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Monday, June 27, 2022

Opinion: Decolonising science in Indian education

Pranav Sharma writes: The National Education Policy attempts to discard the shackles of Western hegemony, produce scientific, global knowledge from and for India.

Written by Pranav Sharma |
Updated: May 31, 2022 11:37:00 am
The National Education Policy 2020 has taken delightful steps forward in ensuring that we raise a generation of scientists and scientific thinkers. (File Photo)

India was imagined as a country that would be built on the principles of science and reason. However, in the initial years, it was a great challenge for the country to emerge with a collective rational consciousness. From Daulat Singh Kothari to Yash Pal, and now K Kasturirangan, we have kept our education in the hands of scientists. For a county that wishes to advance with scientific and technological development, this was the right way to conduct its policy formulation. The New Education Policy 2020 has taken delightful steps forward in ensuring that we raise a generation of scientists and scientific thinkers through the education we provide to our students.

The policy ambitiously aims for a radical transformation in the next two decades by providing essential equity to stakeholders, enriching the quality of education without adding to the financial burden and most importantly, creating a system of accountability. The policy has not only been designed to completely revamp our systematic education into a more porous learning process but also to bring in an Indian lens. Yash Pal, talking about the true spirit of education, told me “shiksha vo hoti hai jisme baat se baat nikle” (education should produce a tangible effect), which I believe has been achieved with this policy.

The state’s exhortation of science and its education is not unprecedented. We built our nation on science. However, the dissolution of disciplinary mandates with the NEP to study sciences provides a better ecosystem to foster beautiful ideas. Making science available locally helps its acceptance and understanding in the masses, which assists in the greater cause of enriching the scientific temper and the spirit of inquiry. An education, deeply Indian, and science, distinguishably Indian in character, would also put an end to the gatekeeping which happens through the West’s diktats about the standardisation of thought.

The policy not only helps decolonise by inculcating a sense of nationalist commitment but also engages in Indian value-based education. The attempt is to make education go global from home, not the reverse. Our shared sense of humanist and global responsibilities should originate from our commitment to our country.

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In the current dispensation, one thing that has come forward in the public conversation is that the state is sceptical about all forms of western intellectual enthusiasm and waits for the verifiability of ideas. Unlike the regimes bowing to western thought not only in India but in the entire developing, post-colonial world, I believe there’s some movement in the direction of making the scholarship undergo epistemological scrutiny before accepting any norm that has been dictated by the Western world and the NEP has set the standards right.

Education is central to the idea of modernity in independent India. In our education system, a certain aspect of European modernity lingered for a long time. That hampered the Indian intellectual discourse by making it eagerly look at the West. In doing so, we failed to create thinkers that can help us understand the structure and foundations of our own scientific thought. This is the NEP, which if executed right, might be able to raise a generation of Indian scientific thinkers who would be able to help us make sense of our ideas of scientific modernity rooted in Indian scientific thought.

The definitions, I must acknowledge, are not simple to formulate in the 21st century given that post-colonial science and science education is deeply mixed with the colonial hangover and practices. The discussion should also account for globalisation as a form of new-age intellectual colonialism, independent of which, creating demarcations and definitions is a huge task for the Indian intellectual.

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Once upon a time, we possessed a mind of our own in India. India thought, India felt and India expressed itself. It was receptive as well as productive. The NEP is an attempt to immunise our people against systematic attempts at curbing our indigenous creative thinking. The government, I presume, wishes to create a world of learning illuminated by a festival of thoughts, a festival where everyone brings his own light and geographical boundaries lose their significance.

Time has moved on. The test of our education system lies in our ability to explore the truth and give it expression creatively. Imitation and repetition can do no good, something the prime minister has explicitly made clear on several occasions. The NEP is also an attempt to unify our active engagement with creative thinking. With the NEP, we have hope that the true nature of the Indian mind can again be ornamented with our education system becoming a blend of the old and the young, the alpha and the omega, all and none.

The state has a commitment to work on public policies and diplomatic discourses that localise knowledge of science and enhance the character of Indian scientific enterprise to counter the deleterious effects of globalisation in the 21st century.

Education must be intimately associated with the life of its people; sadly, our modern education has served only to turn out the favourite professions of the English educated elite. This is important but not at the cost of education not reaching the farmer, the grinder, the potter. The NEP, by truly Indianising education and emphasising learning in regional languages, goes far in creating equal learning opportunities. The idea is to also ensure that modern schools, colleges and universities germinate from the soil instead of becoming parasites feeding on commercial oaks.

The NEP makes our education genuinely and creatively Indian. The imagination is of schools practising agriculture, dairy keeping, weaving on the best modern techniques, roped into one fabric — teachers, students and the ordinary people, culminating into Yatra Vishvam Bavatikanidam (where the world meets in one nest).

This column first appeared in the print edition on May 25, 2022 under the title ‘A science more local’. Sharma is a science historian

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