This section firstly examines curriculum as a mediator of dominance and hegemony, exploring ideological issues in the selection and structuring of knowledge and in pedagogic practice. Secondly we focus on the issue of representation of subaltern groups, culture and ideologies. The concept of curriculum is used here to designate the experiences pupils have under the guidance of the school. Most issues in this area are predicated upon the assumption that appropriate school experiences can indeed make a significant difference to learning and lives of SC/ST children.
Content of curriculum and internal operations are thus key issues that need to be addressed. Also very important are related areas of pedagogic methods, assessment and evaluation. In India, curriculum and the content of education have been central to the processes of reproduction of caste, class, cultural and patriarchal domination-subordination. In post independence educational policy, modification of content supposedly aimed at indigenization resulted in Brahmanisation as a key defining feature of the curriculum.
Brahmanisation has been evident in the emphasis on (1) ‘pure’ language, (2) literature and other “knowledge” of society, history, polity, religion and culture that is produced by higher castes which reflects Brahmanical world view and experiences and Brahmanical perspectives on Indian society, history and culture, and (3) high caste, cultural and religious symbols, linguistic and social competencies, modes of life and behaviour. Furthermore, the overarching stress has been on eulogizing mental as against manual labour.
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The heavily gendered nature of school curricular content was evident in that women’s specialised knowledge and skills systems found no place in it or in the general curricular discourse. Rather they were used for devaluation and stereotyping of the female sex in curriculum. Curriculum is thus urban elite male-centric and bereft of the country’s rich cultural diversity. There has been a corresponding devaluation of “lesser” dialects, cultures, traditions, and folklore of dalits and adivasis as also of peasantry.
The second defining feature of the curriculum on the other hand, was its ‘colonial’ character which privileged western modernization. The ideology however was adopted in truncated, superficial ways – the emphasis being on the incorporation of knowledge of Western science and technology, viz. that of the “hard Western sciences”, the English language and Western styles of life. The pursuance of liberal, democratic socialist values even though enshrined in the Indian constitution was largely notional in the curriculum. Curricular structure and culture of the colonial model has remained unchanged.
The defining features of the structure are: full time attendance of age specific groups in teacher supervised classrooms for the study of graded curricula. Full day schools, compulsory attendance, unconducively long time–p of classes and vacations, served as deterrents, being ill suited to educating SC/ST children, especially in the initial years when access was just being opened up and availed. Poor and SC/ST households depended on children for domestic work or other productive work whether or not to supplement household earnings.
Today, things have changed substantially and large numbers of parents are prepared to forego children’s labour and send them to school. However school organisation and curricula have not been sensitive as yet to fundamentally different economic situations, life aims and social circumstances of children belonging to poorer strata households or communities in the shaping of the school structure. Culturally, school norms of attendance, discipline, homework, tests and exams, and cognitively ethnocentric demands of concentration on nd memorisation of the content of the text by `rote’, all prove problematic for SC/ST children.
Furthermore, the curriculum itself as a tool of cultural dominance and hegemony has an alienating and intimidating impact. Curriculum and the Scheduled Castes: For the Scheduled Castes who have sought education as a mechanism to transform as well as enter “mainstream” (read dominant) society, the central questions are of representation of their knowledge and culture and the critiquing of dominant knowledge and value systems of their lived reality and of social relationships based on dominance/subordination and exclusion.
Dominant forms of inequality and hierarchy are made invisible in the discourse on common nationhood and common and equal citizenship, which the school curriculum propagates. But for the Scheduled Castes the heart of the matter is structural oppression, not cultural difference. Thus understandings of oppressive aspects of our traditional and contemporary structures, the historical construction of groups and communities are made invisible by the curriculum and not subjects of key curricular importance.
Krishna Kumar’s studies have focussed attention on how the dominant groups’ ideas about education and the educated get reflected in the curriculum. Following the curriculum, Indian texts uphold symbols of the traditional, male dominated feudal society and its obsolete cultural values and norms. However, that the value content of education is out of tune with the reality of the changing, dynamic India is a matter of choice – a choice consciously or unconsciously made by those selecting textbook material from the available body of literature and by those creating it.
