|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 04, No. 2, 1974 (Issue 10) - International aid for educational development (UNESCO, 1974, 164 p.)|
1. This article is a slightly modified version of an address delivered to the State Education Conference in Madras on 19 January 1974, and reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
Malcolm S. Adiseshiah
Malcolm S. Adiseshiah (India). Director, Madras Institute of Development Studies. Former Deputy Director-General of Unesco. Author of Let my Country awake and It is Time to begin, as well as many articles relating to education.
Gandhi charted the idea of making hand-work an integral part of our education, the medium of instruction for boys and girls up to the age of 14. Zakir Husain followed him and declared that educationally productive work as the principal means of education will run through our future educational system from the basic school to the university. Maulena Abul Kalam Azad, our first Union minister, said in 1953 that we had accepted basic education, the main idea of which is that learning should be not merely through books but through some form of manual work. This principle should be applied, he affirmed, throughout the secondary education stage and should in fact become the principle of our national education. We have nevertheless successfully developed the world's most unproductive educational system - boys and girls who drop out of school and college, who repeat their classes, and who are nearly totally unemployable. And so I could go on recalling to your painful memory the identical blueprints on productive work in education. We seem to be gripped by a mental and moral paralysis about acting on this vast amount of knowledge and expertise that we have built up on productive work in education; knowledge seems to cause paralysis.
Meanwhile other countries are actively plunged in and developing productive work in education. In Sri Lanka schoolchildren are engaged in various pre-vocational work at the end of the primary cycle and branch off into agrarian, rural and industrial training skills at the secondary level. In Ethiopia, four years ago, the Haile Selassie University students met and voluntarily decided that all B.A. and B.Sc. students would spend their third year working in a farm or factory at the wages given to the worker in the unit, so that now their degree course is of five years instead of four. In China all universities were closed for three years, when the students and professors lived and worked under the production brigade of each commune, who then certified who should go to college. And each college has a farm co-operative or a couple of factories in the campus, so that work in them is part of the curriculum. In the Soviet Union work training is part of the eight-year incomplete secondary general-educational labour polytechnical school, where the manipulation of tools and materials begins in the first year, carpentry and allied skills in the fourth class and the various mechanical skills later. The training is not vocational but polytechnical. In the United States of America there is a new type of college redefining the concept of education, whereby colleges are regarded as educational supermarkets offering their varying shelves of learning to the neighbourhood students, workers, policemen, civil servants, bankers, etc., who number over 2.6 million today.
Learning and doing
In the Indian Fifth Plan we have set ourselves two objectives - removal of poverty and attainment of economic self-reliance; I feel that education is here being given a last chance to help our people attain these two grand goals during the next five years. And that is where productive work in education assumes a kind of life and death character.
Let us begin with recalling some simple home truths. What is productive work? It is any activity which produces physical, intellectual and spiritual goods which can be marketed. Productive work in education is then any learning activity where the skills of production so defined are acquired through actual productive activity. The best way to learn to ride a bicycle is by riding it, not by calculating the wind velocity, the body weight, the number of times the chain must turn to revolve the rear wheel once around, the rate of resistance it encounters in pushing forward the front wheel, etc. Educationally productive work is a mental process usually accompanied by manual activity. But not all mental activity or manual work is educationally productive. Some of the abstruse mathematical theorizing in my field of economic forecasting is very hard mental work but is completely unproductive for meeting our country's production stagnation, inflation ills or unemployment malaise. Similarly one can go on turning a charka or digging a hole in the ground and filling it up without acquiring any marketable learning skills. The decisive characteristics of educationally productive work are the learning process involving (a) the formation of new ideas or new combinations of existing ideas, (b) purposeful activity leading from one overriding purpose to another; and (c) socialization of the ideas and the purposes. Productive work in education is first and foremost an individual learning process. To counter it becoming self-centred and self-serving, it must be harnessed to social ends, so that it can be individually purposeful and socially meaningful.
Educationally productive work so defined is part of our Fifth Plan war against poverty and a base for our goal of self-reliance. If every child and adult is equipped with this skill-forming and learning process, the twin weapons of wage employment and self-employment will be effectively used by him or her to earn a living wage, and so make a success of the employment generating programmes built into the Fifth Plan. That is the basis for our necessary goal of self-reliance. Self-reliance starts with each citizen being able to depend on his learning and learned skills to earn his living. In turn our production structure and property relations will have to be turned around to ensure the flow and distribution of the essential goods and services that the poor man needs and a cut-back on the non-essential goods that a few of us so conspicuously consume. In such an economic structure, we could rely on our own capital and consumption resources and gradually become beneficiaries to other countries: Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Africa, instead of being continuing beneficiaries of foreign aid. But this process of self-reliance which starts with the individual learning system must also pervade an entire educational system, which contrary to Gandhi's vision of self-support has become a vast drain down which large sums are being lost every year. To me the Gandhian principle of self-support today means that our educational system must pay back to society what is invested in it.
