Education in values: A commentary

| July 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

Education in values: A commentary. Pushpa M.Bhargava, The Hindu, Nov. 6, 2001.

Education in values: a commentary

Instead of trying to emancipate our society from dogma of all kinds (be it religious, social, cultural, historical, political or scientific), the NCERT wishes to consolidate such dogma. It is clearly a diabolic policy to maintain the present rule of exploiters, by keeping the exploited ignorant of science and real knowledge, and making them believe that it was all written in their horoscopes, if not in the ancient texts and scriptures.
MOST OF what Dr. J. S. Rajput, Director of the NCERT, has written in his article. “Education in Values” (The Hindu, October 16) is a clich�. The special “operative” parts of his article which, it is implied, should form the basis of both the educational policy and the school curriculum, are the following:

(i) “It (the educational system) must be rooted deep in the indigenous soil”

(ii) “How does one prepare the minds of men to develop into humane individuals who would imbibe certain basic values and lead their lives at a higher plane of perception and understanding?”

(iii) “He (Amold Toynbee) was very clear that the only way for the salvation of mankind was the Indian way, the one propounded by the Emperor Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Shri Ramakrishna and others.” “Let all be happy; let all be free from diseases; let all see auspicious things; and let nobody suffer from grief.”

(iv) “The only right weapons and approaches would be information, knowledge and wisdom.”

(v) “The unfortunate part is that there is inadequate understanding of the traditional Indian wisdom contained in ancient texts and the scriptures. There exists an excellent analysis of the process of learning and teaching in Indian tradition.”

(vi) “There is indeed a global need to project the Gandhian ways and putting these before the whole world.”

Let us now look at what is wrong with the above statements taken together, in the context in which they have been made.

(1) First there is a problem with certain statements. For example, what is the “higher plane of perception and understanding” which is being advocated. What are the “auspicious things” that all of us must see?

(2) Dr. Rajput talks about information, knowledge and wisdom, without recognising that there is a hierarchy between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. One needs reliable data for information, just as one needs information for knowledge and knowledge for wisdom. Newspapers and magazines provide us with information. Formal training in school, college and university gives us the ability to convert information into knowledge, and experience allows us to convert knowledge into wisdom. It follows that what is important, as far as education goes, is the nature of information that is made available and then the wherewithal for converting this information into knowledge. The curricula and the syllabi will tell us what information should be provided, and the textbooks, the teachers and the school environment will determine to what extent this information would be converted into useful and worthwhile knowledge. Therefore, from the operational point of view, the curricula, the textbooks, the teachers, the facilities available in the institution, and the environment of the institution from the point of view of values, are what would determine the status in respect of knowledge and values of those who come out of the system.

(3) It is incredible that the only aspect of the present situation in respect of our educational system that Dr. Rajput considers unfortunate is that it is not rooted deep in the indigenous soil and that it does not lead to an adequate understanding of our traditional texts and scriptures. We once did an analysis (which has been published in respectable places) of traditional knowledge in the area of biological sciences from the time of Mohenjodaro and Harappa to the end of 19th century. While we felt proud to find that many statements made by our ancestors had stood the test of time, we were also not surprised to find that a lot many more statements were not only untrue but at times absurd. It would be most unfortunate for the country if we were so deeply rooted in the indigenous soil and so wedded to our ancient texts and scriptures that we thought of them as the most important source of knowledge or wisdom that exists today, instead of realising that feudalism, lack of democracy, lack of recognition of basic human rights, the lack of tradition of questioning, and ills such as the caste system have been the greatest impediment in our educational system. In fact, it is our attempt to be wedded to tradition that has kept us backwards and made us a highly obscurantist and superstitious society. It is for this reason that we have had (perhaps, with the exception of Bengal) no renaissance and no industrial revolution.

It is incredible that while laying down what, in his perception, should be the basis of our educational policy, he has not even once used the term “science”, leave aside the term “scientific temper”, in his article. He obviously does not recognise that the progress of mankind in the last few hundred years has been largely on account of science and technology and that it is science that has provided a framework for a universal system of values. Thus, the strongest argument against apartheid in South Africa was a genetic argument — that in a large outbred population, all genetic traits are randomised.

