As the MHRD considers a new education policy it must recognise that the degree of conformity it expects of students is unlikely to produce the thinkers that India needs to be a great power.(Imagesbazaar)
As the MHRD considers a new education policy it must recognise that the degree of conformity it expects of students is unlikely to produce the thinkers that India needs to be a great power.(Imagesbazaar)

Can India have a future without critical thinkers?

The committee advising on a new education policy offers a frank diagnosis and comes up with a big wish list. But it pays little attention to the humanities and social sciences and reinforces the anti-intellectualism of this government.
By Sushil Aaron | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 26, 2016 10:57 AM IST

The committee advising on a new education policy offers a frank diagnosis and comes up with a big wish list. But it pays little attention to the humanities and social sciences and reinforces the anti-intellectualism of this government

With 65 per cent of its population under the age of 35 and 290 million students (in schools and universities), no issue is arguably more critical for India’s future than education. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) established a committee in October to come up with ideas for a new education policy which the NDA intends to announce. The committee was led by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, three other retired civil servants Shailaja Chandra, Seva Ram Sharma, Sudhir Mankad, and physics professor and educationist JS Rajput.

The committee submitted its report last month; Subramanian has asked the MHRD to make it public but minister Smriti Irani has said that that would only happen after state governments provide their feedback. The report is circulating nonetheless and the contents point to the political battles on education that we are likely to see if its recommendations translate into policy.

Needed candour

To begin with, the committee does get several things right. It is brutally honest in its diagnosis of the problem. To summarise: There are serious concerns about the quality of education in India at all levels. The system of higher education is in crisis. There is a sore lack of competent teachers in government schools. There is widespread corruption relating to teacher appointments. Political interference is endemic in the sector; “most vice-chancellors are political appointees”. “Large segments of the education sector…face a serious crisis of credibility in terms of the quality of education which they provide, as well as the worth of the degrees which they confer on students”.

(It is no wonder then that the Indian elite has largely given up on India as a place to educate their children. Around 300,000 Indian students head abroad every year to study, spending $10 billion.)

Read: Universities deserved more from the new education policy

To address this, the committee has come with an expansive wish list, featuring big spending plans and ideas to entirely rework the way education is governed (see box). It sees IT as a big part of the solution, it wants every student and teacher (in schools and universities) to have a unique identity with real time monitoring of their progress and their institutions. With an impressive grasp of the institutional architecture, there is scarcely an area in the sector the committee has not offered policy advice on: From transparency in teacher recruitment to establishing preschool facilities in government schools to examination reform. It wants a dedicated civil service for education, a new think tank for MHRD and a new higher education act to sort out regulatory thickets.

As it stands the report, however, poses problems for the government and one can see why the MHRD is reluctant to publicise it. For one, to release it is to officially acknowledge that India experiencing a profound crisis in education, contrary to the positive spin the government puts out. Two, it is not easy dealing with reports that have breathless wish lists since governments do not have enough money to allocate to all the envisaged projects. Three, the institutional overhaul and the legal changes that the report has in mind will set off a set of political battles that will involve debates about the expanding role of the State, Centre-State relations, privacy and so on. There will also be discussions on the report’s emphasis on “value orientation” in education when it is applied as policy by the BJP.

Limiting Thought

What is more worrying from the future’s standpoint is that the report barely mentions let alone emphasises the importance of the humanities and the social sciences for developing “critical thought”. (The phrase “social sciences” occurs thrice in the 217-page document, and “humanities” once, but not in prescriptive terms.)

The committee states that “education should foster, peace, tolerance, secularism and national integration” but how it should be done is not clarified. It is worth restating that literature, the arts and subjects like history, sociology, psychology, economics and anthropology are literally “disciplines” that help students to think more rigorously about their own experience and the lives of others. As philosopher Martha Nussbaum notes, the humanities enable the ability to “think well about a wide range of cultures, groups and nations”. They help develop empathy, to imagine the experience of another and come to terms with an interdependent, diverse world. And so if one is serious about fostering values that are vital for citizenship there needs to be an explicit push for engagement with the humanities and social sciences. These streams are also imperative for understanding one’s own country better and for the cultural recovery the BJP is keen on.

