Karnataka: Effect of destabilisation of education will be hard to undo

The effects of the current destabilisation of the education system will be felt several years in future and it will be hard to undo the damages caused

Karnataka school girls
The more the mothers are educated the better the children's life outcomes, health, longevity and nutrition. Pic: iStock

In Karnataka, educational spaces have become the hub of hate politics. The hijab issue has excluded many Muslim girls from the educational system.

Evidence shows that the higher women are educated, the more likely they are to delay the age of marriage and age of having children. The more the mothers are educated the better the children’s life outcomes, health, longevity and nutrition.

The education of women should be our priority and the state should flex its enormous power to bring in more and more girls into the educational system. By bringing in the hijab issue with only the intent of targeting the Muslim community, Karnataka has done a great disservice to the girls. It has also pushed the state away from improving its own development indicators. This shows a lack of vision or even statesmanship.

Also read: Karnataka CM rules out constituting new textbook review panel


From bad to worse

Even before the pandemic, there was much that could have been done to improve the public education system, whether it was infrastructure, potable water, safe toilets, availability of sanitary napkins, the teacher-student ratio, or the mid-day meal scheme. Children in government schools have been struggling with less than adequate resources at all levels. The pandemic further shot the issue into crisis.

By the government’s own data, which could very well be an underestimation, of the 46,000 children who dropped out of school during the pandemic, only 35% have rejoined school. The mid-day meal is often the only decent meal that many children may have, and even this has been bombarded with ideology and corruption. Very often the meal is not even edible and this is a gross violation of children’s right to nutrition.

Targeted attacks on Christian educational institutions under the farce of the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance Bill or the Anti-conversion Bill 2021 have to concern all of us. Using clever terminology such as ‘forced conversions’ and ‘allurements’, this Ordinance ‘bulldozes’ its way through the rule of law and lays the door wide open for attacks on the Christian community in the state. The clear agenda is to push this community into a corner such that they are fearful of carrying out what has been their charitable works over decades, specifically in the health and education sectors.

Also read: Brunt of hijab judgment will be borne by Muslim girl students

Employment and free education in reputed schools run by religious bodies now come under the tag of ‘allurement’ and directly impinge on the constitutional rights envisaged in Article 25. If fear of targeting by an openly discriminatory state pushes charitable religious institutions to withdraw from offering subsidised education, it is some of the most vulnerable communities in the state that will take the hit. Whether this is by design or by oversight should be left for citizens of the state to analyse and interpret.

Ideological agenda

In the wake of the pandemic, online education suddenly became the new mantra. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is premised on an ideological and corporate dream. Online education was declared as the ‘core of the education policy’ enabling India’s education to reach ‘global standards’. What it did in reality is to show up the looming distances not just technologically, but socially and economically between children who could access education through a button, and those for whom education became an even more distant dream.

Also read: BJP bid to script ‘saffron textbooks’ in Karnataka, part of larger electoral ploy

Real life experience shows that children need interactions with their teachers and that the digital divide is not a figment of imagination. It is real and it cannot be pushed under the carpet as though it is of no consequence. Most of the children who face exclusions because of online classes are the same ones whose families and communities have traditionally faced discrimination in Indian society.

The irony should not be lost on us that girls who were being excluded in Karnataka for wearing the hijab were not even offered these same online classes. So much for online education being the ‘core of the education policy’.

The NEP has foregrounded Brahmanical traditions and texts while the rest have been left out. This ideological agenda is again very visible in the way textbooks have been urgently ‘revised’ in Karnataka. One would only wish that the government had shown similar urgency to improve the infrastructure, mid-day meals, and basic amenities in government schools. While schools continue to languish, textbooks have now become the new tool of radical indoctrination.

Dalit writers replaced

Dalit writers who have critiqued age-old gender, caste and communal social evils, have been summarily dismissed from the Karnataka textbooks in what can only be seen as an assault on our Constitution, which offers a legal framework to challenge these very inequities.

