Part of the problem is also the increasing interference from non-professionals in the content of education. Disallowing inquisitive enquiry can easily undermine the purpose of education as can diluting or even falsifying the content of what is taught. Neither of these are unknown today in schools. This becomes evident from the poor training that teachers receive-if at all-and the quality of the textbooks from which they teach. Administrators often look upon educational institutions as stepping stones to personal ambitions and the institution suffers. Political and religious organizations have demanded deletions in the content of syllabi, reading lists and textbooks, and at another level, they intervene in appointments of teachers. Proximity to a particular ideology becomes the driving force of activity. This was barely visible four decades ago but has accelerated to a far greater extent in recent times. Unfortunately many academics, even if they are aware of it, are hesitant to resist it.
A violent agitation by a group of students in Delhi University, claiming that an item in a syllabus hurt their religious sentiments, resulted in the Academic Council removing the item despite its importance to teaching the subject. The university recognizes the threat from groups with political backing but does it also understand the intellectual damage of conceding to such demands? This is precisely where decision through debate is called for. In much earlier times the better vice chancellors tackled these problems, and found ways of disallowing such interference. But in recent years, vice chancellors and administrative heads, in some cases, are themselves a part of this problem.
We have to take a decision as to whether the content of what is taught in school and college is to be the promotion of the ideology of a political party, or whether it should be up-to-date knowledge on the subject concerned. This is a choice that so far has been critical for the social sciences but not for the sciences. Recognizing the intervention of ideology in the sciences has so far been of marginal interest to scientists, not because there is no such intervention but because most scientists regard their research as being value-free and altogether unconnected to ideology. A few have tried to show the connection, but the majority remain unconcerned. Is this because science is still largely treated as a technology rather than a body of knowledge inherent to social change?
Excerpted with permission of Aleph Book Company from Indian Cultures as Heritage: Contemporary Pasts by Romila Thapar. Pre-order your copy here.