Education, Knowledge and Development By Dr. R.S. Krishna.

Education, Knowledge and Development

 Are we living in a world that works on the dictum of ‘Development’ (the ruling hegemony)? Are schools striving to reproduce the same kind of Hegemony? Is there a possibility of counter hegemony? An educationist’s concern

                                                                     By     Dr.  R.S. Krishna

Education and development are often seen as ‘natural’ partners. In fact, schools seem to have become the main providers of learning and education for facilitating ‘development’ and ‘growth’ in ways perceived to be fundamental and inviolable. A society’s or a nations’ well-being is often assessed by the number of schools present and the number of students attending schools. Pedagogy and curriculum are invested more with teleological and instrumentalist concerns. It is thought that schools are meant to build competencies, capabilities and skills which must increase employability prospects, thereby escalating income, improving living standards and reduce poverty. Thus education facilitated by schools and later colleges and universities are sine qua non for a country’s ‘development’. Even further, it is often believed by many that only through schools a more democratic society can be established. This of course is stated glibly and in a casual fashion. Attributes of democracy along with literacy, large scale employment in secondary and services sector, urbanization are then essential markers of a well developed society. This view has been well canonized and is part of much of our cognitive and intellectual ‘commonsense’.

But perils of increasing urbanization, industries and patterns of Consumerism which are associated with developed economies have a deep impact on our quality of life in ways that can only be seen as following an un-critical understanding and treading un-reflectively   on a path of growth and development that is patently skewed. The brazen extraction of water from  rivers, lakes, from deep recesses of earth’s crust and even from the seas, rampant deforestation and green cover and excavating reserves of rocks, ores, minerals and metals from all known topographies have brought forth problems of such magnitude that threaten to tear apart the social fabric and human co-existence. Class divisions and regional disparities are becoming even more acute— partly if not entirely— due to such ecological and environmental degradations of air, water and earth. Indeed, many of the problems which are manifested as crises of ethnicity, religion and community (and much of it so violently), not to speak of the ‘purely economic’ issue of poverty, are deeply ecological and environmental as much as they are about equity, justice and freedom.

At several levels if one goes deeply into the genesis of the kind of socio-economic, political and environmental calamity of today, it would compel us to question notions of development and growth, they emerge from the kind of education that much of us are ‘schooled’ and socialized into. And to perceive schooling in a perspective that helps us to unravel the larger macro socio-ecological crisis, we need to look at schooling itself from four inter-related directions.

Firstly, schooling, particularly the trajectory of education that it lays before us, has become a highly instrumentalist one. Education being reduced to mere skills, employability and purchasing power empties itself of more richer and complex possibilities that learning can facilitate. Secondly, schooling often explicitly nurtures values and dispositions by claims of universality, but insidiously it peddles cultures of dominant powers that may not have any link to a community’s own lived realities and values. Thirdly, again related to the points above, schooling embeds certain knowledge and understanding that pave way for objectifying the animate and inanimate world, something that exists apart from us and for humanity to be used recklessly. Modern science has unwittingly furthered this view, and while one may not necessarily agree with the view of modern science being ethnocentric, it cannot be denied that it has essentially served the interests of corporate groups and nations motivated purely by desire of profit and greed. The experience of science and consequences of its unreflective use are not factored into our school curriculum, but played-out as a knowledge domain which has to be mastered and applied for the nation’s well being. This discourse which commences with our schools embeds itself into meta-narratives of nation, development and sovereignty (power). Fourthly, again trying to tie up all the factors above, schooling barely enhances our social consciousness and nurtures the quality of the political in either its teachers or its students. It should not be forgotten that our lifestyle, consumption patterns, worldviews, current social location (class, community, and neighborhood) and problems we face are essentially a consequence of this kind of a problematic knowledge premise and a flawed political economy that undermines the constitutional provisions of justice and equity.  Yet, it barely mediates a teacher’s pedagogy and a student’s cognition. For example, even social sciences which can be seen to have such a mandate are practiced in a way which is anything but presenting society and culture in mere empirical terms where some names, terms and numbers have to be consigned purely to one’s memory. It is in such context that the idea of citizenship too fails to emerge beyond its purely nationalistic moorings.


However two silver linings brighten the pall of gloom and doom.  One is the National Curriculum Frame work of 2005 (NCF) and also the National Curriculum frame work of Teacher Education 2009 (NCFTE) which consciously seek to engage with the idea of knowledge. Knowledge in this new discourse is sought not to be generated as disembodied and atomistic entities but as something that one engages with and where one’s experience of both material and non-material encounters through one’s cognition, emotions and social mores is also seen as valid to be brought for explorations and enquiry. Contextualized curriculum does not mean that matters like gravity, wavelength, photosynthesis – properties and processes that are universal and fixed across space and time, are in doubt. Likewise, matters like equity, access, justice, desire for an egalitarian society and opportunity to livelihoods and dignity too are concerns that are valid across cultures. But when NCFTE clearly positions teaching as praxis, it means that even as objective conditions determine a shape and nature of a problem or a phenomenon, it has to be realized in subjective terms. Possibly it means that objective qualities are framed and experienced in a language that is unique to a community and society. It is a course where the issues relating to ethics, social cohesion and ecological impact are mediated and factored in. Secondly, as we see, the NCERT social science textbooks are consciously trying to make study of society and culture beyond empirical and positive terms. For example, history has been made conceptual and thematic, and an attempt is made to draw linkages between different epochs across space and time even as it raises questions about the present. Moreover, the books on politics and society eschew the standard practice of detailing the duties and functions of the government; instead, they dwell more on matters like federalism, diversity, panchayati raj, affirmative action, marginalization and more.

However, the point is that both the NCF and the new NCERT social science textbooks are nearly a decade old, and while such interventions and textbooks were much needed, this does not seem to have made much difference to the overall curricular and pedagogic practices in schools and its teachers. We need to think about it.

{  R S Krishna is  a school teacher ( 12 years and more of teaching experience in social sciences) and not so much as a researcher from JNU. Currently working as Resource person in Azim Premji Foundation, Bengaluru.} 


  • Gadgil, Madhav and Guha,Ramchandra (1995) Ecology and Equity; Penguin; New Delhi
  • Pathak, Avijit (2011) Education and Moral Quest; Aakaar Books; New Delhi
  • Apffel-Marglin, Frederique and Marglin A, Stephen (2004) Decolonizing Knowledge; Clarendon Press; Oxford
  • Zhao, Yang, Lei Jing et al (2011) Handbook of Asian Education: a cultural perspective; Routledge; New York


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