Mainstream, VOL LIV No 32 New Delhi July 30, 2016
National Policy on Education
Must Promote Music Education, Teach Regional History and Educate Men to Share Household Work with Women
Tuesday 2 August 2016
by S.N. Sahu
The new National Policy on Education begins its Introduction by referring to the Gurukul System of Education of ancient India which never permitted development of an atmosphere for asking questions and which permitted only a chosen few to get access to education. The Gurukul system smacked of an authoritarian approach where learning was imposed from above without any emphasis on critical enquiry. Therefore, it is not at all appropriate to hark back to the Gurkul system of yore to reflect on an education policy for the twentyfirst century India.
Caste System arrested Progress of Education
The Report appreciates the ancient system of education and refers to the low level of literacy of India (12 per cent) at the time of independence. Nowhere does the report mention that India failed in the field of education throughout its history because of the caste system which permitted only the high castes to have access to education. Swami Vivekananda wrote that monopolisation of education and intelligence by a few led to the decline of India. He particularly referred to the pitiable condition of the pariahs who were excluded from the any scheme of education. The Report on the National Policy on Education should have referred to these points to understand the issue in the proper perspective.
The low rate of literacy among the backward castes is because of the monopolisation of education by the upper castes. It is the caste system which remained a source of exclusion and deprivation for the lower castes. The historic Dravidan Movement, launched in Tamil Nadu, attacked the caste system and provided opportunities for the lower castes and minorities to have access to education. There is no reference to such historic movements in this Report. We need to understand the present-day inequalities in the field of education by referring to the inequalities created by the caste system to deny oppor-tunities to the deprived sections of society to have access to education. Ambedkar described caste as anti-national. The Dravidan Movement, by attacking the caste system, was proving its credentials as a nationalistic movement for equality and equal opportunity for all people.
There is no reference in the draft National Policy on Education even to Dr Ambedkar who had said that “We would forgo material benefits but not our right to education” and demanded education in science, technology and literature for the poor and oppressed sections to reclaim the human personality.
Minority Educational Institutions should be Safeguarded
While giving a catalogue of constitutional and legal provisions concerning the rights of minorities in the field of education, the Report makes a recommendation that Minority Educational Institutions should have larger national obligations to meet the rights of the economically weaker sections under the Right to Education. This has been mentioned in Para 6.6.13 of the National Policy on Education. This might adversely affect the status of minority educational institutions which has been guaranteed by the Constitution.
Already the many National Level Minority Institutions are apprehending that their minority status might be snatched away. There is an atmosphere of fear and anxiety in the whole country on account of the majoritarian policies. There are reports in the press that the status of the Aligarh Muslim University as a minority institution might be taken away. In such a scenario there is anxiety in the whole country that minority educational institutions would not remain safe. The National Educational Policy must dispel this fear.
Regional History must find place in National Curricula
In our educational syllabus prepared for the country, we never read about regional history. We talk of national integration and we do not teach our children about the histories of other States and historical figures of other States. We do not know anything about a leader like Jana Neta Iravat Singh of Manipur, who spearheaded a movement in that State in the early 1940s for introduction of representative institutions and democracy. We do not know the movement launched by the women of Manipur in the pre-independent period for democracy and access to food. This educational policy is silent on the issue of regional history and makes tall claims about national integration. In this context let me refer to one incident. A statue of Saint Thiruvalluvar was to be installed in Haridwar. The statue is lying there for several months. And there is opposition to install it in a central location. People in the north hardly know about him. Therefore, we need to have regional history in national education to widen the nationalistic consciousness of students and make them more tolerant and broad-minded.
In this Report on National Education Policy there is emphasis on Sanskrit education which should not be at all problematic. But it cannot be imposed. It is important for all of us to reflect on the modern significance of Sanskrit. As part of our ancient and classical heritage, Sanskrit is the very basis of our identity. While it was extremely important during the ancient period of our country, it is of great significance in the modern age of the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries. On January 17, 2014 Professor Amartya Sen, while delivering his keynote address at the Jaipur Literary Festival, regretted that “Classical education in language, literature, music and the arts are being seriously neglected in India” and painfully observed: ”Very few people study Sanskrit anymore. Nor do they study ancient Persian, or Latin, or Greek, or Arabic, or Hebrew, or Old Tamil.” He then added that “We need serious cultivation of classical studies for a balanced education. In India’s increasingly business-oriented society, there is generally far less room today for the humanities, and that is surely a problem.” Certainly the emphasis of a Nobel Laureate in Economics on the study of classical education in language, literature, music and arts drives home the enormous importance of such education for the market-driven society of the twentyfirst century world. However, it cannot be done in a manner which would promote majoritarianism and offend the sensibilities of people professing diverse faiths. We get such an impression because of some recent efforts to teach science and technology-related knowledge enshrined in Sanskrit in the Indian Institutes of Technology.
Professor Amartya Sen, while stressing on imparting Sanskrit education, also stressed on imparting education in classical music, Old Tamil and Arabic and Latin. So why this National Policy on Education is giving emphasis on Sanskrit only? Now the Government of India has accorded Tamil the status of a classical language. Even Odia has been declared as a classical language. We should focus attention on all such languages to make our vision more inclusive and all-encompassing.
In this National Policy on Education there is not a single line on music education. Mahatma Gandhi stressed on music education right from the school level. He defined music in broad terms and observed that music meant rhythm, harmony and order and regretted that in the public life of India rhythm, harmony and order were missing and, therefore, music should find place in the educational curricula as a compulsory subject from the primary level onwards for the purpose of restoring order and concord in the collective life of our nation.
Even as Mahatma Gandhi had elementary knowledge of music, he had extraordinary love for it and brilliantly expounded its far-reaching significance for individual, social and national life. While explaining its abiding place in the realm of spirituality and religion, he passionately wrote about its therapeutic value in overcoming anger and ensuring peace and tranquillity of mind. Above all, he splendidly enlightened the whole nation about its fundamental role in serving the cause of India’s independence from foreign rule. As early as in 1926, he boldly declared: “There can be no Swaraj where there is no harmony, no music.” Such an articulation from the Father of our Nation is expressive of his fundamental understanding that music in the true sense synchronises diverse notes and promotes unity, concord and oneness. He wanted our national life to resonate with these enduring values for channelising the energy of our people for the larger goals of unchaining India both from colonial rule and the bondages of our own society and civilisation stifling our people to give their best. One discerns the point that music aided Mahatma Gandhi to remain in tune with Truth which he called God and pursue Non-violence to achieve our indepen-dence and, above all, to save the planet earth from the monstrous greed of modern civilisation based on incessant multiplication of wants and desires and reckless exploitation of nature.
In several volumes of his Collected Works, we find his exceptionally in-depth understanding of music which went beyond the conventional notion of playing an instrument, singing a song or modulating the voice and fine-tuning the vocal cord. He enlarged the scope of music to link it with the larger life. An outstanding leader and communicator, he was tuned to the dumb millions of our country and put forth the lasting proposition that music is as essential for the well-off and privileged as for the common people.
Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest architects of the unity of our people by employing the method of non-violence. His achievements in this regard were no less musical than the lilting tune of the finest musicians. He poetically stated: “... true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat.” “The experiment with music,” he further added, “will be regarded as a successful one when the crores of people in the entire country will start speaking the same words.” He was one of the finest exponents of that “true music” composed around the theme of unity of India and through which crores of people of our country rose as one person demanding in one voice the freedom for our country.
A man ever tuned to truth, he had the finer sensitivity to yearn for music in every aspect of life. In his own words, “... if we put a broad interpretation of music, i.e., if we mean it by union, concord, mutual help, it may be said that in no department of life can you dispense with it.” He could hear music in the working of a spinning wheel, in Hindu-Muslim unity, in the scheme for ensuring good governance, in the struggle for abolishing untouchability, removing filth and squalor from our surroundings and uplifting millions of people from suffering and exploitation. Therefore, he wanted the children of our country to learn music and wrote: “If many more send their children to the music class it will be part of their contribution to national uplift.” His wonderful interpretation outlined his breadth of vision in linking the spread of music with nation-building.
