In the Redefining Education series, I give my take on what’s wrong with today’s education system, and how we could make it better.
In this particular post, I explain what I feel would have been a more useful history curriculum than the one we were taught in school.
In our class 10th Board exams, we were asked to list the salient features of either “The Mountbatten Plan”, or “The Independence Act”. One of these would almost always be a part of the question paper.
Think about it — we’re dealing with India’s independence, a topic so important, eventful, filled with stories of inspiration and effort, and also violence and treachery. And the ICSE Board manages to reduce such an important topic down to “The Mountbatten Plan”.
That, my dear friends, tells us how pointless the History syllabus in our school system is.
I’ve read a few books on history in the last few years, and also listened to a few podcasts. While reading those books, I found myself wishing that I had learnt these things in school, rather than the “Mountbatten Plan”, the name of the 4th Mughal Emperor, or the name of the 5th British Viceroy to India.
Below are a few of the things I wish I was taught in school -
1. History of India in the last 100 years: As Ramchandra Guha wrote in India after Gandhi, our history curriculum stops after India’s independence. I hope we covered some post independence topics in school. I would love to know about the formation of our constitution, India’s first election, the Indira Gandhi era, the Emergency, the Economic Liberalisation, the reorganisation of states, and so on and so forth. What is India after independence, and what makes us so?
2. History of the people, not the rulers: What languages did we speak 1000 years ago, what food did we eat? What trade routes did we have with South East Asia, and what cultural exchanges? What were the social factors behind us changing from a society that loved trade and exploration to one that became so inward facing that it treated you like an outcast if you traveled outside the country? What caused the caste system to become so deep? Were any of these the reason why England was able to capture India so easily?
3. History via Movies: Many more Indians today know about the fight between the Rajputs and Khilji, and about the Peshwa Bajirao, than they know about the Emergency era. And that is all because of the amazing film-making skills of the Bollywood industry. We can possibly have a few months of our curriculum devoted to History and Bollywood. It would get millions of children interested in history like never before.
The list above is not exhaustive, it is just a starting point. It aims to show that our school history can be far more interesting and far more relevant. We should stop treating history like a tick-mark of topics to cover, and understand that as long as we get some perspective about our past, it is enough.