Programmes for action
How can a doctrine of educationally productive work be applied to our educational system? We must begin by acknowledging that our educational system at present is not built on this essential principle, that it is as I have said unproductive, unworkmanlike, poverty promoting and non-self-reliant - that it is, in other words, anti-education that is growing and flourishing in our country. Against this background, I wish to place before you six educational action programmes in which we must engage now, if we are to redeem our pledges in the Fifth Plan which starts in a couple of months. I shall begin with simple direct educational programmes and go on to more radical action suggestions.
THE FUNCTIONALIZED SCHOOL
First, within the existing curricula of our schools and colleges, we can introduce this revolutionary yeast of productive activity. We must recognize first that our curriculum is anti-productive. The curriculum is a range of subjects covering reading and writing in one's mother tongue and one or more foreign languages, arithmetic, history, geography, the natural, physical, social and human sciences, mathematics, agricultural, engineering and health sciences, the fine arts, religion, philosophy and sports. The first problem that we face in making the curriculum functional to our life and living is that in life we are required to know how to grow paddy, how to breed and rear our cattle, how to produce milk and milk products, how to catch and market fish, how to weave cloth, how to fabricate machines or repair a non-functioning pump set. Unfortunately life does not present itself as physics or chemistry, economics, or sociology, literature or logic but that is all that we learn at school and college. This irrelevance superimposed on our grinding poverty accounts for our massive dropouts. Again even these subjects that form our curriculum have an anti-people bias. They are usually borrowed from foreign affluent countries which are highly industrialized and urbanized or are developed in the small industrialized and urban sectors of our own society. To the mass of our rural agricultural people, the curriculum is a foreign esoteric plant which dies almost at the moment of its planting. This accounts for the alarming repetition rates in our schools and colleges. What I would suggest is: (a) functional grouping by subjects around themes arising in our rural and urban sectors such as the paddy we grow, the milk we drink, the fish we catch, the baby we rear (this is a plea for inter- or transdisciplinarity), (b) lightening our curriculum by shedding some subjects and parts of some subjects which serve no purpose except that of useless and cumbrous baggage, and replacing it by work revolving around the themes; (c) making it learning centred - learning how and where to seek information, so that it is continually renewed and renovated, and (d) breaking up our centralized structure so that each school can make its own syllabus in relation to its neighbourhood needs. This would have two consequences. First, the functionalizing of the curriculum around the live, work-a-day problem that the student faces or will face, will end the present chaos that he experiences when he is put through a foreign, abstract and unreal study programme and then invited to join some social service programme, such as the youth against famine project or the National Service Scheme which has no relation to his curriculum. Such a dichotomy confuses the student who sees no relation between his studies and the work project and routinizes and kills the latter. This was my own experience as a student in Vellore and Madras and later as a teacher in Calcutta University and Madras University. What is needed is a functional curriculum based on practical work experience. Second, this work-based curriculum will also mean the end of the wrongful monopoly of the teaching tasks by the professional teaching community. For the systematic study around the principal occupations of the locality by the students will mean that the teaching profession must be thrown wide open, on a part-time or full-time basis, to farmers, engineers, businessmen, government officers, co-operative leaders, agricultural polytechnicians: the professional teacher should not be made or should not make himself a Jack of all trades at the risk of being master of none.
A second programme is the development of out-of-school and out-of-college education. Here let us remember, that despite all our padded misleading statistics, there are more children out-of-school than in school, starting at 52 per cent dropouts by class 5 up to 80 per cent who drop out by the SSLC level and 96 per cent of the college age group which is not in college. Now unlike the problem of what we have come to call our educated unemployed, which I call our educated unemployables, this group of boys and girls who are out-of-school or college are employed: the dropout boys, working alongside with their fathers in farms or at sea fishing or weaving or tending the cattle or in factories, and the dropout girls, who have to look after the baby and/or cook the meal at home, while their mothers are out earning a living to supplement the inadequate wages of the husband. The urban dropouts are engaged similarly in a wide variety of occupations in towns and cities. And so here we start with a premium. The productive work is there and all that we have to do is build a curriculum - literacy, numeracy, the cognitive skills of social, human and physical sciences - around it. In this sense out-of-school or college education has an advantage over school and college education, including the basic school where an artificial work situation such as spinning, or gardening or carpentry had to be created. In out-of-school education, the work being done by the dropouts or pushouts - the paddy we transplant, the fish we catch, the baby we rear, or in the case of students of college age the machine he tends, the office files he organizes - can be used to build the curriculum which is work based as the productive work in education we are talking about. In fact what we have proposed in the Tamil Nadu (Madras) Perspective Plan is that this curriculum which we are now building should after one or two years of trial in the out-of-school system, be fed into the school and replace the school curriculum, so that we would then have a single system, consisting of those who go to school full-time to study a work-based learning system and also those who work and acquire further learning based on their vocation. Such out-of-school and out-of-college provision then is made for the same number of young persons as those enrolled in schools and colleges. In this sense, out-of-school education, non-formal education is for me the educational wave of the future.
