Education Reform in India: Emerging Trends

02 Jun, 2016    ·   5051

Sarral Sharma weighs in on the 'Indianisation' of education policy in India

Sarral Sharma
Sarral Sharma
Senior Researcher, Centre for Internal and Regional Security (IReS)
The renewed focus on ‘Indianisation’ begs the question — how does the current component of Indianisation translate into education policy? This commentary will attempt to show the translation of rhetoric into policy in the states ruled by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) — such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra — and try to assess its overall impact on the New Education Policy (NEP).

The term ‘Indianisation’ suggests that indigenous culture, customs and history are emphasised over 'Westernised' aspects of Indian education inherited from the British Raj. During the first few years succeeding the Independence of India, the social studies discipline was suitably decolonised in order to buttress the national myth associated with the newly formed Indian Union. Is the current process of Indianisation buttressing that national myth?

Early this year, the Rajasthan Secondary Education Board omitted works of Western poets like John Keats, William Blake, and others from the Class VIII English textbooks. These poets have been replaced by indigenous writers such as Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore in order to highlight the richness of Indian literature. Prominence (or textual space) has been given to the ancient, yet vital, scientific discoveries made by Aryabhatta and Bhaskaracharaya — credited with the discovery of zero (or shunya) and contribution to calculus respectively — over western scientists such as Pythagoras and Newton. Similarly the social science curriculum has also been revised. A chapter dedicated to the South African Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela has been replaced with an essay on India's tribal communities.The biographies of local figures such as Hemu Kalani, Maharaja Dahrsen, Saint Kanwar Ram, and Swami Tauram have also been given space in the revised curriculum.
Gujarat has seen a similar but differentiated trend. One of the compulsory school text books in Gujarat, Tejomay Bharat (Shining India), mentions the concept of Akhand Bharat (or undivided India), which emphasises the cultural unity of countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and  Myanmar. Similarly, another primary school book, Shikhan nu Bhartiyakaran (Indianisation of Education), under the chapter Samajik Chetna (Social Awakening), advocates that, “Birthdays should be celebrated by shunning the western culture of blowing candles. Instead, we should follow a purely Indian culture by wearing swadeshi clothes, doing a havan [prayer to a sacred fire] and praying to Ishtadev [preferred deity], reciting the Gayatri mantra, distributing new clothes to the needy, feeding cows, distributing prasad [libation] and winding up the day by playing songs produced by Vidya Bharati.” Recently, the Gujarat Education Board introduced a chapter on economic thought in the economics textbooks for higher secondary students which include the economic formulations and biographies of local figures such as Chanakya, Mahatma Gandhi and Deendayal Upadhyay.

On similar lines, the Maharashtra government recently announced that Maharashtra’s role in the freedom struggle would be made compulsory in schools affiliated to various educational boards. The education minister Vinod Tawde justified this saying, “Schools set up in the state need to teach the history and geography pertaining to the state.” 

These examples though different, point to a twin trend. There is a definitive trend both at localising the social sciences syllabus as well as Indianising it. While there seems to be almost no attempt at localising the sciences and geography however there is a tendency to Indianise the sciences as far as historical contextualisation goes. The question that then arises is— what does this trend mean at the level of the Government of India in the formulation of the NEP? Organisations such as Vidya Bharati, et al have proposed the inclusion of vedic maths in schools, Sanskrit in middle-level school, and a three-language formula according to which schools located in states that do not have a Hindi-speaking majority will be under compulsion to teach the local language, English, and Hindi. These organisations have also proposed mandatory foundation programmes on ancient Indian history, philosophy, values for students in central universities among other things, in order to promote national unity and a composite Indian culture.

Y Sudershan Rao, the chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), defines 'Indianisation' as a process, in which, he believes, "Every nation has the right to write its own history from its own perspective, with certain national objectives." Clearly then the process of Indianisation and localisation of education are perceived by the government in the context of buttressing the national myth and making parochial identities such as the states feel more connected to this national myth. At some level it betrays a certain lack of confidence within the government’s educational apparatus in the foundations of the Indian myth that requires corrective action. However there is a worrying trend here. The attempt to generalise local customs such as a particular way of celebrating birthdays cannot in any way bolster the national myth of a heterogeneous country.  

It is highly likely that the Indianisation trend will be enshrined in the NEP, however it will be a major mistake on the part of the government to impose localised interpretations on the population at large.