This book is a significant contribution to the growing literature on education, particularly school education, and it is written by an Assistant Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The early chapters deal briefly with the theoretical basis for schooling as seen by writers such as Durkheim, Cohen and Dewey on the one hand and Ivan Illich (who questioned the very idea of a school as being in any way beneficial) on the other. The author then goes on to talk about education as ‘an arena of struggle’ even in ancient India when the Brahmanic control over education was sought to be challenged both as to its religiosity and its exclusivity.
The author next examines endeavors at textbook writing at the national level. He sees these as a part of “the social construction of India” and points to their inadequacy. He feels that, on the other hand, when voluntary agencies (such as the Eklavaya group) prepare curriculum material they are found to be child centred and creative. However, one has always to be wary of an ideological slant in any text.
Briefly dealing with the days of colonialism and the introduction of English as a medium of instruction, the author talks about the positive and negative fall-out of the system of education that Bentinck and Macaulay set in motion in India in the 1830s. Their impact has lasted long, even though many educators, finding the rigid class room arrangements, reliance on text-books and the hierarchical nature of the system unsatisfactory, have tried their hand at setting up what have come to be called ‘alternative’ schools. The author mentions Tagore, Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo and J. Krishnamurti among the religious teachers who have inspired some of these attempts. A long chapter looks at one such school, Mirambika, run by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in New Delhi. He takes a close look at the functioning of the school and notes many a positive feature, while also noting the problems a school of this kind has to face with anxious parents on the one hand and the pull of the strong current that flows outside, namely the mainstream schools, on the other.
In a short closing chapter, the author looks with optimism at the challenges that lie ahead for Indian school education. He feels that the alternative schools do hold out much promise. He looks for ‘emancipatory challenges’ for educators in three areas: broadening of horizons; teachers and children to work from wherever they find themselves, bringing about innovations in their pedagogical practices and, above all, in being “perpetually self-critical.”