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Ambedkar’s long neglected philosophy of education

Ambedkar’s long neglected philosophy of education

amritha upendra


Upendra Sonpimple and Amritha Mohankumar

Amplifying ignored voices through education: Drawing lines with Ambedkar

amritha upendraAbstract 

Education deals with philosophy- from its pedagogy to its impact on individuals and members of society. While individuals and communities carry their identities, in social and educational spheres the pedagogy of oppression also had its roots in education, where one side or the corrupted voices trained the larger sections of the country. The learners’ voice still maintains the steady culture of silence and hegemony of oppressors. This paper aims to discuss the philosophy of education in reference to Dr. B. R Ambedkar. His contribution ranges from educational reforms made by the British Indian government in the education system from before independence to the post-Independence era. This paper would study the philosophical contributions of Ambedkar in context of its practices, nature, process, outcomes and ideals of education. His emphasis on education advocated an educational system which serves all. Yet the thoughts of this revolutionary leader have been rather ignored in the Indian school education system. The paper looks at the necessity of inclusion of Ambedkarite thoughts in Indian textbooks.

Key Words : Educational Philosophy, Dr. B. R Ambedkar, Emancipation, Depressed Class, Academia


”The backward classes have come to realize that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight. We may forgo material benefits, we may forgo material benefits of civilization, but we cannot forgo our right and opportunities to reap the benefit of the highest education to the fullest extent. That is the importance of this question from the point of view of the backward classes who have just realized that without education their existence is not safe.”- (BAWS- Vol.2, 1982). Ambedkar is an intellectual who led the upliftment of the depressed classes in society. He has been strongly critiqued by the existing fundamentalist ideologies which are perpetuated by the proponents of traditional values (like Gandhian ideology). Ambedkar though, had suggested the way of upliftment of depressed classes was through schooling. He consolidated his views in a letter to the Anti-Untouchablity League and stated that the upliftment of depressed classes depends on schooling (education) of the community as a whole (Chatterji, 2008).

The government agencies are not prompted to secure the educational rights of the depressed classes who have been ignored. The educational status of dalits and tribals is much lower in comparison to other communities. The role of educational policies for depressed classes is emancipatory, as education has been identified as a primary factor in development and as an instrument for social change and as having the potential to annihilate the caste system (Rafaqi, 2013). The education system till this date projects itself as a tool for empowerment of marginalized sections, but in practice it conveniently subotages the  same process of empowerment when it magnifies the importance of Sanskrit language in the education system. While the dalit students face the rejection from their teachers who give priority to priestly caste students, the lower castes are simply sidelined from the learning process, and so are the dalit teachers from the teaching process. Ambedkar ardently supported schooling that inculcates human rights education, education that teaches human dignity and justice in India. (Thiagarajan, 1981).

Ambedkar established various educational institutions in Maharashtra specially for weaker sections of society. These inculded Siddharth college, Milind College and other similar schools for untouchables and women. He could understand the importance of education and interpreted a philosophy of education with his deep knowledge of the Indian society. His views and ideas on education are discussed in this paper which would highlight the changes in the current educational situation in India within the constantly changing national polices.

right to education

Ambedkar negated the external intervention in space of education (globalization and education), and directed towards a socialist model of education according to Buddhist ideology. This also examines the relevance of his philosophy of education with the movements of liberation of depressed classes, which are in turn based on education. The educated can assert their rights and be motivated for development. This paper will study Ambedkar’s educational philosophy in regards to other Indian educational philosophers where Ambedkar has disappeared from such discourse. His vision and ideas on education necessitate a study of Ambedkar while seeking to amplify the ignored voices through education.

Philosophy of education and India

The philosophy of education is considered as one of the fields of philosophy, where the philosophical approaches like metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology, aesthetics and ethics are comparatively examined. Educational philosophy cooperates with the above approaches and also propagates processes to provide knowledge to individuals based on their abilities. The aim and objective of this philosophy is to create skills, responsibility, and respectable, knowledgeable and reasonable citizens for nation states. The function of educational philosophy is to address the teacher- learner interactions where the teachers carry a philosophical nature when they enter a class room (Ibid).

