This is a case of misplaced priorities as far as the education sector goes. Dina Nath Batra, who came into the limelight for his successful efforts to pulp Wendy Doniger’s work on Hinduism, has, through his organisation Shiksha Bachao Andolan, signed agreements with three universities to introduce vedic mathematics. There are several problems with this. First, this is a discipline of doubtful provenance and a favourite of the Hindutva proponents. Second, these universities will now have to divert funds to set up the infrastructure for these courses which, ultimately will be of little benefit to students.
The motivation behind the introduction of such courses is to establish that India was at the forefront of disciplines like mathematics many centuries ago. But what proponents of vedic mathematics fail to acknowledge is that it may have had its time and place, but it no longer has relevance in today’s world where the principles of mathematics are uniform globally. However, all this is to obscure the main problem in our education, which is primary education that is woefully underfunded and understaffed.
Our efforts must be to ensure enrolment and retention.
This is not to suggest that the curriculum for higher education be ignored or that it should remain stagnant. But in a situation where our students are competing for jobs in a competitive market, the focus should be on courses that will help them in this. The curricula of universities should be set by experts who have an open mind to the developments in education across the world.
Mr Batra does not seem to exhibit such tendencies, in fact, the Doniger incident shows that he seems unwilling to accept ideas that go against his personal beliefs. His inputs in the school curricula in Gujarat are, to put it mildly, retrograde and without any substance or merit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken about India becoming world class in every sector. This has to start with education and here what we need is more schools, better teacher training, an engaging curricula and greater access. In higher education too, what is required is resources to set up more universities with the focus on excellence in teaching.
This obsession with vedic mathematics will shift the focus from the real issues that need to be addressed to make the education system more vibrant and relevant. As far as relevance or academic rigour goes, vedic mathematics just doesn’t make the grade.