This year marks 50th anniversary of Kothari commission report on education. In its after-life of half-a-century, the report continues to occupy an important place in discussions on education in India irrespective of the distinct ideological positions that may go on to frame these discussions. While some of the recommendations get echoed by a wide range of bodies including policy and planning groups, civic initiatives and organisations of radical persuasions, certain other issues raised by the report have been relegated to the back allies of our collective memory.
In the massive text running close to 700 pages the commission positions itself as one of the interlocutors partaking in conversations on education, focusing on the various components that did not always complement each other. The larger purposes and goals of education as well as its short-range functions such as enabling employment; the conceptual ideals of educational justice as well asthe financial/administrative requirements to realise these ideals were considered by the report as it went on to construct an imagination of a national system of education. Decades later, J.P. Naik, who served on the commission wrote an interesting text, “The Education Commission and after” (1982), chroniclingthe process of the formation of the commission, its approach and scope. Elaborating onthe commission’s task to establish a national system, Naik states that it was neither revivalist nor a chauvinist position. It was, rather, part of an emergent fashioning of a political consciousness in the third world that connected education to the aspirations and livelihood of its people. Given the historical connections between colonialism and expansion of formal education, is it possible to decolonise knowledge and processes of learning and teaching? Is it possible to imagine a system of education that would work outside the imperialist as well as feudal logics? These and similar questions were driving forces behind the commission’s vision to craft a system that could be philosophically robust, yet pragmatically relevant to the realities of contemporary life.
Three sets of interrelated ideas go on to constitute the commission’s vision. To start, the commission observes that social and educational inequalities share a close connection. Oftentimes, education becomes an instrument of reproducing and exacerbating inequality. Education in post-independence India, the commission resolves, should bepart of social transformation. Universal elementary education and universal adult literacy were understood be the initial steps towards this transformation. In this regard the commission recommended of 6% of government expenditure on education and a greater remuneration for teachers. One of the most important contributions of Kothari commission is the call to develop a Common School System (CSS) that would help build a public system involving schools of equitable structures.
By way of developing second set of points, the commission points out the limits of expansion of schooling. Given that modern education leads to a greater alienation among students and it ends up privileging bourgeois norms, the report pays serious attention to employing physical, productive work in the curriculum, restoring dignity of labour and expanding vocational and agriculture education. In imagining ‘how’ public education ought to be, the commission emphasises on scientific literacy in a broader sense that would encompass reason, justice and empathy. The commission also calls for an integrated system of education in which artificial boundaries between research institutions, universities, schools, polytechnics and non-formal learning merge and linkages are established between these diverse structures.
Third,the commission offers significant space to articulate the role of English in education. English is critical to gain access to scientific knowledge and should be taught in school as a subject. Through learning and teaching the modern Indian languages should also be developed and strengthened as languages of knowledge. This recommendation was reflected in the National Education Policy (1968) that led to the development of trilingual system in education.
In its approach the commission opened up a much needed possibility of connecting education to justice and equality. However, as the report began its public life in the 1960s the landscape of Indian education was well underway setting in motion several, parallel systems triggered by contradictory pretexts. For instance, as the teaching institutions expanded, enabling access to several first-time entrants in colleges, highly selective islands of institutions were also developed that did not prioritise access. The network of government-run schools weakened and gave in and universalisation of elementary educationremained a distant goal even after many decades of independence.
While Kothari commission report finds a mention in numerous discussions and policy documents, serious engagement with the report is critically missing. First step towards honouring the legacy of the report would begin by such engagements.
Shivali Tukdeo is Assistant Professor, Education Programme at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.