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Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Expert View


Ashwin Malik Meshram

History taught in schools stop at 1947 and we leave the young impressionable minds at the mercy of TRP-driven news channels and provocative social media to find out what all happened post 1947.

By Ashwin Malik Meshram is the MD at a US-based Artificial Intelligence company, Entrepreneur, Education Reformer and an IIT Bombay alumnus.

 Ask a student about the Indian independence movement, the Mughal times, the Maratha empire, and their knowledge would rarely be disappointing. Our educational system covers these topics multiple times in their school years, and often devote entire year worth of studies on these ancient happenings. Now, ask them about the 1975 emergency, 1984 operation blue star, 1991 liberalization, 2002 riots and their knowledge would be nothing short of embarrassing. Even the brightest of the students would often have biased one-sided views shaped mostly by the kind of social media or news they were exposed to.

Now many people argue why do school students need to know about all these sensitive topics? For many years, the logic of keeping students ignorant has won the argument.

In statistics, it is common knowledge that when we develop a predictive model, the recent past is a more influential factor to the future values than the older past. Our day to day life is no different. What happened 5 years back, 10 years back, 30 years back, matters significantly more in the way today’s government policies and overall lifestyle shapes up, rather than what happened 100 or 500 years back. The argument here is not that ancient history doesn’t matter. It does, and it is important. But not at the cost of recent history. The amount of time teachers devote to any topic must be proportional to how recent the event was. This approach is surely going to unsettle lot of people and their ways. Again, the historical context must be provided for every recent event. So when teaching about Mandal Commission of 1989, a historical context of caste biases prevalent in society for over 2000 years must be provided. When teaching about revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir in 2019, a context on conflicts going back numerous decades must be covered in sufficient details. Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, 1992 mosque demolition, formation of states right from Nagaland to Chhatisgarh to Telangana, Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamilnadu, 1991 change in economic policy to adopt liberalization and privatization – all of these events come with history going back few decades or few centuries or even thousands of years. And justice must be done when providing this context for an unbiased presentation of facts.

One of the arguments against teaching students about recent history has been the biases and prejudices that government might introduce in the syllabus. And I agree this is extremely critical issue to solve. Any changes in syllabus must be approved by an independent body and must be explicitly brought to the notice of general public. Easier said than done, I admit. It is not going to be easy to ensure the right implementation, but just because it is difficult is no reason to not do it. It’s our young students who are at stake, and I can assure you it is worth the effort. The other options are to keep the young minds ignorant, or to keep them at the mercy of social media. The price of keeping its young minds deliberately ignorant is too high for a country.

Most, if not all, media outlets present one-sided viewpoints that adhere to their political and ideological agenda. Left at the mercy of news channels, young minds of our country will never get a sense of pervasive and critical realities around them. Newspapers often tuck unpleasant issues like caste related atrocities and human rights issues in certain parts of country into near invisible corners of the papers. Most TV channels do not report them, and if at all mentioned briefly, there are no follow-ups, so the real issues and views soon sink into oblivion.

The alternative of education is ignorance. And keeping people ignorant has always been an easy choice, rather than putting in the hard work to ensure they are fed the right, balanced information. Let’s rather work consciously and deliberately towards ensuring our school children are informed and educated, not ignorant.

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