Autonomy in school education
India’s rich history and culture are obfuscated in enforcing a uniform education system.
The beauty of our country lies in its diversity. As the famous anecdote says, "koskos pe pani badle, das kos pe bhasha", which means, with every mile travelled, the taste of water changes and language alters every ten miles. This uniqueness makes our country colourful and vibrant. There cannot be a fixed formula to bind this oldest civilisation by one thread. Its freedom makes it both remarkable and extraordinary. The makers of our Constitution were well aware of this fact and that is why they had placed 'education' on the Concurrent list. However, the politicians after them tried their best to fiddle with both the Constitution and the education system of India.
The entire pedagogical system of our country is at fault. Today, our prime focus is on teaching and maintaining the purity of languages, while the beauty of a language is in its flexibility. In the formative years of education, the school's emphasis was entirely on learning rigidity. Further, teaching subjects like science, mathematics, and social science within a preconceived framework is futile. It is seen that if science and maths are taught with more emphasis on understanding and calculation rather than the language delivery, it proves to be more effective. This is the reason why we have failed to teach subjects like science and maths effectively in a vernacular medium despite having twenty-two scheduled languages.
The case is similar to teaching history in India. Our history dates back to the pre-Vedic and Vedic civilisations which have been lost in the archives. The British struggled to find one common thread of origin, similar to theirs, in India, but they could not embrace the fact that our country is essentially based upon variety. Whatever could fit within the narrow definitions of the colonial lords was entitled as history; the rest was limited to mythology. Only the history of the Mughals and of British colonialism has been glorified in Indian textbooks. The regional epitomes find their place in the mere footnotes. There is no place for events such as the Battle of Chamkaur, the Battle of Bharatpur, among others, in the pages of our course books. The time has come to revive them and re-glorify rulers like Pratap, Chauhan, Marathas, and Jats.
Early education in India commenced under the supervision of a guru was known as 'diksha' as it was the amalgamation of 'gyan, vigyan, shaastr, shashtra, and neeti'.The Brahmans learned about sacred texts while the Kshatriyas were educated in the various aspects of warfare. The Vaishyas learned commerce while the Shudras gained the knowledge of farming and allied services, mostly through a transfer of lineage skills. Students were expected to stay in gurukuls or ashrams and follow the instruction of the Guru. This system of education enjoyed complete autonomy as it was solely dependent on the teacher to decide what and how much to teach. Before the introduction of British education, indigenous education was given greater importance from the early time to the colonial era. This can be seen from this statement of Samuel Ludlow, "In every Indian village which has retained anything of its form, the rudiments of knowledge are sought to be imparted, there is not a child, except those of the outcasts (who form no part of the community), who is not able to read, to write, to cipher; in the last branch of learning, they are confessedly most proficient." The history of modern education in India dates back to Lord Macaulay in 1835. He wanted a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.
The fabric of the school education system of our country is in turmoil today. Since Independence, we are struggling to carve out an education policy for our country, but in vain. To design a singular education policy for the country is the biggest mistake we are committing, ab initio. This is in contradiction to the ethos of our Constitution. There cannot be a singular education policy for a country as vibrant as ours. In a country of twenty-two scheduled languages, many foreign languages and hundreds of dialects, it becomes an arduous task for the legislature to plan a distinct education policy. With twenty-nine states and seven Union Territories, India boasts of having as many as fifty boards of education and five international education boards fully operational in the country. This further complicates the education structure and makes it impossible to draw parity at the pan-India level. These boards are not synchronous in terms of curriculum, examination pattern and schedules. The majority of the curriculum is outdated, books have obsolete data and stories have not changed since decades. Certain portions of the curriculum are never used by students throughout the course of their life, but they have to forcefully rote learn it in order to pass the exams.
The recent paper leak of CBSE, which was by far the most trusted brand of education in India, has caused a fiasco in the school education system. The state boards and other regional boards have made the examinations a mockery with mass cheating exercises and rampant corruption. The incidences of circulation of handwritten question papers on WhatsApp before the examination is perhaps the last nail in the coffin of the Indian school education. Eminent educationist Yudhvir Singh calls certain provisions of the Right to Education Act a bad chapter of the education system. Issuing of bogus EWS certificates by government authorities and a no detention policy till class eight are some of the major hurdles that are faced every day. He further adds, it has become really challenging to run a school now. Such guidelines issued by the CBSE, where a police constable will audit the school, are a disgrace to this dignified service.
It is high time that the government considers granting an autonomous status to schools such as the higher education institutions. The HRD Ministry has granted autonomy to 80 universities, colleges and institutions recently, citing their betterment. The same principle should apply to the schools too. This autonomy will give the schools their much-needed freedom. They shall be able to draft their own curriculum, plan their own system of exams and award certificates. The ethos of value education and life-skills will also be integrated into the working of the institution. When the schools will be able to design their own syllabus, education will reach the grassroots level and the promotion of the vernacular medium will get a much-needed boost.
This is the call of the hour for tribal area welfare, as they can preserve their culture, language and scripts. Granting of autonomy will also end the perpetual problem of exam paper leakage and ensure quality. This will even reduce the burden of the boards and can drastically bring down the operational costs. Authorities can start with granting autonomy to 100 schools on a pilot basis and compare the results with the existing system. Denial Pink has rightly said, "Control leads to compliance whereas autonomy leads to engagement."
(The author is an educationist. The views expressed are strictly personal)