Come June and students of class XI and XII in CBSE schools will have the option of learning about ‘the golden era of Indian astronomy,’ how Indian medical practitioners drilled teeth to remove decay 9,000 years ago and how the medicinal qualities of all herbs are enshrined in the vedas.
The elective — Knowledge Traditions and Practices of India — has evoked a mixed response from teachers, students and education experts. While some have welcomed students gaining insights into the ancient knowledge systems, others have cautioned that such attempts need to be tempered with a critical attitude towards the past and should not end up as mere celebration.
The course is divided into ten modules – astronomy in India, chemistry in India, Indian literature, philosophy, Indian Metallurgy, Lifesciences and Ayurveda, traditional practices in environment conservation, Indian dance and drama.
The aim of the course is to make students aware of Indian culture and achievements in various fields. Teachers will not be required to undergo any extra training as post-graduation in science and humanities disciplines will be sufficient to teach the course. There will be a 30 per cent weightage for a research project where students will explore Indian values, tradition systems and seats of wisdom.
Some school heads welcomed the course as it offered an interesting set of subjects. “It is high time our children are taught about history and traditions,” said V. Suma Padmanabhan, Principal, Asan Memorial Senior Secondary. For instance, the module on conservation would help students know the importance of preserving history and traditions. “Even our teachers are excited to teach the course because we have always heard bits and pieces of the information from different sources but never got to see it in an organised way.”
Others echoed her sentiments but said they will have to consult their teachers on the methodology. “Since we have the freedom to interpret the course, we won’t take it at face value, but will rather encourage students to challenge and question,” said S. Bhavani Shankar, senior principal of Lalaji Omega Memorial International School.
Padmini Sriraman, principal, Hindu SSS said the course would give students and teachers room for many interactions. “Any controversies that come up will only help them probe the topic further, which is a good thing,” she said.
Aruna Manivasagham, a science teacher, said she was particularly interested in teaching topics such as Indian medical sciences and astronomy. “We will be looking at substantiating or challenging the claims in the book. For instance, the course attributes the custom of walking around a peepal tree to the fact that it releases oxygen continuously. Similarly, it says the snake’s association with Shiva was an effort to safeguard the animal which would otherwise be attacked due to its venomous nature. There will be a lot of debate on such issues,” she said.
Educationists said the course needs to help students look at traditions critically and scientifically. “They need to know social realities and the impact of such traditions, social and economic inequities of the past and present,” said A. Narayanan, publisher and social activist.
Vasanthi Devi, educationist, felt the course seems to privilege one great tradition over thousands of little traditions that form the bedrock of Indian civilisation. “For instance, Ayurveda is part of the curriculum but what about the hundreds of traditional medical systems like unani, siddha. There is much emphasis on ancient Sanskrit texts which can lead to students developing a limited perspective,” she said.
“Also, the fact that the course does not look at the conflicts between sects and religions and instead, presents a harmonious picture of history ends up obliterating the struggles of the oppressed,” she added.
Instead, students could have been asked to do research papers on their family, neighbourhood and nearby places, by collecting material and talking to elders, she said. “Students need to know that history is not homogeneous and is a highly contested terrain. They will know that only when each of their classmates comes up with a different story about his/her roots.”