Education must boost unity, end superstition

Learning in the present social context should lay more stress on inculcating social and ethical values that would bring Indians closer to each other.

 
By Brahm P Gupta
Published: Thursday 15 April 1993

-- (Credit: Pradip Saha / cse)THE PEOPLE'S level of education is considered an index of development and a nation's potential for growth. The concept of education needs to be defined in the context of its ability to meet the challenge of social change.

The growing concern over the erosion of values and increasing cynicism in society have brought into focus the need for curriculum readjustments so as to make education a forceful tool for the cultivation of social and ethical values. In our culturally pluralistic society, values fostered through education should have universal appeal and should be oriented towards national unity and social integration. Such an education would help to eliminate such social evils as obscurantism, superstition, fatalism, religious fanaticism and violence.
Children's literature In this context, the role of supplementary reading, both at school and at home, and of other forms of communication assume significance. Literature for children, designed to their levels of comprehension and to conform with national aspirations, can help them grow into responsible citizens. Writers for children, therefore, should draw upon the nation's rich cultural heritage, which is based on a synthesis of science and philosophy. Because the scientific content in our social traditions and customs can play a significant role in achieving this objective, it is imperative children's literature be given a role in the action programme of the new National Policy on Education.

The role of science in arousing the capability of the masses to make a social revolution is critical. It consists, first and foremost, of fostering a culture of scientific enquiry so that people move from sensory perceptions of their social experience to conceptions and analytical frames, from fatalistic prejudices to a realisation that they can change reality in their favour. Secondly, science brings to the masses systematic knowledge of the wider social structure of which their immediate environment is an organic part. Thirdly, science introduces them to the experience of initiatives taken elsewhere to change society.

The science popularisation movement is supposed to have its roots in Europe of the Industrial Revolution, when innovations came largely from humble craftsmen and artisans and not from learned scholars. Inventions depended for sustenance and vigour upon informal sharing of insights and experiences and formalising the knowledge concerning the laws of nature.
Involving people Since the Industrial Revolution, however, science and technology have become institutionalised and entry to these establishments is possible only with training and qualifications from specialised educational institutions. This has alienated the craftsperson, the artisan and the self-trained from creative ventures. Professionals, instead, have almost monopolised innovation and developed vested interests. The result is that people have become passive spectators.

Can the alienation of the people from the innovative process be overcome? One approach would be to popularise science and develop a scientific temper, but if this is pursued exclusively, it may have unwelcome results. First, it often ends up popularising elitist science. Second, popularising science while confining technological innovation to scientific and technological establishments would not reveal the symbiotic relationship between the two. Both flourish only when they reinforce each other. Third, science gets popularised as information from "experts" and not as understanding derived from experiment and action. Finally, it enables the elite to maintain its control of the generation, selection and diffusion of information.

The conclusion is clear: It is not the superficial form of the Industrial Revolution, but its essential content that must be replicated, enabling the people to be involved once again in the innovative process. This can happen only if the people participate in solving the real problems posed by their environment and in the developing technologies appropriate to their basic needs.

Democratisation of innovation must also be accompanied by a systematic dissemination of information. Though some popular science and science fiction books have been published, it is generally not available to the masses in a language they can understand. A bibliography would be useful and the material could be suitably classified and annotated in Hindi to benefit large sections of the people. The bibliography could be followed by an anthology in Hindi of popular science fiction and non-fiction, which could be translated subsequently into other Indian languages.

---Brahm P Gupta is a social science researcher and secretary general of the Indian Council of Writers for Children.

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