Education in Moral Values A Fresh Look Required
Will the winds of freshness and change really blow in the MHRD? Some hope has indeed been generated by the new minister, particularly the manner in which the successor to Kapil Sibal began his tenure. M Pallam Raju has walked rather quietly to his Shastri Bhawan office—without much media glare. The minister assumed his new responsibility after performing a puja in the offices premises. That must have disturbed the group of self-proclaimed secularists who despise even the mention of terms like religion, worship, India’s contribution to world civilization! One would find them practically in every plan and programme of the MHRD. The expression of concerns on the lack of moral education by the minister attracted attention of all those who are sincerely concerned on this count. His immediate past predecessor hogged maximum media space far more than any of his colleagues in the initial months, May 2009 onwards. Nothing came out of the most of his high-sounding pronouncements on educational reforms.
Prior to that, the changeover in May 2004 was characterised by reckless campaign to malign all that was attempted and contributed by the earlier government. It appears the new minister is dexterously getting acquainted with his new task and it is indeed refreshing to observe that he had so far made no high-sounding proclamations. It is indeed in contrast to Kapil Sibal’s times. Recall his famous achievement: 44 deemed universities derecognised in a huff and another 44 were put on notice. All are functioning as before! Tremendous stress and mental strain was inflicted on lakhs of students, parents, teacher and others. Not many even recall the fate of much-hyped bill that was to eliminate the multiplicity of regulatory bodies in higher education; or the bill to establish tribunals to settle disputes between students, teachers and managements. When bodies like the UGC and universities like IGNOU do not get their regular Chairperson and Vice- Chancellor for years together, the MHRD certainly cannot be blamed for efficiency and a sound work culture. Creating an environment of increased internal efficiency and urgency is a tough proposition and the new minister may have to put in extra effort on this point.
The task before the MHRD is indeed complex, tough and challenging. There are no easy and simplistic solutions. Unhindered erosion of values and deterioration of morals and ethics all around must be incisively analysed to delineate the possible ways and means needed to reverse the trend. Any objective analysis would reveal that the emphasis on values and morals was gradually reduced in textbooks and school practices when, 1970 onwards, a select group of ideologically-constrained individuals took control of educational institutions. Even introductory write-ups about these, including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were removed from textbooks and other teaching learning materials in the name of secularism. The Gita was declared a Hindu religious text and hence unsuitable for lesson on it in school textbooks! Political compulsions permitted continuation of such a retrograde approach for decades together.
The implications and imports of such a lopsided approach were realised by those who had a foresight and faith in Indian culture and tradition of knowledge creation and its transfer to future generations. One of the most brilliant of the minds amongst luminaries of the freedom struggle, Rajagopalachari had very clearly pointed out what was wrong and what should really be done: “To misunderstand the secularity to which people think we are pledged, and to treat religion as untouchable is one of the many unfortunate follies our government has fallen into. It is not impossible, or even very difficult, to deal with and include religion in a nationwide effort to make men truly religious, each in the way shown by his or her own religion, and to add to it a spirit of understanding and respect for other people’s religion and way of life.” Such inputs have consistently come from numerous sources but have been discarded under short-sighted approach that sees future only in terms of the next election every time.
It is now universally acknowledged and accepted that education must be rooted to culture and heritage of the nation and the emerging aspirations and expectations of the young. Further, equally effectively, it should be committed to progress, ready to assimilate whatever is relevant and useful in terms of ideas, pedagogy and technology. The times of the alien and transplanted model of education evaporated much earlier. Sticking to it anymore would definitely amount to ignoring the obvious. The spirit in the above words of Rajaji was endorsed by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in a judgment delivered on September 12, 2002. The court inferred that teaching of basics of all the religions of the people of India to children to enable them to ‘know the commonalities and learn to respect differences wherever these exist’ was not against secularism and, on the contrary, it strengthens secularism in its true sense.
Indian State is secular and the Indian society is religious. There is no contradiction between the two. A truly religious person would invariably be truly secular. If the MHRD could think beyond the confines of inputs from a ‘group of favourites’ alone and attempt consolidating inputs from varied sources without prior prejudices, it can certainly make a much-needed move: education is as much a social responsibility as that of government. Further, education should be viewed beyond electoral politics and everyone should be invited to be a part of the national responsibility to take education to all.
Around seventy per cent of the schools mandated to be partners in implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act are functioning in conditions of severe deficiencies and deprivations. The private schools—the high-fee charging public schools—are unwilling to implement the RTE provision of reserving 25 per cent seats for weaker sections. Even after two and a half year of implementation, the RTE has not created even minor ripples in the system of education. It continues to prod along under shadows of unconcern for those who need maximum attention. Millions of migrant workers on construction sites practically have no functional provision for the education and health care of children anywhere in India. A visit to such sites in Gurgaon, Faridabad and Noida/Greater Noida would reveal the real state of affair regarding RTE implementation. Even the government-funded schools in such places tell the same old story of deficiencies and deprivation that have been allowed an unchecked steep downward slide all along.
In the realm of the RTE, out of 5068766 posts of teachers in states and UT’s, 1128915 are vacant as per the reports of MHRD. In UP and Bihar the vacant posts are 3.09 lakh and 2.60 lakh respectively. This situation has persisted for decades together. Around one-fourth of the serving teachers are untrained. Are the central and state governments really keen and sincerely committed to providing good quality elementary education to the children of last man in the line? .
The foremost task is to let people see a change in work culture right from MHRD to every government school. It requires intensive interactions with state governments. Teacher training institutions require multi-faceted support as the deterioration in this sector is at its lowest and everyone knows what negative impact a poorly trained teacher could create on thousands of children in their sensitive years. RTE shall have no meaning for millions of those who may complete eight years of education of poor quality, bereft of usable skill acquisition. The most sensitive and appropriate stage of the inculcation of moral values is during the stage of elementary education and that offers the maximum challenge to the new minister. People would like him to succeed.
By JS Rajput
(The author is former Director, NCERT)