Indian ethos and global reality

The NEP 2020 is rightly going through a lot of discussion as we move towards building an acceptance of its basic principles.
Express Illustrations | Amit Bandre
Express Illustrations | Amit Bandre

The NEP 2020 is rightly going through a lot of discussion as we move towards building an acceptance of its basic principles. There are two important premises that the NEP envisions for our education system. These are that of being rooted in Indian ethos, and making India a global knowledge superpower. We examine this in the context of school education.

Compared to the general manner of providing school education today, the former requires a deeper understanding of the Indian ethos, while the latter requires a learning that can connect to the framework of knowledge that has come to be accepted globally. There is a greater acceptance of the latter premise, while the former is more under debate, not so much in the philosophy but more on how it is to be implemented. Many scholarly committees have gone into these aspects in greater depth. One of the committees has submitted a report to the Karnataka government in January 2022. The ‘WhatsApp University’ has also been playing its role in adding to the debate and sometimes causing confusion.

As an example, going by early Sanskrit literature, the knowledge of the relation between the hypotenuse and the two sides of the right-angled triangle seems to have been discovered in India independent of Pythagoras’ discovery of the same. It could well be that it was discovered earlier in India, even raising the issue of whether the concept moved from India to Greece. The question now is whether we should rewrite our textbooks to talk of this as a concept from India and remove any reference to Pythagoras or give credit to both, not only to bring out a sense of pride in the Indian ethos, but also connect with the rest of the world where the scientific temper accepts and builds on this concept as originating from Pythagoras.

Similarly, should one give a concept of ‘What is India’ based on Vedic literature or the reality of today’s political administration? Maybe both? Should one explain the etymology of place names or just the present reality? Maybe both, while explaining the changes created by external cultural influences? While the concept of Brahmand as visualised by our own scientific seers could be in the curriculum, we should certainly expose our children to the discoveries that the James Webb Space Telescope enables.

There are aspects of Indian ethos which are universal, especially in the domains of philosophy, spirituality, socio-cultural behaviour and the arts which should find a place in the curriculum. In some of these domains, the Indian concepts are far ahead of what a large part of the rest of the world is still discovering. Some of these are concepts of a universal outlook, contentment, and action driven by goals but detached from results (nishkamakarma).

One of the reasons why the Indian ethos, especially in science, has not got its recognition is inadequate documentation and lack of a scientific temper of building on prior knowledge. The western world has moved far ahead on this aspect. Making India a global knowledge superpower will require building an enquiring mind with a scientific temper right from the school level. School education needs to move in the direction of more open-ended projects and a research ecosystem. It would be important that while we bring in the Indian ethos, we do not give up the emphasis on the current global reality.

G Raghuram, Principal Academic Advisor, National Rail & Transportation Institute.

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