Amidst large-scale dropouts due to Covid-19, saffronisation tops BJP agenda

NEP 2020: Stepping stone for rapid saffronisation of education


July 27, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Amidst large-scale dropouts due to Covid-19, saffronisation tops BJP agenda

Critics believe that the NEP announced by government last year is relegating India to a mythical past of Hindu glory (MIG photos)

When the National Education Policy was launched last year amidst much brouhaha, the government and some academics called it revolutionary. However, critics say that instead of addressing the numerous key challenges that have made education the weakest link in the chain development have not only remained, but could become bigger, thanks to the NEP. They also say that instead of focusing on improving the quality of education, the Narendra Modi government has solely focused on revisionism ,relegating India to a mythical past of Hindu glory, undermining not just the country's future but also its diversity.

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As the economic and social cost of the Covid-19 pandemic becomes clearer, worrying reports of hundreds of thousands of students from various states either dropping out, giving up education entirely, or move from the more expensive private schools to government-run schools that are much cheaper or even free.

A report earlier this month said that over 1.25 million students of private schools in Haryana have not enrolled for the current academic session almost three months after it began, prompting the Directorate of School Education to send out a directive to district officials expressing “apprehensions” that they might have dropped out. Data submitted by private schools to the Haryana Education Department shows that 1.73 million students had enrolled for the 2021-22 academic session as of June 28, against 2.98 million last year.

Situation seemed little better in another state, Andhra Pradesh. In the academic year 2020-21, more than 200,000 students between Classes 1 and 12 moved from private schools to government schools, while around 60,253 are estimated to have dropped out of the system. Data from other states may reflect the same sense of crisis.

This unprecedented drop in students’ numbers could have a very serious fallout on the future of not just those children, but the entire country. Yet, most governments, especially those run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have their focus on other issues.

Upside down priorities

The data is not yet available for Uttar Pradesh, the largest and one of the poorest states in the country, and it is unlikely that the picture here is any better than the much richer state of Haryana. However, instead of addressing the issue, the government has removed works of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and former President Dr S Radhakrishnan from English syllabus for students of Classes 10 and 12.

The move drew a sharp response from many who called it yet another instance of ‘saffronisation’ of Indian education by removing chapters on secularism. “Obviously the BJP is not comfortable with such ideologies. Hence, they keep removing works of Tagore, Dr Radhakrishnan from school curriculum, in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh textbooks, and instead BJP is promoting mythology as history. In sharp contrast, the syllabus in West Bengal schools is all-inclusive as it speaks of our pluralistic values, our international outlook, nationalism and real and actual history,” lashed out Bratya Basu, education minister of West Bengal. Indeed, critics say that one of the biggest problems facing India today is the widespread saffronisation of its education. From science to historical facts, almost every fact is being altered and tailor-made to fit the changing perceptions of the current BJP government. “Institutions like the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), the National Policy on Education (NPE), the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) are designed to guarantee a well-rounded education. They all lay down certain norms and guidelines for textbooks. All this looks perfectly fine in theory, but in practice something entirely different has been happening. From the moment BJP came to power, they have done their best to tamper with the textbook content,” says a critic.

“Education should stand independently and there should not be any political influence on education because it is part of human life, it is the driving force for a country’s development. So education must remain independent so that children get a wholesome view about everything and not just what the present government wants them to know,”  a senior educationist and a professor in Delhi University tells Media India Group.

Critics believe that the New Education Policy announced by the government last year is relegating India to a mythical past of Hindu glory, undermining not only the country’s future but also its current diversity.

They point out that when the NEP was implemented, the then Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal tweeted “Considering the importance of learning achievement, it has been decided to rationalise syllabus of 9 to 12 up to 30 pc by retaining the core concepts.”

Soon after his announcement, the CBSE removed sections on citizenship, nationalism, secularism, understanding partition and democratic rights across multiple subjects in order to ‘rationalise’ the syllabus for Classes 9 to 12.  Similarly, from the chapters of class 11, topics like federalism, local governments and growth of local governments in India, which fall under a section titled Indian Constitution at Work, have been removed from its political science syllabus.

“One thing that I want to say here is that even if there is a pandemic like Covid-19, or a World War is going on or any kind of economic disaster hits the country, the government has no right to reduce the contents of education or eliminate some major topics like secularism , democracy or federalism, because if we eliminate such chapters the children will never understand the sensitivity of why framers of our Constitution opted for these provisions. , We are secular because we are diverse, we are democratic because we know the colonial history we know the pain and sufferings due to the autocratic British rule, we are federal because we know the voice of the state matters, if the center does something which contradicts with the interests of the state then the state government  can interrupt. All these chapters are so important that the government should teach more on that so that the child can have a better understanding of such important concepts. If we will not teach these principles to our children today then how will they respect these principles tomorrow, how will they use them when in need. I think it’s the moral responsibility of the government to make children study these chapters,” she says.

Rewriting history

Over the years, many amendments have been made to the history syllabus and historical facts and even results of military campaigns have been changed. For instance, a few years ago, the BJP government in Rajasthan rewrote history by changing the battle results of “Haldighati”, an epic battle between Mewar ruler Maharana Pratap and  Mughal Emperor Akbar. The revised books will now teach students that Maharana Pratap conclusively defeated Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th-century Battle of Haldighati.

Not just changing historical facts, the BJP has also made significant changes in the constitution of major educational bodies like Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, the National Council for Educational Research and Training and the Indian Council of Historical Research to include members of the BJP and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The government has also tried to include several Hindu scriptures like the Vedas and Unpanishads in the syllabus of class 8th, 9th and 10th.

Long-term damage for short-term gains

Another major change which was implemented by this new education policy was regarding learning of languages. The policy emphasised mainstreaming Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, with the goal of providing the language at all levels.

“In all government’s school Sanskrit and Hindi are made mandatory till Class 8th, but if we look back to history, Sanskrit was solely available to the top castes of Indian culture, particularly the Brahmins, and thus it was never a language of the masses. And by emphasising Sanskrit, the NEP risks alienating Muslims, Christians, India’s downtrodden castes and the people of the North East with diverse histories, as the language’s evolution has increasingly been dominated by Brahmins,” says the professor of Delhi University.

She adds that while studying Hindi may give the country a sense of unification, but in the process of doing that the government must not forget that India is a land of diversities and every person’s interest is important and should be considered.

Finally, she warns of several long-ranging dangers that saffronisation of education could result in.  “If we do not let our children study such important topics today then they may not respect each other’s religion and this could lead to lack of trust towards each other and also towards the Constitution of India. By promoting saffronisation of education the children of Hindu community will get a sense of superiority over others and will look down upon others. This will untimely give rise to intolerance and enmity within India. The government should let the young minds know the reality and let them decide what it means to them rather than making them study something which is a half-truth,” she says.



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