The Perspective of Major Education Commissions 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 Radhakrishnan Commission as well as the Education policies of Independent India. The perspective of other major Education Commissions will be published in the next issues.

On 17th March 2022, the Department of Education, Government of Gujarat issued a circular [Resolution No .: J-sh-bh / 1221 / si. fa.-9 / N (Part-1)] on introducing Gita in the schools. The rationale behind this move was to introduce “the values and principles contained in the Bhagavad Gita as part of the integration of Indian culture and the Indian Knowledge System.” The government tried to connect this move with National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

The circular said, NEP 2020 “emphasizes on trying to instill in students a sense of pride and connection to India’s rich, diverse, ancient and modern culture and systems of knowledge as well as traditions. This research is essential for the students of the state schools to be acquainted with the glorious heritage of Indian culture and to be proud of being Indian so that Indian culture is integrated in the daily life and school experiences of the students.”

The circular presented following resolutions:

  1. Inclusion of Indian culture and knowledge system in school education from the academic year 2022-23.

In the first phase, the values and principles contained in Shrimad Bhagwad Gita should be introduced as per the understanding and interest of the children in Std. 6th to 12th in the state schools.

  • Introduction of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita in the curriculum of comprehensive education of Std. 6 to 8 shall be given in the form of story, reading, recitation, etc. And this will have to be evaluated.
  • Introduction of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita in  the first language textbook of standard 9 to 12  shall be given in the form of story, reading, recitation, etc.  And this will have to be evaluated.
  • Reading and Recitation of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita should be included in the prayer programme.
  • Various competitions and creative activities like Shloka Gaan, Shloka Purti, elocution, essay, drama, drawing, Quiz competition, etc. based on Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, should be organised in the schools.
  • The main literature study material for Std. 6 to 8 (Printed, Audio-Visual, etc.) should be prepared by Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training (GCERT), Gandhinagar.
  • Main Literature / Study Materials for Std. 9th to 12th (Printed, Audio-Visual, etc.) shall be prepared by State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (GSHSEB), Gandhinagar.
  • Printing and Distribution of this Literature / Study materials shall be done by Gujarat State School Textbook Board, Gandhinagar.

This circular is widely debated. Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have also followed the suit by showing intent to introduce Gita and Ramcharitmanas. This circular has reopened the age-old debate of how far this policy of introducing religious education in public education is feasible in the secular system of education and how far it is healthy to introduce one sacred text or sacred texts from one religion in the multi-religious and multi-cultural society like India.

The society has largely given three types of responses in the context of introduction of Gita and Ramcharitmanas:

  1. This is unacceptable because India is a secular country and the state will be neutral towards all religions and at the same time state will not interfere in the matters of religion.
  2. Instead of just introducing Gita, the states also need to introduce the sacred texts of all religions and ensure the plural ethos of the Constitution in the curriculum.
  3. Gita is part of Indian Knowledge System and Tradition and there is nothing wrong in introducing sacred Hindu texts in the curriculum.

Is this the first time the current government is introducing religion in the curriculum? No. In this study report, a thorough analysis of important education commissions and education policies will be made to understand the gaps in the current approach of the government in introducing religious text in the curriculum of the school education and university education. It is interesting to note that, the journey of religion in the education can be divided into following stages:

  1. Colonial Period: In this period the British Government tried to follow the principle of neutrality towards imparting teachings of any religion in the education.
  2. From Radhakrishnan Commission (1948) to Sri Prakasa Committee (1959): In this period it was felt that due to the idea of ‘neutral approach towards religion’ Indian youth was facing the issue of moral decay. For this reason the religious education was widely debated and the idea of ‘natural religion’ and ‘consensual values’ were introduced in the education.
  3. Kothari Commission (1964-66) to Revised NPE (1992): In this period instead of mentioning the term “religion” common values of all the religions and founders of the religion was introduced.
  4. NCF (2000): During this NCF by referring to Radhakrishnan Commission (1948) and Sri Prakasa Committee (1959) the idea of education of all religions was brought back by using the term “religion”.
  5. NCF (2005): In NCF 2005, instead of referring to religious education or value education, the framework introduced the idea of ‘peace education’.
  6. NEP 2020: In NEP 2020 the idea of Indian tradition is brought back with reference to the Indic culture and language.

