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Mainstream, VOL L, No 32, July 28, 2012

Educational Issues are best left with Parliament and not with ‘Intellectual’ Experts

Tuesday 31 July 2012, by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Ever since the Thorat Committee submitted its report on the political science textbooks of the NCERT of class IX to XII recommending deletion of some cartoons, changing of some words, a gnat war has started against Thorat personally. M.S.S. Pandian, who agreed to be a member of the Committee, never attends the meetings of the Committee but writes a dissent note straightaway sitting at home. If ethics are left to winds, anybody can attack anybody. Pandian is a good historian no doubt. But that does not give him the authority to indulge in unethical claims. If academics attack politicians for not doing their duty but ruling the roost over the nation, should not academicians follow some public morals and ethics of academics? This is a serious Committee constituted by a Central Government agency to examine the contents of the school textbooks that shape millions of lives in this country. A member’s primary duty is participate in the meetings and deliberations of the Committee and influence its report’s content from within.
Even though he did that throughout its deliberations, even then if the majority members take a position that is not agreeable to a member he should write a dissent note, which should also go as part of that report. If for whatever reasons he cannot attend the deliberations, he should simply resign. But he cannot write a dissent note. If anyone does that, it is nothing but academic immorality. Why is a section of the media giving more publicity to this kind of misdeed than the report itself? Are there no media ethics?

One cartoonist, whose cartoons were present in the NCERT textbooks, publishes a cartoon in a paper depicting Professor Thorat as a loyal dog working for the government. If this is the level to which the team that put its written material or cartoons for a price in those text-books stoops down, it could be derived public good is not their motto. If this kind of people want freedom from parliamentary scrutiny, the scrutiny of independent committees and think that what they teach to children across the country has to be allowed through the means of medium of the state itself, that is dangerous. They will emerge as fascists. Nobody is asking them to not to draw what they want to draw or write what they want to write and sell in the open market. But they cannot sell through the state means at will, that too to young students of all castes, communities and sexes.

A section of the very same team deployed a discourse that India needs a critical pedagogy based on the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 of the NCERT. They believe that the NCF has evolved the necessary tools to evolve a curriculum that creates a student mass of critical consciousness. The NCF has been prepared by academicians who have their own ideological stands on issues like abolishing caste and untouchbility from this land. That is understandable. But their claim that the NCF-2005 is the ultimate document of education is untenable. For example, the most prominent members of the committee including its Chairman, Professor Yash Pal, have no track record of being sympathetic to the most oppressed sections of the society. When he held the key academic positions including the chairmanship of the UGC he has not initiated a single programme that advanced the educational cause of SC/ST/OBCs.

Though they are the most visibly powerful people in the higher education sector they never held the Central Universities, IITs, IIMS guilty for not implementing the basic constitutional dictum of reservations in the teaching posts, non-teaching posts and even in the student admission procedures and so on. Parliament and the Ministries took more progressive steps than these so-called progressive academicians, when it came to establishment of inclusive and positively advancing higher education. This historical experience of SC/ST/OBCs and minorities shows that the so-called progressive upper-caste intellectuals are more systematically negative than Parliament and the Ministries. The political intellectuals [party leaders and activists] respond to the demands of the oppressed masses because they need to go back to them for votes. But the upper-caste academic intellectuals, once they got those positions, are accountable to none and much less afraid of anybody.

In fact, many of these intellectuals were executing the agenda of their political comrades, who take pro-people decisions in Parliament, but do not want them to be implemented in the field. Parliament passes laws to implement reservations, but Vice-Chancellors do not implement them. Why are academic experts of high calibre, who have been teaching about values to the whole world, silent on such critical issues? Why do they not write articles and issue statements to build a public opinion that merit is a social construct? In the whole Ambedkar cartoon, curriculum and the critical pedagogy debate, some intellectuals were dismissing politicians as non-experts. How many of these so-called experts, say of social sciences, produced original books that advocated the liberation of the oppressed masses, at least as much as upper-caste politicians like Gandhi, Rammonohar Lohia, leave alone Ambedkar, did. Where is a John Rawls among the upper-caste academics of India?
The NCF, which they are claiming as the ultimate document of critical pedagogy, in the very foreword of the Chairman talks about the best medium of pedagogy is ‘mother tongue’ to undercut the demand of SC/ST/OBCs for common English medium education at all levels. Pal says: ‘…That specificities matter, that the mother tongue is critical conduit, that social, economic and ethnic backgrounds are important for enabling children to construct their own knowledge.’ In which tongue did they write the original NCERT books? In English. Which section’s mother tongue is it in India now? If mother tongue is the only source of creative writing why did these writers write these books in a foreign language, which is nobody’s mother tongue in India? This is a deceptive ideological framework to hoodwink the rural and SC/ST/OBC masses not to demand English medium schools in the government sector.

Do the cartoons put in the textbooks emerge out of the social, economic and ethnic background of a majority of the productive and oppressed masses? Is there a single cartoon that lampoons a traditional priestly Brahmin, who attacks a Dalit at the temple, in any text? Is there is a single lesson on the tanning economy, pot-making technology or tilling of the land? In the entire NCF there is no stress on dignity of labour at all. On the contrary, they repeatedly stressed about peace education. The NCF document says: ‘Peace education as an area of study is recommended for inclusion in the curriculum for teacher education.’ In a society of massive oppression and exploitation what does this peace education mean? Whose peace does it safeguard?

So far as educational issues are concerned, the oppressed masses of the country would never trust the so-called intellectual experts. Let Parlia-ment’s opinion prevail for some more time.

The author is a well-known activist, scholar and writer.

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