In the Indian context, educational philosophy envisages more or less the same approaches, objectives and functions. Going back to its roots, there were influences pertaining to history (the Vedic and post-Vedic periods); the Astikas system represented an orthodox belief and the Nastikas system was heterodox. In the orthodox system, there is Vedic religious philosophy discussed in different schools of Mimansa, Vedanta, Sankhya, Nayna, Yoga and so on. In Nastikas schools are included Charvaka, Buddha and Jaina. The educational values imparted according to the schools of thought and other antecedents are hegemonic and destructive in nature. These philosophical traditions have been blanketed from the western philosophical sphere.

In periods when India became a colonial entitiy of the British, there were accusations by the philosophical pundits of India that the rulers had borrowed philosophical perspectives from western philosophy and blanketed traditional philosophy; this shows their ignorance of Nastika philosophers who were rather critcal of Astikas’ Brahaminical philosophy. The Indian philosophers’ claims over the origin of philosophy and the contribution to contemporary philosophy are more significant than other countries like Greece, Britain, Italy, Germany and France. In India there was philosophy written in Pali, Prakrit and Sanskrit. Their critical engagement with western philosophy pursued from the Indian traditional philosophy like Buddhism, to express thoughts on the Conservation of Energy Law; Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher, explained this law much after Buddha (Mukherji, 2002).

The Islamic influence in medieval India was also reflected in educational values, where institutions like Madarsas and Maktabs were created to provide education. Other religious schools also provided learning to individuals. The Islamic medium of learning was Persian and subjects like maths, logic, reasoning and languages were taught by respective teachers. The aims and objectives of education were to provide religious and vocational learning to the individual. The other part was to provide military training which could create options for livelihood.

The British invasion of India further impacted the education system of country. The Christian philosophy of education was introduced in this period. In fact, this was the beginning of the modern period in India where spreading modern values introduced by the British through various reforms brought in education. The reforms included: Indian Universities Commission, 1902, Indian University Act, 1904; National Education Policy for 1912, Hertog Committee Report in 1929. In these reforms, a public education system was part of the western ideas for creating an administrative system. However, the appraisal of the Indian reformists criticized the British. Sri Aurobindo, Swami Dayanand, M.K. Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Jawaharlal Nehru, M. N Roy, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Annie Besant, M.G Ranade- they all demanded educational reforms for the nation. They believed that the British education system is against the interests of the Indian citizen. Their aim and objective behind education was that the education polices of the British presented an alternative and a different philosophy of education. They wanted new national educational polices for the country (Gupta S. 2005).

But Mahatma Jotiba Phule was the first one who raised the issue of education for backward castes before the Hunter commission. And then there was another towering personality, the constitution maker for free India, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who strived to secure rights for the depressed classes and fought for their liberation. He was the first untouchable student who pursued higher education from abroad and become the father of modern India. His philosophy of life was influenced by Buddha, Kabir, Mahatma Phule, Shahu Maharaj and so on. He presented his reformist suggestions on the educational rights of the depressed classes. His philosophical determinants have not been cherished by academicians of the country nor has his liberation ideas for the depressed classes discussed on a national platform by the upper castes. He wrote on various issues but the textbook academia of India have ignored his theories. Ambedkar remains just a constitution maker for millions of people of this country, not even upper caste media is sensitive to his ideas on education and liberation.

His philosophy of education should have been discussed separately and implemented in India’s education system. It will take some time to address the educational process that Ambedkar’s pedagogy teaches for the students of this country. If his ideas in the field of education, whether it was primary or university education, were accepted they would make great a new addition to India’s educational philosophy.

