Showing posts with the label Perspectives/Essays

Inane social science textbooks and the debates...

Sharing some thoughts on the ‘new’ social science textbooks recently released in Karnataka, the debates on which are hardly substantive and key questions continue to escape our attention. Once we go through this news report which laments the quality of the revised textbooks, (Click here ) it only goes to show how notions of quality are linked to very simplistic and shallow external attributes in popular educational discourses. For if the textbooks were not bad enough, so are the criticisms against them much of it being puerile. Spelling mistakes, missing pages seem to be the biggest drawback highlighted and more dismal is the criticism of absence of few names of persons and places, both Kannada and national. And while a big deal is being made of some ‘factual’ errors, the more important issue of nature of knowledge and models of historical inquiry that are so problematic in these textbooks remain unquestioned. Information masquerades as knowledge and both the textbook makers and its

Social conflict and Hindi cinema – a plea for resurrection of art and the politics of the possible

In recent years within the confines of what one sees as mainstream cinema there has been certain crop of Hindi films which have attempted to explore the seamier and often grisly side of our social existence – the world of crime, the underworld, violence, life on the margins, of the disenfranchised and the likes. Movies like Kaminey, Shanghai, Haider, Shor in the City, NH-10, comes to mind. What actually is seen distinguishing these films perhaps is not as much the themes (life of crime for example in itself has been de jure staple of popular Hindi cinema along with romance) but the treatment. Shorn of melodrama, crassness and kitschy sentimentality, many find certain refreshing use of film grammar even as they retain certain nativity (songs for instance like in Kaminey, Shor in the City or Haider). Many see in these films certain ‘realism’, where any gloss and glamour if present are viewed as more symbolic or metaphorical to build a plausible narrative – best exemplified in NH 10. I

Some problems with NCERT's history textbooks - a case in point

The NCERT history textbooks "Our Pasts" has been in effect for nearly 8 years now and it continues to be seen by many as best possible history textbook for school students written in post independent India. These particular set of textbooks from middle school (class VI) and above, themselves emerged in the context of the criticism of 'saffronization', that the preceding set of NCERT history textbooks, produced under the aegis of the then NDA government (in governance from 1998-2004) were seen to 'suffer' from. But with the NDA government back at the helm, and its education minister 'threatening' to once again review and change the educational policy, it is feared that history textbooks will be subjected to 'mytholization' , gross simplification in which large swathes of time and epochs under certain homogeneous cultural, social and religious categories will be 'lumped' together, like they were in its previous version. Indeed these

Social Sciences, CSR and the emergence of the Citizen - a view

( A truncated version of this article appeared in The Alternative) What does it mean for a corporate (for profit company) to be socially responsible? Also what does it mean for a citizen to be socially responsible? As such we seem to be living in a society where we see number of concerned individuals and a corporate class eager to 'improve living conditions' and participate in measures and efforts to fight poverty, corruption and provide access to a better quality of life. Nonetheless most, if not all efforts, at social intervention by civil society groups (the NGO's in particular that provide avenues for conscientious individuals to do 'something for the world of have nots, oppressed and dispossessed') and corporates do so without much recognition of certain lack of social and participative qualities whose absence greatly exacerbates, if not creates most problems of dispossession and disenfranchisement in the first place. For at several levels, part - if n

Stanley ka Dabba...warm, succulent, wholesome...BUT yet...

We don’t really come across many “children films” in India.   I believe it was S S Vasan, the old doyen of south Indian cinema and founder of Gemini studios, who once remarked that there cannot be any children’s films.   For children enjoy what we as adults enjoy and perhaps enjoy more. So an average MGR film or a Rajkumar film is as much a children’s film as they are a film for an adult.  For even if we seek to define a children’s film as a film which has a child or children as its protagonists, would Louise Malle’s Goodbye, Children , a film about a bunch of school kids in world II France be characterized as an children’s film? It would be more appropriate to refer it as an anti-war film. Similarly Vittorio de Seca’s Bicycle Theives which explores through its neo-realism the working class world of post war Italy with a child as one of its central characters can hardly be seen as a children’s film.   But let us not get into such definitions and conceptualizations of wh

Reimagining education, learning and society...some ramblings

Schools, learning, teaching, universal access, textbooks and more ...Matters educational are tenuously holding centre stage in contemporary India where otherwise facetious debates on corruption, gender violence, caste and communal fracases, economic stimulus and likes, form the cynosure of public attention,   determined and defined mostly by hyperventilating TV news anchors and some by scholars and experts  in ed and op ed pages of leading dailies. But in their discourses, issues connected to education emerge often in terms of numbers: poor enrollment, high drop out rates or when lamenting the qualitative aspects; poor infrastructure, pitiable computing, reading and writing abilities, ( resulting mostly from) woeful teaching standards. However such concerns appear very normalizing wherein other knowledge paradigms and possibilities of learning and teaching is barely taken cognizance of. So even when the tardy enforcement of RTE, viewed to be a progressive legislation to universaliz

