Beyond subject boundaries

Pawan K Gupta

books We live in a world where the “word”, a symbol for conveying meaning, has subsumed the “meaning”. The “word” is a tool of language, the means, for achieving our real objective, which is the “meaning”. In a world prolific with symbols, the “word” has become more important, its “meaning” often forgotten or at best little understood.

We live in a world where we wax eloquent about the “Right to Education”. What we mean by “education” is not defined – and is understood in very fuzzy and vague terms.

We pander to the fashion of the times, are politically correct, but perhaps we are afraid of ceding the truth. We are not bothered about the “Right to Food”, the “Right to Safe and Clean Drinking Water”, the “Right to Shelter” but show great concern for the “education” of those who live on less than Rs 12.50 per day (the 35% of our population below the poverty line). We take things for granted, assume freely, and spout convenient euphemisms without even being aware of our assumptions – and we “think” we have communicated.

In our schools – be they elite English medium urban institutions or vernacular urban/rural schools for the poor – textbooks and experts hold canonical authority. Children do not know why they are studying; teachers do not know why they are teaching. The main objective of this “education” is to churn out mindless consumers.

Schooling is completely alienated from real life. A stark example is the teaching of history: on such and such a date, such and such an event occurred; but it is not explained what the relevance of that event is to the student’s world.

The author is founder director of Society for Integrated Development of Himalayas (SIDH). He can be reached at

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