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Savitri Bai Phule, an educational philosopher, is the mother of modern Indian education. Phule rejected the brahmin education of only upper-caste males, which forbade the education of lower castes. She and Jyotiba Phule saw education as liberation and reform, as the ‘Tritiya Rata’ – referring to possibilities that can enable the oppressed (which included the Sudras and women) to understand the transformational relationship between power and knowledge. This involved more than mere alphabetical competency to look through the hegemonic ideology, understand its system of oppression, and dismantle the same. She saw education as universally available, child-sensitive, intellectually critical, and socially reforming.
Widely regarded as India's first woman teacher, Phule truly sparked a revolution in Indian Education by opening it up for girls and marginalised castes. A staunch believer in the universal right to education, she believed that learning was for every child and conceived the scope of education as ‘universally available.’ At the same time, she also supported a system and a teaching style that gave more importance to practical knowledge and was appropriate to the students’ context, specifically sensitive to the rural-urban divide.
Critical Thinking as part and parcel of the learning experience was yet another of her focus points. She felt students must develop their own critical, independent reasoning. This also involved questioning the authority and faith of the religious, brahminical texts. Consequently, it would also lead an educational system to bring about a fundamental change in social attitudes. Education, as per Phule, was not about merely raising the standards of living but for shaping the nation's future while also challenging rigid gender stereotypes and degrading caste hierarchies.
Mukesh Manas, professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi, says, “Modern India’s first woman teacher, Savitribai Phule, was a radical advocator of female and untouchables’ education, a champion of women’s rights, a milestone of trailblazing poetry, a courageous mass leader who stood strong against the forces of caste and patriarchy [and who] certainly had her independent identity for her contribution.” Thom Wolf also cited Savitribai as working towards universal education that has led to globally applicable intellectual and instructional outcomes.
Rosalind O’Hanlon has theorised upon “Phule’s main point,” which concerns the interconnected problems of the 19th-century low caste majority Indian. In other words, the issues faced by the majority-India are interconnected, lying within religious disabilities. Phule’s approach to education interrogated this issue through an integrative solution. Thom Wolf has used the “worldvoice, worldview, worldavenue” framework to situate Phule’s work. Here, ‘worldvoice’ is the virtuous person, ‘worldview’ is the set of intellectual precepts, and ‘worldavenue’ is the daily collection of social pathways. All of these together form the matrix. Phule’s work is situated within this framework as her coherent set of education ideas were radically different from the prevailing educational system of that time.
Savitri’s approach attacked the Indian priestly system that gave power to Brahmins. Education, here, was guarded by a specific class - the rich, privileged, brahmin males. Phule saw the hegemony of a ‘religious worldvoice,’ one based within the Arya Brahmin scripture. This was supplemented by an ‘intellectual worldview’ which was smoothly machinated and a ‘social worldavenue.’ This framework comprises the invisible realities of the heart and head and illustrates the visible facts of the hands and the actualised social pathways patterns within the observable social texture.
Phule believed that the social reality based upon religion was a “prison house.” It is known that when Savitribai opened the first school for girls and marginalised caste children in India, Brahmins threw faeces at her. But she stood firm as she believed in education for all and that every child was created in the image of God. She sought to alter the existing child education practises and the presuppositions, and the worldvoice it was built upon. Wolf sees Savitri as someone “who was content with nothing less than the creation of a paradigm shift that would reset an entire continent’s and eventually the globe’s concept of education.”
Savitribai Phule saw the dominant views of opposition stacked against her odds from their seats of power while she occupied a minority position. She innovated education and persisted so that her ideas remained central to understanding the consternation over contemporary Indian pedagogy. Concludingly, Phule designed an exemplary education program and developed a framework that sought to revolutionise societies.
Wolf, Thom (2011) "Comenius and Savitribai Phule," Journal of Applied Christian Leadership: Vol. 5: No. 2, 78-104. Available at: https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jacl/vol5/iss2/6
Manas, M. (2007). The first woman teacher of India. Retrieved from http://mukeshmanas.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/08/savitribai-phul.htm