Gandhian thought and higher education

On the Mahatma’s birth anniversary, a look at how Gandhian thought continues to be spread through education

September 30, 2023 02:41 pm | Updated 02:45 pm IST

Gandhi advocated acquisition of knowledge through work and craft at all levels and stages of education.

Gandhi advocated acquisition of knowledge through work and craft at all levels and stages of education. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mahatma Gandhi is considered as one of the revolutionary thinkers of modern India along with Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. He was a ‘practical idealist’ and his philosophy of education was a pragmatic one. To him, education encompassed “an all-round drawing out of the best in the child...” physically, mentally and spiritually. He advocated acquisition of knowledge through work and craft at all levels and stages of education, and insisted that cultural aspects be given importance. According to him, education should be designed based on cognitive skills and capabilities. He emphasised basic knowledge embedded in the principles of sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, self-help and helping parents at homes.

In education

Many often lament that education has not been able to give our youth the right direction or the kind of all-round development necessary to make then self-dependent. The remedy to this comes from Gandhian thought. Over the years, many higher education institutions have been offering various programmes based on Gandhian thought. Delhi University, for example, offers a mandatory value-added course Integrating Mind Body and Heart (MBH), which is handled through discussions, debates and discourse rather than relying on textbooks alone.

In Tamil Nadu, the Gandhigram Rural Institute (a Deemed-to-be-University) has been implementing Nai Talim, the Gandhian educational philosoph, through its academic programmes on Rural Development, Rural Economics, Cooperation, Development Administration, Rural Sociology, Rural Industries, Agriculture, Rural Health, and Sanitation. This concept has been given a fillip by the National Education Policy 2020. The institute also offers programmes such as “Gandhi in Everyday Life” and “Shanti Sena (Peace Brigade), a non-violent leadership training. Periodical workshops, trainings, seminars, and symposia are organised to expose participants to various Gandhian alternatives. Government officials and elected leaders are given training in Panchayat Raj, and the Rural Technology centres provide training to people in various village/cottage industries. 

Besides providing research exposure at M.Phil., Ph.D. and D.Litt. levels, some institutions also publish journals pertaining to research and extension education on Gandhian philosophy. Other methods of disseminating Gandhian themes include mobile exhibitions, cultural rallies, games and campaigns on ecological and communal issues. Essay-writing, drawing and elocution competitions are also organised to sensitise students to Gandhian values.


Das and Nair (2020) conducted a study to understand the learning outcomes of three courses offered to students: Gandhi and the Contemporary World (generic elective), Reading Gandhi (concurrent course) and Gandhian Thoughts (Humanities elective) in two universities. They found that: students gained an understanding of Gandhiji as an individual, his thought, and actions; they were critically engaged in Gandhian thoughts and actions; they avoided hagiography of Gandhian principles, and decided to analyse the assumptions about Gandhiji and reflected upon the radical critiques.

Gujarat Vidyapith has been conducting a four-month Diploma course on Gandhian Non-violence exclusively for international students. Since its inception in 2011, nearly 70 students from 16 countries including the U.S., Mexico, France, Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, South Sudan, and Indonesia have participated.  A student from Brazil was so impressed with Nai Talim that he requested for some charkhas so that he could teach students there how to make khadi. A girl from Ghana conducted a workshop in her country on how Gandhian philosophy of non-violence can be applied to solve domestic issues. An Argentinian participant, after undergoing practical exposure on organic farming, started a small project in his home town to convert kitchen waste into organic manure. A German social worker felt that the current migrant crisis in her country could be addressed through Gandhian principles of non-violence. 

The primary thrust of these educational programmes is to expose learners, particularly youngsters, to Gandhiji’s thoughts and ideas and their application in the contemporary world.

The writer is Pro Vice-Chancellor, Hindustan Institute of Technology & Science (Deemed to be University), Chennai.

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