The emergence of new nation-states and the growth of nationalism in nineteenth century Europe were concurrent with the spread of literacy and in most societies they resulted in an increasing emphasis upon indoctrination in the educational process.
The same phenomenon has reappeared in the twentieth century, in those societies which have attained independence from colonial rule or have constituted themselves as modern nation-states, but it has been countered by other influences.
The diffusion and acceptance of the ideal of the underlying unity of mankind, despite international conflict, has brought greater tolerance of cultural diversity and genuine efforts to conceive and present each specific cultural tradition as a single element in a larger and richer whole.
At the same time, while educational differentiation within societies has remained, increasing social mobility through the educational system has tended to break up the dominant national culture, and to create diversity.
In India, the British system of education had, besides its disadvantages, one extremely good effect in establishing for the first time, opportunities of higher education for members of the lower castes. The growth of science and the rapidity of social change have also affected the codes of behaviour taught in educational institutions, imparting to them, in some modern societies, a tolerant or tentative character which may have as one result adolescent and adult aimlessness.
A balance between firm traditions and standards of behaviour, tolerance, adaptability to change, and the spirit of free enquiry, is difficult to attain; and some of the failures of modern education (exacerbated by other social influences) in its prime function of socialization can be seen in the youth problems which are prevalent in all industrial societies.
A country such as India, which is just embarking upon a period of rapid change, may well experience such difficulties in an acute form and there is indeed much evidence of inter-generational conflict over social values, expressed in opposition to arranged marriages, in student indiscipline, and in general juvenile lawlessness.
These problems raise a larger question about the effectiveness of formal education as a means of social control. In earlier societies, where literacy was highly valued as a basis of prestige and power, teachers were also highly regarded; moreover, the teachers themselves usually came from high status Families. Formal education imparted to a minority destined to rule and administer society a definite code of morals and behaviour.
In China, the examinations ‘tested whether or not the candidate’s mind was thoroughly steeped in literature and whether or not he possessed the ways of thought suitable to a cultured man …’ and in the eyes of the Chinese masses ‘a successfully examined candidate and official was by no means a mere applicant for office qualified by knowledge … He was a proved holder of magical qualities …’ In this respect, although not a priest, he resembled the Hindu guru who was a spiritual counselor as well as teacher and official.
With the achievement of mass literacy in modern industrial societies the social prestige of the teacher tended to decline, for he was no longer set apart as the literate man; moreover, teachers for the primary levels of education were themselves recruited from the lower social strata. In addition the growth of business established the pre-eminence of wealth in conferring prestige and power.
As an Indian educationalist writes of present-day India, ‘In sharp contrast to the past when teachers were honoured however poor or powerless they may have been, contemporary India places a disproportionate emphasis on monetary standards’.
The values professed by the teacher are no longer authoritative; they have to compete with the values presented to the child by his family, peer group, and the media of mass communication. Neither sociologists nor social psychologists have yet given much attention to the conflicts between different codes of behaviour and different agencies of social control in contemporary societies.
Yet there are manifest conflicts between family and social mobility (e.g. in many Western societies the conflict between the school, arising from working class standards of the family and the middle class standards of grammar school and university), from the secular character of state education as contrasted with the religious values of the family (or vice-versa), or from inter-generational differences in outlook; and there are equally serious conflicts between school and peer group, and between school and mass media. British education in India was frequently criticized for its secular character:
‘It is criticized as being alien to the Indian temperament, which is essentially religious, and as offending against the cherished conviction that religious and moral instruction is a necessary part of education. To it are ascribed a decline or disappearance of respect of youth for age, a denial of the natural authority of parents over their children and of teachers over their pupils, a widespread disregard of religious and social sanctions, and a growth of moral laxity’.
But the experience since of the achievement of independence shows that there are more general influences at work. While there may not be any general conflict between Hinduism and modern science, there is certainly conflict between the way of life of an industrial society based upon science and the traditional way of life which is intimately bound up with Hinduism.
Recent educational planning in India has in fact largely followed the British precedent by placing the major emphasis upon the secular aspect of education, the communication of modem knowledge, and by leaving aside the problems of moral and religious instruction.