A third productive work in the education programme that I suggest and that we have planned for this state is functional literacy for our illiterate adults. Seventy per cent of India's adults are illiterate, but all of them are engaged in some productive work: farming, fishing, dairy husbandry, working in plantations, forests or factory, firm or office. So here too we start with half the cake baked. What we are planning to do is to get each of our unemployed or underemployed teacher-training schools to compile a basic list of 500-600 words employed by the men and women in their locality, and educate them around that list, so that each of them can use these tools to farm better, fish more, improve their homes, and in the case of office and factory workers enter the out-of-school stream to improve their qualifications. And so in the case of our illiterate adults, all that is needed is to marry education to their productive work, a marriage which will increase their productivity and revolutionize our abstract irrelevant system and end the scandal of mass illiteracy in our land of wisdom and sages.
A fourth programme is to use the facilities of our professional institutions - the engineering colleges, the polytechnics, the agricultural universities, the fisheries, veterinary and medical colleges - to make both our formal schools and colleges and our out-of-school and college programmes work based and educationally productive. Their workshops, farms, hospitals and research laboratories can be used during the evenings, nights, weekends and holidays to make the entire educational system production-based and work-oriented. All secondary schools should be vocationalized by making every one of them a comprehensive school or a technical and agricultural school. A number of agricultural polytechnics should be started in this our farming country, where 80 per cent of our people make their living from some form of agricultural and allied activity, so that we have the agricultural technicians needed by the farm sector and agricultural teachers needed by our comprehensive high schools. If we used our existing professional institutions' facilities for 12 hours instead of the present 5 hours a day, the additional cost of such a vocational transformation of the system would be considerably reduced.
A fifth programme is also under way. When we started the expensive employment generation programme this year, we discovered that our educated young men and women were not simply unemployed but more or less totally unemployable. That is, as a result of their SSLCs, B.A.s, M.A.s, M.Sc.s, they were incapable of doing any productive work which the employment market demanded. So in this state and other states we are spending 60 per cent of the allocated budget de-schooling and de-training these unemployable young men and women, and re-educating and re-training them in various forms of productive work which the market demands. This is in reality part of the out-of-school programme that I have referred to earlier, the educationally productive part of our system, which is now called upon to remedy and rehabilitate our unproductive formal educational system. This rehabilitative de-schooling programme will have to be continued during the Fifth Plan to help the already existing graduates and those who will be coming out of the mill this year.
AN EDUCATIONAL PAUSE
A final portrayal of productive work in education takes me further afield. We have moved so far away from the objectives of education, its methodology, its egalitarian, democratic and character building nature, that I wonder whether to see our theme turned into reality, for education to be reformed and restructured to become productive physically, intellectually and morally, there must not be simultaneously two pre-conditions. One is for our society to become truly democratic, which means that the unorganized disinherited rural masses should be organized to play their role in decision-making and the present monopoly of power and property by us, of the upper and middle classes, ended. Then corruption, black money, the craze for power will also end and we will have a social system with which education can be proudly and productively linked. A second precondition is to close our high schools and universities and colleges for two years and induct our students in the army like National Service schemes, youth corps and other rural development programmes where they would have the privilege and opportunity of working productively in the farm or factory. During this two-year period the various schemes for productive educational activity from the first class to the top university class could be introduced. We could try out our own educational models suited to our conditions, our children and our people. If it is true for instance that at early adolescence we can learn twice as fast the same material as at age 5 plus or 6 plus, and that at age 11-12, vocabulary and reading comprehension can be acquired twice as fast as at age 6, then why not start schooling at age 11 or 12, working and learning at home and at play before that age, allowing students to enter any class they are fitted for, as tested by their educationally productive work and proceed to educationally productive units in accordance with their learning paths? In such an educational system linked to a socially and economically just order and to political power widely dispersed and equitably shared, the educational disciplines of charity, compassion, industry, honesty and integrity can meaningfully develop.
Such are the vistas which an educationally productive system opens up. Our task as a people is no longer to draw up plans for such a system, of which we have more than plenty, nor to hold conferences and seminars to discuss these prospects and plans but to use this and every opportunity to generate the will to act.