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Where Learning is Unlearning

Written by Saloni Verma

Today, as I sit to reflect about the semester gone by, my mind is flooded with the vibrant memories of the past six months. It seems it was just yesterday that I entered my college- Lady Shri Ram College for Women, yet it seems like I have been in this ecstatic place forever. This college has taught me more humongous lessons in one short semester than what my textbooks at school could teach me in a span of fifteen long years. Those lessons were disturbing at first. I often used to exclaim that those are blessed who choose to remain ignorant of the stereotypical societal constructs because initially it gave me a feeling of sheer helplessness. Every new day and every new class came to us as Pandora’s box of new revelations. Our library- which we often address as the ‘jungle of blasphemous ideas’- exposed to our raw minds the tyranny of institutions. I am sure I haven’t learnt even half the amount of facts I used to learn in a semester back at school. However, I am learning to develop a new critical insight which makes me see how these ‘truthful facts’ are often nothing but concoctions by patriarchal ideologies and by-products of religious fundamentalism.

 In college, the first task that we were blatantly asked to complete was to ‘unlearn’ what we had learnt so far in our schools. My lips stretch into a smile as I recollect our bewilderment and amusement in response to the blatant instruction. But this smile vanishes in no time as I am reminded of the importance of schools as institutions of elementary education. I live in a country where right to basic education is a Fundamental Right. But what can be the significance of this basic education that we are asked to bid adieu to as we set our sails in the stream of higher academics? What about that imperative part of population that doesn’t go for a higher education?

 The problem with our education system at school level is that it is largely guided by charged political sentiments. All the different governments are guilty of this manipulative interference, though there may be some variation in the degree of this interference. In the year 2012- during the governance of UPA II- there was a great hue and cry by the MPs against a number of cartoons in the text books of National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) for Political Science. The advisers appointed by the NCERT as well as some academics were utterly bemused by this radical political reaction. They asserted that the contents of the books were never intended to mock any specific political leader or class but the aim of the books was to actually engage and acquaint the students with politics. However, the different governments- from time to time- have tried to coerce the body to formulate books devoid of a critical insight, consisting of just formal information about various political institutions.

 Today, with the coming of NDA government, there is a growing tendency to impose the ‘nationalist perspective’ on the syllabus. Several regressive ideas are being encouraged and incorporated in books. Attempts have been made to give historical backing to stereotypical myths and mythical characters like Rama and Sita. The nationalist perspective can be lethal to the sense of historiography as it invokes baseless assumptions- like the ones that claim Sanskrit to be the mother of all languages or boast about the indigenous origin of the Aryans- in an obsession to project the fantastic supremacy of India over other nations. It appears the day is not far when the NCERT text books will resemble the erroneous book- Tajomay Bharat- published by the Gujarat State School.

 It is often said that the subjects of ‘Humanities’ stream are highly vulnerable to fabrication. However, having discussed about my experience with peers at various technical institutions, I came to realized that the ‘basic education’ provided at school level is not sound with respect to any subject or stream. The ‘scientific’ subjects- like Physics or Chemistry- often lack the required objective approach and follow a formal pedagogic structure whereby the students often resort to learning the texts by rote. This is the reason why India is increasingly losing her intellectual wealth as the students who go into research often choose to shift abroad in order to have access to broader horizons.

 The need of the hour is to radically reform the formal education system at school level in order to actively engage the students in their subjects and to provide them a critical insight. The aim of basic education should be to render to students a practical understanding and pragmatic approach. This can be brought about by increasing the autonomy of educational institutions and councils like NCERT and by making them immune against vested political influence. I have always dreamt of pursuing higher academics and I am eagerly looking forward to the day when I wouldn’t have to ask my students to ‘unlearn’ what they learn in school but to simply foster and enrich their learning.


About the author

Saloni Verma

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