Like a bad surgery, crucial parts have been chopped off from the textbooks. Twenty-seven Dalit writers have now been replaced with lessons mostly written by Brahmins. Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy’s anti-caste writing, Bolwar Mahammad Kunhi’s clarifications on Islam, Chennanna Walikar’s poem dedicated to Dr. BR Ambedkar, Malathi Pattanshetty’s articulation against social injustice, Dr. HS Anumapa’s essay on Savitribai Phule, a lesson on Gandhi’s early days in the Freedom struggle and many other progressive writings have been removed.

Also read: Karnataka govt disbands textbook review committee

The landmark ‘Ambedkar Maththu Avara Sudharanegalu’ (Ambedkar and his reforms) from a Class 7 social science textbook has been erased as also a lesson on women freedom fighters. A chapter on Savarkar replaces a lesson on social equality and Jawaharlal’s letter to his daughter has been replaced by a mythological play.

Historical lessons have now been replaced by the Vedas and the Mahabharata, India’s map has been distorted and chapters on human rights, social movements and social issues have been discarded. Importantly, credit for the Constitution to Dr BR Ambedkar has been removed. RSS leaders are now being inserted into textbooks as our heroes.

It is important to understand these changes for the intent that they come with. The question that we need to ask ourselves is whether these changes reflect how our society has been and more importantly, do they offer a beacon for our children to reach higher moral, ethical and humane standards? History holds a mirror to us as a society. It reminds us of the beauty of our past but also the cruelty, the dogma, the evils.

Going against the Constitution

Do our textbooks teach our children to be honest and humble about our history, so that we learn and do not repeat mistakes from the past, or have textbooks now become a tool to instigate hatred and discriminatory thoughts in our children? Manipulating history with an agenda of misinformation is a great disservice we do to our children. We teach them also that lying, manipulating, misrepresenting is okay if there is an agenda driving it. We teach them that if we want to hate one community, we can build false stories about that community and that we need not be honest or truthful to our own past.

Also read: Karnataka govt puts on hold decision to drop Tipu Sultan chapters from textbook

The textbooks being introduced in Karnataka in their current form, go against the Constitution that many of us struggle to uphold. We will continue the struggle, but we need parents, academicians, activists, educationalists and other concerned citizens, even students themselves, to stand up for basic principles of justice, equality and fraternity that is enshrined in our Constitution. The Karnataka textbook revision committee has drawn criticism for its lack of representation and for favouring party loyalists.

Ironically, while caste is being erased from the textbooks, there have been serious implementation gaps in the post-matric scholarship in Karnataka, intended to keep Dalit students within the education system. The scheme in Karnataka has been plagued by delays in disbursement with students from rural areas being particularly affected. Till January 2022, no scholarship for the expected 3.6 lakh applicants had been disbursed. By March 31st, of the 3.39 lakh scholarship applications received, only 2.3 lakh had been sanctioned.

The delays cause undue stress on students and their families, with pressure from colleges to pay fees in the interim period and definitely dropping out of Dalit students from the educational system.

Protect our educational institutions

The effects of the current destabilisation of the education system will be felt several years in future and it will be hard to undo the damages caused. Youth who have not had access to education are less likely to have satisfied jobs and this can contribute to increased mental health issues, substance abuse, violence, and overall affect the ability of a society to grow.

Also read: Hijab protest: 23 girl students suspended in Karnataka

Let us resist this attempt to convert our educational institutions into hotbeds of hatred, discrimination and divisiveness. The educational spaces should not become laboratories for ideological and political experiments by vested interests. We need to protect these spaces to offer knowledge to our children, provide analytical skills, social engagements and values to promote co-existence, fraternity and mutual respect.

As educators and policymakers, our single-minded focus should be on creating the highest quality of education to all our children and youth irrespective of their social, religious or economic background. Our children have to be educated enough to seek the best possible employment, both nationally and internationally, while being ethical, thoughtful and socially conscious citizens who work for their own development but also that of their families, society and country. For that, we need to keep all kinds of politically and ideologically driven agenda out of our educational spaces.

(The writer is the Director of St. Joseph’s College of Law, and an advocate)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)