BHU question paper: Just what exactly are we teaching? | editorials | Hindustan Times
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BHU question paper: Just what exactly are we teaching?

If the government is keen on students studying ancient Indian customs and traditions, they should have that as a separate subject rather than try to mix it with other disciplines in which neither is well served.

editorials Updated: Dec 10, 2017 16:49 IST
File photo of Banaras Hindu University. (Picture credit: IIT-BHU official website)
File photo of Banaras Hindu University. (Picture credit: IIT-BHU official website)

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been around a lot longer than we thought, or at least that is what the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) political science department would have us believe. In a first semester MA exam, a question has been asked on what Kautilya, the adviser of emperor Chandragupta Maurya, thought of the tax. Another just says: ‘Manu is the first Indian thinker of globalisation. Discuss.’ The students were left befuddled. Which begs the original question: was the question paper framed by someone with no knowledge of the subject or was it framed by someone with a definite agenda? It is no one’s case that ancient thought be ignored (it shouldn’t; in fact, it should be celebrated), but to juxtapose current developments with it with no academic basis or rigour is to do a disfavour to students who cannot possibly be expected to answer such questions.

This is part of an unfortunate trend of trying to view all subjects through the prism of ancient Indian science and culture. In some areas, this had meant a material change for the better. In others, it just serves to introduce irrelevant information, even falsehoods into curricula. That does nothing for learning standards or the spirit of inquiry.

It is not just in BHU that we see this trend. School textbooks too have undergone similar changes. The primary focus of any education system should be on quality education and on imparting the correct information. If the government is keen on students studying ancient Indian thinking in science, politics, and economics, it should have that as a separate subject rather than try to mix it with other more contemporary subjects, unless there is good reason to. This ends up doing a disservice to both. The other issue is paper setting, which requires considerable specialisation. At the master’s degree level, expert committees are in charge of this task. They have strict guidelines and are expected to adopt the best practices nationally and across the world. The BHU paper doesn’t reflect this.

Our higher education system is already in a crisis with inconsistent policies and political interference. Let’s not make it worse.