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  Books   09 Jul 2022  Book Review | Teach our smaller citizens to know, not ignore, the world

Book Review | Teach our smaller citizens to know, not ignore, the world

Published : Jul 9, 2022, 11:55 pm IST
Updated : Jul 9, 2022, 11:55 pm IST

The other tragic story of neglect that is told through these writings is that of the teachers

 Coverpage of 'Smaller Citizens'. (By Arrangement)
  Coverpage of 'Smaller Citizens'. (By Arrangement)

This slim volume of essays by one of India’s best-known educationists must be read by everyone who has anything to do with school education. The essays are based on speeches, lectures and previously published material and deal with important aspects of school education with reference to raising Indian citizens. Some of the essays explore the past so that the reader is helped to understand how the present state of affairs has come to be. The essays bring home the woeful lack of serious research on children’s living and social experience. It becomes clear that the government’s focus has largely been on numbers and statistics rather than flesh and blood children. At the very beginning, the author states in the prologue, that “schools and colleges socialise the young to ignore the world or to fear it rather than approach it with the passion to understand it or engage with it.”

The idea of an education that will contribute to peace comes up as a refrain in these writings. Kumar demonstrates that presently school education in most countries tends to perpetrate traditional hostilities and even encourages violence. To combat this and to bridge the gap between the concept or theory of education and the system of education, there must be broad educational reforms.

However, an overhaul of education must be prefaced by a clear understanding of the underlying problems — looking for immediate solutions will not help in the long run. Glimpses of the problems and complications that beset school education in India are offered to the reader in each of the essays.

A central concern in current times is encapsulated in the piece, “Regimentation and Nationalism”. Increasingly, the danger of the schools becoming an instrument in the hands of the state is becoming real. Indeed, Krishna points out, that there is a conflict between the development of citizenship and humanity itself. The sad truth as underlined by him, is that children have never been considered as an important social category. The neglect of primary education in India since independence, is an accepted fact. The Right to Education Act, 2009, brought some hope but the author feels that its dilution has already begun. The Supreme Court verdict on the universalisation of primary education gave a clear analysis of the scheme of things. This analysis, says Krishna, must be read and assimilated by administrators as well as teachers, if the RTE is to succeed.

The other tragic story of neglect that is told through these writings is that of the teachers. The status of schoolteachers, especially primary schoolteachers, is pathetic and there has been no effort to address their plight. Moreover, their training is alarmingly inadequate and lacks the rigour that the training of teachers requires.

The attitude of private schools has been severely criticised by Kumar. The “culture of extravagance” that they have developed in recent years accompanied by unabashed displays of “their five-star luxuries” do not sit well with our educational priorities. Kumar tries to show that the inclusion of children from the poorer sections of society would actually enrich those enrolled in such schools.

Some of the writings in this collection are poignant stories of the persecution of children in different parts of India. A little boy in a school in Madhya Pradesh, is beaten up so ruthlessly by two of his teachers that he collapses. His backbone had been smashed as a result of the thrashing and he eventually dies. In Tamil Nadu, four young girls embrace death by jumping into a well — so panic-stricken were they of their parents’ reaction to their poor academic performance. The conflict between the aims of children’s socialisation at home and that of their school is expressed in the piece entitled “Leela Dube’s Poser”.

A gleam of hope shines through the gloom in the last essay, “A Pedagogy of Freedom and Peace”. This hope comes in the form of the artist-philosopher, Devi Prasad’s theory of peace which he developed as an art teacher of children. Art is presented as ‘a fundamental principle of life’ and importantly, it brings dignity to the teacher’s role.

This volume of essays is certain to give the reader a better understanding of the problems that riddle the education system in India. The follies of different governments, the red tape that accompanies bureaucracy, the complexities that are generated by caste and poverty and more, have contributed to the sorry state of primary education in India. But along with this much needed understanding, these writings will trouble the reader deeply about the way our society treats its children and their teachers. Indeed, we need to be troubled and shaken out of our complacency if we wish to do something about our “smaller citizens”.

Smaller Citizens

By Krishna Kumar

Orient BlackSwan

pp. 149, Rs.395

Tags: krishna kumar