Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ideas don’t die easily: Gopal Krishna Gokhale and “right to education” act

Right to education act” became a law from 1st April 2010. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his speech, “I am what I am today because of education. I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be so touched by the light of education.” Dr. Singh began his speech by saying, “About a hundred years ago a great son of India, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, urged the Imperial Legislative Assembly to confer on the Indian people the Right to Education.” Who was this Gokhale? And what did he propose with respect to the right to education? Let’s take a look briefly in this article.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on May 9, 1866 at a village called Kotluk in Ratnagiri district of the old Bombay Presidency. Gopal’s father died when he was 13. His elder brother Govind who was 18 years old gave up education to support the family. Out of his monthly salary of Rs.15 Govind sent Rs. 8 to Gopal who was studying at Kolhapur. Out of Rs. 8, Gopal spent Rs. 4 for food in an eating house and the rest was spent on fees, books and clothes. Govind and his wife insisted that Gopal studies beyond matriculation and Govind’s wife parted with part of her jewelry to support Gopal’s college education. Gopal finished his B.A. in 1884 at the age of 18. After graduating, Gokhale joined New English School, Poona on a salary of Rs. 35 a month and he spent the next fifteen years at this institution more popularly known as Deccan Education Society.

Over a period Gokhale began to play an active role in social reforms by influencing the government. In 1899 Gokhale became an elected member of the Bombay Legislative Council and then in 1902 he was elected to Imperial Legislative Council. It is during his tenure at Imperial Legislative Council Gokhale proposed the “Right to education”. On March 18, 1910, Gokhale moved following the resolution:

“That this council recommends that a beginning should be made in the direction of making elementary education free and compulsory through the country… The government should follow the footsteps of other civilized countries and discharge its duties of making the people literate”. He traced the history of leading countries of the world and asked the Government to follow Japanese example. In the course of twenty five years, the proportion of population going to primary schools had advanced only to 1.9 percent from 1.2 percent. Expenditure on primary education from the public funds had increased by Rs.57 Lakhs to Rs. 93 Lakhs. Land revenue in the same period had gone up by Rs. 9 Crores and military expenditure had jumped from Rs. 19 Crores to Rs. 32 Crores.

Gokhale made several suggestions in his speech. He said the percentage of children attending schools had to be quadrupled. Two thirds of the expenditure should be borne by the government and rest by the local bodies. Education should be made compulsory for boys between 6 and 10 years. Girls should be exempted on the grounds of practical considerations (?).

Gokhale ended his speech by saying:

I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step enough for me.

The idea was "killed" in 1912 and resurrected again in 2005. Ideas don’t die easily, do they?

Source: Gopal Krishna Gokhale by T. R. Deogirikar published by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1992.

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