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Published here http://www.thedialogue.co/awaiting-new-policy-education/ as well.

Rohit Dhankar

The new policy on education is yet to come out, but one fundamental principle of any education system that can be called national is already under strain. Ever since this government has come to power controversies on the content of curriculum, pedagogy and school routine have become a regular feature. They could be about necessity of suryanamaskar in Rajasthan schools, or plan to teach selections from Gita in Haryana, or supplementary books in Gujarat declaring Gautama invented zero 20,000 year back; but they all attempt to turn education into an instrument of indoctrination in belief that the Hindu culture is supreme, and such belief is necessary for all who want to be educated through the public education system.

The most recent example is new textbooks in Rajasthan which in addition to being full of factual errors, and pedagogically substandard are also ideologically oriented towards Hindu supremacy.

Now it is not difficult to prove that all textbooks in India have always been an instrument of political indoctrination of the young into the ideology of ruling party and dominant intellectual groups. The Indian history has become a subject of raging controversy, be it of Vedic times or of medieval Muslim kings and their policies. In the last more than 60 years the Indian intellectual climate has always witnessed a shyness in any mention of positive aspects of ancient India and Indian culture. It has also been bending backwards to exonerate religious excesses by some Muslim rulers in the name of politics of their times. This slant of thinking has found its way into the history and social science textbooks, particularly published by NCERT. But it has to be recognized that this intellectual trend did not threaten the constitutional value of secularism; and kept it at the level of an intellectual and academic debate.

On the other hand, a eulogizing of Hindu religion and culture has also been simultaneously present in the textbooks throughout the nation, at the level of states, and in private publishers’ textbooks. Sectarian biases in favour of Hinduism, gender biases, biases against Dalits and tribals have coexisted in the textbooks together with biases of the opposite direction. However, these biases were never allowed to transgress the constitutional limits in an obvious manner.

An analysis of textbooks and creating better and more balanced textbooks, in this scenario, of course, may be a welcome step. But such attempt cannot be allowed to damage the painfully crafter principles of non-sectarianism and constitutional values of equality, justice, freedom and respect for all Indian citizens.

Indianization of education or characteristics of a national education system has been an old issue in India. There was a nationwide debate in the first two decades of the last century in which many people noted the ill-effects of colonial education on the national consciousness of Indians and wanted to replace it with the national system of education. Aurobindo wanted education to be rooted in Indian—largely based on Sankhya and Yoga—understanding of human mind[1]. Lala Har Dayal criticized the colonial education with fervent nationalism and advocated a national system based on Indian culture and love for the nation[2]. Tagore argued that a university fit for a country can emerge only from the national cultural resources[3]. This argument for the University for him held for the school education as well, as he derives inspiration for his school from the ideal of tapovana in ancient India[4].

Lala Laj Pat Rai[5] systematically analysed many attempts at nationalizing education and rejected some of them as sectarian. Without mincing words he states that the “Dayanand Aglo Vedic College, …. The Mohammedan College at Aligarh, the Arya College, at Lahore, the Hindu College at Benares, all embodied the “national” ideals of their founders, limited and sectarian as they were at the time.” He argues that none of this can be a model of national education. “The only effort of this kind which was”, in his judgment, “truly national, was that made by the National Council of Education in Bengal, … . The scheme of the National Council was free from the sectarian tinge of the Upper India movements.” (p. 24, emphasis added) This formulates and argues for perhaps the most important principle for national education: it has to be non-sectarian.

This brief, and very limited, in more than one ways, excursion into the history of idea of national education is aimed at capturing a few principles that played a role in shaping the ideal of national education and, thereby, national curriculum frameworks and textbooks. One such principle in the minds of many Indians was education for all, non-sectarian in nature. Another one, is education that builds national consciousness, national spirit. A third ideal has been contribution to national cultural, political and economic life; and the last but not the least, has been development of an independent individual.

The signs are that all these ideals of national education are under threat if one goes by the controversies raised in last about two years. Therefore, there are indications that the new policy on education, which Minister of Human resource Development said will be presented to the nation within the coming few weeks, is likely to be controversial. Among other things citizens should keep a watchful eye on the intent of the coming policy and safeguard the secular character of Indian education at all costs.

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[1] Aurobindo Gosh, A system of national education, Tagore & CO., Madras, 1921.

[2] Har Dayal, Our Educational Problem, Tagore & Co., Madras, 1922.

[3] Rabindranath Tagore, The Centre of Indian Culture, a lecture delivered in Madras in 1919.

[4] A poet’s school, Rabinndranath Tagore

[5] Lajpat Rai, The problem of national education in India, Gorge Allen & Unwin, London, 1920