The nation is celebrating the first anniversary of National Education Policy 2020 this week with numerous activities in educational institutes through webinars and virtual lectures. Apart from various policies suggesting administrative and academic restructuring, NEP 2020 emphasises the ‘Promotion of Indian Languages, Arts and Culture’ (Policy 22, Page 53 of NEP). Interestingly the Education Policy Document of 1986 too referred to similar concerns under the heading ‘The Cultural Perspective’ (NPE 1986, Page 158). What made the present policymakers reiterate the concerns and suggest more action? The answer is quite obvious—we as a nation did not walk on the suggested path. The policies remained as mere files in the dark cupboards of administration.
NEP 2020 is probably the first policy document to clearly verbalise the importance of interaction between education and crafts, which reads thus, “Outstanding local artists and craftspersons will be hired as guest faculty to promote local music, art, languages, and handicraft, and to ensure that students are aware of the culture and local knowledge where they study.” The emphasis and interface with craft traditions is definitely an encouraging sign; the crafts sector needs further diversification for its progress since many clusters are entirely dependent on government and non-governmental schemes for their sustenance. This system has to change—there is a need for more employability in the crafts sector and the pride Indian craftsmen held in the pre-industrial era needs to be returned back to them. India could not integrate the holistic cultural approach to design, unlike other nations like China and Japan, which had to deal with tradition and modernity in their design approach. While in these countries, design innovated with an inclusive and cultural approach, India, due to colonial dominance, opted to cater to the Western taste altogether and forgot to nurture the indigenous industry and massive customer base. Identifying new avenues for the craft sector is thus crucial if India needs to nurture its traditional designs. The products based on traditional skills and their innate eco-friendliness are available in craft clusters, but the consumer is hardly aware of the choices and neither is the producer (the craftsmen) conscious about the possibilities.
Craft documentation, compilation and publishing of data through online and physical directories and books will benefit the sector as well as higher education institutions. It may be also noted here that attempts in a similar direction had been done primarily by government-supported design institutes. However the private players are lagging behind. To create awareness of crafts among the young generation, design institutes should create workshops for schoolchildren and their teachers. At the Maharaja Ranjitsinh Institute of Design run by our university in Baroda, we experimented with this and school teachers of the city were part of the craft festival known as Vasantotsav. The aim was not to make them into craftspeople but rather sensitise the teachers to these traditions and inspire them to introduce them in their academic practice. Design institutes in India can also look to create more opportunities to interact with the sector by inviting craftspeople as the visiting faculties as suggested by the NEP. The result will be far-reaching once design professionals are involved actively in the sector.
The suggestions on art and culture, proposed by NPE 1986 and NEP 2020, continue to be relevant especially in a nation like India where you are not far away from a heritage site wherever you are. A heritage site does not mean only dilapidated monuments but also includes crafts and intangible heritage like performing arts and even rituals. Recently, Dholavira, the Indus Valley site in Gujarat, was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. I wonder how many people even in Gujarat understood the importance of the site. Dholavira was scientifically excavated in 1992, almost three decades ago. Gujarat Tourism built a hotel there a decade ago that remained closed most of the time due to lack of visitors to the site. The portion on Indus Valley history remained only in textbooks and hardly anybody thought of an exciting site visit.
As part of research work, I have had lengthy stays in many important heritage sites in India like Hampi, Ajanta, Badami, Ellora, etc. I have seen busloads of schoolchildren visiting Ajanta and Ellora , but unfortunately never seeing anything. They were more interested in the echo created by the cave when they scream or whistle. The teachers accompanying them were as efficient as the shepherds in hills, constantly counting their numbers and controlling them lest they climb over the dancing Nataraja. I have never seen a teacher explaining anything to the students or any curious student asking any question about those monuments. This is the future generation of India, unaware of the culture of the nation, because our education system could not creatively integrate cultural studies into the syllabi. The significance of an interdisciplinary approach in schools and higher education and also introducing students to tangible and intangible heritage as suggested by NEP 2020 become relevant here.
In this context, what is the role of art institutions? As we are aware, the Indian education system is hardly inter-disciplinary, though this was suggested even in the earlier education policy documents. Each specialisation area including art institutions remain in isolation, hesitant to handshake with allied and non-allied areas. There should be more avenues for interested individuals to learn about art and appreciate the creativity. Art institutions may have to open their doors to interested curious minds by providing teachers and master’s students as resource persons when schoolchildren visit the heritage sites or museums. The institutions can also conduct certificate courses on art appreciation for school teachers, provided that is approved by the universities.
This time around, let the art institutions take the lead to bring innovative changes in our curriculum, incorporating the suggestions of NEP 2020, and make a creative change in the education policy. This in future may help change the perception about art in India so that we have more people at museums and heritage sites. One can surely dream about a future where schoolchildren sitting in an orderly fashion listen intensely to the teacher explaining the sculpture of Nataraja and the Dancing Sapta Matrikas of Aihole.
Let us start a dialogue with our youngsters to create more rasikas of art. More the audience, the better, isn’t it?
Head, Department of Art History,
The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda