We need to uphold our culture and heritage, but if these are intrinsically discriminatory or unjust, we need to position ourselves on universal principles of equality, justice and fraternity that is enshrined in our Constitution, writes Fr Jerald D'souza.

A group of students wearing blue uniforms and carrying schoolbags walk through a schoolgroundImage credit: PTI
Voices Opinion Wednesday, August 10, 2022 - 12:46
State governments in India are required to send position papers to the National Council of Educational Research and Training to be placed before the Education ministry to implement the National Educational Policy (NEP). Karnataka has created 26 position papers on various topics ranging from Knowledge of India, Science Education, Philosophy of Education, Health and Wellbeing, Inclusive Education etc. Each of these position papers are a cause for concern and can change the ethos of our educational system in irreversible ways if not challenged by concerned experts in the field. 
 
Some of the position papers have called for decolonising from “western stereotypes and cultural asymmetries” to help children evolve cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Decolonising the mind, by definition, means deconstructing thoughts, preferences and values that derive from a colonial way of thinking. A colonial mentality is often understood as a higher value being placed on whiteness and colonial culture/behaviour, while looking down upon and rejecting the indigenous. Many of us are guilty of this. If we did an exercise to register all the ways the colonial ways of thinking influences our own mindset, we would have daily reminders of how western markets have entered every aspect of our lives. If we took rejection of colonial influx a notch further and followed in the footsteps of Gandhi’s liberal act of burning down foreign clothes as a mark of self-respect, we would have to burn most of our possessions down. 
 
But this then brings us to the pertinent question of what replaces the decolonised mind. Should we gather all that we find in our history and valorise them as the truth? Caste hierarchy has been instrumental in denying education to thousands of children from the lowered castes. Should this now be glorified as our culture? Should we not be more objective in culling out what is scientific and good from our past before we expose our children to them?
 
That brings us to the other question of mythology (as documented by a narrow caste group) being presented as the history of the country. Do our minds have to be decolonised only by replacing colonial systems of medicine and education with mythology? If one were to draw from historical lessons on education, can we afford to ignore the revolutionary contribution of Jotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule and how Fathima Sheikh stood by this couple as a revolutionary example of solidarity between oppressed communities in the common passion for empowering girls through education? Is this not part of our history, legacy and culture? 
 
The position paper on Philosophy of Education rightfully mentions the Sri Aurobindo Institution Schools and the Vidya Bharati and Rashtrotthana Schools as “educational Institutions with highly successful results,” for ensuring ‘Panchamukhi Shikshana’ to ensure holistic physical, emotional, mental, philosophical and spiritual development” of the student. What is the reason for erasing the contribution of Christian institutions to education? Can those drafting the report claim to have not been influenced or benefited from these institutions? In fact, ironically one of the drafters of this position paper is currently faculty at St Aloysius Institute of Education in Mangaluru, Karnataka. They present a very narrow, short-sighted viewpoint on education and it should concern us that even those position papers that talk about inclusion, fail to be inclusive, diverse, or representative.
 
The NEP is expected to comprehensively ensure holistic physical, emotional, mental, philosophical and spiritual development of the student. It is important to understand that the cultural, religious, gender, caste etc background of those imparting this education is very crucial. This same structure can become a tool of reinforcing prejudices and practicing discrimination. Very often, it has been the teachers who have practised and promoted untouchability within classroom spaces. So in the larger context of pushing for homogenisation of education, culture, and food, it will not be surprising if children are taught that only one culture, caste, food, or religion is superior and taught to look down upon or hate others.
 
The position paper on the Philosophy of Education draws from the Upanishads without any question or challenge. A student who is trained to do Nididhyasana will apparently acquire the power of concentration, focus, contemplation, meditation, absorption, and reflection. These premises are not based on scientific evidence but rather on what some ancient religious texts prescribe. Why is it that the colonial forms of education are rejected as bad, but anything Indian, specifically as practised by dominant caste groups, is left unchallenged? Will parents who have aspirations for their children to become global citizens be satisfied with this kind of pedagogy? Is there any empirical evidence to show that these forms of education are superior to the other systems of education? In the absence of substantive evidence, is it scientific to push one form of education over another? Can any damages caused be undone? Who would be held accountable or liable? Will they be penalised for pushing a wrong form of education?
 