Barefoot College...its cognitive and sociological relevance

A presentation by Bunker Roy the founder of Barefoot College, Tilonia in Rajasthan at a TED conference whose arguments and contentions and the way his vision and convictions have so actually panned out, materialized and converged at his college, only augments and further bolsters the perspective I had tried to put across in my previous post. Three cheers for Barefoot college !!! I would imagine colleges such as these appear to be far more relevant in terms of its cognitive appropriateness and sociological relevance than an IIT, an IIM or even a JNU for that matter. Hope one day I get to visit this place and glean more about its pedagogic processes and the cognitive and social implications of its curriculum. Here is the video: Its inspiring. 

Globalization, caste and its cognitive-social impact

Globalization as a conceptual category to explain various facets of change that this contemporary world defined by fractions, attritions, divisions  (and much of it violent)  is witnessing, emerges as a useful shorthand. Indeed the very bloody attritions and convulsions, widening social, economic, gender and cultural schisms and disparities themselves are undoubtedly aggravated, if not precipitated, by it.  But then being a shorthand,  many of the actual and finer workings of globalization's negative impact is often missed and inadequately understood. I for one particularly feel that the educational consequences in general and globalization's cognitive impact has not been adequately and sufficiently recognized and understood. That globalization with its determining attribute of single division of labour, not just in the context of the developed world like North America or Western Europe but even for a country like India, results in "white collarization" of our econ

CBSE's Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation : comprehensively flawed

In the euphoria among the progressive circles over the passage of the Right to education Bill (RTE), many do not appear to have taken cognizance of or are perhaps oblivious to a more regressive directive of CBSE. This directive of CBSE called CCE expects teachers to be constantly evaluating (you can even call it policing) their students under so many parameters. This I argue is antithetical to any genuine learning and understanding. It once again puts tremendous pressure on school teachers who are more likely to be spending much of their school hours (and post school hours as well) filling in details and churning out data in vast quantities. Teachers will be left with little time to dwell on any subject or topic, to be creative, to experiment and engage in any meaningful dialogue with children. Rather than helping students to be deeper learners, thoughtful and reflective individuals, measures such as CCE  with its emphasis on mere generation of data and numbers,  reduces learning to a

Kapil Sibal and the examination debate...barking up the wrong tree?

The exams results are out and each and every school worth its salt, pepper and sugar are proudly advertising the jaw dropping performances of their worthy students - 100% passes with more than 50% of its students securing not less than 90% marks in all subjects - maths, sciences, social sciences, languages and many securing centums (sic). The average pass percentages in most of the private schools in Tamil nadu and Karnataka let it be those affiliated to numerous state boards, cbse, icse hovers somewhere between 70-80%! Coming to my own bunch of students and their performance in social sciences - well the results left me breathless!

Slumdog Millionaire: A R Rahman, Globalization and Pedagogy

So Rahman has made it. And twice over. Well, what else does one say when one gets the most coveted cinema award - The Oscar and two of them to boot. But not just the critics of Rahman's music ( and I'm not one) but even his fans (which I certainly am) would concur that Slumdog...was average music and very average by Rahman's own prodigious standard.

Teach India or Cheat India? - a dissenting note on TOI's Teach India campaign

So much is being made in very self righteous and self-congratulatory tone of Times of India's Teach India campaign. Now that Aamir Khan has also joined the effort there is this great (though misplaced ) feel good factor. The news reports being carried on this campaign where we come across "enthusiastic", "energetic", "spirited" volunteers on the one hand and school dropouts, street kids with their "bubbling energy", "eager anticipation", "innocent eyes" which has seen so much of life's seamier side, on the other, all sounds so corny and bromodic.

What is historical thinking?

I have been reading and rereading this wonderful article by Sam Wineburg of Stanford University and Richard Paxton titled 'Expertise and the teaching of history'. (Click here for a website titled maintained by Prof Wineberg). They argue, rightly, that the best way for engendering historical thinking is giving first hand, children different primary sources related to a common event or episode. Since each source carries with it biases, motives and problems, children need to be helped to sift through them and identify the problems and finally arrive at a more "objective" understanding of the past or an event. I have no disputes here. One needs to be sensitized to the fact that knowledge about the past comes from a careful and systematic study of primary sources.

