The country’s heritage, ancient achievements and value systems are of great importance but they are not priorities for the school education system, which is doing far from well. So, it is surprising, indeed worrying, that the minister of state for HRD, Mahendra Nath Pandey, chose a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) to address state ministers on these issues. He also said that Sanskrit was a great unifying factor and that scientific knowledge should be available in Indian languages. Inexplicably, he spoke of the importance of military education for students. If even 2,000 of the 10,000 students in Nalanda University had undergone military training, according to him, they could have foiled Bakhtiyar Khilji’s plan to raze the university.
The minister should have kept the focus on the CABE resolution seeking compulsory promotion of students only till class 5. After this it has sought that the states could have the freedom to hold students back if they fail. It correctly focuses on learning outcomes and wants this to be codified. There are many other issues that need attention. One is the training of teachers under the Right to Education Act. Apart from this, the pressing need in school education is infrastructure. There are many regions in which schools do not have classrooms or good sanitation facilities. These deter the girl child from attending classes. These are issues that the HRD ministry needs to focus on more than anything else. The school curriculum as its stands today is both outdated and is geared towards a rote method of learning. If, at the end of class 6, as was discovered by a recent survey, many children cannot string a sentence together, there is something seriously wrong in the way education is being imparted and results assessed.
The HRD ministry should be taking the lead in formulating ways of not just ensuring enrolment but also retention in schools. Access to schools is also a major problem, especially in tribal areas. Education should be all about progress. Knowledge of Indian languages is beneficial but it should not be at the cost of English. The HRD ministry should keep its eye on the ball as far as the real needs of the education system are concerned. It should not seek to detract from this by bringing in heritage and ancient culture as talking points in a serious discussion on the subject of making changes in the education system.