Such forms of education, training and practise as pushed in the position papers can apparently create “world-class Scientists, Scholars, Philosophers, High Achievers and Powerful Performers.” What is the basis for these sweeping statements even before this plan is implemented? Will there be any scientific rationale to reach these sweeping conclusions, or will these also be presumed to have happened? 
 
The issue with India is not so much the absence of high achievers as much as the fact that most of the high achievers belong to a dominant caste group. This high achievement is readily attributed to ‘general merit’ and anyone who fails to reach the bar is labelled as being incompetent because they have reached there through reservations. When such prejudices are so rampant, the focus of any position paper should be on how to make education more inclusive, egalitarian, equitable, and diverse.
 
According to the position paper on Philosophy of Education, there are apparently three types of personalities who have three different types of work efficiency. While the BHU personality is a follower who has basic level leadership and is fit to become a worker or supervisor, the SWAH personality is apparently a stellar personality who can become a CEO, Chairman, statesman, scientist, saint etc.
 
One doesn’t have to think too hard to understand how this model, in the hands of a casteist teacher, can put some students at an educational advantage and others at a disadvantage. If the teacher tells a Dalit or Adivasi or minority religion student that they are ‘fit’ for only one or the other type of work efficiency because of their ‘personality’, then it basically institutionalises the caste system.
 
The position paper titled Inclusive Education in Karnataka state has brought in the new category called Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs), which includes gender identities (female and transgender individuals), socio-cultural identities (Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and minorities), geographical identities (students from villages, small towns and aspirational districts), disabilities (including learning disabilities), socio-economic conditions (such as migrant communities, low income households, children in vulnerable situations, victims of trafficking, orphans including child beggars in urban areas, and the urban poor). The broad umbrella basically does away with the Constitutionally mandated reservation of affirmative action that has been enshrined to protect communities that have been traditionally discriminated against under the caste system. It therefore fails to be inclusive because of the broad scope. 
 
If we indeed want to learn from history, we have evidence of how religion and ideology used its authoritarianism to curb science and truth. The Catholic Church, which was the most powerful institution in Italy, refused to accept Galileo’s heliocentric theory in 1610 that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and steadfastly held onto Aristotle and Ptolemy’s traditional geocentric views that the sun revolved around the earth. The Galileo Affair is the Roman Catholic Inquisition where a group of theologians were asked to assess his theory of heliocentrism. They announced that his theory contradicted the Holy Scriptures and therefore amounted to heresy. He was asked to stop all work related to his theory. He was labeled as a heretic and faced the possibility of torture and death penalty if he continued with the position. He was finally placed under ‘villa arrest’ until his death.
 
Interference of religion in science can lead to costly mistakes. India has had the present form of education system for quite long and there is no denying that the current system of education in India needs a revamp and a scientific assessment. However, the current ideological invasion of the system raises enormous contradictions rather than hope in the proposed system. The NEP position papers make way for an ideological invasion of the system rather than objective analysis. Are we hoping to make mythology the basis for our plans to become a ‘globally competitive’ educational system? We have several scientific achievements in Indian history that have to be revisited and made available within our educational systems. Children need to take pride in our achievements and successes, but they also need to learn to reject half truths, fantasies and fiction. 
 
There is a pressing need to distinguish between the scientific and the religious. Every form of knowledge has to be assessed and the best drawn out. We need to uphold our culture and heritage, but if these are intrinsically discriminatory or unjust, we need to position ourselves on universal principles of equality, justice and fraternity that is enshrined in our Constitution.
 
The author is the Director, St Joseph's College of Law (SJCL) in Bengaluru. Views expressed are the author’s own.
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