Common sense and history

Helping students to arrive at historical outlooks through concrete evidences Over the last four weeks, there were occasions for me, where I encountered history in action so to speak or more specifically reaffirmed my belief that past is not what our commonsense would have us believe. Second, many of our practices, customs, "values" including language we use and the way we use it are again historically conditioned. Common sense tell us that India has mostly been a Hindu society (if not a nation) before the advent of Muslim political rule. But if we say that ancient India was largely Hindu we need to make a qualification and a very big one at that. Hinduism, as it is practised today and as the way people see it, was never the kind of dominant force and religion in India till about 400 AD, that it is today. It was Buddhism which formed and shaped the world view and sensibilities of the majority of its people in India till well about 1000 AD (most certainly till the beginnings

Prof Neeladri Bhattacharya's take on history textbooks- podcast

Continuing with my series and critique of the ncert history textbooks I'm including a podcast of Prof Neeladri Bhattacharya's presentation on history textbooks at a seminar titled: History Textbooks and the Profession: Comparing National Controversies in a Globalizing Age, which was held in the University of Chicago in May 2007. Prof Neeladri Bhattacharya, currently professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi has been responsible for the new ncert history textbooks which were written under his supervision by a team of academics. It is a very engaging presentation where Prof Bhattacharya raises several issues related to history texts in India and leads us to the circumstances which brought him and his team to write the current crop of textbooks. He also acknowledges criticisms, criticism not just by the Hindutva forces but even the left, which echoed some of my own reservations against this book.

The new NCERT history textbooks 2007 - A critique

The much maligned, misunderstood and maltreated subject of history can finally be seen as being given some respectability, credence and relevance thanks to the new history textbooks brought out by NCERT. I personally see some hope for history with these new text books which seeks to present history not so much as past information but as a mode of inquiry. History in these books comes out as more contextual, multi-dimensional and much more than mere political narratives. For example the class IX and X books are a sheer delight as for the first time, students are sought to be given some exposure to issues connected to cricket and nationalism!!! Howazzat!!! By including chapters on pastoral society and the effect of colonial forest policy, contemporary environmental issues have also been sought to be historicised. The chapter on clothing emphasizes the political and economic implication of Gandhi's use of Khadi. Then there are chapters which give insights into literature and art

My framework for teaching history

Often wondered what history and history teaching is all about...?? Is history a mere study of the past? Does accumulation of information about the past tantamount to mastery of history?? I have always maintained that if history is seen through such a prism, it becomes a task to labour on history's 'merits' or 'relevance. What purpose does it serve to know history merely in such terms? can win few quizzes or at best it can be one of the optional papers for the IAS exams...and then?? And then nothing....

'Unburdening history from past'

Well, I'm back after a long long time....been dwelling on some issues connected both to history and history teaching and i ultimately figured that current trends in historiography would actually help children more than anything else in recognising history's worth as a subject beyond chronology of events. Read on....

Indian forts - An attempt to historicize

The Jodhpur fort Forts as defensive measures existed in ancient India. The two towns of Mohenjo-daro and Harrapa on the Indus river were themselves fortified particularly the granary in the former which was specifically fortified located at a height of 50 feet. Archaeologically, very few remains have been found of forts belong to the early vedic and later vedic periods, though the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharatha, give extensive references of forts. Ayodhya’s was a fortified town which according to the epic had “walls that extended upto twelve measured leagues from end to end. High are her ramparts strong and vast…” The Shanthi Parva stresses that the king should reside in city defended by a citadel, of having abundant stock of grain and weapons, protected by impenetrable trenches…” (And hey…wasn’t Indira also referred to as Punrandar…destroyer of forts???) From about the Mauryan period, we have further archaeological evidence of forts in the ancient period in India. Further

What is 'good' history teaching all about??

Ms Srivastava is a committed history teacher. She is very passionate about history, in particular Indian history. She tries to make the subject as hands on as possible by giving lot of activities to the students that includes modeling, art work, creative writing, charts and she even takes students to field visits where ever possible. Her conception of Indian history goes something like this: India has a very rich past and heritage, 5000 years of history. India had some of the finest monarchs like Asoka, Kanishka, Chandragupta Vikramaditya, Harsha. India also was extremely plural in its ethos with so many religions, ethnicities, mores absorbed into its socio-cultural matrices. India also had tremendous contribution to make in the domains of science. Plastic surgery was discovered in India. The concept of zero was discovered in India. And Indian art?? What could ever surpass the beauty and colour of the murals at Ajanta or the elegant craftsmanship of Khajuraho temples or the amazing s