Comments on the Survey

Comment by Shri Kireet Joshi
(then Chairman, Indian Council of Philosophical Research,
in a lecture given at the NCERT on 20 August 2002)


Permit me to begin with the recent Survey that is being conducted by the International Forum for India's Heritage, which has issued a questionnaire to a number of Indian schools so as to elicit responses from students in regard to their experience of our current educational system. I had recently an occasion to study a few illustrative samples of answers that have been received from students from different parts of the country. Three general remarks are common: (i) the present system of education is not at all inspiring; (ii) it does not contribute to the all round development of personality; (iii) there is keenness to study Indian heritage. I am sure that when this survey will be completed and results are brought out, educationists in our country and NCERT in particular, will have valuable material for reflection and action.

There is, unmistakably, a cry among our students to bring about a radical change in our system of education, so as to make it more meaningful, more purposive, more value-oriented, more skill-oriented, more interesting and less burdensome. (…)

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Survey on Indian Education: Some Reflections
By Prof. S. K. Chakraborty, Founder-Convener,
Management Centre for Human Values, IIM-Kolkata


Michel Danino and his team have handled the above subject with great earnestness and care. For me the prime contribution of the Survey lies in its focused attention upon the “soft core” of education in any nation — the degree of its organic resonance with the indigenous, original and sustainable cultural tenets and traits of its people.

Some of the quantitative data reveal clear messages of 91% of the students saying they would benefit by the teaching of Indian culture (Q.1). Yet, the response rate of 66% “yes” to the issue of “sufficient importance” being given to Indian culture in schools (Q.2) seems to be at odds with what most parents and adults notice. Taken together, response rates to Q.3 [Should Indian culture be part of extra-curricular activities?] and Q.4 [Or integrated in the curriculum?] also merit clarification. Ideally, one would think that it is the 14.1% “No” in Q.3 which would constitute the sample for Q.4 — i.e., those who desire that Indian culture should form a part of school curriculum. But the total sample size in both cases is identical.

Similarly, with respect to Q.5 [Which among the above aspects of Indian culture are taught at your school?] and Q.6 [If none or only some of these are taught, which other aspects would you like to be part of your education?], the response rates in the latter one have dwindled to almost 50% compared to those in the former. This shift is not clear as to what it suggests. Besides, the rather quite low position of “great Indian Characters / Personalities” and “great Characters from scriptures” in both tables 3.5 and 3.6 seems, frankly, to be worrisome. Has the centrality of “role models” in character building received a quiet burial?

Among the five components in Parents’ role (Q.52) [What role do your parents play in your education?], “character building” or “values inculcation” has again no place. The same is true about the three components in Q.55 [In what ways do they help you when you have a personal problem?] about the Teacher’s role. Moreover, “moral and psychological support” should be as valid, if not more, in the case of parents, as for teachers. But this is not included in Q.52.

But then, the above few observations in no way detract from the strength of the basic insights purveyed by these tables. Further detailed break-ups of data by languages, States, Govt.-private, urban-rural variables open up possibilities of more specific action plans in clearly identifiable units/entities/locations etc.

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However, the most precious part of the Survey’s report is Chapter VIII which collates 700 descriptive statements from the students themselves. They constitute a veritable treasury of reality from the horse’s mouth as it were. We have read into some of these statements the following messages:




Of the 53 comments on the teaching of Indian culture as a part of the curriculum, 45 are emphatic about this as the “core” of school education for the sake of self-development and the country’s cultural continuity. Most of the views are clear and deep, telling a lot about the unquenched thirst of Indian students regarding the culture of their own motherland. Obviously what they mean by getting educated along this dimension is not the few unsavoury aspects of society which certain ill-motived quarters make it a point to drive home as the whole or essence of Bharat’s culture. Needless to say, such black-brushing induces a disdainful attitude in impressionable minds about their own roots. Nowhere else in the world can such a phenomenon be witnessed.






Of the 25 comments about the kind of values students imbibed through the present system, the feelings voiced are shattering. For example: “everything except human values”; “hollow and materialistic thinking”; “to become more and more selfish”; “arrogant behaviour”, “being rude to elders, parents, teachers”; “lies and dishonesty” etc. Superficial advocacy of democracy, dissent, questioning attitude, without matching emphasis upon discipline, modesty, restraint etc., is inciting a sort of vulgar freedom which is but abject slavery to base instincts. Behind such degeneration lie the poisonous effects of visual and print media, and the brazen commercialization of almost all higher emotions. The Survey does not expose this overarching societal milieu which is permeating educational outfits in ways both subtle and direct.






