The Radhakrishnan Report: Some Fundamentals





For the first time in the history of modern India, real power is vested in the hands of our elected representatives and trusted leaders to administer all our affairs and order the life of the nation in every aspect, in conformity with our needs and aspirations and the genius of our race. And, despite the manifold problems that beset us all round and sap our energies, the soul of the nation is agog with a new vitality and eagerness to burst through the enveloping darkness and confusion and express itself in constructive planning and activity. The Report of the University Education Commission presided over by our philosopher-statesman, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, is a striking manifestation of this national vitality.


It is a happy augury for the future of the nation that higher education has come to receive its due share of the attention and thought of our leaders so soon after the assumption of responsibility them in the Central Government. Alien in its original conception and basic structure, and haphazard in its growth and development, the existing system of University education has been, all through the later phases of our struggle for independence, the target of attack unceasing denunciation by our political leaders who held it, perhaps rightly, responsible to a large extent for our national degeneration. But by way of constructive criticism or alternate planning on considerable scale, we have had precious little to show so far, Many of our leaders used to declare frankly they had not bestowed any thought on the subject and had therefore no settled views or definite suggestions to offer with regard to the positive features of the ideal system of University education for our country. They were preoccupied with other pressing problems of national reconstruction in the political, economic and other spheres, and when they turned their attention to education occasionally, they were obsessed with the importance of the primary stage and of the need for rapid progress in the spread of literacy among the rural population.


On the other hand, the committees and commissions appointed by the Government from time to time concerned themselves with an enquiry into the progress achieved and the defects that had assumed serious proportions, and the recommendation of suitable palliatives.

They never questioned, nor even considered, the entire system and the basic principles and aims. The reviews in their reports are therefore merely of statistical value and the suggestions for improvement are not based on any clearly envisaged social or educational ideals of the nation.


Refreshingly original both in its approach to the problem and scope and spirit of its recommendations, the Report of the Radhakrishnan Commission constitutes a welcome phenomenon in the history of higher education in our country. The Report points out at the outset the inadequacy of the definition of education as a means by which society endeavours to perpetuate itself by training the young moulding them to a pattern sanctioned by tradition. It stresses the desirability of recognising the complementary principle that education is at the same time, an instrument for social change, by which society consciously evolves towards a desired ideal condition. Therefore it proceeds to seek the guiding principles for educational reorganisation in the aims of our new social order, so clearly formulated in the Preamble to our Republican Constitution.


The Preamble declares the aims of our Democratic Republic to be to secure to all its citizens, Justice, economic, social and political Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, Equality of status and opportunity, and to promote Fraternity to ensure dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation simultaneously. In the chapter entitled ‘The Aims of University Education’, essential elements of the new social order are defined and interpreted from the educational standpoint, and their logical consequences in the educational sphere are traced in brief outline but with admirable eloquence and cogency of argument.


In the chapters that follow, the various problems of high education relating to Teaching Staff, Standards of Teaching, Courses of Study, Professional Education, Religious Education. Medium of Instruction, Examinations, Students' Activities and Welfare, Women’s Education, Constitution and Control of the Universities. Rural universities, are taken up for detailed consideration. With regard to each problem, the Report gives a clear and analytical description of the existing state of affairs (with the previous history or a comparison with the situation in other countries wherever desirable), a lucid exposition of the direction in which improvement is to be sought in view of the overall aims and guiding principles of our educational reorganisation set forth in the second chapter, a critical and reasoned evaluation of the alternative methods for achieving the results, taking into account the most recent developments in educational theory and practice in the advanced countries of the West and the opinions of great thinkers, and, at the end, a summary of all the specific recommendations relating to the subject. The appendices on Objective Intelligence and Achievement Tests, the General Education Courses of American Universities, the History of the People’s Colleges of Denmark etc., form a very interesting and useful feature. The Report reveals throughout a genuine concern for improvement and advance, an earnest resolve to set the nation on its new career in its natural shape and appropriate garments, to enable it to discover its soul and express itself and realise its high destiny and mission. A spirit of sweet reasonableness breathes through the pages.


