Romila Thapar on education

Shortly after her receiving the Kluge Prize 2008, Romila Thapar chats with Kalpana Sharma; among other things, education in general (with specific reference to history and humanities at times) gets a fair share of attention:

Our attitude to knowledge is generally still dated. A student is told, “Here is a body of knowledge, learn it and memorise it ”. The notion that a body of knowledge implicitly means that the person who is approaching it has to question it and understand it and maybe develop it further — that is not something that is implicit in our educational methods. The purpose of education is increasingly, with rare exceptions, a competition involving numbers in an exam which determine the next step. This is not what education should be about.

The notion of quality in education is directed to post-graduate education and to the IITs, the IIMs and such like. But many of us feel that the foundation of primary and secondary schools has still to be established and nurtured. I suspect that nothing is done about the foundation because political parties fear an educated electorate that can ask questions. It would then not be swayed by mass meetings and would make vote-banks irrelevant. The moment people ask questions and relate the present to the past and have a project for the future, it becomes a different electorate. I don’t think it is just an oversight that governments and politicians pay so little attention to education.

My second contention is that there is a need to put much more into training teachers. In today’s world, a teacher has to be technically proficient in the subject. Gone are the days when a broad-based liberal education sufficed. Subjects have become specialised. Teachers have to know how to handle this new knowledge. This means a larger outlay on training teachers and on their salaries and in return taking them seriously and demanding that they be responsible.

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