Radhakrishnan Commission (1948-49):

After Independence, the Radhakrishnan Commission (1948-49) was the first official commission where the government had talked about religious education. The question of religious education was discussed in the separate chapter (Chapter 8) of Radhakrishnan Commission Report (pp. 250-265).

In this report it has been acknowledged that the teaching of religion was an essential part of Pre-British Period (during both Hindu and Muslim rules). Then the British had a policy of ‘religious neutrality’ (Dr. Alexander Duff 1853, The Dispatch of 1854 and Lord William Bentick 1858).

Lord William Bentick (1858) said, “The fundamental principle of British rule the compact to which the Government stands solemnly pledged, is strict neutrality.”

He further added that, “In all schools and colleges supported by government, this principle cannot be too strongly enforced, all interference, and injudicious tampering with the religious beliefs of the students, all mingling, direct or indirect teaching of Christianity with the system of instruction ought to be positively forbidden.”

Education Commission 1882 recommended, “That an attempt be made to prepare a moral textbook based upon the fundamental principles of natural religion, such as may be taught in all Government and non Government College.”

Mr. K.T. Telang (member of the commission) also has defined the “Natural Religion” as, “Teaching the principles common to all religious creeds to the student whose parents adopt that creed.”

At one side The Calcutta University Commission (1917-1919) ignored the question of religious education by citing it as “in a country, religions seemed to be a source of strife and disunion.” The Central Advisory Board (1944-46) said, “Curriculum devoid of all ethical basis will prove barren in the end.”

In the context of constituent assembly debates, by citing relevant articles [19, 21, 22(1), 22(2)] Radhakrishnan Commission had differentiated teaching dogma and teaching philosophical study of religion. The commission said, “There shall be no sectarian indoctrination in State institutions. But history of religion and of religious institutions, comparative religions, philosophy of religion can all be studied even in institutions maintained wholly out of State funds.”

Further it added, “The constitution makes out that the State should not mix up with the encouragement of any particular form of religion. It provides equal opportunities for all religions. There are no special privileges or special disabilities for any religion. This principle is in accord with the spirit of democracy.”

At various points in the report the commission discouraged dogmatic teaching of religion. The philosophical basis for such a conclusion is that the commission has believed in the goodness of all religions.

The commission said, “In spite of the bypaths, devious lanes and dead end alleys of the history of religions, the road for all their winding had but a single direction.”

At the end the commission recommended to include all the great personalities of all the religions and culture in the curriculum. It also recommended bringing universalist character from all the scriptures of the world to be studied.

Ambedkar and Gandhi on religious education: Both Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi happened to be two founders of this nation. Their opinion regarding including religion in education is very important. During discussion in Constituent Assembly debates on religious education in the schools Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said, “If religious instruction given in the District or Local Board was confined to the children of the majority community, it would be an abuse of Article 21, because the Muslim community children, or the children of any other community, who do not care to attend these religious instructions given in the schools would be nonetheless compelled by the action of the District Local Board to contribute to the District Local Board Funds.”[ Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. VII, No. 21, P. 883.]

But in the context of discussion on Article 22, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had called ‘dogma’ because it believes in one God and Prophet Muhammad [ﷺ] as last prophet. So, he advised philosophical study of religions over the dogma in education.

In 1938, in the context of Wardha Scheme, when asked about the place of religion in the scheme, Mahatma Gandhi replied that, “We have left out the teaching of religions from the Wardha Scheme of education because we are afraid that religions as they are taught and practised to-day, lead to conflict rather than unit). But, on the other hand, I hold that the truths that are Common to all religions can and should be taught to all children.” Gandhi found teaching religion in the schools can have dreadful impacts but he also advised to impart common ethics of all religions in the schools.

Following points can be said to be highlights of Radhakrishnan Commission:

  • Impart religious education of all the religions.
  • Introduction of all great religious and cultural personalities.
  • Impart the philosophical aspect of the religion rather than imparting dogma.
  • Impart value education from common ethics and values of all the religions.
  • The idea of natural religion.

(to be continued)

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