Worthwhile knowledge is that which is linked to the values and lifestyles of dominant groups. Ilaiah has vividly described how knowledge and language are rooted in and structured around productive processes of lower castes and around socio-cultural surroundings of their habitat. This knowledge and skill based vocabulary, which is very highly developed, finds no place in the school curriculum. Nor do stories, music and songs, values, skills, knowledge, traditions, cultural and religious practices. Contemporary dalit literature is similarly disregarded.
Lives, values and norms of upper caste Hindus which are strange and alienating for the lower castes, continue to be dominantly present. To quote from Ilaiah, “right from early school Upto College, our Telugu textbooks were packed with these Hindu stories. Kalidasa was as alien to us as the name of Shakespeare. The language of textbooks was not the one that our communities spoke. Even the basic words were different. Textbook Telugu was Brahmin Telugu, whereas we were used to a production-based communicative Telugu. It is not merely a difference of dialect; there is a difference in the very language itself”.
The dominance of epistemology and content of the politically powerful intellectual classes makes curricular knowledge ideologically loaded. While Gandhi, Tagore and Krishnamurti – all from the high castes - have received national attention as indigenous educational philosophers, education has not incorporated the anti-caste-patriarchy and anti-hegemonic discourses of Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar or Iyotheedas. Curriculum does not reflect upon the historical significance of caste, gender and tribe, nor of the challenges posed to it by dalit epistemology, knowledge and protest.
This should have been done through literature and social science curricula. Phule saw education as a potent weapon in the struggle for revolutionary social transformation. For him, the purpose and content of education were radically different from both Brahmanical and colonial models of education. His ideal was an education that would bring an awareness among lower castes of oppressive social relations and their hegemonic moral and belief systems that pervaded their consciousness…. an education that would instill western secular values, encourage critical thought and bring about mental emancipation.
It would fulfil practical needs but would be broad based enough to inspire a social and cultural revolution from below. During the course of the long struggle of dalit liberation, Ambedkar developed an ideology that incorporated a critique and reinterpretation of India’s cultural heritage, a rich philosophy drawn from a wide range of social thought and an action programme which lay an equal stress on social and cultural revolution as it did on the economic and political one. Like Phule, he defined the purpose of education in terms of mental awakening and reation of a social and moral conscience.
Education was also a means of overcoming inferior status and state of mind, of wresting power from the powerful. Thus, the Ambedkarian agenda for education included: (a) creation of capacities for rational and critical thinking, (b) socialization into a new humanistic culture and ideology, (c) development of capacities and qualities necessary for entry and leadership in modern avenues of work and politics, and (d) inculcation of self-respect and aspirations to respectable lifestyles in which demeaning traditional practices would have no place.
Clearly Phule-Ambedkarian ideology went way beyond narrow modernization and technocratic impulses. It gave pre-eminence to ideology and values, Western in origin but critically adapted towards emancipation of India’s downtrodden. Ilaiah, in fact, argues that these values are equally indigenous, constitutive of lived-in realities of dalit bahujans. Dalit and non-Brahman leaders drew on western philosophical traditions to build an ideology and praxis of revolutionary transformation of the Hindu social order.
It aimed at establishing a socialist social order underpinned by a new morality, based on values of liberty, equality, fraternity and rationality. School curriculum in India failed to reflect these expressions of new moral order. It does not need any great study to show that the national or state school curricula or teacher education curricula were never guided by these radical visions. The Scheduled Castes and their issues and problems have remained peripheral to the curriculum and their representation if at all has been weak and distorted.
Curriculum and the Scheduled Tribes: Like the SC, curriculum does not acknowledge cultural rights of the Scheduled Tribes who are denied their own culture and history. School curriculum fails to take account of tribal cultures as autonomous knowledge systems with their own epistemology, transmission, innovation and power. Kundu gives the example of children being set to write essays on the circus, or being trained to write letters through mock missives to the police asking them to take action on disturbance by loudspeakers during exams.
While adivasi children may know a great deal about animals, they are unlikely to have ever seen a circus; where the police are usually feared as oppressors and electricity is erratic, if at all available, enlisting police support in keeping noise decibels down is a most unlikely situation Not only are the knowledge and linguistic and /or cognitive abilities that Scheduled Tribe children possess ignored – e. g. the capacity to compose and sing spontaneously, to think in riddles and metaphors and their intimate knowledge of their environment – but schooling also actively encourages a sense of inferiority about Scheduled Tribe cultures.