Such a man with an elevated consciousness and an approach to locate music in the wider context of life, society and nation, stressed on revival of our soul-stirring music and demanded inclusion of music in the course curriculum right from the primary stages of learning. However, his love for music was little under-stood and many even wrongly thought that he, with his ascetic life-style, was opposed to it. He himself exclaimed at such a misper-ception and expressed surprise in 1924 by saying: “I, opposed to arts like music! Then, why, I cannot even conceive of an evolution of the religious life of India without music. I do say I am a lover of music as well as the other arts.”
India is acknowledged as a superpower in the field of soft power. Music is our soft power. This Education Policy does not talk about harnessing the soft power of India through education. While hard power refers to coercion, compulsion and force, soft power refers to the ability to persuade and attract on the basis of the strength of the qualities and character. At the global level the idea of soft power was coined by Professor Joseph Nye Jr. in 1980 and it is being invoked extensively to shape diplomacy and foreign policy for serving the cause of national interest. Mrs Hilary Clinton increasingly talked of soft power to shape American Foreign Policy. We need to use our education to harness our rich soft power so that the elements of coercion and compulsion are minimised in our life and decisions are taken based on consultation, persuasion and dialogue. In this manner we can reduce violence. And music education can help us to calm the mind and neutralise aggressive and belligerent thoughts and tendencies which often actuate people to inflict violence on others. In the UK there is a National Plan for Music Education. In that report there are two beautiful quotations. One is that of Plato who said: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything... Without music, life would be an error.” and the other is that of Aristotle who said: “Music has a power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.” We, in India, should be mindful of such aspects to impart music education to our students.
Educate Men to Share Household Work with Women
Another important aspect is that we need to use education as a tool to remove gender stereo-types. The Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, tried to alter the mindset and the well- entrenched thoughts that only women will do the household work. It sprang from his conviction of non-violence which remained central to our struggle for independence. As early as in 1922 he wrote a book in Gujarati language called Bal Pothi which was supposed to be a textbook for school children. This small book, containing only eight pages, has tiny chapters running into small paragraphs. It teaches children to get up early, brush their teeth, offer prayers, do exercise, develop the habit of spinning, maintain cleanliness and hygiene, answer the call of nature in a reasonably distant place and cover the excreta with soil and use village fields to grow more vegetables and fruits. Mahatma Gandhi wanted children to learn all these valuable lessons through that book.
The last chapter of the book on ‘House Work’ merits serious attention. It conveyed the notion of gender equality right within the frontier of the family. Through an imaginary dialogue among sister, brother and mother within the household, he tried to teach children that house work is a joint responsibility of both men and women and boy and girl who stay together under one roof and share unbreakable kinship. This book containing the chapter on ‘House Work’ is of enormous significance for the 21st century world marked by women’s struggle for achieving gender justice and their empower-ment.
The chapter begins with the instruction of the mother to her son that he should do the house work in the manner in which his sister does. The son, being brought up with a mental-frame that house work is done by ladies only, refuses to go by the instruction of his mother on the ground that a boy plays and studies and a girl in the family performs her role to take the burden of house work. His sister protests by saying: “Do we not also wish to play and study?” The brother answers her by saying that possibly while playing and studying, she would like also to work at home. The mother asks her son by putting a question: “Shouldn’t boys work then?” Answering that question, the son states that in general boys remain attentive to their studies to take up responsibility of life as and when they grow up as adults and earn living for the family. Hearing such a reply from her son the mother teaches him that such an idea is entirely wrong and there is much to learn in house work. She explains that a child, whether a boy or a girl, can receive a lot of education by sweeping the house, cooking the food and cleaning clothes and utensils. She goes into details of such work and tells her son that domestic chores involve use of eyes, hands and brain without much effort. She educates him by saying that such activities in the family consti-tuted true education through experience. The mother gives the valuable lesson to her son by saying that engagement with house work leads to acquisition of greater skill, building up one’s muscles and bodies, and developing a sense of independence. She concludes by saying that the boy has to learn and do house work as much as a girl does in the family.
