Children will not learn in a hegemonised system
They must have access to a curriculum that has their own knowledge systems recognised and represented.Updated: Jun 10, 2019 07:58 IST
This is an opportune time to discuss the agenda for education, coming as it does over two draft national policies produced in the last five years and a new government in place. With 37.4% votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is a decisive shift in the ideological underpinnings through which India, its people and education are envisioned.
The core of education lies in knowledge: the nature of knowledge, whose knowledge, what knowledge is worth knowing and why. These questions must be deliberated with utmost seriousness and must be the topmost agenda for the government. The K. Kasturirangan Committee’s draft National Education Policy 2019, which was submitted to the government on June 1, emphasises reinstating “Indian systems of knowledge” and alludes to “local” knowledge.
But there’s no single “Indian” system of knowledge but several “Indian systems” of knowledge, beginning with the adivasi knowledge systems, which the world is scrambling to understand since it possibly holds the key to climate change and sustainable living. Then there are the knowledge systems of the Dalit community who work using their body and mind.
Will “Indian” knowledge be reduced to selected assertions of Vedic knowledge as the National Curriculum Framework for School Education, 2000, attempted to do? Will it explore the breathtaking variety of thought that is available in the Upanishads and the Samkhya (one of the six āstika schools of Hindu philosophy)? Will it include the Buddhist counters to Brahminical knowledge? Will it include the knowledge of the Sikh gurus? And, pre-Sanskrit knowledge such as the Tamil system?
India is a country where every major religion was either born or adopted in its nascent stage. It was here that Christianity took root through Christ’s direct disciple, Thomas, in Tamil Nadu long before Christianity took hold in Europe. Islam’s Prophet’s earliest disciples spread the word here in India. Many knowledge systems were embedded in these cultures as well. For example, the Persian wheel. Or the way water flows into the Golconda fort without electricity.
In 1935, former President, Zakir Husain, at the inaugural address of Buniyadi Shiksha, said: “Our society as it was (and is) where brother is turned against brother, which knows no song that all may sing together, no joys that all may share.”
We need an education system that teaches one community to trust another; where the weak will not live in terror of the strong, nor the poor suffer insult and injury from the rich; a state in which different cultures may flourish side by side and each bring into relief the virtues of the other; where every citizen may be able to devote to the service of society the full resources of his personality, the finest qualities latent in his own nature.”
Education must, felt the pioneers of Buniyadi Shiksha, who came from all faiths, countries, political persuasions — Acharya Kripalani, Vinoba Bhave, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, Marjorie Sykes, Aranyanayakam, Asha Devi to name a few — felt that the great unifier of mind, body and soul is work. Husain expresses this civilisational unification as follows: “Work has its own ideals. It is not an amusement or a sport, it is activity quickened by a purpose. There must be in it a desire to do full justice to that purpose, and, therefore, a willingness to submit to the natural discipline of materials, methods and tools. It demands self-criticism that is unsparing, but it holds out the promise of a joy that none other can excel.”
Meaningful work and the knowledge embedded in such work transcend all human divisions, prejudices and beliefs. The scholarship — particularly in literature and social sciences of the last 70 years — has been much reviled by the BJP and their cultural mentors, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Deeply sensitive individuals who spent lifetimes studying our society, who laughed and wept and raged in ways that only great love can engender, have created a thoughtful body of knowledge. That body of knowledge is unsparing in its examination and challenges prevailing notions of what is known. These are the contemporary knowledge systems.
The work of AK Ramanujan and Three Hundred Ramayanas, Mahasweta Devi, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Romila Thapar, Sudhir Kakar, Arundhati Roy, Perumal Murugan, Ismat Chughtai and others are a vital corpus of knowledge in education. The recent trend to purge curricula of alternative voices is deeply distressing and can only produce a generation with a monochromatic and unexamined view of knowledge.
Scientific knowledge is often misconstrued as technology. Technology can make Indian youth cyber coolies. But an education policy needs to focus on generations of knowledge and leave technology to the technical institutes.
The ministry of human resource development’s remit on school education is to evolve policies that draw out the best potential of children’s considerable intellect that fortunately exists irrespective of class, caste, creed, gender, ethnicity and race. This can happen only when children are able to see in the curriculum, syllabi and textbooks, their own knowledge systems represented; they will not flourish in a hegemonised system.
(This is part of a series of articles on India’s priorities as we head towards 75 years of Independence)
Janaki Rajan teaches at the faculty of education, Jamia Millia Islamia.
The views expressed are personal