Karnataka NEP panel chief under attack defends position paper

The panel to recommend changes in textbooks should have enquired why the techies in Bengaluru hide during eclipse despite having studied Physics and the solar system, says Astrophysicist Shashtri

Astrophysicist Prajval Shastri; (right) Madan Gopal, head of Karnataka Task Force on NEP
Astrophysicist Prajval Shastri; (right) Madan Gopal, head of Karnataka Task Force on NEP
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Naheed Ataulla

There are 26 position papers as baseline and background documents for the NCERT to prepare the national curriculum, informs Madan Gopal, former IAS officer heading the Task Force for implementing NEP in schools of Karnataka. “Somebody wants to create a controversy where none exists. These papers have been in the public domain for the past two months, why this controversy now,” he asks while speaking to National Herald. He earlier caused outrage among academics by claiming that Newton's laws were copied from an ancient text in Kerala.

However, Prajval Shastri, an Astrophysicist from Bengaluru and member of the Baraguru Ramachandra textbooks revision committee said: ``The position paper should have been asking why despite studying the physics of the solar system, educated people even in Bengaluru - the “Silicon Plateau of India'', hide indoors during eclipses, instead of being scientific about it. It instead advocates that a sky myth, that “the moon spends a night each with one of his 27 wives” be used as a device to teach astrophysics.''

According to her conflation of myth with history, and retro-fitting scientific evidence into myths was the running theme of the bloomers in the Karnataka textbooks pre-2015, and it is regrettable that the position paper continues that trend. The scientific method is an approach found in cultures all across the world, and is hardly a purely western idea.

``Given that taxpayers money is spent on conceiving a position paper, and that over a crore of children are impacted, its formulation ought to have been a serious exercise and not descended into the comical and the irrelevant in the name of claims over antiquity. On top of which it regurgitates ideas familiar to teachers as if they are novel ones, such as geometry in the playground, hands-on experiments, and paper folding to teach Pythagoras theorem. Worse, it refuses to acknowledge that ‘traditional knowledge systems’ are many and not merely Vedic-sanskritic. Most shocking, however is that it exalts the Manusmriti, instead of finding ways to eradicate caste and gender discrimination that still marrs educational spaces,'' Shashtri said.

Karnataka NEP panel chief under attack defends position paper

It actually regurgitates ideas already familiar to teachers as if they are novel ones, such as geometry in the playground, hands-on experiments and paper folding to teach Pythagoras theorem. Worse, it refuses to acknowledge that ‘traditional knowledge systems’ are many and not merely Vedic. Even more shocking is that it exalts Manusmriti instead of finding ways to eradicate caste and gender discrimination in educational spaces, Shastri fumed.

She was commenting on the public debate triggered by the 32-page position paper titled ‘Knowledge of India’ prepared for the Karnataka government on the New Education Policy (NEP). The controversy comes in the wake of public outrage at the recommendations of Rohith Chakratirtha-headed textbook review committee. The committee has been dissolved after civil society objected to dropping or curtailing chapters on B.R. Ambedkar, Basavanna, Sree Narayana Guru and freedom fighter Bhagat Singh in Social Sciences textbooks. The committee was set up by the BJP government following complaints that textbooks were hurting sentiments of Brahmins.

In the position paper, the panel headed by Dr V. Ramanathan from IIT (BHU), Varanasi, says that while it is not wrong to learn from others, “we have now come to a situation where the youth of our country have no clue about the scientific achievements of our ancestors”.


While there is no evidence of an apple actually falling on Newton’s head or of Archimedes’ Eureka moment in the bathtub, such stories are widely shared, the paper points out. “On the other hand, India, which has withstood nearly two millennia of invasions of various kinds has thousands of real stories still waiting to be told,” it adds.

The paper recommends (compulsory) learning of Sanskrit, a basic knowledge of which would equip the student to pick up any language. It also expresses concern over Aryabhata, the ancient Indian mathematician and astronomer and his Kuttaka algorithm finding limited mention in textbooks. It recommends introducing students to Bhuta Sankhya (method of recording numbers using ordinary words having connotations of numerical value) and Katapayadi Sankhya (Indian system to depict letters to numbers).

Karnataka was the first state in the country to accept the NEP, which the Congress had dubbed as the ‘Nagpur Education Policy’. While showering lavish praise on NEP, the paper says the history of every field be revisited every 50 years to access new knowledge and information, presumably about the past.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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Published: 16 Jul 2022, 9:00 PM