Key insights from The Education Commission (1964-66) : Ensuring a Learning India - S6 E.002

[35th post in the 'Ensuring a Learning India' series. 42 posts in total. One post per day. 7 more to go]

The Education Commission (1964-1966) headed by Prof. D.S Kothari also known as Kothari Commission, stands out as one of the important milestones in the Indian Education reform. This commission was appointed by M.C Chagla, the then Minister of Education in the union government. As we move ahead to design a framework for school education reform, recollecting this important report is useful for three reasons. One, it gives a sense of history of the problems and how we progressed. Two, it tells us the progress we have made on the problems that are common today and then. Three, there can be some interesting lessons learnt from this analysis. This section aims to summarize important aspects of the report. Fair justice may not be done while summarizing the voluminous report in few words, and selecting the key aspects to summarize is subject to author’s biases but nevertheless it is a fruitful exercise with its own limitations. One should also note that this report was written in 1960s, and hence reflects the problems at that point of time. Hence, the discussion and recommendations of the commission should be viewed from that perspective. The report deals with both school and college education. Only the sections related to school education are considered for our discussion.

The importance of education as recognized by the commission is reflected in the covering letter that Prof. Kothari has written to Mr. M.C Chagla, while submitting the report. The letter says, “education has always been important but perhaps never more so in man's history than today. In a science-based world, education and research are crucial to the entire developmental process of a country, its welfare, progress and security. It is characteristic of a world permeated by science that in some essential ways the future shape of things is unpredictable. This emphasizes all the more the need for an educational policy which contains a built-in flexibility so that it can adjust to changing circumstances. It underscores the importance of experimentation and innovation.”

The letter further continues to comment on the critical constraint in the then education system – “If I may say so, the single most important thing needed now is to get out of the rigidity of the present system. In the rapidly changing world of today, one thing is certain: yesterday's educational system will not meet today's, and even less so, the need of tomorrow.” The report also comments on it -  “The most important and urgent reform needed in education is to transform it, to endeavour to relate it to the life, needs and aspirations of the people and thereby make it the powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation necessary for the realization of the national goals. For this purpose, education should be developed so as to increase productivity, achieve social and national integration, accelerate the process of modernization and cultivate social, moral and spiritual values.” 

The Education Commission strongly argued for a common schooling system. It points out the inequity in access to quality education, need for integration of different social classes and passionately argues for a common school system, calling it a way of democratizing education. It is worth reading those arguments.

“In a situation of the type we have ill India, it is the responsibility of the educational system to bring the different social classes and groups together and thus promote the emergence of an egalitarian and integrated society. But at present instead of doing so, education itself is tending to increase social segregation and to perpetuate and widen class distinctions. At the primary stage, the free schools to which the masses send their children are maintained by the government and local authorities and are generally of poor quality. Some of the private schools are definitely better; but since many of them charge high fees, they are availed of only by the middle and the higher classes. At the secondary stage, a large proportion of the good schools are private but many of them also charge high fees which are normally beyond the means of any but the top ten per cent of the people, though some of the middle class parents make great sacrifices to send their children to them. There is thus segregation in education itself-the minority of private, fee-charging, better schools meeting the needs of the upper classes and the vast bulk of free, publicly maintained, but poor schools being utilized by the rest. What is worse, this segregation is 'increasing and tending to widen the gulf between the classes and the masses.

This is one of the major weaknesses of the existing educational system. Good education, instead of being available to all children, or at least to all the able children from every stratum of society, is available only to a small minority which is usually selected not on the basis of talent but on the basis of its capacity to pay fees. The identification and development of the total national pool of ability is greatly hampered.

The position is thus undemocratic and inconsistent with the ideal of an egalitarian society. The children of the masses are compelled to receive sub- standard education and, as the programme of scholarships is not very large sometimes even the ablest among them are unable to find access to such good schools as exist, while the economically privileged parents are able to 'buy' good education for their children. This is bad not only for the children of the poor but also for the children from the rich and privileged groups. It gives them a short-term advantage in so far as it enables them to perpetuate and consolidate their position. But it must be realized that, in the long run, their self-interest lies in identifying themselves with the masses. By segregating their children, such privileged parents prevent them from sharing the life and experiences of the children of the poor and coming into contact with the realities of life. In addition to weakening social cohesion, they also render the education of their own children anemic and incomplete.