Some of the recommendations may be open to objection, or admit of difference of opinion, and the final decisions will have to be taken after due deliberation by the Governments. Central and Provincial, and the various University authorities. But meanwhile the Report constitutes an educational manual and sets before us the importance and urgency of the various problems that have to be tackled in the field of University education, their bearing on the future of our nation, the spirit and temper in which, and the directions along which, reorganisation has to be attempted. The authors richly deserve the thanks of the entire nation for the invaluable service rendered to the cause of higher education.


In particular, the chapter on ‘Aims of Education’ reveals the general attitude of the Commission and the spirit behind their detailed recommendations in the chapters that follow. It is unexceptionable in its entirety and forms the crux of the whole Report. It should be studied carefully and critically by students, teachers, managements and all others interested in University education.


It has another value too. Here we find an examination from one distinct and important point of view, that of education, of the essential principles of our new Constitution and their interpretation and application to the problems of a distinct field of social endeavour. The principles themselves are thereby revealed to us in greater clearness of outline and content and come home to us with a new vitality and energy. This chapter of the Report is therefore of great value to every citizen, as a vivid presentation of the aims of the new social order envisaged for us in our Constitution by our farsighted and sensitive leaders. As such it deserves the widest publicity and intelligent appreciation by the general public.


An attempt is made in the second section of this article to present a brief account of the basic elements of our new social order, as interpreted by the University Education Commission, and the guiding principles of educational reorganisation deduced therefrom.



We, the citizens of Free India, have constituted ourselves into a Democratic Republic, thereby proclaiming our faith in the democratic way of life and our determination to realise it.


Democracy is based upon the principle of self-government and seeks therefore to ensure, for every individual, freedom to order his life, as far as possible, in his own way; the only limits to such freedom arising out of a consideration for the same freedom for every other member of the society. The democratic way implies the right to commit mistakes, to profit by experience and to evolve consciously and deliberately towards desired objectives.


Education for such a social order should therefore be a process of growth and development of the individual, mainly through experience. The function of the teacher is reduced to that of observing and studying the natural tendencies and potentialities of the student and facilitating and helping the growth by providing suitable environment and opportunities for experience from time to time. The corporate life and activities in an educational institution should be considered as important as the formal instruction that is provided in it, and the teacher should devote as much attention to the student and the development of his faculties, character and personality as to the knowledge that he imparts to him. Whatever be the subject of study, the process of learning should be by practical work and effort on the part of the student under the guidance of the teacher. Even in the matter of discipline the element of compulsion and external imposition should be progressively reduced to the minimum.


The human mind is triune in character and one or other three main tendencies, reflective, emotional and active, preponderates in every individual and combines with the others in varying proportions. Hence the infinite variety in human nature in abilities and aptitudes, though the differences are only of degree and emphasis and not of exclusive types. Democracy recognises this variety and values the resulting complexity and richness of social life. Uniformity and regimentation are repugnant to the democratic spirit.


The environment of a human being is also triune in character,–natural, social and spiritual; and the content of teaching may be classified under three heads: Science and Technology dealing with our relation to nature; social sciences including History dealing with our relation to society; and Literature, Arts and Philosophy dealing with values or our relation to the world of spirit. The educational system in a democracy must take note of the variety in abilities, aptitudes and aspirations of the young and organise diversified courses of study for the different types at the different stages, on the basis of the different subjects and activities calculated to stimulate and strengthen the different natural tendencies.


Democracy believes in the inherent worth of the individual and in the dignity and value of human life. It affirms that each individual is a unique adventure of life, and we must bear in mind that the human mind is also essentially a unity and all knowledge is interdependent. The division of subjects into sciences, social studies and humanities is not exclusive, and, whatever be the subject of study, it can and should excite and satisfy the different mental powers and train the student in careful observation, effective thinking and proper judgment, and give him intellectual vision, aesthetic enjoyment and practical power.


