The Purposeful Erosion of Critical Thinking in India

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Lack of critical thinking in mass creates a critical mass.

Gandhi epitomises critical thinking in India. He is known as the father of the nation, as he stood up against the scrutiny of the British and brought the largest empire to her knees. However, seven decades on, Indian society and education has come full circle and succumbed to the unquestionable dictation of Indian societal ideals. The erosion of critical thinking can be attributed to the educational system which has fostered a plethora of misplaced values in the modern world. Igniting social, economic and political disruption.

Therefore, we learn that the lack of critical thinking in mass creates critical mass.

Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily a good critical thinker. A critical thinker can deduce consequences from what he knows and make use of information to solve and analyze problems, as well as to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself. Or as scholars have expressed “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987).

The current Indian educational system** does not inculcate critical thinking in the curricula. This educational issue may be ascribed by virtue of sociocultural issues embedded in the community or western philosophical ideals impelled into global education. However, it is incontestable that it will lead to massive social, political, and economic implications for India if not implemented immediately.

An overview outlining the current Indian situation is as follows.

The world’s largest and youngest democracy India fosters unmatched potential for economic growth and prosperity. However, stymied with its rote educational system it will likely result in millions of disgruntled, unskilled and unemployable labour. Consequently, affecting both its economy and future.

** State-run schools — fully government

A recent Bloomberg News analysis has predicted that India would have the world’s largest workforce by 2027, comprising of one billion people aged between 15 and 64. This statistic is alarming, to say the least, with the economy already renouncing 9.71% (August 2019) of the labour force amounting to over thirty-eight million people. How will India deal with the future leaner meaner MNC’s?

Exasperated by the need to educate students in order to relieve the unemployment burden, it is no secret that the government has implemented universal and compulsory education for all Indian citizens. Pressured by their budding economic growth potential, population and scarcity of skilled workers, they have graciously designated 3% of their GDP toward the educational budget. This budget is stretched out between more than 1.5 million schools. This is an educational issue

on its own, however, it helps unveil the reason for the incapacity to restructure the curriculum.

If not now then when?

In uncovering this subject, it is evident that the government's vow of universal education is just seen as a tick in a to-do list instated by humanitarian organizations. Their attitude towards education is frankly medieval as they are still struggling with illiteracy in India. So, implementing western ideals of logic such as critical reasoning and thinking in the curricula is far-fetched.

Moreover, the sociocultural influences prevalent in Indian society further hinder the critical thinking reformation of the educational system. This is predominantly attributed to the socio-cultural challenges it must fight, in order to implement any changes in the curriculum.

The Class Divide

The relationship between education to social stratification, social and cultural value reproduction acts as an impediment toward the implementation of critical thinking in the education system.

To illustrate the deeply entrenched complex stratificational system prevalent in society is the caste system. Weber describes this as “a purely social and possibly occupational association”. It acts as a great barrier in educational equity and reveals the antipathy in introducing critical thinking across the general public.

This is because rote learning safeguards the government's agenda of maintaining social order and cohesion in the poverty-ridden populational majority. Its values and norms within the hidden curriculum are intentionally exemplified through their inefficient allocation of resources. Allowing for the influence of the hidden curriculum to override the power of true factual knowledge. This is illustrated through the analysis of the educational system utilizing both the socio-cultural and philosophical perspectives.

Rote memorization and the hierarchical nature of Indian society espouses the indoctrination of social values, norms and beliefs. It can be argued that unquestioned learning coupled with the lack of critical thinking advocates the continuation of discrimination and other social issues such as poverty and illiteracy.

For example, reiterating discrimination in the classroom by an authoritarian figure (teacher) who is perceived as knowledgeable and all-knowing is imitated by students in other aspects of their life. To illustrate this, a college in the city in the state of Maharashtra expressed that 80% of the Dalit (untouchable caste) students said that they were made to sit outside the classroom in primary school (Desai et al. 2008). In another study, a Dalit schoolteacher recalled, “We were asked to sit separately. Our copy of slates were not touched by the teachers” (The Probe Team 1999). Therefore, the authoritarianism and ignorance on behalf of the students, that teachers are supposedly omnipotent, unintentionally advocates the inequality gap. Vis-à-vis the practice of rote memorization which promotes thoughtlessness and evokes within it a blinded generation.

Alternatively, we may describe the efforts of the government’s agenda in the purposeful rejection of implementing critical thinking, as the development of the hidden curriculum. Originally coined by Philip W. Jackson (1968) in his book ‘Life in classrooms’, it reveals the differing approaches of education in India. For example, the aforementioned case draws upon the imbibing of the notion that education serves as upholding the interests of the dominant classes, at the expense of the weaker groups (Whitty, 1985). However, it can also illustrate the reproduction and legitimization of class inequalities through education serving as an ideological state apparatus (Althusser, 1970).