Like the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes rarely feature in textbooks, and when they do, it is usually in positions servile to upper caste characters; or as ‘strange’ and ‘backward’ exotica. The ‘cultural discontinuity’ between school and home draws attention to the rigidity of school organization and the emphasis on discipline and punishment in contrast with socialization practices and the lives of children, as reasons for non-attendance.
Sujatha cites the case of community schools in Andhra where there was closer interaction with parents, weekly holiday was in tune with the local weekly bazaar, and school holidays coincided with tribal festivals. The school was observed to show positive results. The Language Question: Despite several policy documents and a constitutional provision (350A) recognizing that linguistic minorities should be educated in their mother tongue at primary level, there is practically no education in Scheduled Tribe languages. This includes even those like Santhali, Bhili, Gondi or Oraon which are spoken by over a million people.
Although states in India were organized on linguistic grounds, political powerlessness of Scheduled Tribes prevented the formation of states based on tribal languages. They are confined to minority status within large states and are compelled to learn the state language in school. Primary teachers are predominantly from non-ST communities. And despite the pedagogic significance of initial instruction in the mother tongue, teachers do not bother to learn the tribal language even after several years of posting. The general picture at primary level is often one of mutual incomprehension between ST students and their non-ST teachers.
Several studies have pointed to the significance of the language question at the primary levels. Quite apart from the pedagogic problems this creates – such as destroying the child’s self esteem, and reducing the possibilities of successful learning in later years, the denigration of Scheduled Tribe languages amounts to denigration of Scheduled Tribe worldviews and knowledge. The education system with its insistence on a common language as a means of achieving a common nationhood has been instrumental in the destruction of tribal language, culture and identity.
Even outside the school, educated youth often speak to each other in the language of the school, perhaps to mark themselves off from their ‘uneducated peers’. Several languages, especially those spoken by small numbers, are dying out. Loss of a language means the loss of a certain way of knowing the world. Experiences of schooling of tribal children in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have revealed the displacement of Bundelkhandi, Gondi and Warli by Sanskritised Hindi, Telugu and Marathi respectively.
Depending on levels of cultural absorption and adaptation however, several Scheduled Tribes may not look to schools to teach in their home language. Indeed, for many Scheduled Tribe parents, the main advantage of schooling is that it gives access to the new languages, new occupations and a new life and enables interaction with the non-tribal world. But wherever Scheduled Tribes have been politically mobilised to celebrate Scheduled Tribe identity, they have been more clear and open in their demand for education in indigenous languages.
The Alienating Impact of School Regimen: The school regimen of timing, discipline, hierarchy is especially alien to tribal children socialized in a world where individuality is respected from early on, and where parent-child interactions are relatively egalitarian. Kundu points out those testing procedures too are based on urban middle class values – the competitiveness and system of rewards that examinations represent is often culturally anomalous to Scheduled Tribe children who are brought up in an atmosphere of sharing.
Furthermore, learning among ST children is usually intimately connected to the work process – children learn the names and medicinal uses of many plants and trees while accompanying their parents on foraging trips in the forest. When children are away at school, especially when they are sent to residential schools, they lose connection with this world of labour and their capacity to learn from it. Several studies have attested the alienating effects of language, school structure and ethos.
Implications of Recent Hindu Cultural Nationalist Influences on Curriculum In the recent past a serious concern has been the ‘Hinduisation’ of the curriculum, its adverse implications for all children but most particularly to religious minorities and SC/ST. A deliberate policy move towards Hinduisation of the school which occurred at the behest of neo-right national government’s policy meant its specific framing within Vedic values and thought.
However, even prior to that when there was no overt intent of curriculum or text to be grounded in dominant religious culture, the fact that most educational action teachers are Hindu made curriculum Hinduised. It influenced the manner in which annual days or other school events are celebrated. Breaking a coconut and lighting incense at the base of the flag pole on Republic or Independence Day is common practice. Additionally, distinctive Scheduled Tribe names are changed to standard Hindu names.
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