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What Kapil Sibal does not know and hurts us

Before the western model brought by the British or the Church, there were ezhuthu pallis, or writing schools, run by ezhuthu ashans, or writing masters. There were also schools run by wealthy individuals in their homes for their daughters.

In these tutorials, generations learnt to read and write using writing nails, palm leaves and sand, paying fees in kind. Outside Kerala, gurukuls functioned successfully for centuries. And these were always privately-funded. Is this model better than pumping in more public money into inefficient government schools?

That is the question that James Tooley, a British researcher and writer on education, asks in his recent book, The Beautiful Tree. He sees existence of private education in pre-British India as an argument in favour of low-cost private education that can cover every child. He finds virtue in the large number of private schools that are run in the slums he visited.

This goes against the thinking of development experts, including Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze. A study by the latter argues that the solution is to improve government schools rather than close them.

Madhav Chavan, the founder of NGO Pratham, which in its study found that the poor also preferred to send their children to private schools, sat close to Tooley at the launch of the book. But he made it clear he did not share the views of the author.

To say that private schools hold the key to universal education is to say the unspeakable. As unspeakable as saying that the king has no clothes. (via Sreelatha Menon: A new lesson).

The Beautiful Tree - by DharampalEnd of the road … the bankrupt model

The health care (USA), social welfare (USA), employment benefits (UK), showcase countries (Japan), are running countries into the ground. India has, as yet, not gone down that path. Though, the Indian State has been trying – quite hard.

My first glimpse of this model was through the draft of Parag Tope’s forthcoming book – Operation Red Lotus.

I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished. (Gandhiji, at Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Oct 1931 – extracted from Indian Models Of Economy Business And Management By Kanagasabapathi; Page 60).

Gandhiji, in correspondence with Sir Philip Hartog, (chairman of the Auxiliary Committee on Education), laid out the the pre-colonial scenario, which has now been buttressed by research by Dharampal, a Gandhian, in his book, Beautiful Tree, Indian Education in the 18th century.

Sreelatha Menon, seemingly, depends on Tooley’s own PR handouts to write this up. In the entire post in Business Standard, she never makes a mention of Dharampal, whose work is the most authoritative today. Tooley, a (for sometime) IFC-World Bank employee, this research resulted, (funded by the Templeton Foundation) in a book – of course called, The Beautiful Tree.

Between a rock and a hard place

Dharampal’s pioneering work, in 1983, has, not surprisingly, been ignored by the Amartya Sens and The Jean Drezes of the world – all their avid followers in India. Kapil Sibal has been trying to further the colonial British efforts by laying out a red carpet for foreign universities – while tying up Indian institutions into-knots-into-knots-into-knots. The ‘modern’ theory about Indian education goes that all credit for Indian education should go either to the British Colonial Raj or the Christian Missionary Benevolence.

This Indian education model was, till about a 150 years ago, unique in the world. With the highest literacy ratio in the world, and completely privately funded, it set global and historic benchmarks. This model has been buried under a mound of silence – and once in a while you get a glimpse of this.

  1. November 16, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I appreciate the plug for Operation Red Lotus. Thank you!

    India’s decline in education started in 1835 – when Bentinck’s proclamation attacked Indic education and also put a ban on the publishing of “Oriental books.” Within a generation – India’s private pathshalas were destroyed. India made marginal improvements post 1947 – but they were largely inspite of the government rather than because of the government. As long as the Indian government remains hostile to private Indic education – India is continuing the legacy of Bentinck.

  2. October 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Fascinating! This is an absolutely enlightening read! Im going to set aside some time to read Dharampal now..

  3. October 10, 2011 at 7:36 am

    all of dharampal’s books and works were available free in the site http://www.dharampal.net .. could you pls include that link in your post?

  4. October 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Interesting, there was poem in school that we were taught. It is called On Killing A Tree by an Indian poet named Gieve Patel. I have done a simple search on Google to see if anyone is linking this poem with Gandhiji’s Beautiful Tree.

    Could not find any.

    Gandhiji’s description of the Beautiful Tree was famous in its time – and was well remembered – and slowly went into hibernation.

    The poem –

    Gieve Patel

    It takes much time to kill a tree,
    Not a simple jab of the knife
    Will do it.
    It has grown
    Slowly consuming the earth,
    Rising out if it, feeding
    Upon its crust, absorbing
    Years of sunlight, air, water,
    And out of its leprous hide
    Sprouting leaves.
    So hack and chop
    But this alone won’t do it.
    Not so much pain will do it.
    The bleeding bark will heal
    And from close to the ground
    Will rise curled green twigs,
    Miniature boughs
    Which if unchecked will expand again
    To former size.
    The root is to be pulled out
    Out of the anchoring earth;
    It is to be roped, tied,
    And pulled out-snapped out
    Or pulled out entirely,
    Out from the earth-cave,
    And the strength of the tree exposed,
    The source, white and wet,
    The most sensitive, hidden
    For years inside the earth.
    Then the matter
    Of scorching and choking
    In sun and air,
    Browning, hardening,
    Twisting, withering,
    And then it is done.

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