Neglect of secular education made the tree ugly

That education system which imparted religious education at the cost of sowing the poisonous seed of neglect of this-worldly sciences in Kannadigas is not beautiful. It is the embodiment of ugliness.

In the previous article, I argued that two flaws severely limited the quality of India's indigenous education system before the British, and that one of them continues to do so even today. In this article I will go into detail about the first flaw, which can be called as the neglect of secular education. Note that by this term, I mean the neglect of this-worldly sciences. I do not mean that principles of all religions should have been taught (to mean this is actually a corruption of the term secular)! This flaw characterized education all over what is called India today before the British took over the education system.

Gladly, this first flaw no longer persists in today's education system, and I'd say mainly due to India's brush with western civilization - what Tagore called as western society. Why talk about this flaw when it no longer persists? For two reasons: one, to clarify history; and two, because although this flaw does not persist any more, teaching methods and instruments used when this flaw plagued India are still in vogue. In fact, I could argue that the second flaw goes hand in hand with the first, and persists because of the hangover of the first.

The second flaw, for those looking for a summary, is the flaw of an unscientific approach towards language education and medium of instruction. When I talk about this flaw, I have only Karnataka in mind but much of what there is to say about this flaw is applicable to the whole of South India.

This second flaw continues to plague the education system in Karnataka today. However, I cannot claim this of other states, because my knowledge of the quality of education in other Indian states (that too, those outside South India) is negligible. Based on the little I know, I can only conjecture that the situation is possibly very similar in all South Indian states because all the major South Indian languages belong to the family of Dravidian languages which has nothing to do with Sanskrit (which was generously used in South Indian schools, especially high schools). Tamil Nadu, very likely, is not plagued by this second flaw any more, although that state is making a mistake in trying to completely isolate itself from the influence of other languages.

Most philosophers, educationists and politicians who have made sweeping claims about the "high quality" of education in the whole of India before the British (such as M. K. Gandhi, Dharampal and now Prof. Tooley) have been either ignorant or repentant of the linguistics of South Indian languages, and have therefore overlooked the second flaw. The first one is easy to overlook if one is blinded by the need to portray everything in Indian history as golden. India is big and mindbogglingly diverse, and eludes the knowledge of its tallest leaders and brightest thinkers. But I digress; I will return to the second flaw in the next article.

Returning to the first flaw, the first thing to note about it is this: it is difficult for us - I mean the post-independence generation - to imagine an education system where only religious and ethical education is imparted. It is difficult for us to imagine not having secular education, not having to learn basic mathematics and science in elementary school. Yet, this was exactly the case in elementary schools all over India.

I have no doubt that M. K. Gandhi actually referred to this first flaw - beautiful in his mind - when he described indigenous Indian education as a beautiful tree. To Gandhi, I am sure, India's education system was beautiful because it inculcated mainly religious and ethical principles in students, whereas the British "uprooted that whole system" and replaced it with secular education. Gandhi would rather have schools teach the principle of Ahimsa and spin Khadi using medieval apologies to spinning instruments instead of studying Calculus or Thermodynamics (as an aside, I'd like to point out that Rabindranath Tagore differed with Gandhi bitterly here). He probably considered as literate anybody and everybody who could tell the tale of the Pandavas in Mahabharata. That's religious education to be sure, but that's not what the world calls as literacy.

I must hasten to add that I have nothing against religious education as long as it does not eclipse secular education, i.e., education in this-worldly sciences. I understand that Gandhi's primary objective was to actually move youth away from this-worldly sciences so that they can completely subjugate themselves to the ideal of India's independence; perhaps he could not have done better, but the point to note here is that we did not have secular education before the British came! This-worldly sciences were considered too inferior to be taught at schools all over what is called India today, and religious education was considered the only true education. Even reading and writing were taught using religious texts such as Ramayana and Mahabharata all over India. In fact, workers who indulged in their own secular professions saw no need for literacy, since literacy was so linked to religious education. If the Kannada alphabet is meant for studying Ramayana and Mahabharata, it does not benefit a potter or farmer in his professional pursuit. For him to be motivated to send his children to learn the alphabet, the education system needs to be secular, it needs to show the promise of a better this-worldly life. Religious education is good, thank you, but the blacksmith needs a better life in the here and now first. Since schools couldn't provide it, the gap between the schools (together with the Brahmins who taught therein) and him was never bridged.

Many have described the singular focus of indigenous Indian schools on religious education as a beautiful aspect of Indian culture. But it is time, now, to question whether that is beauty at all. I would not describe as beautiful anything which threatens to wipe out Kannadigas from the face of this planet, for that is what ignorance of this-worldly sciences shall ultimately achieve. Kannadigas cannot, and must not all attain Moksha by way of Sanyaasa at once; nay, we must live here, bound to this very earth, and live great lives of comfort in the here and now! That education system which imparted religious education at the cost of sowing the poisonous seed of neglect of this-worldly sciences in Kannadigas is not beautiful (nor is it fully compliant with Indian philosophy). It is very, very, very ugly. That education system is not of a high quality, however economical the methods of instruction might have been. It is of a very low quality. Personally, I am convinced that neglect of this-worldly sciences can arise only due to a misreading of our great Indian scriptures. The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita do not ask people to neglect this-worldly sciences. Yet, indigenous Indian schools made this colossal mistake.

As I said earlier, this flaw has gladly been discontinued in today's education system, but its ghost continues to haunt it in the form of the second flaw. More on that in the next article. And yes, since this series of articles is triggered by Prof. Tooley's book, it is only apt to return to it and say that the author has no clue of these two serious flaws - and therefore attributes a high quality to indigenous Indian education.

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