On the question of learning Indian languages, ancient and modern, we have 35 quoted comments from students. Of these, quotes 93 to 117 prove once more the strong desire among students to learn more of India’s culture, especially through the learning of Sanskrit. They suffer from a deep feeling of estrangement and alienation from their ancient and rich cultural heritage. They aspire to overcome it. This is a very hopeful sign. It must not be allowed to be crushed by pseudo-modernist snobbish fulminations against the alleged burden of India’s past.

The spirit of these comments is also reflected in many observations from students on Q.36 e.g., quotes 190, 191, 194, 201, 202, 204, 219, 222, 228, 229, 230, 231, 243, 246 etc. The two outstanding comments in this list are: “It (school education) lacks Indianity, and is too much dependent on the West, especially for history”; and “education has now become a business”. The major far-reaching impact of this twin scourge is that whereas artha and kama are supposed to be guided and regulated by dharma and moksha in this ancient culture, the former pair is now dictating terms to the latter. It is all topsy-turvy — in the name of change for progress. Our students are the cannon fodder for this onslaught.






The following four comments are of immense significance:







(256) “Values like selflessness, honesty, discipline which had been the past and ancient Indian culture lack in the present system.”




(265) “We know less about India and more about other countries.”




(287) “The syllabus should be reoriented. Ancient culture and heritage should be introduced in the educational system.”




(335) “Add more facts about our cultural heritage, philosophy.”






There is a class of shrewd intellectuals and politicians who chant the vague cliché of India’s so-called “composite culture.” The hidden agenda behind such posturing is to deny that India possesses her own original, unique and imperishable cultural mainstream. This had grown and perfected itself over four to five millennia before 1000 AD in this land’s air-soil-water, its ashrams and tapovans. No country, except India, finds its students being often taught to condemn its own basic culture, and to adore those encroaching upon it from elsewhere. Thus, honest and legitimate educators ought to respond seriously to the type of comments just quoted above.






Q.41 has elicited 72 comments from students. A substantial number among them bears on the teacher. They highlight numerous do’s and don’ts regarding the teachers’ responsibility. That is fine. But there is hardly anything in this group of comments about how the students should behave and conduct themselves. A few decades ago prizes were awarded for “good conduct” among students. Probably no appropriate question was put to the sample on this complementary side of the educational system and process. Hence the one-sided comments.






Q.46 has probed the students’ mind on the impact of competitive spirit in the educational process. Among the 45 comments quoted, the first 15 (521-535) are ambivalent about competition. They say, it is partly beneficial and partly harmful. But the next 30 comments are unambiguously negative. A host of degrading emotions or dis-values are bred by the spirit of inter-personal competition, e.g., pride, selfishness, immorality, dishonesty, jealousy, inferiority complex, narrow-mindedness, depression and so on. These revelations match those relating to values system, quoted earlier (b). How do we visualize the quality of teacher-student relationships ((e) above) in the light of dis-value emotions that get provoked in schools for various reasons e.g., secular outlook, competitive spirit, etc.? Were the ancient educators away from ground reality, for instance, while warning us about the hold of shadaripus [six enemies] in the human make-up?






For the time being, the last aspect of the Survey we would wish to touch upon is about the parents’ role (comments on Q.53 [How could your parents help you in transforming education into a lively and interesting experience?]). Many of the replies endorse our long-held conclusion that overemphasis on marks and ranks, alongside comparison with classroom or local peers, is highly damaging. The students hate being handled in this style at home. As examples we might quote:







(i) “Do not keep on comparing the children to their friends.” (669)




(ii) “Advise the children to enjoy school life instead of asking them to get 90%.” (673)




(iii) “Spend more time with children.” (681)






Will career-obsessed, money-driven parents listen? Will dual-career parents heed? Children’s needs in middle-class (and above) homes are more psychological than material. But if such homes are vanishing, where will be psychological nourishment flow from?






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Latest newspaper reports inform us that public schools now want to have Principals / Directors imported from Britain and elsewhere, no matter what the cost is. Spurning the sage counsel “swadharme nidhanam shreya” [each should follow his own dharma], India today appears hellbent on embracing “bhayavaha parodharma” [following another’s dharma is dangerous] with a vengeance as it were. Will, in the midst of such a colossal impending incongruence, our students’ deepest aspirations for culturally congruent education in the “soft core” be realized? Leave aside Western countries; almost every Asian country, small or medium or large (Taiwan or Malaysia or China) is ahead of India in most of the economic parameters, e.g. per capita GNP, roads, housing etc. And all these countries have an educational system which energises its youth and adults by leveraging on their respective cultural geniuses. That this has been true of Western countries over a longer time is well understood. But education in India today is neglecting, even denying, this enormous positive leverage effect. The indications are getting worse by the day.

In this context, IFIH’s Survey presents a timely, authentic and grassroots ensemble of facts and opinions which needs immediate attention and implementation by parents at home. They must find time for discharging this responsibility at any cost.






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