Practice of science is known to generate values which are axiomatic and universal and it has been widely recognised that scientific temper is necessary for prosperity and peace. Unfortunately neither Ramakrishna nor Mahatma Gandhi had the required commitment to science.

Second phase

It is sad that NCERT is going through a second phase of commitment to orthodoxy, revivalism and saffronisation, the first phase having been during the rule of the Janata Government from April 1977 onwards. Let me give you one example of the anti-science and retrogressive attitude of the NCERT during the Janata rule — that of the well-known Method of Science Exhibition which I was asked to set up in 1975 by the then Director of NCERT, the late Dr. Rais Ahmed, one of our most distinguished educationists.

The objective of this exhibition was to make people aware of the method that science uses to acquire knowledge, the attributes of this knowledge, and our obligations if we accept this method as something that works. The exhibition was put up by us in one of the buildings in the Bal Bhavan campus in New Delhi. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was to inaugurate the exhibition. However, just after we had set it up in Delhi, in March 1977, Indira Gandhi lost the election. Soon after, around April 1, 1977, Dr. Rais Ahmed resigned as the Director of the NCERT, the main reason for his resignation being the completely changed attitude of the government towards the exhibition in which the NCERT had invested a substantial sum of money. All our efforts to have the exhibition inaugurated by Indira Gandhi’s successor, Morarji Desai, failed, primarily due to the fact that the Jan Sangh already had strong RSS elements in it that were totally opposed to the exhibition (the Jan Sangh was the political front of the RSS, as the BJP is today). They had been dormant till then on account of the powerful personality of Dr. Rais Ahmed, but immediately after Indira Gandhi lost the election, they surfaced and presumed they were now all powerful.

On April 1, 1977, I had no option but to lock the exhibition and leave the key with my cousin, Ms. Asha Singh, who was then working at Bal Bhavan. I requested her to have the exhibition cleaned from time to time till I was able to find another home for it.

Sixteen months later, in the first week of August 1978, the keys of the building in which the exhibition was installed were taken from Ms. Asha Singh on a wrong pretext by the then Director of Bal Bhavan, the hall was opened under the cover of darkness of a Saturday night and the exhibition essentially stolen. Later, all the evidence pointed to RSS volunteers presumably being involved in this act, under direct instructions of the Ministry of Education of the Government of India which was then headed by Mr. Pratap Chander Chunder.

This vandalisation of the exhibition made world news and was subsequently covered in both Nature and Science, two of the best-known scientific journals in the world. There were committees appointed to investigate the matter and there was even a court case.

After the exhibition was stolen from the Bal Bhavan — a process in which the NCERT and the Ministry of Education were both intimately involved — a case was filed by the Indian Rationalists Association in the Andhra Pradesh High Court (Writ Petition No. 5904 of 1978, dated December 8, 1979); the petition requested the Court to order the display of the exhibition under certain Articles of the Constitution.

Panels not objectionable

In defence, the NCERT stated that its reason for not displaying the exhibition (and therefore for taking it away) was that it contained six objectionable panels. These panels pertained to (i) a godman producing a watch from nowhere; (ii) science and dogma; (iii) homoeopathy; (iv) a magic show; (v) Karl Marx and Lenin; and (vi) picturisation of a limerick on the statement, “some objects can travel faster than light”, showing an impressionistic image of a nude woman painted by the well-known painter, Laxma Goud. Although the writ was dismissed after a long hearing on technical grounds, the Court declared that none of the panels was objectionable. The exhibition was subsequently purchased by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and exhibited without any change in Hyderabad for years.

And now, two decades later, instead of being modern and contemporary, learning lessons from history, the NCERT wants us to be uncritically wedded to what is ancient in our texts and scriptures which would tantamount to rejecting much of what is new, modern and scientific knowledge as there is an enormous contradiction on many a point between ancient and modern knowledge. Instead of trying to emancipate our society from dogma of all kinds (be it religious, social, cultural, historical, political or scientific) the NCERT wishes to consolidate such dogma.

Why this revivalism? It is clearly a diabolic policy to maintain the present rule of exploiters, by keeping the exploited ignorant of science and real knowledge, and making them believe that it was all written in their horoscopes, if not in the ancient texts and scriptures.

PUSHPA M. BHARGAVA

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Education in values: A commentary. Pushpa M.Bhargava, The Hindu, Nov. 6, 2001.

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