Education at a new low, agenda must for revival

As the campaign for cleanliness gets underway, there is a suffocating stink in the air that does not emanate from the litter around us (which, in spite of the contrary claims, is piling by the day).

Even before we could get to the bottom of Bofors, we were flooded with unprecedented scams which put all ‘normal’ hafta or fairly well-organised corruption/service charges practices to shame. It is not that the BJP got only about 30 per cent vote but there was clearly a wave that swept the country. People were promised peace and prosperity, growth and governance, and indeed jobs and good wages. These words have now been repeated ad nauseam; nothing has happened.

We had hoped that if the rhetoric of promises were to begin its trajectory towards reality, there will be a major investment in education and every child. Instead, we just heard of a major cut in the budget for education and closure of lakhs of schools under some pervert rationalisation.

It is across the board, irrational actions of the powers have added to our general suffocation. Nobody in his senses would object to a rigorous revision of our undergraduate programmes just as everybody in his senses would fight tooth and nail against a thoughtless and sudden imposition of a Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) in which, for example, new courses are created by splitting a current course into two or a basic course in English or Mathematics is created that most children have already done in the middle school.

The FYUP was rolled back as thoughtlessly as it was implemented! Soon, one wakes up in the morning to hear that the NCERT director has resigned. A person of impeccable integrity, a well-established academic who has created some of the most sought after Mathematics courses at IGNOU, extremely polite and unassuming, why would she resign? She was quietly carrying out the NCERT brief in as rigorous a way as possible, trying to revise the National Curriculum Framework (NCF 2005) and the Position Papers (not suddenly but after carefully watching their impact for over 9 years), in order to update them in terms of the latest research and to incorporate responses and questions from the field.

Notice that, perhaps, for the first time in its history, the NCERT had made it compulsory for each of its members to spend at least three months in the field to observe how NCF 2005 was being internalised. Why did she resign? Implicated in financial irregularity we are told! And soon, we hear that the Director of IIT, Delhi has resigned. Why? He wants to be with his family!

Then there is the German and Sanskrit controversy even when children have already learnt three languages. Why can’t they have a choice in choosing the fourth language they wish to learn? All this happening in a context where we know that languages flourish in each other’s company, and multilingualism has a highly positive correlation with scholastic achievement, cognitive flexibility and social tolerance.  There is so much German and Sanskrit we may have learnt/ can learn from each other.

No holistic planning

Why has education been always a low priority for us, perhaps never lower than it is now? When we plan a new building, even something as ordinary as a small house, we first put a comprehensive map in place. We build a dam but before we start, we prepare a blueprint. Indeed, the Taj Mahal was built before it was actually built. But when it comes to education, we delight in ad hoc series of actions. Our perspective is fractured in every possible way and does not show any traces of a holistic and comprehensive planning.

There are no linkages between nursery, school, college and university education; none between aims of education, curriculum, syllabus, textbooks, classroom processes and assessment; pre-service and in-service teacher education, capacity building of teachers as an ongoing process; no serious attempt ever to examine the thoughts of educationists though we are not short of reports of education commissions.

There is virtually nothing in our systems and structures that would show that we have a comprehensive understanding of the learner, learning processes, the role of the teachers and teaching materials.

The Kothari Commission’s recommendations were followed half-heartedly; the proposal for a Common School System ended up in a mockery. We did notice a solid beginning in the making of the NCF 2005 along with the 21 Position Papers that are constitutive of it.

NCF 2005 is a landmark because it had the seeds of pushing our education system towards a comprehensive conceptualisation we talked about above. We are now told that it is likely to be abandoned; all knowledge in all domains was already with us in ancient India and it was simply stolen by the west. The future project is simply to disseminate that knowledge through education.

There is really no new agenda for education. We need to question ourselves constantly. Education is a conscious intervention into the lives of individuals and social groups. We need to (re)conceptualise what kind of individuals and societies we want and then decide the form and content of education that would promote that dream.

We will need to welcome all kinds of knowledge, ancient and modern; eastern and western, but critically. Some day perhaps our education will take us closer to the Kantian Categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” At the moment, all headlines speak to the contrary.

(The writer is retired professor, Delhi University)

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