The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Social Implications of Schooling: Knowledge, Pedagogy and Consciousness By Avijit Pathak, Rainbow, Rs 325

Do children need schooling' What sort of education do parents intend the school to impart to their wards' Is it at all possible for the school curriculum to reflect the aspirations of marginalized communities as much as those of the dominant classes of society' Can we realistically expect the schooling system, with its over-emphasis on discipline and unquestioned loyalty to authority, to encourage inquisitiveness and original thinking among students'

These are some questions we can no longer dismiss as irrelevant unless we nourish the preposterous idea of treating the school as a domain divorced from the socialization process of the child. Yehudi A. Cohen views education as “standardized and stereotyped knowledge, skills, values and attitudes by means of standardized and stereotyped procedures.” An educationist of the new century evidently needs to re-examine these stereotypes.

The oppressive nature of the school system, with its apparatus to enforce discipline and ensure the assimilation of a highly patterned and packaged knowledge by students, came under glaring focus since the publication of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. It showed how the spectacular penal system of the medieval era turned into an almost invisible system that institutionalized punishment by inventing the prison. In Foucault’s view, the prison “normalized” punishment working on the twin principles of “secrecy and autonomy in the exercise to punish” and “socialized” it by creating other institutions like the hospital, the asylum or the school in its own image. Foucault’s theory overthrew Durkheim’s utilitarian view of school, making it imperative to choose or strike a balance between re-socializing school education and “de-schooling” society.

Avijit Pathak has approached the modern problems of school education in right earnest. No doubt, education has always been “an arena of contestation”, especially because it is through education that we envision the development of a child’s personality and his or her integration with the society at large. In his comprehensive introduction, Pathak painstakingly brings to the fore the contested theories on schooling. In the five chapters of his book, he seeks to answer three fundamental questions — one, what do schools do to one’s life' Two, what are the social functions of school education' Three, is it possible to think of an alternative system of learning for creating a new society'

In the first chapter, Pathak delves into education as a site of struggle — be it class or caste struggle, or that against colonial domination. He looks at the education system in India as it evolved since the Vedic age and studies how education was intended to reproduce social inequality and injustice from the earliest times.

The second chapter deals with the sociology of knowledge, rigorously scrutinizing some NCERT and Ekalavya texts to demonstrate how the nation is reconstructed in these texts with specific biases. The third chapter looks beyond texts to explore the culture of schooling. Chapter IV is probably the most interesting in that it tries to discover an alternative model of schooling in Mirambika, Sri Aurobindo’s institute at New Delhi. Through his repeated visits to the school and interviews with the teachers, students and workers there, Pathak tries to assess its possibilities, contradictions and its conformity with Aurobindo’s lofty and highly indigenous ideals of education. The fifth chapter takes into account the future challenges to India’s educational policy.

Pathak’s book convinces us that modern school education has ceased to be a matter of academic interest and has become crucial to our social existence.

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