September 18, 2002
The Supreme Court verdict on the new NCERT curriculum, it seems, has given the green signal to religious/value-based education. But it is not an easy task to operationalise this sort of education in a country like ours that has been continually experiencing divergent forms of religious conflict and superstitions centred on excessive ritualism.
First, there is the danger that the dominant community may like to equate its religious tradition with the culture of the nation itself. We know that one of the most effective ways of consolidating this hegemonic politics is to alter the school curriculum. It is like teaching the child primarily the religious tradition, symbols, beliefs and practices of the dominant community. This would be a threat to the ethos of multiculturalism. It is, therefore, absolutely important to resist the hegemony of the dominant religious group, and celebrate the plurality of beliefs, practices and traditions. In other words, teachers, textbook writers and educationists have to be alert and sensitive so that multiculturalism prevails, and religious education does not degenerate into a doctrine of majoritarianism. And, particularly, at a time when religious nationalism is asserting itself.
Second, it is obvious that secularism need not necessarily be seen as a mindset that hates religion. In fact, enough has been said in India — particularly by the Gandhians — to reconcile secularism with an accommodative mindset that respects all religious traditions. As a result, religious education is not inherently bad or anti-constitutional. But, then, there are two components of almost every religious tradition — one, institutionalised authority, priesthood and everyday rituals and, two, deeper philosophy and spiritual quest. While the former is dogmatic and exclusivist, the later is harmonic and dialogic. It is, therefore, necessary that the fundamental spiritual quest that unites all religious traditions is given importance. This is, however, a difficult task because in everyday life religion is often experienced through its outward forms, symbols and rituals. And we know that this sort of religious identity tends to separate one from the rest. That is why school teachers ought to be extraordinarily mature while handling religious issues. As most of them come from the same orthodox traditions, they need to unlearn many of their beliefs. In other words, the educators themselves have to be educated.
Third, value education is not merely religious education. As a matter of fact, new values are emerging out of contemporary-secular concerns. For example, in an unequal and exploitative society like ours, sensitivity to socio-economic equality ought to be seen as a fundamental value that every child should learn. Likewise, the patriarchal system continues to prevail and in such a scenario gender sensitivity and equality needs to be appreciated as a desirable value for creating a just society. Furthermore, when global capitalism perpetuates the culture of consumerism, it is equally important for the new generation to celebrate an alternative ethics which rests on simplicity and harmony with nature.
Fourth, we have been repeatedly reminded by all great educationists that value education is something that cannot be imposed on the tender minds of the children. Nor can it be learned through textbooks, examinations and rote memorisation. As a matter of fact, it requires a radical pedagogy. To begin with, teachers and parents need to be motivated, inspired and consistent in their words and deeds. They must radiate the values they want the children to learn. This means a innovative relationship between the teacher and the taught, a relationship that rests on mutual trust, not fear of punishment.
Moreover, it is important to alter the everyday rhythm of schooling; it must encourage the spirit of co-operation, togetherness and creativity. Likewise, it is necessary to fight the dual system of school education which reproduces inequality and social hierarchy. Let the new school tap the creative potential in each child irrespective of her caste and class. Only then is it possible for us to imbibe truly egalitarian values which we need to implement our post-colonial dreams. Are we prepared to restructure existing pedagogic practices? Or is value education empty rhetoric that the establishment needs to sanctify itself?
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