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September 9, 2014 Bincy Mathew
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The teachers' day speech is not the first attempt of the Modi government to alter the education system in India

As I switched on my laptop to send greetings to my professors on Teachers Day, the eagerness of communicating with them was overcome by my reaction to the run up of events surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on September 5.

Naturally, many of the States with non-BJP governments, were opposed to it. However, I found it difficult to understand why some schools in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, decided to test the students on the Prime Minister's speech. Students in some of these schools were expected to watch his speech in their homes so that they would be prepared for answering questions based on it in a test.

I was reminded of an exercise in school when my teacher in the fifth standard read out a passage and asked us to write answers based on what we had understood. I fared badly in it. But looking at numerous debates in past years on rote-learning in the Indian education system, my performance in the test does not evoke a surprise, now, as I type. How can students who have to by-heart their textbooks from day one in school be expected to remember the Prime Minister's speech for their exams? One may contend, after listening to the speech, that students won't find it difficult to follow it, given the content. But that's not the point. The curriculum at school level is such that a class XII student is at times vague about what she wants to do after finishing school, and often the subject of study in college is in contrast with the expectations and aptitude of the student.

New IITs

The Modi government has been zealous in bringing in a number of changes in education, such as its decision of setting up IITs in different States, despite the fact that the existing IITs are facing a faculty crunch. In fact, there is a massive shortage of quality teachers at school level.

However, core problems in the Indian education system, pale in comparison to how History textbooks have been written in the last 60 years. Therefore, Dina Nath Batra's books, on a directive of the Gujurat government, have been introduced in government schools in the State. One of his books mentions Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma as being part of undivided India, further suggesting that these countries are part of 'Akhand Bharat'. Around the same time, Dr. Y Sudershan Rao was appointed chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research. His writings on blogspot would give you an insight into his views on Indian history, an evidence of why his writings have not made it to peer-reviewed journals.

The practicability of the nature of National Eligibility Test (NET), a requirement for teaching History in Delhi University, has been contested by professors such as Dr. Seema Alavi as the examination relies on “memorisation of facts”, while not testing the students on the understanding of facts. Although this issue cannot be blamed on the present government, it all comes back to the question whether this government will address the actual problems plaguing Indian education.

It won’t be surprising to see many other initiatives the Modi government will, in future, introduce to alter the education system. They probably find it easier to mould young minds.

In the week ahead, the talking point in schools will not be the Mary Kom movie or Calvin and Hobbes. It will be Mr. Modi's speech and his trips abroad, displayed on page 1, which will find mention in conversations of students, even as articles on the fate of Western Ghats and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2014 fade from Op-Ed pages and public memory.

Bincy Mathew writes on issues and events that strike her, sometimes with a serious focus, and the rest with a humourous touch.

August 29, 2014 Meena Menon
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