If these evils are to be eliminated and the educational system is to become a powerful instrument of national development in general, and social and national integration in particular, we must move towards the goal of a common school system of public education
  • which will be open to all children, irrespective of caste, creed, community, religion, economic conditions or social status;
  • where access to good education will depend not oil wealth or class but on talent;
  • which will maintain adequate standards in all schools and provide at least a reasonable proportion of quality ins in which no tuition fee will be charged; and
  • which would meet the needs of the average parent so that he would not ordinarily feel the need to send his children to expensive schools outside the system. 

Such an educational system has, for instance, been built up in the USSR and is one of the major factors which have contributed to its progress. It has also been developed, in different forms and to varying degrees, in other nations like the USA, France and the Scandinavian countries. The traditional English system has been different and has allowed good education, under private management, to be largely reserved for those who have the capacity to pay the necessary fees. But recently, the so-called Public Schools have come in for strong criticism in England itself and it is not unlikely that a radical change may be initiated to make them more democratic. A somewhat similar system was transplanted in India by British administrators and we have clung to it so long because it happened to be in tune with the traditional hierarchical structure of our society. Whatever its past history may be, such a system has no valid place in the new democratic and socialistic society we desire to create.”

Community values

The report has argued for instilling community values in schools and colleges, by having students do their own work. It argues that this also instills the values of dignity of labour.

“Every educational institution should try to develop a rich community life of its own and provide adequate and satisfying opportunities for students to participate in it and help in organizing it. Various opportunities for such work exist in the classroom, on the campuses of the schools and
the colleges. in the hostels and on the playgrounds. For instance, instead of utilizing servants and hired labour for educational institutions and their hostels, it is possible to have much of the work done by students, not primarily to save money, but to provide valuable experience. Japan has followed this Practice in her national system, and many schools in India (including some schools for well-to-do children) are also doing so to some extent. This type of work-experience would cultivate in students the habit of work and a sense of the dignity of labour. If this is done on a nation-wide scale, it will incidentally effect some saving in expenditure which could be utilized for providing certain basic amenities for students. The training institutions for basic teachers have tried to develop such traditions of community living by eliminating the use of servants to a
large extent. We recommend that this pattern of hostel life should be introduced in all schools and colleges so far as possible. The practice of making self-help and manual work a part of the daily life and training in all types of educational institutions-as was the case in many of the old Ashrams and Academies-would yield good educational results. We cannot totally recreate the conditions of the past in our educational institutions; but we can certainly profit from the useful elements in past experience.”

Language of instruction
The commission identified the importance of teaching in mother tongue at an early age and the need to make knowledge available in local languages, to break the barriers to knowledge confined to English and other foreign languages.
“In no country in the world, except India, is to be seen this divorce of the language of education from the language of the pupil. Full hundred years have not elapsed since Japan took its initiation into Western culture. At the outset she had to take recourse to textbooks written in foreign languages, but from the very first, her objective had been to arrive at the stage of ranging freely over the subjects of study in the language of the country. It was because Japan had recognized the need of such studies, not as an ornament for a select section of her citizens, but for giving power and culture to all of them, that she deemed it to be of prime importance to make them universally available to her people. And in this effort of Japan to gain proficiency in the Western arts and sciences, which was to give her the means of self-defence against the predatory cupidity
of foreign powers, to qualify her to take an honoured place in the comity of nations, no trouble or expense was spared. Least of all was there the miserly folly of keeping such learning out of easy reach, within the confines of a foreign language.

Learning through a foreign medium compels the students to concentrate on cramming instead of mastering the subject-matter. Moreover, as a matter of sound educational policy, the medium of education in school and higher education should generally be the same.”

The commission had recommended having a three language policy in schools, where students of North India would study one Indian language apart from Hindi and English and students of South India would be encouraged to study Hindi apart from mother tongue and English.

Quantum of knowledge

Interestingly, the commission argues to increase the curriculum in light of expanding knowledge and to save additional school years.

“It may be interesting to note that until recently, the general tendency everywhere has been to overrate the importance of the duration of the school course. There is a reason for this. When the quantum of knowledge covered in the school was not very large, the pace of school work was leisurely, and when one learnt more outside school than within school, it was natural to suppose that the longer one stayed at school the better one gained in knowledge and maturity. All this has changed now. The knowledge explosion has imposed an altogether new pressure on schools and colleges.