In other words, Bowles and Gintis (1977) utilized this same concept and indicated that: upper-class schools stress autonomy, self- expression and leadership, while lower-class schools are structured to foster compliance and the following of orders. Thus, state-run schools backed by their governmental objectives inculcate the locus of power with higher-class individuals and advocate social disparities by maintaining social class relations.

Viewed from a sociocultural perspective, it is evident that there is a cyclical indoctrination of values brought about by the lack of critical thinking. This is done through the cultural and philosophical values embedded and the low-quality of teaching passed on to lower-income students. In such, it characterizes a passive carrier of culture, where these values become fixed and unchangeable traits of individuals in a society. From this perspective, the impact of culture acting antipathically toward critical thinking is that it is viewed as true knowledge or reality.

Extrapolating this cultural phenomenon into the context of Plato’s allegory of the cave portrays the ignorance of the teachers and students in state-run schools. This is because it is most frequented by lower-income individuals / lower caste individuals whose philosophy lies within the concept of Varna* and do not know otherwise because they are unable to think critically.

*Varna — every Hindu must follow general moral codes, each has individual duties according to his or her own nature. These are called sva-dharma, literally “own duties.”

Ignorance fashioned by the Indian system of education can be illustrated through the abovementioned allegory. The people latched in the cave find value in the shadows of the cave, which they perceive as reality or true knowledge. This is represented by the cave of which the lower caste or lower-income individuals have maintained through the cyclical reproduction of social norms and values. Their belief (varna) that it is their duty to be treated with such discrimination and inferiority in pursuit of idealism represents the shadows. So, the shadows are the false pretences or distortions of justice etc. The government marches behind portraying these images on the wall through their advocation of such cultural values to persist through their curriculum. However, when an escaped man thinks critically and uncovers the illusions, he had known his whole life he is met with real knowledge. Acting as a whistleblower, he is threatened with violence upon entering the cave as people with ignorance resist truth because they are frightened of change. Thus, referring to the notion that a lack of critical thinking in mass creates a critical mass. This concept is currently evident through the recent eruption of religious and social intolerance in a country where these strata have coexisted for centuries. In this, the social values and norms cradle the prisoners of the cave as the true process of education — critical thinking — is unsettling and leads to isolation from their once known creature comforts. Ignorance, in other words, is more comfortable than knowledge.

Read, Rinse, Repeat

Another aspect of education in India in its erosion of critical thinking is the importance of testing in society. Otherwise known by pedagogues worldwide as a rat race. The Indian exam system has become a substantial part of its culture with test results carrying similar importance as weddings.

The entire ecosystem of education in India is centred around the diseased rote learning. This has mainly erupted through the ability of social mobility that enlists a bright future for underprivileged high scorers. It is viewed as a sole way to break against the social stratificational chains attached to individuals through ascription and warrants a glimpse of an elusive meritocracy. However, what’s rarely contemplated is that the function of the Indian examination system is facilitating the illusion of equal opportunity in a society ridden with educational inequity.

Moreover, a key stakeholder in assuring that state education does not reform is the private education industry consisting of learning and tuition centres. Private tuition has almost become a standard supplementary part of education in India. It has blossomed and mushroomed in urban areas of the country with the help of social obsession of competition and comparison between kin and peers. With small dual-income families growing more common, this enables more pressure to be put on a child’s test results because of the provision of greater resources to enhance scores.

Moreover, a survey revealed that the underlying reason for attending private tuition is the poor instruction of maths and science in relation to examinations in state schools (Sujatha et al. 2006). This yet again reiterates the influence of the hidden curriculum over the actual curriculum when confronted with specialist subjects. The authoritarian nature of pedagogy in India coupled with the lack of qualified teachers has exasperated this social issue and fostered one of the most profitable industries in India. Therefore, it is evident that the purpose of state education in India is to validate and reproduce social and cultural norms. Those who wish to gain specialized knowledge turn to private institutions.

Alternatively, the social and cultural pressure enlisted onto Indian students disenfranchises any opportunity to finetune critical thinking skills, as they are all consumed in the rat race and quantitative pseudo-intelligence.

In summary, as a baby is born it is painted with religion and caste by society and its unruly philosophies of life. The government advocates this reality by emphasizing the importance of stabilization rather than seeking true knowledge by arming students with critical thinking skills. This is emphasized through the indoctrination of values through state school’s actual agenda of the curriculum — the hidden curriculum. Moreover, exemplified through the culture and illusion of a meritocratic system whereby high-test scores equate intelligence and social mobility, students turn to private education centres for quality knowledge and education. It rewards short-term memorization which is misplaced in employers’ expectations of actionable skills on behalf of its employees. In turn, ensuing mass unemployment and social problems which are calmed by the philosophies of Varna and idealism.

Therefore, resisting the implementation of critical thinking is a weapon against social and cultural turmoil in India. Through this essay, I hope we come away with the conclusion that every child reared in India should be allowed to reach their potential through a just system of education. The sad reality of rote learning is that examination culture is penalizing creativity, innovation and originality. A grotesque sabotage of the lives of millions who have trusted that education is the key to their freedom.


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