This book Bal Pothi, teaching children to do household work regardless of the gender, constitutes a vital lesson serving the cause of gender justice and women’s empowerment. The British Government did not permit Mahatma Gandhi to publish it. Even many of the colleagues and associates of Mahatma Gandhi expressed the opinion that Bal Pothi would bring about rebellion in the family. However, Mahatma Gandhi maintained that he wanted to create a good society by reducing the load of household work on women and making them free to avail of other opportunities beyond family.
I had the privilege of visiting Japan in 2008. In every prefecture of that country a Gender Equality Centre has been established. One such centre, set up in the Kochi Prefecture, has prepared a text for children to teach them the idea that everybody in the family, be it men or women or boy or girl, has to share household work. This idea is not only confined to the textbook but also getting adequate coverage in the electronic and print media to bring about a change in the minds of citizens who grow up with the view that it is entirely the responsibility of women to perform the duties of cooking, cleaning and washing clothes at home. It is due to such efforts that the Japanese people are slowly changing their mindset and now men have come forward to join womenfolk in the family for doing household work. After I saw that book, I conveyed to the authorities of that Gender Equality Centre that what the Japanese society is doing now was recommended by Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century. They were astonished to know that Mahatma Gandhi had written a book for school children to educate them about the value of household work and the necessity of both men and women in the family sharing it.
It was stated earlier that the erstwhile British Government in India did not allow Mahatma Gandhi to publish Bal Pothi which taught men and women to do household work. But it is interesting to note that in twentyfirst century Britain the idea of Bal Pothi is catching up with the British people. In March 2013, the UK-based Institute for Public Policy Research published a fascinating report on women’s empowerment called “Great Expectations: Exploring Promises of Gender Equality”. It referred to household work done by women and described it as unpaid work and observed: “Many women’s working lives are put under further pressure by the fact that they are still overwhelmingly responsible for unpaid work in the home, despite their growing importance in the paid workforce.” In other words, due to the heavy load of household work on women they are not able to discharge their responsibilities outside their homes, which fetch income for their families. However, the report observes that more educated men in the UK are now sharing the household work with women. It revealed that “the average time men spend on housework and particularly childcare has risen since the 1970s, but this has occurred mostly among men with higher levels of education”. It is certainly a heartening trend. This means that with better spread of education and liberalisation of outlook, the attitude is changing and more men are behaving as true partners at home by sharing household and childcare work which are considered the exclusive preserve of women. Such changes, observed in Britain, bring out the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision so eloquently and convincingly articulated in the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century.
Late Shrimati Usha Narayanan, wife of late K.R. Narayanan, the President of India, delivered a speech on women on March 7, 2000 as the First Lady of India in the UN office in New Delhi. In that speech she referred to Bal Pothi and gave a detailed narrative of the text. After a few days the Hindustan Times carried a box item under the caption Bal Pothi and wrote about its contents. Professor Madhu Dandavate read the story and wrote a letter to the then Human Resource Development Minister, Murli Monahar Joshi, to introduce Bal Pothi in the educational syllabus of all States of our country for character-building and education of our children. Now that the National Policy Education is being framed for our country we should introduce Bal Pothi in our educational curricula for the whole country.
We need to have education which will foster a secular outlook and celebrate the idea of India and not any other narrow vision of our diverse and pluralistic society. Our education should not be determined by the market. It should be determined by our people and society. Because of the predominance of the market in the globalised world, education in humanities is getting lesser importance than education in technology and engineering. The National Policy on Education must address this problem. Therefore, we need to pay heed to our age-old philosophy which emphasised on a broad outlook and constructive vision. If education cannot foster that broad vision, then it is no education.
The author was an Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary the late K.R. Narayanan, the erstwhile President of India. He also served as the Director in the Prime Minister’s Office. He is now serving as a Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed here are personal and have nothing to do with the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.