Read: Education policy: Panel wants RTE Act amended, area-specific guidelines

As noted, the committee is mindful of teacher training and learning outcomes for students but offers no plan for cultivating independent thought. It instead expresses a preference to block avenues that develop critical thinking by taking a dim view of student politics at universities. In a section titled “need to restrict political and other distractions in university and college campuses” it points to “agitations, disturbances…and movements” in higher education institutions. While recognising freedom of association, it refers disapprovingly to political parties that have chapters on campuses, caste and community-based groupings, and unions of students and teachers. The report suggests that students must have self-imposed restrictions on political activity “to ensure the primary work of the university should be conducted without hindrance”.

One immediately deduces that an ideal student from the committee’s vantage is perhaps a science student who imbibes “values” from teachers and mechanistically picks up job-related skills in a university without disturbing anyone or asking tough questions about society.

There are unfortunately several problems with the way the committee understands student politics. First, the scale of disturbances in universities across the country is not quantified by the committee, which merely says that “one frequently hears” of agitations. Second, by discouraging political activity it wants students not to intensely engage with ideas at university, not to develop moral commitments, stand up for the weak and marginalised and speak out against injustice. In representing student politics this way, the report devalues the role that universities play in producing informed citizens, who are aware of the mechanics of power, privilege and inequality. Universities where students are discouraged from developing moral commitments will become conservative spaces that limit individual thought and national possibilities.

The committee appears to have assimilated the BJP’s concerns about JNU and has underplayed the importance of the humanities and social sciences in education. It is a line of thinking that endorses the anti-intellectualism of this government and will leave India poorer if enforced. As the MHRD considers a new education policy it must recognise that the degree of conformity it expects of students is unlikely to produce the creative, original thinkers that India needs to be a great power. It should also know that critical thought will not automatically ensue when rural students and teachers get access to broadband. It is a disposition that has to be consciously nurtured. And liberals, by the way — both historically and now — play a very important part in that national project.

Read more: An exclusive interview with TSR Subramanian, the man behind the controversial report

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)
Elections in Kerala are punctuated by several controversies, both past and present (File Photo)

Espionage to smuggling, scandals spice up every poll in Kerala

By Ramesh Babu, Thiruvanathapuram
PUBLISHED ON MAR 03, 2021 07:26 PM IST
  • controversies and scandals were part of the state polity in the last three decades and mushrooming digital media also played its part in amplifying them, said a political observer.
Close
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)
The 1962 baggage at the turn of century was such that for 40 years, subsequent governments did not dare build border roads on the ground that these could be used by the Chinese army to enter the hinterland in case of a conflict.(PTI)

Why 2021 political rhetoric is no match for 1962 fighting in Ladakh

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2021 02:15 PM IST
  • India and China came close to war last year after Indian army commanders atop Rezang La-Rechin La ridge threatened to fire at the advancing PLA tank regiment that sought to dislodge the Indian troopers.
Close
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)
Approximately half of the countries use population for delimitation, while another third use registered voters. Nowhere is it based on area and for good reasons (HTPHOTO)

J&K delimitation: Go by the population rule

By Haseeb Drabu
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 06:39 PM IST
Having already decided on the number of electors as well as the number of elected, the only part of delimitation that has been left to the Commission is the electoral cartography — the redrawing of boundaries and enclosing people within the constituency framework. Notwithstanding these debilitating infirmities in the context of J&K, the redrawing of the constituencies is an extraordinarily complex and highly contentious exercise. It can potentially alter the electoral demographic balance.
Close
Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

Congress needs to worry more about rebels than opponents in Puducherry

By Abhishek Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:32 PM IST
The only time the Congress has lost Puducherry, it has been because of a rebel. The Congress and DMK together have won over 50% seats in every assembly elections in Puducherry since 1980, except in 2011
Close
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)
At a January meeting to review projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed displeasure at the process-driven bureaucracy (ANI)

Behind PM Modi’s stinging critique of the IAS, a Jan meeting holds the clue

By Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 17, 2021 09:35 AM IST
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given bureaucrats an earful at a January meeting of the country's top officials and underlined the price that India paid for their slow pace.
Close
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.
PM Narendra Modi was emotional while giving a farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha.

