India was envisioned as a country that would be built on the principles of science and reason. However, in the early years, it was a big challenge for the country to emerge with a collective rational consciousness. From Daulat Singh Kothari to Yash Pal, and now K Kasturangan, we have kept our education in the hands of scientists. For a country wishing to advance in scientific and technological development, this was the right way to carry out its formulation policy. The new Education Policy 2020 has taken wonderful steps forward in ensuring that we raise a generation of scientists and scientific thinkers through the education we provide to our students.
The policy ambitiously aims for a radical transformation over the next two decades by providing essential equity to stakeholders, enriching the quality of education without increasing the financial burden and, above all, creating a system of accountability. The policy was not only designed to completely revamp our systematic education into a more porous learning process, but also to bring in an Indian lens. Yash Pal, speaking of the true spirit of education, told me “shiksha vo hoti hai jisme baat se baat nikle(education must produce a tangible effect), which I believe has been achieved with this policy.
The state’s exhortation to science and its education is not without precedent. We built our nation on science. However, dissolving disciplinary mandates with the NEP to study science provides a better ecosystem to foster great ideas. Making science available locally aids its acceptance and understanding by the masses, which contributes to the greater cause of enriching the scientific temperament and the research spirit. An education, deeply Indian, and a science, of distinctly Indian character, would also put an end to the access control which operates through the diktats of the West on the standardization of thought.
The policy not only helps decolonize by instilling a sense of nationalist commitment, but also engages in education based on Indian values. The attempt is to make education global from home, not the other way around. Our common sense of humanistic and global responsibilities must flow from our commitment to our country.
In the current dispensation, one thing that has come out in public conversation is that the state is skeptical of all forms of Western intellectual enthusiasm and expects verifiability of ideas. Unlike regimes that bow to Western thought not only in India but throughout the post-colonial developing world, I believe there is some movement in the direction of subjecting research to epistemological scrutiny before to accept any standard that was dictated by the western world and the NEP set the right standards.
Education is central to the idea of modernity in independent India. In our educational system, a certain aspect of European modernity has long persisted. This hampered Indian intellectual discourse by forcing it to look avidly at the West. In doing so, we have failed to create thinkers who can help us understand the structure and foundations of our own scientific thought. It is about the NEP, which, if executed well, might be able to raise a generation of Indian scientific thinkers who could help us make sense of our ideas of scientific modernity rooted in Indian scientific thinking.
Definitions, I must admit, are not easy to formulate in the 21st century given that postcolonial science and science education are deeply intertwined with colonial hangovers and practices. The discussion should also account for globalization as a new age form of intellectual colonialism, apart from which, creating demarcations and definitions is a huge task for the Indian intellectual.
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Once upon a time, we had our own mind in India. India thought, India felt and India spoke. It was responsive as well as productive. The NEP is an attempt to immunize our people against systematic attempts to curb our indigenous creative thinking. The government, I presume, wishes to create a world of knowledge lit by a festival of thoughts, a festival where everyone brings their own light and where geographical boundaries lose their meaning.
The time has passed. The test of our education system is our ability to explore truth and give it creative expression. Imitation and repetition can do no good, which the Prime Minister has explicitly said on several occasions. The NEP is also an attempt to unify our active engagement with creative thinking. With the NEP, we have the hope that the true nature of the Indian spirit can once again be ornamented with our educational system becoming a mixture of old and young, alpha and omega, everything and nothing.
The state is committed to working on public policies and diplomatic discourses that localize scientific knowledge and strengthen the character of India’s scientific enterprise to counter the deleterious effects of globalization in the 21st century.
Education must be intimately associated with the life of its people; unfortunately, our modern education has served only to produce the professions favored by the English educated elite. It is important but not at the cost of an education that does not reach the farmer, the grinder, the potter. The NEP, by truly Indianizing education and emphasizing learning in regional languages, goes a long way in creating equal learning opportunities. The idea is also to have modern schools, colleges and universities sprout from the ground instead of becoming pests feeding on commercial oak trees.
NEP makes our education authentically and creatively Indian. The imagination is of schools practicing agriculture, dairy farming, weaving on the best modern techniques, wrapped in one cloth – teachers, students and common people, culminating in Yatra Vishvam Bavatikanidam (where the world meets in a nest).
This column first appeared in the paper edition of May 25, 2022 under the title “A more local science”. Sharma is a science historian