance of beginning of learning in mother tongue/local language in the ‘foundational stage’.

It acknowledges that a proficiency in ‘English language is seen as a marker of high education among those looking for employment. It lays emphasis on developing an appreciation of Indian culture, an aspect of which is local/regional languages.

3. Nai Talim focussed on nurturing multiple skills in a child based on her/his interest.

This required customisation of productive work and education to suit the natural flair of the child. However, the current education system remains focused on standardisation in the format of content and delivery of the curriculum.

The NEP addresses this concern and suggests providing flexibility to students in choosing courses based on the interest of the child. It proposes flexibility in the assessment methods used by the schools. It also proposes promoting ‘gifted/special children’ through different scholarship programmes.

4. Nai Talim approach presented a concept of learning that went beyond textbooks.

The success of this approach hinged a lot on the teacher and her/his motivation to drive learning in children based on every child’s interests.

However, over a period of time, teachers’ were often employed to teach multiple subjects. The burden on them to complete the syllabus made it difficult to focus on the needs of every child. Also, reputation of teachers in the society underwent a change, making it difficult for teachers to support this format of learning.

The NEP 2020 acknowledges the role of a teacher in shaping the future of the nation. It also acknowledges the dwindling status of teachers in the society and outlines reasons for the same. To bridge this gap it suggests:

  • Investing in reinstating the ‘status of teachers’ by investing in their long-term development
  • Giving teachers more autonomy to choose finer aspects of curriculum and pedagogy
  • Supporting teachers and community to build smallest viable unit of governance and foster a culture of learning in and around the schools.

The Nai Talim approach advocated for participation of the local community and visualised communities as primary owner of schools. However, over a period of time, societal values underwent a lot of change in which schools became the responsibility of the government and its administration.

The NEP 2020 talks of developing mechanisms to incentivise local residents to join the education system and contribute to the nation building exercise through education.

NEP’s Fate Should Be Different From That of Nai Talim

The NEP aims to operationalse the entire policy in the decade of 2030 to 2040. It aims at imparting 21st century skills to children in which creativity, scientific temper, multilingualism, social responsibility among others are important so that children evolve as “engaged, productive and contributing citizens for building equitable, inclusive, and plural society as envisaged by our Constitution”.

It also acknowledges the importance of creating a supportive ecosystem for teachers, and for the community to contribute to the best of their potential. This is indeed in the right direction.

However, along with a robust implementation mechanism, NEP will require a big shift in the mindset of all the stakeholders so that it does not meet the same fate as Nai Talim did.

Nevertheless, the vision of education laid down in the NEP 2020 suggests Gandhi’s ideas on education are relevant even today as it attempts to bring in some key elements of Nai Talim into the current education system.

The NEP 2020 does not name the Mahatma even once. However, the resemblance is unmissable.

(Aditi Thakur is an Assistant Professor in Organisational Behaviour area at the Development Management Institute (DMI), Patna, Bihar. She is the coordinator of an action research project on basic education being carried out by DMI in government schools of West Champaran district in Bihar, with funding support of the Government of Bihar. The aim of this action research project is to explore ways of institutionalising the Gandhian principles of education in government schools. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!