Relevance of Dr. Ambedkar philosophy’s of education

Education has been seen as conducting an emancipatory role in each person’s life. The current education system has drawn inspiration from opinions which are cultured from the authoritative powers of the dominating classes, and seems divorced from exploring the rationale for its relevance in society at large and the youth within it.

Ambedkar was an impeccable leader, who took up the leadership to light the lamp of enlightenment. With his immense reading and clarity of thoughts and arguments, he countered the oppressive and discriminatory caste based practices. Ambedkar’s last words emphasized: ‘Educate, Agitate and Organize’. He was a person with high intellect and was trained under the then distinguished scholars like John Dewey, Charles Beard and R. A. Seligman (Sirswal, 2011). It’s astonishing to realize that Ambedkar’s opinions and perceptions on education aren’t recognized. Since 1920, when he actively became a part of the public platform till his death in 1956, Dr.B.R. Ambedkar had constantly been on the forefront of the movement to eradicate birth based oppression where the basic amenities like education, housing choices are restricted for the benefit of the few. With his expertise in world thought and his broad education he accomplished in a short span of time he initiated new ideas in the process of engagement with the learning process.

Ambedkar’s thoughts are not only limited to the cause for a particular section of the society, but they have been wifully neglected. All this while it is forgotten that the exhaustive text of the Indian Constitution was for all and Ambedkar can be seen as the leader who strongly believed and worked for the secularity of the nation.

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar contributed to a plethora of books and journals. His speeches and writing are a valubale source for the process of truth finding and its articulation. Through his thoughts, words and actions Ambedkar raised the consciousness of Dalits regarding the wretchedness and the injustice of their social condition, and awakened them to the possibilities of establishing a society in which they could live like equals (Valeskar, 2012). When we look at the term equality, it is interfaced in various ways- how it has appeared in the constitution – from sections concerning welfare, justice to education alike. Equality in every aspect is reflected in the constitution and proves to be an important element is its composition. As we move beyound the boundaries set for our understanding of equality, we also need to know how equality is perceived. Taking the example of the National Council for Education and Research (NCERT) and how it’s information brochure elaborately explains ‘Equitable space for all’. The NCERT says,

Across the country, enormous strides towards establishing schools within the reach of every habitation have been made. Attempts to put larger number of children through schooling have proved to be successful. But pockets of children still remain to be reached- children from the socially weaker sections, those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes, those belonging to the minority groups, and particularly girls, in each of these groups. The need of the hour is to identify the extraordinary socio-cultural circumstances which restrict these children from accessing schools.

This excerpt from the NCERT’s brochure shows its identification of a particular section of Indian society. The portrayal being that of a victim where the identity of community is overlapped with the form of victimization. This victimization has created an othering among the communities and it has become prominent. The othering then comes also when there are specialized books on the tribal communities, while the tribal knowledge and their genesis of struggle is rarely discussed. While making special efforts to provide for the education of the tribes, a series of books under the title ‘Meet our Tribal People’ were developed to sensitize other children to the life and culture of different tribal groups across the country.

Here we need to understand the purpose of education. When Ambedkar talks about knowledge, he lists two purposes of knowledge: first, to acquire it for betterment of others and secondly to use it for one’s own betterment. The latter is pursued by a larger circle of people than the former (ibid). From this we could conclude that the realization of existence is not the only valid standpoint, but the realization of struggled existence of the ‘others’ is also important. For example, when there is violence from the upper castes on lower castes then the depressed caste groups assert their existence which also shows their existence for the dominant caste.

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Ambedkar has also argued against professional learning which aims at creating a clerical nature of workers, inclucating a non-questioning attitude as the objective of learning. Ambedkar had explained the importance of education in his written testimony before the University Reform Committee set up by the Municipal Government regarding Mumbai University reforms. He discussed various issues related to education and also the reasons for the failure of the education system.

