Ignorance about India
Last week I interacted with some students appearing for an interview at a very prestigious national institute running a popular professional course. The candidates were appearing for the interview after passing, what I believe, must have been a very tough written examination. This particular candidate had passed her secondary and senior secondary examinations from the prestigious Sanskriti School in the national Capital and thereafter graduated in humanities from University of Delhi.
On the surface, she made a perfect case for selection to this popular course - but for the jarring note struck by your reporter. I posed her a question on the justification of changing the name of Aurangzeb Road to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Road. Forget giving justification, she was not even clear about who Aurnagzeb was. I wanted to let her go with the advice that one should try and find out about the personalities on whom roads are named like San Martin Marg in her school’s neighbourthood in Chanakyapuri.
She mentioned that there is Jesus and Mary College next door but she did not know that the road was called San Martin Marg. Having found that she was not very clear about who exactly Aurangzeb was, I did not expect her to know the role the South American revolutionary played in the Independence of Argentina from Spain (José de San Martín). I asked her if she knew on which road her school was located. She readily replied Radhakrishnan Marg.
Wanting to end the interview on a pleasant note, I asked if she knew who Radhakrishnan was, “Yes,” pat came the reply. “Who,” I asked smilingly. “He was some kind of an educationist no,” she said. We (the interview board) thought it was time to ask her to leave lest we brought more embarrassment and despair on ourselves.
Since Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was not buried on death, I even cannot use the phrase that he must be turning in his grave. I think I should once again recount a story of my brush with a young crop of trainee reporters a few years ago. They were about six of them, coming from a very prestigious journalism school in Pune. During their training period, there was some news related to Jamia Millia Islamia. As we discussed the news, I thought it would be appropriate to give them some information about the university.
While talking about Jamia, I felt that they were not acquainted with the role Dr Zakir Hussain had played in setting up the University. I checked if they knew who Dr Zakir Hussain was. There was silence. Agitated, I asked, “I hope you all know who Dr Rajendra Prasad was?” There was silence once again. Reluctantly, one in the pack raised his hand.
I actually felt very relieved that at least we have one from the pack of six, whom we could regularise as fulltime reporter. “Yes, tell them who was Dr Rajendra Prasad,” I said enthusiastically. “Sir, why 'was'? He still is the principal of Ramjas College in Delhi University,” came the brusque reply. Thankfully, I keep short cropped hair, thus I could not pull them.
There is something wrong with our education system, and I wonder if the TSR Subramnian committee, which has submitted a set of recommendations for the National Education Policy 2016, has been able to gauge these problems and address them. Being father of very talkative son with a fidgety behaviour, it had not been easy for me to tutor him in the few subjects that I think I can handle. Social Studies syllabus prescribed by the Central Board of School Education (CBSE) in fact surprised me when I decided to take a plunge into tutoring my son and in the process educating myself.
The text book has been written in excellent language and has content to make the child a global citizen. But before that doesn’t he have to become an Indian citizen. When he reads about Indian novels, there is mention of Bankim Chandra as a pioneer among the modern Indian novelists. However, the prescribed chapter fails to make a direct mention of his novel Anand Math, nor the poem Vande Matarm, which is also our national song. Checking if the lad knew who composed Vande Matarm, the answer he gave was – AR Rahman. Perhaps that was the only answer he could give, given that his textbooks decided to withhold this information.
There is so much discussion on what our secondary and higher education should be like especially in the subjects from the humanities stream. Doesn’t it occur to those who decide the content of the syllabus and write the prescribed book to make pupils aware of our nation’s basic history and polity, especially those related to the modern period? Forget about developing a sense of enquiry among the pupil, at least make them memorise who are the people who have held important positions in our country.
Going by the experiences that I have been having, I fear to run someday into a “bright” student telling me that Mahatma Gandhi is the old man whose photo gets printed on the currency notes. I have already got cynical about not asking job aspirants questions on Sarojini Naidu, Tatia Tope, Bahadurshah Zafar; in fact I wonder if Prime Minister Narendra Modi realised whether how many of “Indian youth” would really have known who Banda Bahadur was, while he addressed the massive function to commemorate the memory of the Sikh general last week at Indira Gandhi stadium.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views are personal.)