The Perspective of Kothari Commission and Education Policies of Independent India

Sadath Hussain studies the circular issued by the Department of Education, Government of Gujarat to introduce the Gita in the schools of the State, in the perspective of the Kothari Commission as well as the Education policies of Independent India.

Education Commission (1964-66), known as Kothari Commission, has identified the growing moral decay in the society and at the same also acknowledged the growing awareness among the educationists and the state on imparting the value education at all stages of education. In this regard the commission gave the example of the University Education (Radhakrishnan) Commission (1948) and Sri Prakasa Committee (1959). The commission also identified the importance of value education to our educational system. They also identified lack of enthusiasm among the institutions in implementing the recommendations on value and spiritual education by the previous education commissions.

The commission had opined that, state should maintain the defined attitude of religious education and the concept of secularism. State should not favour or discriminate against any religious community and the instructions in religious dogmas will not be provided in the state run schools. The state has to distinguish between “religious education” and “education about religions”.

The commission said, “It is necessary for the multi-religious democratic state to promote a tolerant study of all religions so that its citizens can understand each other better and live amicably together.”

They suggested introducing well-chosen content about the major religions in the syllabus as part of general education or education about citizenship in schools, colleges and universities. Common courses shall be designed on the subject of religious and spiritual instruction and common textbooks for such purpose shall be prepared at the national level of each religion with the help of the experts from all religions. In this textbook the fundamental similarities between major religions of the world and broadly comparable moral and spiritual values shall be included.

The Kothari Commission gave following recommendations:

  • Implementing University Education Commission (1948) by the centre and the state to introduce education of moral, social and spiritual values in all institutions.
  • Moral and spiritual instructions should be taught as recommended by the Sri Prakasa Committee (1959) in one or two periods in the week apart from regular time tables of schools.
  • The private educational institutions also should follow these policies.
  • Apart from value education as an integral part of the syllabus, schools should arrange value education after school hours with the help of special teachers from different communities for this purpose.
  • Stories drawn from the great religions of the world taught to derive moral and ethical values. The commission acknowledged that all religions stress certain fundamental characters and values such as honesty, truthfulness, consideration for others, reverence for old age, kindness to animals, and compassion for the needy and the suffering.
  • In the last two years of secondary school, a place should be found for the study of the essential teachings of the great religions.
  • The University departments in comparative religions should be especially concerned with the ways in which these values can be taught wisely and effectively and should undertake preparation of special literature for use by students and teachers.

NATIONAL POLICY FOR EDUCATION 1968 AND 1986:

Since the issue of moral and spiritual instruction was widely debated in the previous education commissions, an exclusive committee for this purpose was also constituted in 1959 by the Central Advisory Board of Education. That committee has replaced religious education to ‘Moral and spiritual instruction’. This is discussed in the above paragraphs. Since then the state policies largely used Moral and spiritual values.

Keeping in mind the recommendations of the Education Commission (1964-66), the Ministry of Education, Government of India brought a National Educational Policy within the framework of Education Commission (1964-66). This policy gave equal emphasis on development of science and technology and the cultivation of moral and social values. It envisioned the education system of producing young men and women of character and ability committed to national service and development. This policy wanted to introduce composite culture and Indian traditions through language education of regional languages, Hindi and Sanskrit. The policy wished to bring the unique contribution of Indian languages to the cultural unity of the country.

The National Educational Policy of 1986 emphasised the national integration and adherence of national values and concerns through introduction of national core curriculum, observance of secular, scientific and moral values, inculcation of understating of composite culture of India with rich diversity.

This policy also recommended instituting a special study value-oriented education. For this purpose NCERT and the state governments should collaborate in “suggesting broad parameters of values of integrity, truth, devotion, loyalty, etc. with particular reference to their embodiment in Indian heritage, so as to blend naturally with the overall educational process.”

NCF 2000:

During 2000 the NDA government introduced NCF which had a similar framework too.

Both in NEP 2020 and NCF 2000 the sacred texts of Hinduism were connected with value education and modern disciplines and the argument was made how this knowledge system (Indian Knowledge System in NEP 2020) is indigenous to this land and rooted in the cultural ethos of this land.

Some points from NCF 2000 regarding religious education:

