From the Precolonial to the Postcolonial: Technologies and Philosophies of Education in India

Nita Kumar
Mackenna College, California


I am most interested in how the philosophical and the technological work together in providing an educational experience, and how it comes to be that only one or the other is emphasized some of the time, leaving any analysis incomplete. By ‘philosophy’ I mean the particular relationships between teacher, text, student and society conceived by an educational approach. By ‘technology’ I mean all the experiences that a student actually has during the educational process, through: spaces, languages, teaching methods, texts, and rituals.

In India, as we can well imagine, there has been a millennia-old history of education. To then call the modern system of education that dates from circa mid nineteenth century as the only thing that merits the name ‘education’ savours more of a problem of historiography than of actual history. But there is more to it than that. There is a politics and a cultural bind. Educators in India have been handicapped by the discourse of colonialism as well as of nationalism in being able to come up with a philosophy of “Indian education” in the present. That is, there actually does not exist an “Indian education” that is not to a large extent an imitation of Western education—which is not to say that it cannot exist, only that there have been historical obstacles to it. I would like to present my interpretation of the various efforts to put “an Indian education” in place, which includes Vedic, Hindu reformist, Islamic, secular and nationalist efforts. I would like to include my own efforts, as together with a group of others, I set up a model school in 1990 in North India.

In discussing all these efforts, if we try to assess them on the two axes of the philosophical and the technological we will have interesting findings. There were certain precolonial procedures that are close to the postcolonial ones found in the most forward institutions in the world. There were others that were completely dependent on a time and a social system that were folly for educators to resurrect and re-institutionalize. There are certain relationships that are discursive and not essentialist, such as perhaps the meaning of ‘childhood.’ There are errors about these and related imaginings that have led to an educational failure in modern India. Could India in the present synthesize all its history and have its own version of “an Indian education”?