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Rote vs Reason


We, the Government

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

As dedicated stake-holders in our beautiful Education and Information Centric region, it was good to see the prominence given to the New Education Policy (GP 8.8.20). In particular, we liked the assurance that rather than focusing on “what to think, the NEP will focus on how to think”.

All over our land, from Ladakh to Lakshadweep, we have seen rows of young students sitting and swaying back and forth, as they memorised texts. They were being taught what to think not how the ancient seers arrived at those thoughts. Their brains were being used as recording machines, not thinking ones.

Sadly, this is how students in our land today score in the high 90’s in the humanities. We learn that their examiners have been given a number of key words expected in each answer. If those words appear, they are judged “brilliant”. Rote and Memory are being assessed, not Reason and Analysis. But, if every generation slavishly repeated what its predecessors had done, the Wheel would not have been invented!

Though we welcome the Education Policy for its refreshingly new approach, many critical questions need to be answered.

1. The NEP is useful, but is it necessary now? In the USA, Indians form the richest ethnic community. In New Zealand, Indians are the largest expat ethnic group. For all the short-comings in our education system, Indians continue to make their mark internationally. Do we really need to rock the Education Boat now when Chinese incursions, a sluggish economy, chronic unemployment and Nepal’s unusual belligerence are challenging us?

2. Can we afford the NEP? Informed international opinion contends that Covid-19 is here to stay. The virus mutates to defeat all attempts to kill it. Trials at opening schools in other countries have resulted in a resurgence of the disease. Children have been forced to rely on telecast classes. But can the vast mass of our children, our so-called ‘Demographic Dividend’, afford to buy the equipment needed for such instructions? Shouldn’t the state’s first priority be to provide every student with such facilities along with the training to use them? If the state finances the education of the most deprived it is not Socialism, it’s Democracy. In the USA, education is free and compulsory till High School.

3. How is the “Mother Tongue”, the preferred language of instruction in the early classes, defined? One of our staff is a Garhwali. In her village, she was taught in Hindi by a teacher who came from ‘outside’. Is this the sort of thing that has spooked Karnataka into expressing grave doubts about the NEP? Many Indians are bi-lingual. A large number have married people who speak another Indian language. How will the “Mother Tongue” of their children be ascertained?

4. Is the ‘Language of Choice’ clause sacrosanct? There is a real fear that when the NEP is introduced, the language of choice will prevail. Then, a little later, by statistical manipulation, Hindi will be proclaimed as the preferred tongue of the majority. This will be resented by many people as has happened before.

5. Are we serious about eliminating the ‘herd mentality?’ In a TV interview with a renowned journalist, the Governor of a state asserted that a legendary ancient flying chariot, a vimana, was a historical fact because it was often referred to as ‘itihas’. The governor was, clearly, peeved when his religious belief was contradicted. Would this example of ‘herd mentality’, and others like it, be open to scientific challenge under the NEP?

Most encouragingly, the Prime Minister said “People from different fields and ideologies are giving their views and reviewing the policy. It is a healthy debate.”

This is wonderful news. A debate is based on divergent views. Consequently it would be wrong to condemn a person for merely expressing an unorthodox opinion.

Clearly, the term “Urban Naxal”, and the grossly misused word “Sedition”, need to be purged from our criminal vocabularies. In particular why have successive governments still retained that revolting word? Its implications led to the bloody massacre of Jallianwalla Bagh.

If the NEP comes up for discussion in Parliament, the official proceedings of that session could be one of the most fascinating to emerge from that historic building!