  • India had an advanced system of education and the world’s first universities which presented a consummate example of education based on philosophy and religion and at the same time stressed the study of mathematics, history, astronomy, maritime and even the laws of economics and public administration. The Chhandogya Upanishad (Chapter VII, Section 1) mentions eighteen different subjects of study including areas such as natural disaster management, mineralogy, linguistics, science of elements, and science of defense. (p.4)
  • What is required today is not religious education but education about religions, their basics, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions. (p.13)
  • NCF 2000 referred to The Chauhan Committee (1999) to introduce religions. (p.13)
  • NCF 2000 also talked about teaching all the religions. The framework said, “Education about religions must be handled with extreme care. All steps must be taken in advance to ensure that no personal prejudice or narrow minded perceptions are allowed to distort the real purpose of this venture and no rituals, dogmas and superstitions are propagated in the name of education about religions. All religions therefore have to be treated with equal respect (Sarva Dharma Sambhav) and that there has to be no discrimination on the ground of any religion (Panthnirapekshata).” (p.14)
  • It had acknowledged the idea of multi-religious, multicultural and multilingual social nature of the country. (p.18)
  • In the context of value education the framework said, “Since India is the most ennobling experiment in spiritual co-existence, education about social, moral and spiritual values and religions cannot be left entirely to home and the community. School education in the country seems to have developed some kind of neutrality toward the basic values and the community in general has little time or inclination to know about religions in the right spirit. This makes it imperative for the Indian school curriculum to include inculcation of the basic values and an awareness of all the major religions of the country as one of the central components.” (p.23)
  • In the context of “School Plan” the framework had talked about “simple and interesting stories about the lives and teachings of prophets, saints and sacred texts of different religions; essential teachings of the major world religions, comparative study of the philosophy of religions; Schools may organize joint celebrations of the important occasions and festivals of major religions and cultural groups”.

Though NCF 2000 advocated imparting of the values of the major religions and cultures, still a section of educationists and experts called it a “saffronisation of education”. This section of educationists found that introduction of religion in education anyway not consistent with the Article 28 of the constitution. In 2002 a group of activists and civil society went to the Supreme Court citing, NCF “fundamentally militated against the settled principle inhering in Article 28” (Sethi 2018). The Supreme Court dismissed the plea, saying NCF 2000 did not violate the idea of secularism. One of the judges said in the judgment that there is a need to distinguish between religious instruction and religious education. “It is the former, which is prohibited in a secular state – the latter that should introduce pupils to religious philosophies without indoctrinating them, or curbing their independent thinking is to be encouraged. It is an experiment which needs caution and vigil.”

Analysing the judgment, Manisha Sethi (2018) argued, “Nonetheless as for J. Shah, for him too, the English word “religion” is inadequate in fully conveying “the Indian concept of religion”, which is dharma. She writes: “Hindus believe in Vedas. The word ‘Dharma’ has a very wide meaning.” Note how quickly the Indian concept of religion elides into a Hindu, Vedic one, and how sanatan dharma comes to stand in for natural religion.” In short, Sethi (2018) feared that in the name of ‘Natural Religion’ there is a possibility of introducing Sanatani and Vedic education or religious education of Majoritarian religion. During NCF 2000 similar things happened during this time through textbook content.

One more study (Vishweshwaran, Kamala, Witzel, Manjrekar, Bhog, and Cakravart 2009) on this subject argues that in garb of NCF 2000 many states ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made changes to the textbooks of Social Science and History. The BJP government in Gujarat was the first state to revise the state textbooks to bring in Hindu Nationalist Framework and Islamophobia. In March 2002, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of NCF on the ground that the NCF had not received the approval of CABE (Central Advisory Board on Education).

NCF 2005:

In NCF 2005, the document instead of invoking value education, religious education, moral education used “Peace Education” to address hatred and prejudice. This document has acknowledged the plural nature of the religion existing in our country and urged the education system to respond to the cultural pluralism in the country because all the religious and cultural groups have equal rights to co-exist and flourish.

As part of curriculum NCF 2005 suggested Peace Education and Peace Activities. The document said, “We live in an age of unprecedented violence – local, national, regional and global. Education often plays a passive, or even insidious role, allowing young minds to be indoctrinated into a culture of intolerance, which denies the fundamental importance of human sentiments and the noble truths discovered by different civilizations. Building a culture of peace is an incontestable goal of education.” For this the framework has recommended to celebrate the cultural and religious diversity of India in schools.

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION

From the time of the British to NEP 2020 the idea of religious instruction can be divided into four types. First, during the colonial period the British maintained the policy of neutrality towards all religions but the Radhakrishnan Commission argued that still the British had bias towards missionary education. Secondly, the ideas proposed by the Radhakrishnan Commission (1948), Mudaliar Commission (1953), Sri Prakasa Committee (1959), Kothari Commission (1964-66), etc. which talked about the idea of including value system and ethics of major religions exist around the world through integrating stories of prophets and saints by deriving ethics out of it and providing an hour in the week exclusively for value and spiritual education and this should be imparted after school hours with due consent of the parents.

Thirdly, the idea proposed by NCF 2005 where instead of talking about the religious/value education the framework has talked about the “Peace Education”. Lastly, the idea of NCF 2000 and NEP 2020 which gave reference to the Indian tradition along with including the ethics from various religions. But practically, frameworks like NCF 2000 have paved the ways to communalise the textbooks and include Islamophobic content in the textbook. But today after introducing NEP 2020 the state is vehemently introducing the scriptures from one single religion. This suggests the arrogance of majoritarianism inside and outside the legislation. The current move of introduction of the Gita in Gujarat needs critical reflection on the response the civil society gives. If we give a response on the lines of Education commissions prior to 1966 then the current dispensation may argue that Sanatan Dharm is a natural religion.

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