Can NEP help us forget Macaulay?
| Dr. Sanjay D. Jain - Head of Knowledge Center, Nagpur - 05 Oct 2020

National Education Policy (NEP) - 2020 raises new hopes of liberating the system from the clutches of Macaulay’s ideas and putting in place a system that can suit and serve us the best. However, the effective implementation of the new policy will alone help us to forget Macaulay in a true sense. A little peep in the history reveals how.

Prof. Sanjay Jain

The ills plaguing our education system are often attributed to the ideas introduced by Macaulay to suit the British rule 185 years back. Ironically, we continued following these ideas even after seven decades of independence. We remember Macaulay for what had been wrong with our education but we could never forget him in the sense that our education system had been mostly governed by his ideas.

History makes us aware of our glorious past before the British rule. A strong system of indigenous education was the backbone of this prosperity, which is amply evidenced by the existence of several renowned centers of learning such as Vikramashila, Nalanda, Somapura, Mahavihara, and Odantapuri, which attracted students from all parts of the world. They turned out several distinguished scholars like Aryabhatt, Chanakya, Charak, Sushrut, and Panini who made significant contributions to varied domains of knowledge such as medicine, science, arts, mathematics, astronomy, politics and war. Shashi Tharoor observed, “Nalanda University, which enjoyed international renown when Oxford and Cambridge were not even gleams in their founders’ eyes, employed 2,000 teachers and housed 10,000 students in a remarkable campus that featured a library nine storeys tall.” 

British rule saw a systematic destruction of our indigenous education system. British rulers found it difficult to govern our large country without the participation of our own people but also realised that the strong system of education existing then would not let this happen. Macaulay observed, “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” Led by these motives he promulgated an education policy in 1835 that replaced our indigenous education by the one that primarily served British interests.

This policy moved us away from our native and natural structures of learning for knowledge, skills and wisdom to the alien and artificial structures of learning for marks, grades and degrees. Education became exam oriented and heavily emphasized practices like cramming and rote learning. As the changes brought in by the policy were intended to produce followers (clerks or civil servants subservient to British authorities) instead of leaders; they discouraged original, creative and independent thinking and encouraged slavish notions. That our share of the world economy declined from 27 % in 1760 to 4.2% in 1950 had much to do with our weakened educational foundation. 

After independence we continued following Macaulay and continued suffering from the concomitant ills. For example, engineering education, which was one of the most prestigious streams earlier, faces a grim scenario today with 10 - 15 % accredited institutes, less than 20 % employability of graduates and about 50 % vacant seats. We did introduce some changes through preceding policy revisions but eluded confronting the fundamental premises of Macaulay. There were no alien rulers now but still we were ruled. Today’s education is a weak translation of our native education, which believed that objectives of education are not different from objectives of life. Macaulay’s system divorced and delinked education from life - life of an individual, society and nation.

NEP shows a huge promise in liberating Indian education from the strong grip of Macaulayism. Its recommendation to use mother tongue as the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond is profoundly important. It is well-known that mother tongue puts young children at their natural ease facilitating quick grasping, free expression, natural confidence and self-esteem. It is borne out by several studies that children who had their education in their mother tongue fared better than those who didn’t. Our native languages are evolved from our own culture and are thus far more effective in familiarizing children with the indigenous culture and knowledge systems. The recommendation brings hopes to large marginalised sections of society whose progress has been hampered mainly due to their lack of English orientation. However, it also doesn’t underestimate the importance of English that opened doors to international knowledge and improved our global competence. 

NEP envisages to free education from the tyranny of the rigid structures of exams, marks and syllabi through promotion of holistic, multidisciplinary and experiential learning at all levels. This is reflected in recommendations such as transition from a 10+2 to a 5+3+3+4 system, emphasis on vocational education at school level, reduction in curriculum to contain core essentials, low stake board exams, multiple entries and exit options in degree courses, no hard separation of curricular, extra and co-curricular activities, flexibility of choosing subjects and Academic Bank of Credits to facilitate easier movement between the institutions. NEP also envisages a strong foundation in knowledge and research through ideas like creation of the National Research Foundation, multidisciplinary universities and knowledge hubs. It aims to regain Nalanda traditions by promoting collaborative exchange programmes with best Universities abroad. 

Though NEP promises to restore the glory of our native education a lot will depend on how the policy recommendations are implemented at grass root levels in letter and spirit. At present Macaulay’s ideas have taken such deep roots in our psyche that the main hurdle in implementation will be our own reluctance in accepting that deeper roots of better education existed in our country before Macaulay. The success of NEP will be decided mainly by how effectively it helps us forget Macaulay and revive our age old education system that ensured us glory for millennia.


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