Bihar to revive Gandhian schools

Patna, Oct 22: Bihar has begun a move to revive 391 Buniyadi Vidyalayas (also known as basic schools) that were built in accordance with Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of providing elementary holistic education to every child.

The schools were meant to provide education that connected seamlessly with lives of children. Training in spinning, carpentry, farming and weaving was also part of the pedagogy in these schools. Here, teachers were also expected to have skills in different crafts.

Now, the government will run 122 ‘model’ schools in the already existing basic schools to give them a new lease of life.

“After the central government approved 122 model schools, the state government has decided to run them in the basic schools set up on Gandhian principles,” Biihar Education Minister P.K. Shahi told IANS.

Shahi said decades of neglect had caused the standard of the basic schools to drop.

He hoped that setting up of model schools within basic schools would revive Gandhi’s dream education system.

Gandhi aimed at the creation of small, self-reliant communities through training children in qualities of heart, head and hand. He wanted to bridge the separation between education and work.

While traditional systems of education in India and the schools set up under the colonial government emphasised literacy and numeracy, Gandhi wanted ‘Nai Talim’ (new education) to create industrious and intelligent individuals who were adept at working with their hands.

An official in the education department said although Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had been advocating the revival of Gandhian schools for seven years, no effort was taken until recently.

Nitish Kumar set up a three-member committee last year to come up with concrete plans to revive these schools. It submitted its report recently, and the chief minister expressed shock that of the 391 Buniyadi Vidyalayas, hardly any was functional.

There were plans to revive the basic schools that were also part of the Common School System the government wanted to implement. But this too has remained on paper.

Amarjeet Sinha, principal secretary, education department, said the government would revive the schools in earnest.

“We will appoint teachers in all basic schools. A decision has been taken to appoint five teachers in each such school,” he said.

Officials admit that scores of basic schools have not even one teacher; many of the schools are grossly understaffed, and many are being run by volunteers.

“The shortage of teachers has badly affected the quality of education in these schools,” Sinha said.

District officials in Champaran district said the ‘Mahatma ke school’ (schools of the Mahatma), as known locally, have been struggling for survival.

Apart from the dearth of staff in many schools, even the land meant for the schools has been encroached, officials said.

The first Buniyadi Vidyalaya was set up by Gandhi in 1939 in Brindavan in Bihar’s West Champaran district.

The schools were meant to provide education that connected seamlessly with the lives of children. Training in spinning, carpentry, farming and weaving were also part of the pedagogy in these schools. Teachers were also expected to be skilled in different crafts.

The whole learning process too was differently envisaged, as Gandhi believed teachers were not mere instructors but would also learn while interacting with students.

Successive state governments have been unable to match Gandhi’s vision, and the institution has been allowed to languish.

No effort was made by the union government either to keep the institution alive.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court took serious note of the plight of basic schools in West Champaran.

The court then issued a notice to the union government, the state government, West Champaran district administration and National Human Rights Commission to ensure proper functioning of the schools and preserve Gandhian heritage.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

IANS