Reviving the fine art of learning

December 11, 1998

Devi Prasad is an artist, craftsman, teacher, writer and ardent member of the peace movement. Having trained at Shantiniketan, Rabindranath Tagore's university in West Bengal, he spent 16 years at the Nayee Telim Educational Institute at Gandhi's Sevagram, teaching children of all ages. He used this experience to evolve a practical and theoretical model for art education that would be suitable for village schools throughout India, where art and handicraft played little part in the curriculum.

Prasad puts his faith in child-centred education, keeping adult expectations and pressures at bay to allow the child's creativity to evolve undisturbed. He also puts emphasis on the value of art - a medium of expression that comes naturally to children ahead of speech - as the basis for education that makes full use of the hand and eye rather than just the brain, and encourages independence. For Prasad, learning is more important than teaching, and nature is considered the key inspiration for creative work.

Inevitably, however, Prasad is crying in the wilderness. He finds it unacceptable that the Indian government is building on the British Raj's educational system rather than returning to India's traditional methods of learning. He sees ill-designed manufactured goods replacing beautiful hand-made artefacts, and traditional village customs and rituals falling prey to western culture leading to social disintegration and conditions that do not augur well for peace.

The practical advice he gives to teachers, some of it in question-and-answer form, seems valid, but for those of us in Britain, it is couched in terms that are rather off-putting and seem to belong to an older generation: phrases such as "good taste" and "self-expression" are now viewed with suspicion. Nevertheless, in these days of the national curriculum, league tables and an over-riding emphasis on literacy, numeracy and the acquisition of information, it is refreshing to be reminded by someone from another country and culture that there exists an alternative, not only to current educational methodology, but to the raison d'etre of education itself.

Peter Cox is founder-principal, Dartington College of Arts.

Art: The Basis of Education

Author - Devi Prasad
ISBN - 81 237 2314 8
Publisher - National Book Trust of India
Price - Rs85
Pages - 177

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