IOS Webinar on ‘Impact of Covid-19 on School Education with Special Reference to Social Sciences in Senior Secondary Curriculum’

An on-line zoom webinar on ‘Impact of Covid-19 on School Education with Special Reference to Social Sciences in Senior Secondary Curriculum’ was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies on July 20, 2020. Introducing the topic, Prof. Haseena Hashia, Asstt. Secretary General, IOS, said that the discussion was necessitated by the deletion of certain vital chapters from the text books of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). This signalled the attempt of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to overhaul the curriculum of secondary education in the draft new education policy. She observed that apprehensions to that effect were not unfounded and needed to be red-flagged. The academia and the stakeholders concerned must take notice of it and read into the ill-intentions of the government, she added. 

Initiating the discussion, Executive Director, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, Ravi Nair, voiced grave concern over the slow infiltration of the RSS into education system. He said that the process of the RSS intrusion into the education system started much before the NDA came to power. It was during the Congress rule that the saffron outfit set entered it. Holding the Congress responsible for the entry of the RSS into India’s body politic, he described the party as ‘B’ team of the Sangh. The current phase was witnessing a wave of saffronisation of education with an intent of destroying republican, secular and democratic system of governance. About 12,000 secondary schools run by the RSS across the country were being used as a platform to propagate its ideology. He held that the Sangh Parivar was leveraging its resources to create a unitary state for Hindu, Hindi and Hindustan. This move had to be resisted by all means because it went against the multi-cultural, plural, secular and diverse character of the country. He said that Dinanath Batra, an RSS ideologue, had been tasked with running the new syllabus in conformity with the saffron way of thinking. 

While new chapters on CAA, NRC and NPR had been included in the new curriculum, chapters on citizenship, federalism, nationalism, secularism, etc; had been scrapped. Similarly, chapters on popular resistance to British policy of repression had been done away with. He noted that food security too had been removed from the syllabus of class 9. Poor people had been kept out of the purview of the present government’s priorities and the RSS wanted every Indian to kowtow before its ideology. Referring to the meeting of RSS ideologues in January this year, he said that the new education policy was discussed and a decision taken. 

Opposing the move to provide on-line education, he called for fighting it because a large number of students was feared to go out of the pale of education. BJP-ruled states, like Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh were going all-out to implement the RSS project of new secondary school curriculum. He said that India could not wait for the non-BJP-ruled states to stand up against the high  handedness of the HRD Ministry to go ahead with the anti-people education policy. He demanded that all the textbooks prepared by NCERT by examined and vetted by educational experts and the changes made in the content be put in the public domain. 

He wondered how a person with no knowledge of history had been made the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). He also cited the case of Karnataka state where textbook scrutiny councils had been set up and maintained that the existing saffronised councils must be reconstituted with the inclusion of genuine educationists in it. He termed Karnataka as the cabal of the saffron ideology to take over the country. 

Prof. Anita Rampal, former professor in the faculty of education, Delhi University, held that much had been undone in the last five years.  Curriculum preparation, being a more challenging task must be understood in terms of Nai Taleem which did not propose working while learning. Learning theory, she said, was a social process to construct knowledge. By this process, learners themselves constructed knowledge. She emphasised that no education could fructify if it failed to connect with life. It depended on the team that worked on the preparation of curriculum. The team must factor in the thinking of the people and prepare the syllabus accordingly. It would be of no use if the popular perception of democracy, justice, etc. was not reflected. Giving the illustration of a book that explained the concept of democracy through cartoons, she said cartoons were so effective that even an essay could not have that effect. The said cartoon book stole the limelight with the result that the issue was debated in Parliament where objections were raised. She said that it was not only the politicians who alone inspired people, but the poets too played an important role in influencing them the struggle for Independence. 

Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was a case in point. Referring to jungles, she noted that reading about them was equally important and a chapter on India’s forests must be put in place. This would help students construct an idea of forests. She stated that social sciences did not belong to a separate category. She warned that the Right to Education (RTE) was under threat as the new education policy was going to create “education providers”, instead of teachers, and to convert students to customers. To top it all, suppression of the right to protest had badly reflected on education. The powers that be insisted that education input should be overlooked. Students were sought to be made tutors as the new discourse was dismissive of fundamental rights. 

She said that the stress on open schooling even at the primary education level was fraught with danger. The government appeared to have taken a cue from the Ekal Vidyalaas run by the RSS in tribal areas. They were unregistered and not bound by prescribed curriculum. Describing education as a lucrative business for foreign companies, she said that today it was a billion dollar industry. She opposed digitalisation by saying that apps-based knowledge provided no scope for face-to-face teaching. Moreover, it was a surveillance on parents. Education was being outsourced by making on-line education compulsory. They wanted each student to possess a smart phone, failing which instructions would be sent through SMS. This type of curriculum was being pushed through E-Pathshalas for explaining equality without any mention of inequality. This could be understood from the fact that the term “Dalit” was used in the document only once. In the new policy document, an alternative academic curriculum was being thrust upon students by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. 

She criticised the Delhi state government for segregating and differentiating students between the groups known as “Pratibha” and “Nishtha”. She said that teachers should be allowed the freedom to speak on controversies. She also demanded that the deleted chapters, like citizenship, gender equality, caste, secularism, etc; should be included in the curriculum. Curriculum development was a constant process and the IOS could do something tangible in this regard. Education should be collaborative and far removed from competition with foreign countries, she concluded. 

National Convenor, RTE Forum, Ambarish Rai, commented that the CBSE had slashed 30 per cent chapters from the curriculum in the name of reducing stress on students. But this was far from truth as the students would be deprived of knowing about citizenship, federalism, nationalism, secularism and the struggle for independence. This was an attempt to create confusion about history in the minds of students. He gave an instance of a question that asked students to answer why Gandhiji committed suicide. He said that chapters were removed without consulting teachers. They offered a lame excuse that this was aimed at de-stressing students. But that alibi did not go down well with those who were aware of the RSS strategy. 

Referring to recommendations of the first Education Commission headed by Dr DS Kulkarni in 1966, Ambarish Rai said that 6 per cent of the GDP was to be spent on education. But today it stood at two and a half per cent. 

Ideally, it should be not less than 4 per cent. The condition of schools had become pitiful due to lack of infrastructure, like toilets, hand wash, napkins, potable water, etc. This was also due to the mushrooming of privately-owned schools. Of late, education sector had attracted the attention of multinationals and transnationals which were opening schools in a big way. Besides, budget schools were being opened with no infrastructure. He pointed out that education and health no longer remained the priority of the government. That was the reason why the private sector was enamoured of entering this area. Enrolment in schools had picked up significantly following implementation of the RTE. But now stress was being laid on on-line education. Describing the Indian education system as unequal, he noted that instead of teachers, technologists were being consulted on matters relating to education. Earlier school was a place for socialisation where a connect with people was established, he observed. 

Ambarish Rai disapproved of the digitalisation of education in India because of only 27 per cent access to internet. Nobody bothered about the rest of 73 per cent population which did not have a digital device to access the internet. In rural areas, irregular or no power supply and no internet cast a shadow over the much-hyped digitalisation. Reports of suicides by children due to non-availability of digital device were disturbing. Thus, digitalisation was creating inequality since a majority of population did not have the device for having access to the internet. This was leading to a situation in which social connect would end. He said that technology companies were mounting pressure on the government to engage them for work in education sector. 

India’s education system evolved after a long struggle by Savitribai Phule, Sheikh Abdullah, Maulana Azad and Dr Zakir Husain, but today when vital chapters had been scrapped, no voice was being raised against it. The World Bank had entered into an agreement with India to give $2 billion loan for the development of education with the string attached that it would design the model. This scheme would be launched in six states in the first phase. It was deplorable that a group of people had taken control of the holistic system which India had developed over a period of 70 years. Disconcerting by sub-standard education was being given to Indian children and there seemed no quality learning outcome. 

Ambarish Rai regretted that despite there being the Right to Education as a Fundamental Right, six crore children were still outside the purview of education. 

Prime Minister Modi shared “Mann ki Baat” but never spoke about children of the country. He demanded that the discourse on education should be built by the educationists. Raising the question of nearly 18 crore migrant workers who lost their job during the lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic, he said that their children would naturally seek admission in government schools. But the infrastructure available in these schools could not cope with the rush of lakhs of children. He called for launching a comprehensive campaign against the deletion of chapters on democracy, nationalism and gender equality. He expressed concern over children learning nationalism through Whats App University and not in the classroom. Ephasising the need for an awareness campaign that under the new education policy no trained teachers would be required. Only a computer operator would handle the job. He said that the IOS and other social organisations would be actively involved in the proposed all-India awareness campaign. One of the points in focus during the campaign would be diverse education system with textbooks reflecting our diversity. He pointed out that ten years had elapsed since the RTE law was unanimously passed by Parliament, but it could be implemented in 12 per cent schools only. He wanted this to be made a political issue as the outlay on education in the budget had been cut by 4 per cent. 

Presiding over the webinar, chairman of IOS, Dr M. Manzoor Alam suggested that the views expressed by the speakers should be analysed and a way out found to meet the challenges that lay ahead. Referring to the book titled ‘Saffronisation of Education’, published by the Institute, he said it described how the RSS/BJP built a false discourse to confuse people. RSS men were motivated, mature and well-informed and this held them in good stead. The saffron outfit had articulated the concept of Hindutva by replacing Hinduism. By converting Hinduism into Hindutva, the RSS secured the Supreme Court nod in its favour. The Sangh Parivar was also working closely on the strategy of presentation. They sifted the sources and presented them in a way that looked original. That also helped them increase the number of blind followers who were called “Bhaktas”, or devotees. He maintained that the Sangh was also selective in the manner of the popularisation of the concept. Their concept of Hindutva received overwhelming support due to its widespread publicity. In order to popularise their concept, they coined a certain terminology to attack other ideologies and offer an alternative in their place. They also took the advantage of governments wherever they were in power by making maximum use of all instruments of power. He said that nobody could achieve success unless they fully understood RSS. As a matter of priority, we should analyse the questions that cropped up during the discussion and find out ways and means to deal with the situation arising out of the scrapping of chapters from textbooks. Underlining the importance of education, he said that it taught how to lead the life of a civilised citizen by adhering to the Constitution. He stressed that a long movement like the freedom struggle was needed to save the Constitution. This became more urgent in the present context because those who played no role in the freedom movement were out to undo the supreme sacrifice made by India’s freedom fighters, he concluded. 

The webinar ended with a vote of thanks by Prof. Haseena Hashia who also conducted the proceedings. 

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