Reflections on ASLI Talim for Chintan Shivir


ASLI TALIM’ - The phrase emerged and was adopted in 2018 in the course of a serious critical discussion among our little group in PREIT Alibag - disillusioned with existing schooling and learning systems -saying it did not touch Asli issues!!

At the outset – let me share my deep regrets at not being able to participate in the Chintan Shivir initiated by Kishore Bharathi on March 25 and 26 at Pune, due to unforeseen domestic family commitments.

I was looking forward to being amongst this group of like minded fellow travellers wrestling with the questions and challenges of how best to “Re-imagine Education in India”. We need to be able to exchange ideas and experiences with a view to being able to create a totally different learning environment for all our kids.

While similar exercises have been undertaken from time to time – today we are sadly in a situation where the distance travelled from our original vision and intentions as reflected in that guiding light – the Constitution, is as far and different as it is possible to be! So any attempts at reflection about our current state of Education is not just welcome but a dire necessity.


Let me begin by quoting from the background note on Chintan Shivir…

“Today’s educated Indian is unfit to be a native in rural India. The mediated world, created largely by the formal and informal educational and cultural institutions of this country, is predominantly engulfed by rituals, tools and narratives that promote us to be consumers, and not producers. The existing academies (schools, colleges and universities), and the national education policies do not consider this as an issue, far from a critical and constructive engagement.

The markers of authentic education (Asli Talim): No education is meaningful if it cannot provide a clear direction to alleviate poverty, make people creative and happy, address social justice, maintain a habitat for the coexistence of all creatures, and inculcate the values of respecting human rights. And most importantly, if education cannot make a citizen understand the relevance of the principles and rules encoded in the constitution and be able to judge the actions of themselves and others, it cannot be considered complete. As educationists, if we cannot promise this, we cannot confidently claim to seek “Education for All”.


Formal, Basic, Elementary, Higher, State Run, Private, Informal ………….

By whatever name we call it, concerned citizens, academics, activists, parents and yes, children too, have been wrestling with this for ever it seems! And this Shivir is one more important step in this ongoing journey of inquiry. Personally, I have been engaged in this quest, in one way or other, for nearly six decades in many capacities. To name a few – as a young mother and parent faced with frequent transfers and changes of schools – a nursery school teacher – a grass roots community educator – some years in regional and international bodies. Finally coming face to face with the tragic anomalies and serious fault lines in rural communities after coming to live in a village in the Konkan some thirty years ago. Later in this note I have tried to list some of the innumerable forms and for a through which one has engaged with the process, the pedagoguy, the joys and the frustrations of learning and education.


1964-66 Kothari Commission – was possibly the first commission to be charged with the responsibility for suggesting how a National System of Education should be created. The commission was created under the chairmanship of the well known scientist Dr D S Kothari , and these were among the observations as to what ailed Indian Education

  • Inadequate Emphasis on Agriculture
  • No emphasis on character formation and cultivation of moral and spiritual values
  • Not connected with National Reconstruction
  • Too much academics

Amongst many suggestions, the emphasis on Science and Maths Education found a very high priority; and at the same time the stress on social sciences – social studies – as being “essential for the development of good citizenship”. The introduction of a three language formula was first stressed in the commission Report – as also ‘moral and spiritual values as the basis for creating good citizens’. Interestingly while there was no direct mention of these deriving from the Constitution, there was also no mention of these necessarily being linked to faith based sources. Noteworthy too is the fact that Citizens and Citizenship finds mention twice and suggests that one of the aims of a good education would be to develop sound citizenship values.

Under the heading of new curriculum and basic education there were some pathbreaking recommendations which sound so familiar:

  • Education must be a productive activity
  • Relationship between education and environment is a must
  • Connection and contact with Local Communities – the best way to shape education system at all levels
  • Social Service and participation in community development for all levels

In fact, the JP Naik Committee set up later has actually done yeoman service in their report on the entire body of work, commissions and stages through which the concept and vision of a national education system evolved – following on from the Kothari Commission Report.

Naik’s monumental work The Education Commission and After – has a chapter entitled A National System of Education – and it is worth a careful reading whilst evaluating much that ails our present education system

Under the heading Basic Assumptions, the first sub heading is Future Society – and our hopes and dreams were already spelled out unambiguously :

“The Commission had a certain vision of the India of tomorrow or of national development viz it looked forward to :’the creation of a democratic, secular and egalitarian society which would be based on science and spiritual values ……with a strong plea for an underpinning of scientific and technical knowledge”

Am selecting these as illustrations to show that some of the best minds of our era – had applied themselves to the vexed, complex and essential question of how to shape and create an education system which would best suit the realities and complexities of a country like India – with vast numbers in absolute poverty, the diversity of languages, cultures, faiths and practices….

With girls and women still continuing to be left out of equal access to schooling and educational opportunity – it is probably not known to many that in a far reaching visionary move - an entire section of the Kothari Commission Report addressed the all important question of Womens Education. Heading the Recommendations made nearly 60 years ago is this statement :

Every type of Education open to men should also be open to women”.

A National Council for Women’s Education was set up in 1959 by the Central Ministry of Education – headed by the legendary Durgabai Deshmukh…


In my reflections around Asli Talim I have chosen to focus on the persona and contribution of JP Naik – described as the Bohemian figure who spoke of and worked for what he termed “the art of the educational revolution”. In many ways his thinking was similar to that of Paolo Freire – the great Brazilian thinker, philosopher and educator. JP influenced many of us – in the seventies when we began critically reflecting on the existing education system and our deep dissatisfaction - resulting in a critical process which led to the setting up our organisation called ANKUR – for Alternatives in Education. Delhi 1982 – working with women in the walled city; thousands of out of school children in slum and resettlement colonies, as also with privileged children in the formal schools in an effort to expose them to a process of Conscientisation.

One of the stated objectives of the Chintan Shivir is to delve deep into the root causes and problems within our fractured Education System. And I believe it is important to therefore go deeper into the analyses made by someone like J P Naik.


In line with several great minds who used their intellect to overthrow colonial rule in India, JP Naik targeted both feudalism and colonialism as the two central systems that needed to be confronted and overthrown for an authentic knowledge producing system to emerge in India . Already JP had clearly identified capitalism as the bane of mass and universal education and led directly to the consequent intervention of commerce in education.

Inevitably this led to what he and others termed “academic feudalism” which brought in,and I quote from a brilliant article Murzban in Mainstream, “authoritarianism and exclusion in the education sector, where teachers and the management are modelled after the feudal lords and students are treated as serfs.”

For those arguing for an independent education system, free of the trappings of colonial elites and native elites, there had to be a ‘Swaraj’ (an authentic peoples freedom, autonomy and self rule)

Freedom for Naik, had to be the essence of education. And for that reason it had to be Revolutionary.


For Naik education was the art of transforming society – and therefore knowledge seeking itself was basically revolutionary. Naik also argued that before social, economic and political revolutions take place there has to be ‘a revolution in the realm of ideas’ – hence educational revolution was central to his thinking. Today we speak so easily of “**changing mindsets” but is easier said than done.

He quoted Nehru when Nehru spoke in 1948 at the Educational Conference convened by the Ministry of Education saying : the entire basis of education must be revolutionised”. Alas this never happened.

EDUCATION TO REALITY – Education for Domestication or Change?

Naik was a committed socialist in his thinking – and believed that any development of the country could only happen through the development of “our suppressed masses. – and that education should function as a tool to create awareness of their own condition and thus enable them to free themselves and solve their own problems. Together with this was his clarity about transfer of power – through the destruction of the power of the elites – ie the ‘of the old hierarchical caste and class order. He was clear too that we could not use a pale imitation of a British education system, but needed to create a “Nationalist system of education – linked to and based on our peoples aspirations and which was neither chauvinist nor revivalist.

In this Naik was a visionary and a thinker way ahead of his time – in the same genre as educational thinkers and revolutionaries such as Paolo Freire and Ivan Illich. Both of whom influenced many of us in the sixties and seventies.