Formal education now plays a much greater part than it did previously at any time in history and the efficiency of the educational system has become a very important factor. Machlup, in his monumental study on the Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States (The Princeton University Press, 1962) has observed that the learning process in school in the United States could and ought to be accelerated. He has vigorously argued that the educational objectives now attained in 12 years of schooling could be achieved in 9 or 10 years. This would mean a saving every year of tens of billions of dollars. Besides, it will save the precious time of students and teachers. This 'time- saving' is becoming increasingly important as there is so much more to learn in a fast knowledge-expanding world. The compression of the school course would also help in the development of satisfactory working habits and powers of concentration and application. Machlup says that reducing the school duration from the present 12 to 9 or 10 years does not mean that the school course is to be cut down. 'Nothing is to be cut out; on the contrary, more is to be put 'into the curriculum. But the students have to get a faster start and a continuous stretch of their minds. 'We are informed that some schools in New York City are experimenting on the reduction of the school duration.”

The commission makes an important point about the approach to reform in India.

“It has also to be noted that the broad pattern of education in our country, which was imported from abroad, is still in the nature of an exotic plant. There is hesitation and reluctance, and sometimes even fear, about making any radical changes unless these are on the model of what is happening abroad. We have to outgrow this attitude and to begin regarding the educational pattern as our own; and we should introduce changes in it on the basis of our own indigenous thinking, after taking into account what is happening outside but without being dominated by it.”

The report has an interesting summary of the school and college patterns at that point of time.

One of the important recommendations of the commission, which was implemented later is the common system of general education for 10 years, and not to specialize before 10 years of general education. The commission recommended as follows.

“The new educational structure should consist of
  1. One to three years of pre-school education;
  2. a ten-year period of general education which may be subdivided into a primary stage of 7 to 8 years (a lower primary stage of 4 or 5 years and a higher primary stage of 3 or 2 years) and lower secondary stage of 3 or 2 years of general education or one to three years of vocational education (the enrolment in vocational courses being raised to 20 percent of the total);
  3. a higher secondary stage of two years of general education or one to three years of vocational education (the enrolment in vocational education being raised to 50 per cent of the total);
  4. a higher education stage having a course of three years or more for the first degree and followed by courses of varying duration for the second or research degrees.
  5. The age of admission to class I should ordinarily be not less than 6+.
  6. The first public external examination should come at the end of the first ten years of schooling.
  7. The system of streaming in schools of general education from class IX should be abandoned and no attempt at specialization made until beyond class X.
  8. Secondary schools should be of two types-high schools providing a ten-year course and higher secondary schools providing a course of 11 or 12 years.
  9. Attempts to upgrade every secondary school to the higher secondary stage should be abandoned. Only the bigger and more efficient schools-about one-fourth of the total number-should be upgraded. The status of the existing higher secondary schools should be reviewed from this point of view and, if necessary, those that do not deserve the higher secondary status should be downgraded.
  10. A new higher secondary course, beginning in class XI, should be instituted. Classes XI and XII (and, during the transitional period, class XI only) should provide specialized studies in different, subjects. Where, however, existing higher secondary schools with integrated course in classes IX, X and XI are running satisfactorily, the arrangement may continue until class XII is added.

 Education standards

The commission argues for a dynamic, internationally comparable standards.

“In our opinion, the basic issue in educational reconstruction is not to compare the standards of today with those of the past or to determine whether they are rising or falling. On the other hand, we should judge them on the basis of three interrelated criteria: adequacy, dynamism, and international comparability. Standards must be:
  • adequate in relation to the tasks for which they are intended;
  • dynamic, and should keep on rising with the demands for the higher levels of knowledge, skills or character which a modernizing society makes; and
  • internationally comparable, at least in those key sectors where such comparison is important. improvement can be expected without the addition of time.- The quality of different inputs is even more important, and with an improvement in these, it is possible to raise the standards considerably without affecting the structure or increasing duration.

Teacher salaries

The report documents salaries of teachers from pre-primary level to university level. One can observe the difference in salaries between university teachers and school teachers.

The commission observes that the increase in salary of teachers was offset by increase in prices.

