Rejoice for the students of Rajasthan’s government schools, for theirs will be the kingdom of heaven. Pity them, too, for any increment to their syllabus can only be hell on earth. While the nation’s educationists remain focused on reducing the burden of the school bag, Rajasthan’s education ministry is tacking on religious instruction — Saturday school instead of the Christian Sunday school. The state’s government schools have been focusing on cultural activities on Saturdays — quizzes, drama, patriotic songs and improving stories about national icons. Now the government proposes to introduce religious education, through the stories and sermons of saints. It’s no different from the catechisms that some missionary institutions were once criticised for.
Religious instruction fell off the school system in India following Independence and the determination to pursue secularism. It was replaced by an artificial discipline named “moral science”. The formulation was so painfully absurd that it was dropped like a hot potato, and schooling in morality and faith moved back to where it belonged — the home. Now, Rajasthan seems to be turning the wheel of time back, in an attempt to strengthen the moral fibre of the youth. The state has been harking back to some half-imagined dreamtime, and Ajmer was replaced by Ajaimeru on highway signage long ago. Last year, State Education Minister Vasudev Devnani was criticised for the elevation of Savarkar over Mahatma Gandhi in history textbooks. In February he, along with a former minister for higher education, proposed to declare Maharana Pratap winner of the Battle of Haldighati, in university-level textbooks.
These attempts have been called out, but all else failing, there are Saturday sermons. Though it may be argued that a few lessons in civics, which is taught rather indifferently in schools, might strengthen the moral fibre of the people much more robustly.