Dr. Ambedkar challenges the notion of accepting unchallenged notions of society. The argumentative capability reflects a person’s thinking prowess and his ability to reach the truth and identifying it through a procedure. We might also want to understand how Dr Ambedkar perceived the nature of education. He says,

The Division of the pre-degree education and the post-degree education meant the partition of education and research from each other, which itself proved that when the research is separated from education then the former is immeasurably harmed.

This makes it clear that the education and its continuation through implementing it in one’s life is necessary for constant and meaningful learning. Ambedkar listed these three components as objectives for policy makers: 

1) Recasting the aims and purposes of education,
2) Education as an instrument of substantive equality,
3) Women’s education (Velaskar, 2012).

 He had recognized education as the major tool of the discriminated masses to stand up and claim their rights. Where the base of education would provide rationale, strength and the perseverance which distinguishes between truth and cultured opinions. Education formed the fundamental part of his eloquent speeches and messages, making us perceive his early understanding of it as a fundamental right and also as the major tool of rebelion among the discriminated. Ambedkar’s speeches many a times mention the transformative nature education has, which he would have imbibed from the diverse range of academic learning he had.

Being from a community which was socially excluded and disregarded throughout history, his thoughts and ideas where considered as threatening and misleading by the fundamentalists. For he overturned the rules of nature or supernatural forces and created a disastrous impact on them, as he started to agitate within the society and beyond, with his words and writings. The concept of upliftment or rise of the ‘lower class’ was accepted. With the advantage of being a learned person Dr. Ambedkar was in a better position than any other to challenge the relations of the upper and the lower castes and the immobility within them. Education hence proved to be a factor of upliftment when certain communities were denied the same.


Ambedkar had a deep relation with education and his writings show expertise and indepth analysis of the subject. The great leader has been restricted to the narrow position of being just a Dalit emancipator. His contributions towards education and his vision towards it should be traced and nurtured. Ambedkar realized education to be a priority for the society and for growth of individuals with character. Educational philosophy stresses on development of persons and their environment. Ambedkar also saw education as something that can create radical changes in an oppressed society and create avenues for change which are equal for all. Ambedkar’s thoughts resonate with the current academic discourse and hence make him relevant, to bring in a perspective which has been missing. The perspective which is generated through struggled learning. That learning needs to be recognized and captured in textbooks, cutting across boundaries.

Meanwhile, teachers and the trainers also need to establish a bond and promote an education that works towards the objectives of self-actualization and a just society. With such collective efforts, education can play a role in the conscientization and creation of citizens who are aware of the perils a society faces, motivating them to challenge its customary norms and practices even when establishing themselves. To contextualize educational philosophy in India we must remember that learning was barred for a large section of society, wherein the texts and writings which govern them were permitted to be read and to be interpreted by a few born in a specific community. This exclusiveness to a particular community for learning further translated into children from the ‘lower’ section of the community being kept away from education in oder to maintain the purity of the ‘sacred learning’ of the few.

Education can hence create a realization among the masses of them being subjected to a hegemonic force. A force that suppress the culture and existence of the community they are in. This realization might propel the masses to resist and aspire for change. There would be intellectual assertion, which would challenge the rigidity and break it. This contexualization of education in India would create a pedagogy which enables the teachers and learners participate in the process of change and enhance one’s ideals in society and be accepting of critique and argue with rationale and logic.


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Rafaqi. M (2013). Dalit Education and Government Policies. Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol.3. issue. 3.

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Thiagarajan, A.P. 1981. “A Study of the Scheduled Caste Students in Some Secondary Schools of Tamil Nadu,” Indian Education, vol. 11, no. 5, p. 22-26.

Valeskar. P. (2012). Education for liberation:Ambedkar’s Thought and Dalit Women’s Perspective. Sage. 9(2) 245-271



Upendra Sonpimple and Amritha Mohankumar are students from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, pursuing their Masters in Social Work, specializing in ‘Rural Development’ and ‘Dalit and Tribal studies and Action respectively’.

Cartoons by Unnamati Syama Sundar.