“On the whole, there was some improvement in the remuneration of teachers in real terms up to 1960-61. This has since been almost completely neutralized by the sharp increase in prices that has taken place in the last two or three years. This has, we are afraid, adversely affected the morale of teachers. In our opinion, the most urgent need is to upgrade the remuneration of teachers substantially, particularly at the school stage.”

The report also argues that increasing pay invites people of high caliber into the system and through their continually improvement, the system benefits. “The efficiency of the teaching profession and its contribution to national development in general and educational improvement in particular, will depend largely on its social status and morale. This will, in its turn, depend upon two interrelated factors: economic status and civic rights of teachers, and their professional competence, character and sense of dedication. Throughout the world, the general experience has been that, as the material rewards of teachers are elevated, it becomes possible to recruit into the profession individuals of a continually improving quality and with more extended professional training; and in proportion as the competence, integrity and dedication of teachers has increased, society has been increasingly willing and Justifiably so to give greater recognition to their material and economic status. We visualize a similar development in India over the next twenty years.

The commission also makes an interesting recommendation on the increments for teachers. “Advance increments for teachers doing outstanding work should be made possible. Normally, a teacher reaches the maximum of his scale in a period of 20 years. It should be possible for about five per cent of the teachers to reach the top of the scale in about ten years and for another five per cent of teachers to reach the same in about fifteen years.”

Teacher education

The importance of teacher education is beautifully captured in these lines- “In the absence of other influences, a teacher tries to teach in the way in which he himself was taught by his favourite teachers and thus tends to perpetuate the traditional methods of teaching. In a situation like the present when new and dynamic methods of instruction are needed, such an attitude becomes an obstacle to progress. It can be modified only by effective professional education which will initiate the teachers to the needed revolution in teaching and lay the foundations for their future professional growth.”

The commission points out that isolation of trainings from the real life classrooms and lack of quality training institutes as two core problems.

“By and large, training institutions for primary and secondary teachers have remained isolated from the mainstream of the academic life of the university, as well as from the daily Problems of the schools. The quality of training 'institutions remains, with a few exceptions, either mediocre or poor. Competent staff are not attracted; vitality and realism are lacking in the curriculum and programme of work which continue to be largely traditional; and set patterns and rigid techniques are followed in practice-teaching, with a disregard for present-day needs and objectives. A comprehensive programme of improvement is urgently needed in teacher education and we propose to discuss this under the following heads:

  • Removing the isolation of training institutions by bringing them into the mainstream of the academic life of the universities and by building up closer relations with the schools and between the training institutions preparing teachers for different levels.
  •  Improving the quality of training programmes and training institutions;
  • Expanding training facilities
  • Making adequate provision for the continuing professional education of all teachers; and
  • Creating appropriate agencies, both at the Centre and in the States, for the maintenance of standards in teacher education.

A large-scale and coordinated programme of in-service education for teachers should be organized by universities, training institutions and teachers organizations for teachers at all levels. The target should be that every teacher receives at least two or three months in-service education in every five years of his service. The programme of summer institutes for the in-service training of secondary school teachers should be extended, with systematic follow-up and active collaboration among the agencies concerned.”

It is interesting to introspect our progress regarding this.

The report also made some important recommendations for education of differently abled children, women, backward classes and other marginal sections of the society.

Administrative reforms

The Education Commission proposed some important recommendations regarding the administration reforms in education. The major ones include
  1. Creation of the Indian Educational Service (on the lines of Indian Administrative Service)
  2. Creation of decentralized administration – municipal and district boards.
  3. Creation of National Board of School Education, State Councils of Education, Central Testing Organization etc.
  4. Advisory role for central government regarding school education and continuance of education in state list (with some members of the commission arguing for putting it under concurrent list).

Recommendations which were implemented

There was a wide spread discussion after the release of this report, which finally led to implementation of three major recommendations of this report. 
  1. 10+2+3 pattern for school and college.
  2. Common school system.
  3.  Teachers’ salaries.

Major recommendations which were rejected or yet to be implemented 

Most of the recommendations under administrative reforms like decentralization the administration of education including forming district and municipal boards, creation of Indian Educational Service etc. are yet to be  considered for implementation.

Overall, the problems identified by The Education Commission, the corresponding discussion and the proposed solutions reflect the state of education at that point of time. It is clear that it was a time of massive transition in education and hence the problems which look superficial as of now were critical at that point of time. We have made a progress from that stage of debating on education structure etc. to the second level of governance.

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