Education must look to the whole man, energise his whole being and give him ideas of nature, society and values. A general understanding of the scientific method, of the history of our society and the world, and literature which feeds our imagination and stabilises our emotional life, should be provided as a part of general education for all. Whether we are being introduced to the delights of literature or wonders of science or the pride of craftsmanship, our whole being must be at work.


In the Preamble to our Constitution it is stated that our aim is to secure Justice, Liberty and Equality to every citizen. But these objectives of democracy are themselves the means for the real establishment and successful functioning of democracy. In our educational institutions, especially at the University stage, our young man and women should be enabled to live in an atmosphere of Justice, Liberty and Equality.


Every kind of injustice, political, economic or social, is due to want, fear and ignorance. Freedom from want, fear and ignorance is therefore the prerequisite for real justice and we have to endeavour to banish these evils from our midst. The democratic ideal is very seriously threatened with competition for popular favour by rival ideals and principles of social organisation. We have chosen the democratic way and it is an admitted fact that millions of our fellowmen live in poverty, disease and ignorance. By the very nature of the democratic system, our new democracy will collapse unless we raise considerably the material standards of life of our masses and increase national productivity by the larger use of scientific discoveries and technical appliances.


In our educational institutions there has been a woeful neglect of scientific and technical studies. There is a great disparity between what our country requires and what our education offers; and we very much handicapped now in our attempts to carry out the ambitious plans for the industrialisation of our country, drawn up by our leaders, for want of the requisite trained technical personnel, We have to take into account the fact that the large majority of our people live in villages, and avoid the evils of excessive centralization and monopoly capitalism. Our economy must be a decentralized one supported by agriculture and village industries, supplemented by the necessary large-scale industries, worked not for the profit of a few industrialists but for the general welfare. But there is no denying the necessity for encouraging scientific studies, giving a practical and vocational bias to education and the starting of technological courses and institutions in order to enable the products of our schools and colleges to serve the real needs of the country.


At the same time, we have to guard ourselves against the danger of attaching disproportionate importance to the natural sciences and technical studies in our teaching programmes and research budgets. It is a false belief that scientific pre-eminence is the only basis of national security and welfare. We, at any rate, are not wedded exclusively to materialism, but we go in for increasing national productivity by encouraging scientific studies and the use of scientific discoveries and technical appliances for ensuring decent standards of life for our people in order to guarantee social justice. We have to organise our material resources and productive machinery, with due regard to the peculiar circumstances of our country and the genius, culture and aspirations of our people, so that the benefits of our increased national productivity might reach the common man and result in true national progress.


Correct social vision and character in our leaders and administrators in the various spheres of social life and among our professional men are therefore equally essential. We have to devote as much attention to the social sciences as to the natural sciences in our teaching programmes and research budgets. Nor should we neglect the arts, literature and philosophy, as it is these subjects that educate the emotions and inspire the youth with noble ideals and high social aims. We should evolve a balanced system of education, carrying out at appropriate levels a combination of general, scientific, artistic and technical education.


Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship is the very breath of democracy and should pervade the atmosphere of an educational institution. All liberal education, and the scientific spirit in particular, should free the mind from the shackles of ignorance and social conservatism and the tyranny of tradition.


Universities should be the strongholds of liberty. Teachers should be as free to speak on controversial issues as any other citizens of a free country. Intellectual progress requires the maintenance of the spirit of free inquiry.


The Universities themselves should enjoy autonomy and resist any encroachment on their freedom in the administration of their affairs. The State should exercise no control over academic policies and practices.


Equality of status and opportunity is an essential feature of democracy. In a true democracy, people who pursue different vocations should all enjoy the same status and respect in society. In educational institutions, the notion that some subjects and courses of study, like the academic, are superior and require talents of a higher order than others, like the vocational or technical courses or vice versa, or that the study of the natural sciences is more respectable than the study of the social sciences or the humanities, should not be encouraged. Democracy is incompatible with snobbery.


