Students in civic schools in Mumbai will soon start their day with a surya namaskar.
On Tuesday the Shiv Sena-BJP led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) passed a proposal that made surya namaskar and yoga mandatory in the primary and secondary schools run by the corporation.
At a cursory glance the proposal looks like a good idea — after all, yoga is a form of meditation and its positive results are recognised the world over. But is this a pressing need for civic schools ? At a time when civic schools face a shortage of teachers, students, and there is a lot of room for improving — and in some cases even providing — basic infrastructure, the emphasis on yoga seems misplaced.
A recent study conducted by the ministry of drinking water and sanitation found of that only 62% of schools in Maharashtra had functioning toilets — the situation in Mumbai, as is the case in many metros where public toilets and access to existing facilities are inadequate, is not better.
Recently reports also showed that in about 15 schools that started Class 10 this academic year there were no teachers. The lack of qualified teachers and poor training for existing teachers to keep abreast with the latest techniques in pedagogy are much-debated issues but have seen little progress.
Another problem which the BMC needs to urgently address is the lack of secondary schools in Mumbai. According to the municipal corporation of Greater Mumbai, there are 1,121 municipal primary schools, but only 145 municipal secondary schools — a reason for students discontinuing education after primary school. And this gap exists at a time when, according to the Right to Education, it is the duty of the State to provide free education till the age of 14.
The BMC’s decision is bound to become controversial, and the Opposition in the state, the Congress, along with the Samajwadi Party, are of the view that yoga should be made optional.
This move is likely to be seen as a covert attempt by Right-wing groups and the BJP government to ‘saffronise’ education. An unfortunate effect of this decision could be more parents, especially Muslims, pulling their children out of civic schools, and turning to religious schools.
A surya namaskar might be a good way to start the day for school students in Mumbai, but it amounts to little if they don’t have qualified teachers, proper teaching aids or quality infrastructure for the rest of the day.