My own transformation from being a product of a typical conservative colonial institution – like the Convent schools where I studied – into viewing education and literacy as transformatory vehicles of radical change, came about thanks to exposure to a mind and life changing workshop called Education to Reality. This was conceptualised and implemented in a convent school where I was teaching in the mid seventies by a Catholic nun and a Jesuit priest who had themselves been exposed to Liberation Theology from South America. Gabe Gonsalves and Gladys DSouza had adapted the theory and practice of Education for Conscientization, Liberation Humanisation of a generation of radical educators and practitioners to Indian conditions and situations.


Armed with the sheer power and vitality of raising critical consciousness – many of us graduates from the Education to Reality process went on to explore through many different educational ventures, and ‘start ups’, how best to raise critical consciousness and at the same time make the act of education a joyful experience. We were clear that micro level experiments alone would not suffice to bring mass structural change – and these concepts and vision needed to be translated to scale. And that we have not been able to achieve with the kind of scale and momentum required. Listing a few of the several initiatives – and there must be thousands doing similar and better work across the country:

  • 1978 - The Abner Memorial Non Formal Education which was a SUPW activity but helped create a good deal of turbulence among middle class parents who refused to let their children sweep, clean or dust even their own classrooms!!
  • 1981 – to present ANKUR – Society for Alternatives in Education – Delhi – today forty years down the line Ankur continues to work in slum and resettlement colonies through literacy, non formal and creative critical activities like story telling, poetry writing and art.
  • 1987 to 1993 - Navy Wives Welfare Association run Balwadi – Bal Kendras - Cochin, Vizag – an innovative programme of
  • 1990 - 93Delhi Saksharta Samiti
  • 1987 - All India Literacy Campaign
  • 1990 - Yakshi – Hyderabad
  • 1990s ASPBAE – Asia South Pacific Bureau for Adult Education
  • 1994 – 1999 - ICAE – International Council for Adult Education
  • 1994 – to present PREIT – Pratham Raigad Education Initiative Trust

Illich it was who famously said that Education and schooling were merely sub systems of larger society – and therefore could never be truly revolutionary or free in their explorations – until society itself underwent revolutionary transformation…Therefore his famous theory of de-schooling. And others have spoken of Unlearning and Relearning

How do we Unlearn? What do we Re learn? – it’s a long hard road – but we must begin the journey – yesterday if not today!


So what can we do? Lets set ourselves just one target – ask every child, woman, grandma, citizen to begin to bombard everyone from teacher to counciller – to leaders – to MLAs and MPs – to ask one question WHY? WHY? WHY?

This is part of my duty as a citizen – Its your duty as my elected representative or teacher to answer my question

Urgently prepare a data base of those broadly working on similar values and shared concerns. Connect the dots –

Develop a broad strategic plan – prepare a simple approach paper in many languages – Build state wise teams of trainers – especially to reach out to the village level – panchayat and block level citizens, functionaries, youth groups, mahila mandals and all other possible

Lets create grass roots based newspapers wall sheets – writers – translators – volunteers who will take these round. Start up study circles – story telling

Clubs and mandals – art, music and drama groups – Debate – talk – show and discuss films. Prepare a list of any and every subject on which questions need to be raised –

This is truly and exciting moment – an opportunity – the Bharat Jodo Yatra in a real sense began reconnecting with the people-with communities – started conversations – Let the Yatra become a tool and a metaphor .Every village school carries out Prabhat pheris – for the most part these have lost all meaning and are today just symbolic.

Can we prepare a simple set of songs, questions – getting to know our neighbourhood – kids and teachers discussing everything from water to elections – to mobile phones – to rituals – Today is Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra – we have a long bamboo pole stuck up with new towel and a glass on it a coconut kalash – and flowers and incense sticks and kum kum – no body could answer me why. -and what it meant!

In the final paragraph of a seminal article on JP’s work and philosophy, Murzban prophetically points out that we in India had lost/wasted not one but two chances. We just have the one more chance —and if we don’t take it, there may be no chances left. Hence ‘Asli Talim’ – this is the way – there is no other way

Lalita Ramdas, Lara – Ramu Farm, Bhaimala Gaon, PO Kamarle, Alibag

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