Jawaharlal Nehru’s views on education are partly influenced by Karl Marx and partly by Gandhi’s ideas. His theory of knowledge is based on rationalism, empiricism, and positivism. As a rationalist, Nehru kept more faith in science than in religion and based his facts on intelligence, experience, and reason. Philosophical problems were not his concern and his sole focus was the man himself. In this way, he formulated the religion of humanity, where he substituted God with humanity.
Nehru had always criticized organized religion of every kind and felt it was detrimental to progress. He was mainly against superstitions and blind faith as opposed to spirituality and wanted to spread a rational and scientific view of life. His thoughts bore the influence of the teachings of the Gita and he admitted the importance of the text in human society. Dr Radha Krishnan said that Nehru was not a religious man in the sectarian sense but that he had the deepest faith in spiritual values.
Nehru accepted that education was the most important means to social change. “Only through right education can a better order of Society be built up”, said Nehru (Nehru JL, Soviet Russia). He believed that freedom from ignorance is as essential as freedom from hunger (Nehru J L Speeches vol IV). He realized that a country’s problems cannot be solved only through social and political reforms. Improved human relations are also required to achieve social development and that cannot be carried out without adequate mental development.
Nehru, in his address to Allahabad University students, said, “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search for truth” (Nehru JL, Independence and After). Rabindranath Tagore expressed similar ideas when Vishwabharati University was established.
Nehru stressed on the spiritual aspect of social development, without which, “the disintegration of society will proceed in spite of all material advance” (Nehru JL, Speeches vol IV). Nehru supported the Russian approach to education and said that the object of education was to “produce a desire to serve the community as a whole and to apply the Knowledge gained not only for personal but for public welfare” (Nehru JL, Soviet Russia).
Education, according to Nehru had economic as well as social objectives. It should culturally improve a man and also enable him to generate wealth in society.
“Unless you produce the amount you consume you are a burden to society,” he said (Nehru JL, Speeches vol III).
Gandhi’s concept of basic education was welcomed by Nehru who believed education must be based on the actual environment and experiences of the child and it must fit him for the work he will have to do in after life” (Nehru JL, Soviet Russia). Keeping in view the expenses that would be required to educate the millions of uneducated children in India, Nehru believed India’s massive unemployment crisis could be solved with basic education. This gave people the capacity “to coordinate manual labor with mental and intellectual ability” (Nehru JL, Speeches vol III).
Technology and industry are the primary requirements to battle poverty and unemployment. As such, Nehru, who introduced the concept of five-year plans for the overall development of India, laid great importance upon scientific education. This was done so that the nation could produce a workforce, which was skilled enough to implement the plans.
He also established national science laboratories in core areas of science all over India and started the IITs, which together helped take India to great heights in technical development. However, Nehru also warned that “we should accept technology without leaving basic values which are the essence of civilized man” (Nehru JL, Recent Essays and Writings).
Nehru gave equal importance to cultural education as well as it was integral to the development of human personality. He advised for the establishment of special institutions to propagate rapid growth in art and culture in the culture. As the president of Sahitya Academy, he was of the opinion that the government should interfere as little as possible in this field and should only move in if art and culture turned into a social menace.
Developing countries such as India have a huge gap between the different sections of society and one of the aims of education is to shorten this gap by uplifting the backward sections. Nehru brought attention to the fact that educating the nation’s women would make them economically independent and “everybody should be a producer as well as a good citizen” (Nehru JL, Discovery of India). He also felt that educating the rural women would help in the success of family planning and other rural development schemes.
Nehru’s main objective via education was to do away with the narrow religious and communalistic views and promote a scientific and humanitarian mindset. Being Western-educated himself, he believed English education helped broaden India’s horizons and created a “revolt against some customs and aspects of Indian life, and a growing demand for political reform” (Nehru JL, Discovery of India). However, he also believed that regional languages ought to be the primary medium for the success of educational programs.
Nehru is considered the architect of the modern educational system in India as he formulated the educational policy on becoming Independent India’s first Prime Minister. Impressed by the scientific progress of the West, he visualized western aims and means for primary, secondary, and university levels of education. This may be called his weakness, but it was also the strength behind his educational policy.
The ideal education system in present day India would entail an amalgamation of ancient Indian values and the techniques suggested by western educational thinkers. Nehru’s humanism was based upon naturalism, which was different from the idealistic humanism of other contemporary Indian educational thinkers such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
However, Nehru’s contribution to the scientific development of the country cannot be ignored as it helped India to become of the top five nations in the world to boast of an all-round development.