Equality of opportunity in the matter of education is a pre-requisite for equality of any other kind of opportunity. Our educational system must therefore provide scope for every individual to develop, to the fullest possible extent, the faculties with which he is endowed by nature. There should be no discrimination (except in the case of the scheduled castes and that too for a limited period) in the matter of admission to educational institutions, the only consideration being merit and the capacity of the student to profit by the course of study he seeks to pursue. Any such discrimination tends to lower the standards of efficiency in the institutions concerned, in administration and public life in general, and involves wastage of national resources.


The positive aspect of providing equality of opportunity for the best education every young man or woman deserves, irrespective of the capacity to pay, is equally important for realising the potential resources of the nation to the full. We have to devise a generous system of scholarships to be awarded to the poor on the basis of competitive tests of ability and previous achievement of the student for the different courses in all educational institutions, secondary and University, primary education being free for all.


The chief problem of Democracy is to reconcile the claims of the liberty of the individual and the unity and strength of the society. Stress is laid therefore in the Preamble to our Constitution on the promotion of Fraternity and the development of the spirit of cooperation among the people. In view of the peculiar history of our country, our new democracy is faced with a staggering diversity of language, race and religion in our people. The problem of securing unity and harmony is at once a serious handicap and a glorious opportunity for us to set an example to the rest of the world and to point the way to a solution of the major problem of the human race as a whole.


A sense of unity and fraternity is promoted and strengthened by common rights and duties, a common way of life and cooperation for realising common ends. In educational institutions, especially of the higher stages where we have to train the future citizens for democracy, the utmost importance should be attached to the corporate life of the students in the Hostels and Unions and on the playgrounds. These so-called extra-curricular activities should be properly orgamised and fully exploited to develop the qualities of mutual trust and fairplay, disciplined and responsible behaviour and tactful leadership. All the students should be encouraged to participate in the social activities, not merely in the institutions but in the locality in general. In this sphere there should be no unnecessary interference by the teachers but only wise guidance to the students to conduct their own affairs.


The most powerful factor contributing to unity is a common culture. Culture in general is defined in the Report as intellectual alertness, responsiveness to beauty, humane feeling and social enthusiasm. These component elements are developed among people by sustained effort through centuries in different parts of the world in different ways suited to the environment, and hence the phenomenon of different cultures in a sense. To transmit the cultural heritage of the nation is one of the main objectives of education.


The Report affirms that in our country we have a common cultural heritage with distinctive features of its own, and we have only to appreciate, strengthen, utilise and enrich it. Our remarkable cultural unity, in spite of the equally remarkable diversity, is admitted even by our worst critics, and the strange persistence and survival of it through thousands of years of strange vicissitudes has evoked the wonder of the world.


A critical study of our past should therefore be our first concern, with a view to an intelligent appreciation of the basic elements of our culture, namely, self-realisation through self-mastery and contact with the Divine, and positive toleration of other ways of life and modes of worship of the Divine, in the sincere conviction of the equal worth and dignity of all kinds of religious discipline and the ultimate destiny of every individual soul. This culture of ours is not inconsistent with the much vaunted secularity of our democracy, if the term is rightly understood. Our secularism is only a new term for our traditional toleration in the religious field and does not at all mean that we are wedded to materialism. Democracy, as we conceive it and as our leaders have sought to express in our Constitution, is itself a new variety different from the Western brand, in that the spirituality of our culture is superadded to it in place of scientific materialism. In fact, it contains spiritual elements in it sufficient to constitute a new faith or a new expression of our old faith and culture.


In our educational institutions of all grades we have to instill in the minds of the young the basic elements of our national culture, by encouraging the critical study of our social and cultural history and the lives of the great spiritual leaders of the country in the different ages. Provision should also be made for the study and appreciation of our great national epics which form an embodiment of our culture.


We have to inculcate ideals and principles of cooperation and fraternity at the international level also. Neither our culture nor our Constitution is in the least inconsistent with the ideal of peace and harmony among the different nations of the world, on the basis of equal status and the common destiny of the human race. We have to train the young for world citizenship by a suitable course of study as well as by cooperation with the UNESCO and such other bodies in their efforts in this direction.