Salute to Ghulam Nabi Azad underlined PM Modi’s personal ties with rivals

By Saubhadra Chatterji | Edited by Abhinav Sahay, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 14, 2021 03:37 PM IST
  • Leaders from the Congress and other Opposition parties have many stories to show that the Prime Minister has maintained personal rapport with leaders cutting across political boundaries.
Close
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)
Officials carry out search and rescue operation at Tapovan Tunnel, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river on Sunday. (File photo)

Not just climate change, Chamoli disaster was human-induced

UPDATED ON FEB 08, 2021 12:15 PM IST
Stone quarrying, blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels in the base of the mountain system for two dams on Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers played havoc with the local ecology
Close
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)
In this file photo, a man hangs on to pole holding a Sikh religious flag along with a farm union flag at the historic Red Fort monument during a farmers protest against new farm laws in New Delhi(AP)

Perception is the truth in information warfare over farm laws

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi, Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON FEB 04, 2021 01:42 PM IST
  • The Chinese were among the first to recognise the role of information warfare to weaken the adversary from within
Close
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)
Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)

A new confidence about India reflects in a bold Budget 2021

By Monika Halan
UPDATED ON FEB 01, 2021 09:59 PM IST
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has chosen to spend on generating future income using the higher capital spending, which has gone up by 35.4% over the previous year
Close
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)
Shaibal Gupta also made a pioneering contribution in explaining the historical roots and the evolution of Bihar’s politics, which have today become the staple of everyday political analysis. (FACEBOOK)

The life and times of a Patna intellectual

UPDATED ON JAN 31, 2021 06:20 AM IST
Shaibal Gupta was rooted and cosmopolitan; idealistic and pragmatic; and an insider and outsider — all at the same time. Patna’s public life will not the same without him.
Close
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar's address on India-China ties is a reminder to Beijing that the bilateral relationship between the two Asian powers is not a one-way street.(AP/File)

Jaishankar yellow-cards China for violating pacts, spells out the India way

By Shishir Gupta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 03:02 PM IST
  • S Jaishankar’s speech on India-China ties signals India’s determination to continue to stand up to Xi Jinping’s expansionist plans for Asia as an equal and makes it clear that nothing that Beijing does against India will be overlooked, or allowed to go unpunished.
Close
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, in Chiba, Japan, June 18, 2015 (REUTERS)

Jack Ma story: China’s deep strategic ambition

By Manoj Kewalramani
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2021 04:50 AM IST
This statist vision of the future is very different from the government creating a level-playing field for private capital to compete and the market to do its job. It is about the State guiding capital and private entities towards what it believes are national strategic priorities, rather than allowing them to simply focus on generating greater revenue.
Close
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
A Nihang Sikh aboard a horse inside Red Fort on Tuesday.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

Republic Day raid was pre-meditated, planned well in advance

UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2021 02:17 PM IST
With Delhi Police under firm orders not to open fire, the armed Nihang Sikhs provided the cover for the tractors to roll towards Red Fort.
Close
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.

How unruly farmers tried to embarrass India on Republic Day

UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2021 02:09 PM IST
The tractor-borne unruly farmers were minutes away from India Gate when they were blocked by New Delhi Range police.
Close
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The policy landscape around digital and physical micro-lending

By Amol Agrawal
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
In 1870s, a similar backlash emerged in Poona and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay presidency. The agriculture boom in the early 1860s led farmers to take loans from moneylenders
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP