My only problem with the new policy is that it seems not to have paid enough attention to the infrastructure needed for real change to happen.
It is not my practice to begin a column with a disclaimer, but this time it is necessary. So, before praising the New Education Policy let me state clearly that it is not because I hope it will persuade the government to give my son’s overseas citizenship back. I have written before in this newspaper that India was his home from childhood and I was his sole legal guardian. So, what was done was evil and vindictive. No lies were told when I applied for a long visa for him when he turned 18, and I did not lie the second time either. But such an ugly, untruthful narrative has been spun by government spokesmen over the issue that the BJP’s troll army on Twitter taunts me with ‘OCI, OCI’ no matter what I write. Sometimes they confuse OCI with OTP, which is the only funny moment these vicious trolls provide me.
With this disclaimer out of the way, let me say that I think the New Education Policy is the best thing that the Modi government has done since Swachh Bharat. At The Indian Express Adda last week, when Ramesh Pokhriyal was introduced as India’s Education Minister, I wanted to stand up and cheer. One of the stupidest things that Rajiv Gandhi did was to abolish the Ministry of Education and replace it with a Ministry for Human Resource Development. Why he did this remains a mystery except that some idiot in his inner circle probably told him that the new name had a corporate ring.
When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister, it disappointed me that he did not bring back a real Minister for Education. It also disappointed me that his government made no effort to decolonise the public education system we inherited from our colonial masters. It was an education system designed to create English-speaking clerks to run the British Empire. Yet another disappointment was that instead of making badly needed changes to the curriculum in schools, silly attempts were made to erase bits of history.
The result is that to this day Indian children leave school learning more about western civilisation than their own. This is true of our finest private schools and true of those shabby apologies for schools in rural India. In my school days, in newly independent India, we learned more about England and read more English literature than our own. Today’s children learn more about the United States of America. They grow up without real pride in India’s civilisation because they grow up without learning anything about it. In the ‘new India’ this absence of civilisational pride has been replaced by belligerent nationalism.
The New Education Policy is the first serious attempt to decolonise school education. Those who think it is a bad idea for children to be taught in their mother tongue in the early years of school, have not noticed that most Indian children leave school unable to speak any language well. Of course, English is important because it has become the lingua franca of the world. But, it can be taught in India in senior classes, as it is in European countries.
Some critics have objected to the emphasis on civilistional studies and Sanskrit. I believe they are not seeing this in any real context. It should shame us that the best departments for the study of Sanskrit are in American and European universities. It should shame us that it is mostly western scholars who have translated from Sanskrit some of the greatest literature ever written. The New Education Policy is the first attempt to rectify this. School curriculums remain so bereft of Indianisation that it will take a long, long time for the rectification to bear fruit.
My only problem with the new policy is that it seems not to have paid enough attention to the infrastructure needed for real change to happen. I make it a personal mission on my travels to visit the local school and can report that in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, I have seen schools that are no more than tin sheds in which children sit on bare floors and try to learn by rote what their teacher (if she is not absent) tells them. In schools that lack such basic things as desks and chairs, it is obvious that libraries and computers are unheard of. Can we even think about civilisational studies in such schools?
On account of my inability to use Zoom properly, I did not manage at last week’s Adda to ask the Education Minister a question that troubles me deeply every time I see schools that are not schools in any sense of that word. I wanted very much to ask him why in states that have long been governed by BJP chief ministers there continue to be schools that are not really schools? Major states have been governed by the BJP sometimes for more than a decade and yet there has not been any improvement in state schools. Why?
The New Education Policy is a remarkable achievement and it is great that India has a Minister for Education at last. But, let us remember that the last time Indian students participated in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), in 2009, they came second last.
Kyrgyzstan came last. We have not participated since but plan to next year. Will we do better?
Twitter @ tavleen_singh