The Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, an organisation tasked with pushing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s education agenda, has given Human Resource Development minister Prakash Javadekar a five-page critique of the draft New Education Policy, which was made public in June.
“It is not clear how the New Education Policy differs from the old education policy,” the critique states, adding that it lacks an “integrated…vision, mission, lakshya [goal] and udeshya [message]”.
This assertion is not borne out by a comparison of the six points that the RSS-affiliated outfit sets out as “goals of education” and the “broad objectives" of the New Education Policy, 2016. Where the draft policy and the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas document differ is that the latter makes no mention of India’s diversity, while talking of social-coexistence.
Apart from calling for a total rejection of the National Curriculum Framework, 2005, the critique is short on specifics and replete with commonplace statements such as “importance of teachers to quality of education cannot be denied”.
The Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas has also given Javadekar an annotated copy of Suggestions for a New Education Policy in which it acknowledges that the draft National Education Policy contains many good things. Several of the outfit’s proposals such as a special curriculum for tribal areas, the mother tongue as medium of instruction in primary schools and a promotions policy for career advancement of teachers have been included in the draft policy document. However, the outfit clearly hopes that its political connection and easy access to the Human Resources Development minister will allow it to redirect the revision of the draft policy to include some of its proposals that the draft policy ignored.
Familiar RSS demands
Some of these proposals are what we have come to expect from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s education organisations. Among them is a proposal to control the content of textbooks and published research. The RSS, in setting up the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, committed senior people and resources towards excising what it deems to be “insulting” references to Indian culture, tradition, sects, eminent personalities, and the “incorrect interpretations” of facts. The Nyas has successfully used public campaigns – supported by the Sangh’s street-fighting arms – and the courts to have textbooks altered and books banned.
Its other major concern is with making Indian languages the medium of instruction. The RSS has long held that education in an Indian language, ideally Hindi, is the only way to raise a population that is imbued with what it calls Bharatiya culture. It has, over the years, come to accept that Hindi is unacceptable as the medium of instruction in non-Hindi speaking states and hence proposes that the medium of school education until class five be in the mother tongue or regional language. This part of the proposal fits with what education experts and cognitive scientists say is the importance of the mother tongue in how young children learn, and is part of the draft National Education Policy.
Beyond class five, the Nyas does not specify the medium of instruction, but it says that English, and any foreign language, should not be mandatory at any level in the education system, and all English-medium tertiary education institutes like the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management should immediately provide for teaching in all Indian languages.
In its critique of the draft National Education Policy submitted to Javadekar, it states: “The draft NEP reflects the ‘angrezi mentality’ of its authors, because it recommends making English as second language mandatory.”
Angrezi refers to the English language, but in common parlance it is also used to mean foreign.
Sangh’s education model
The nine-page Suggestions for a New Education Policy is a mostly inchoate list that reveals much about the Sangh Parivar’s understanding of, and attitude to, formal education, and its cultural and intellectual anxieties.
In the sub-section titled "Syllabus and Curriculum" (words it uses interchangeably), it calls for the inclusion of “Indian culture, history and scientific tradition in the basic curriculum at all levels” and the “mandatory inclusion of ‘India’s contribution to the world’, like Vedic mathematics etc”.
Apart from cleansing textbooks of references it believes are insulting, it also wants the New Education Policy to provide for a “review [of] how India is presented in education curricula abroad, and future steps based on this”. This hints at taking its book-cleansing efforts to foreign shores, where its supporters are already providing yeoman service, with no great success.
In the sub-section on research, the RSS document makes some remarkable propositions. For example, it wants a “provision to be made for results of research to be published in local/domestic journals and for these to then be sent abroad”.
But what stands out is this one sentence: “Research work should be independent, without time constraints and those doing useful research outside universities should also be awarded degrees."
Researchers in universities across the country will welcome the first part of the proposal, that research be independent, and there will be not a few who are pleased by the proposal that it should not be constrained by time. But many will ask what the Nyas means by independent, since it gives itself the right to decide what is a correct interpretation and what is acceptable in research, and will use every avenue open to it to ensure that those who disagree with it are censored.
The second part of the Nyas' proposition that those doing “useful research outside universities should also be awarded degrees” sounds like a plan to put ideological pamphleteers and dilettantish writers on par with scholars who have worked hard at university and received a degree for research that meets certain quality standards and passes scholarly review.
Some universities abroad have a rarely used provision to consider original published work instead of a standard thesis for a doctorate. The published work has to meet the high standards of research in these universities, which are truly independent of political control. In India, where governments in general, and the Bharatiya Janata Party government in particular, control universities by appointing Vice Chancellors and administrators for their pusillanimity and political affiliation, this is a slippery slope.
Fashioning academic respectability
This arrangement will give Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideologues the imprimatur of academic respectability and the certification they need to apply for university jobs and public positions they are now not qualified for. The Sangh Parivar’s small pool of ideologues and dilettantes meet the demands of Indian news television and social network discussions, but not much else. Their inability to breach the relatively low walls of Indian academia stand in the way of its project to command the production of knowledge. If they can just be given degrees, circumventing the rigours of university-based research, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh will have fixed its little problem.
RSS-birthed organisations like the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas have unprecedented access to ministers in the BJP-led government. The extent to which the Sangh’s wish list is reflected in government policy depends on how politically acceptable the proposals can be made. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of the proposals of the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas that did not make it to the draft National Education Policy, go into the final policy document. Much will depend on public scrutiny of these proposals.
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