Naidu Proposes, But Will India Afford to Tinker with the Education System?

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M Venkaiah Naidu.

With his call to give up prevalent education in favour of indigenous one, the Vice-President’s seems to have been testing water for the saffron agenda before opening his cards.


Rashae’ K | Clarion India

COMING as it does close on the heels of the Karnataka government’s resolve to introduce Bhagwad Gita in school curriculum, M Venkaiah Naidu’s call for total rejection of the system of education prevalent in the country came as a bombshell from the Hindutva arsenal with full of bluster and blast.

While attributing the education system in the 75th year of Independence to the British era legacy, the Vice-President of India glossed over the evolution and the achievements of the education system in the country over the years. In effect, he was trying to discredit the Nehru-Azad legacy that has left behind an abiding impact on our education system in post-independence India.
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His call to people of the country to give up the prevalent education system in favour of “our own” indigenous system is welcome, but let him first define what the indigenous system is all about and how he thinks it would be better than the present one. But he seems to be in no hurry. For now, he seems to be just testing water for the saffron agenda before opening his cards.

Whatsoever could be the grouse of Naidu with the present education system, how can one forget the contribution of Maulana Abul Azad to the education system under the dynamic leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, our first prime minister? The first education minister of independent India is responsible for setting up Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) among other top-notch research bodies that have brought the country global recognition. If today our technocrats are making it big globally and are most sought-after in the west, it’s because of these institutions of excellence. Hence, simply passing off the entire system as British era legacy would be a misappropriation of the first order.

Among the few flimsy reasons he cited for the proposed shift in the education system is that the prevailing education system imposed a foreign language as the medium of education in the country ignoring the fact that the constitution does not treat English as a foreign language. He said because of the foreign language education is confined to the elite whereas the medium of instruction remains a personal choice of students.

Speaking at the inauguration of the South Asian Institute of Peace and Reconciliation at the Dev Sanskriti Vishwa Vidyalaya in Haridwar, the Vice-President said, “Centuries of colonial rule taught us to look upon ourselves as an inferior race. We were taught to despise our own culture, traditional wisdom. This slowed our growth as a nation. The imposition of a foreign language as our medium of education confined education to a small section of the society, depriving a vast population of the right to education.”

While grumbling over the loss of cultural monopoly, Naidu forgot to take into account the gains of a syncretic culture evolved through centuries of co-existence and the mutual benefits thereof. This is because the culture enriched through interaction with different traditions negates the narrow and truncated definition of culture propounded by Hindutva ideology. He doesn’t seem to concede that culture is not static, but a dynamic concept which evolves with the times.

“We should feel proud of our heritage,” he asserts, “our culture, our forefathers. We must go back to our roots. We must give up our colonial mindset and teach our children to take pride in their Indian identity. We must learn as many Indian languages as possible. We must love our mother tongue. We must learn Sanskrit to know our scriptures, which are a treasure trove of knowledge.”

Of course, we must take pride in our culture, languages, forefathers, etc. etc. But why give up on the newer vistas of knowledge irrespective of from where they come, just because it’s coming from some foreign shores? The learned Vice-President of India does not seem to follow the ancient Indian wisdom to which he claims to promote. If only he could recall what Rig Veda has to say, he would not have displayed his ignorance in public. “Let gnana (knowledge in Sanskrit) come to us from all directions”… goes a verse of the ancient text.

Naidu said Indianisation of the education system is central to India’s new education policy, which, he said, puts great emphasis on the promotion of mother tongues. In this context, he asked youngsters to propagate their mother tongue.

“I am looking forward to the day when all gadget notifications are issued in the mother tongue of a respective state. Your mother tongue is like your eyesight, whereas your knowledge of a foreign language is like your spectacles,” he said ignoring the fact that India has a long list of languages mother tongues unlike the West.

Here, he seems to put an undue burden of culture on students.  But can today’s student with loads of curriculum on his shoulders bear the burden of promoting our culture? Won’t this cultural pursuit come in the way of the advancement of their career?

While he didn’t clarify what he meant by “our own system of education”, the only indigenous concept of education system that comes to mind is that of the guru-shishya parampara (student-teacher tradition). From all the reckonings, gurukul happens to be the most elitist concept that makes education the privilege of a few. It exclusively caters to the educational needs of the cream of the upper casts. Macaulay’s system has no comparison with the gurukul system. While the gurukul envisages an exclusivist education, the single most significant contribution of Macaulay is universalisation of education. Does Naidu want us to go back in time and revive the era of bigotry and intolerance?

If Macaulay’s system had not been introduced, education in the country would still have been a prisoner of the privileged few, leaving the poor and the downtrodden, who constitute 90 per cent of the population, on the margins of the society. Nonetheless today’s education system in India has come a long way since the days of Macaulay. It won’t be wrong if we call it the gift of Maulana Azad and Pandit Nehru and the generation of scientific minds that they patronised. If not for their contribution to education, hard work and relentless efforts over the decades, India would not have been what it is today.

What’s intriguing is that such regressive ideas are being peddled by the rightwing politicians who never tire of boasting our potential as vishwa guru, oblivious of the inherent contradictions in their claims.

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