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Monday, July 26, 2021

Liberal education in illiberal times

NEP has several progressive provisions. But can they succeed when spaces for healthy debates are shrinking.

New Delhi |
Updated: August 18, 2020 5:35:44 pm
nep, new education policy, national education policy, liberal education, nep 2020, express opinion, indian expressAlthough the NEP claims to “bridge gaps in access, participation and learning outcomes’’, it overlooks the fact that poor quality education marks and mars the lives of rural citizens

Written by Jyothi S

“Where the mind is without fear…where knowledge is free…where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls… Let my country awake.”                                                                                               -Rabindranath Tagore

The New Education Policy 2020, which appears to be progressive on paper, has been welcomed by scholars. However, they are cautious of its proper implementation. In an atmosphere of shrinking space for unbiased and open interactions on contentious issues, how can we have “liberal education”? In this context, the true essence of liberal education has to be reexamined, to see if it is in tune with the times or has it been diluted to suit current exigencies and demands.

A liberal education focuses on the holistic development of a knowledge seeker. It intends to prepare a student for her life, not just get a job. Its mission is to provide knowledge and skills, stimulate critical thinking and inculcate civic sense. In addition, it promotes community service and research related to a person’s community. It frees a student from the shackles of ignorance, widens the boundaries of knowledge and nurtures critical thinking. Moreover, it encourages tolerance of diverse ideas and views. In short, liberal education endeavours for the all-round development of the individual.

The concept of liberal education can be traced back to the Greek knowledge tradition. It had its genesis in the works of Plato and Aristotle. After being stifled in the Middle Ages, it got a new lease of life with the revival of Aristotlian thought in the 12-13th centuries. In modern times, the credit for popularising liberal education goes to scholars like John Henry Newman, Thomas Huxley and F D Morris.

The importance of liberal education in a globalised world order cannot be overstated. It brings out how different branches of knowledge are interconnected. Sadly, in the contemporary context, we have built thick walls between different disciplines. There is a necessity to integrate science and arts. As Steve Jobs once said, “we should align technology with humanities in our education system for better success in one’s professional as well as personal life”. Additionally, we need to include extracurricular activities in our curriculum. In a nutshell, learning should be a joyous experience, not a mental stress.

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Significant changes in the global job market, technological innovations and the resultant increased demand for skills have created significant challenges for the higher education sector. Our education system has failed to empower students to face these challenges. It has failed to create a pluralistic society; the spirit of enquiry and emotional intelligence have taken a backseat.

The new National Education Policy proposes to make education more practical, comprehensive, invention-oriented, student-centric and enjoyable. It recommends education in mother tongue or native language at the primary level. Moreover, the students’ choice of subjects will not be confined to silos — there is no strict compartmentalisation between humanities and science.

The Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero said, education should be a path to acquire pure knowledge, not for mere material gain. The NEP has put emphasis on critical thinking. But then, in reality, the free space for healthy debates on diverse political, religious and cultural issues is rapidly shrinking. So, it is very much necessary to understand that without a free society, the education system cannot be liberal.

Pure knowledge is the only tool that empowers and liberates people. So, it is high time to implement an education system which is truly liberal by adopting its principles like freedom of expression, mind-body balance, creating curiosity, enjoyable learning, self-introspection, and learning as a pleasurable activity.

(The writer is Assistant Professor English at Tumkur University)

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