Most societies are burdened with socio-political inequalities, class, racial, religious disparities, gender discrimination, and the urban and rural divide, that lead to violence and conflict in society. Unless these structures are done away with, there is little likelihood of a peaceful, nonviolent society. While the state needs to reduce if not eliminate these inequalities through relevant laws, policies and programmes, the role of education is also essential.
Governments and scholars now agree that education is a desirable objective in itself and is also the means for inculcating right attitudes and morality among people. It is also essential for the material development of society by reducing poverty and want. It helps to empower people especially the downtrodden ones. Countries with high achievement levels in the field of education also have high indices in other areas like food availability, health, longevity, and general welfare. It contributes to reducing infant mortality rates and curbing population growth.
We also know that education helps us in understanding developmental issues and transformation of society into a more just, peaceful, and equitable one. It also helps us in understanding and analysing concepts of violence and peace. A proper and relevant educational system helps to foster awareness of the society – both human and the environment, which leads us to cultivate a healthy value system of living together in harmony and treating others with respect and dignity. It also helps to develop a proper attitude including the right to life of others and non – killing of infants or of rejecting committing foeticide.
Can education help us to avoid or reduce conflict and promote peace? It is an uphill task, but not an impossible one to redesign educational objectives to highlight the evils of violence and offer non-violent means to avoid conflict and violence.
Before delineating this aspect, let us briefly recapitulate some principal objectives of education. According to scholars, some principal ones are:
empowerment of people and society
all round development of the child
overcoming ignorance and prejudice
generation of skills, knowledge and technology
development of values, social norms of living in harmony with mankind and nature
development of the society – including production, creating wealth and improving the well being of people, reducing social, economic, educational, and other inequities
providing employment opportunities
answering philosophical questions such as the place of man in the world, the future of mankind, the role of religion and peace.
Many of these aspects are covered in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in Article 26 which outlines the role and benefits of education for the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of human rights and freedom. Article 26(1) reiterates the right of everyone to free education at the elementary stage. Article 26 (2) covers the basic objectives of education which are outlined below:
Education should be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
More than 90 years ago, Gandhi propagated simple and far-reaching objectives in his concept of Nai Taleem (New Education Policy). He felt that a proper education system would help in creating right attitudes of love, truth and non-violence. He spoke of education for both boys and girls, for urban and rural children. His concept of education stressed the integration of ‘the world of knowledge’ with ‘the world of work,’ a concept we are familiar with in today’s language as vocational and relevant education for all. He felt that this was essential for the poor of India who would not only get some basic knowledge but also acquire useful skills to be utilised throughout life. These skills in Gandhi’s time included weaving, pottery, stitching, carpentary and the like, but in today’s time would also include repair of electronic devices, maintenance of tractors, cars, bicycles, first aid, nursing, computer and entrepreneur skills and the like. Some of these would be more relevant for men and others for women.
The fundamental premise of the Nai Taleem was that it would teach simple skills to the people and help them remain in villages as useful citizens and not be forced to leave for towns and cities looking for unskilled, poorly paid, and degrading jobs and be exposed to urban violence of one form or another. What was true in Gandhi’s time is still relevant in today’s world where we see highly formally educated people without jobs and villagers under the impact of urbanization and globalization migrating to cities in search of any odd job such as rickshaw puller or rag picker.
Violence against women, female infanticide or mistreatment of the girl child would definitely be reduced if our education system followed Gandhi’s principles of moral values, gender equality, non-violence, truth and cultivation of right attitudes.
A right type of education would make people more self-reliant, bridge socio-economic disparities and the rural-urban divide, and generally help in the society becoming more egalitarian, harmonious, and contented. In an article in The Hindu newspaper Professor Krishna Kumar of Delhi University, has argued that “The teaching of reading during early childhood – when attitudes, habits and skills acquire life-long foundations – assumes crucial significance for the efficient functioning of democracy”. Professor Kumar also writes about the responsibility of the State in the area of education. In his words:
The mutation trough which utilitarian thought went during the 19th century brought forth the recognition of a new role for the State in the need to protect children from poverty and to educate them.
These aspects about the role of education and the State’s responsibility of provision of free and relevant education would help in the creation of a just social order where there is a reduction of conflict and violence caused by socio-economic and other disparities.
The present understanding of the role of education coupled with the initiatives taken by Gandhi would address the issues of inequality, injustice and discrimination that are seen in many developing countries. This would also help in preservation of our environment.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 April 2017.
The article can be accessed through the following link : https://www.transcend.org/tms/2017/04/role-of-education-in-preventing-violence-and-promoting-peace-and-welfare/T