What Do Festivals Teach Us

6 Dec
Is there a role for festivals in our education system? In schools? In higher education? For an avowedly secular state, the question becomes quite a fundamental one – whether education is separate from religion.

Insofar as education is part of the government, it must, by definition be secular. A significant part of the education system is of course sponsored by religious trusts where the rules are slightly different – if not compulsory. And yet, across the board in schools we see comfortable medium between acknowledging religion as part of our daily lives and ensuring it does not become a formal part of the education system. Every major festival is preceded by some art or craft activity that acknowledges the day, especially in younger classes. At the same time, it would be futile to deny that the particular preferences of the individual schools or teachers tends to skew this attention in line with the same preferences. A ‘convent’ school will spend more time on Christmas related activities than an Arya Samaj school. A ‘private’ school will certainly try to do it all, but the enthusiasm of those who directly manage the process will show through. And this degree of autonomy, which necessarily leads to a non standard approach to festivals in schools is precisely the kind of freedom and maturity that is to be commended. We do what we can, we do what we like and we are subject to rapid feedback from our stakeholders. Parental involvement in school work is a strong mechanism that helps customize non standard segments of the curriculum.

In contrast, Delhi university has recently been part of an unseemly ruckus over an essay on the Ramayan by A.K Ramanujam which was removed from the syllabus by the University. The essay, part of the history syllabus, refers to various versions of the Ramayana which irked Hindutva activists – who have protested for its removal in previous years too. Left wing liberals are now protesting to have it reinstated in the curriculum. It is here that religion and curricula collide – where objectivity is lost. Where the content of the teaching becomes tainted by religion, it is impossible to strive to create a balanced point of view, a long range perspective either of history or for the future.

Undoubtedly, religion has seeped into course books even in secular nations, while those nations with a state religion of course tend to be influenced towards the national religion. A certain degree of social engineering is practiced via most national curricula, whether religious, value based or economic. Each generation that comes out of a particular schooling ethos tends to carry a certain programming whether intended or not. This is why the responsibility of designing the system well lies heavy even on wise shoulders.

As for our festivals – it is up to us to create and sustain a vibrant multiculturalism in our society – the variety that adds perspective and keeps us competitive on the world stage.

This was published on October 27, 2011 by Times of India here:



One Response to “What Do Festivals Teach Us”

  1. R.Geetha April 10, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Culture is transmitted to the next generation by religious festivals. The textbooks incorporate this transmission as lessons in social studies. Education is actually a part of cultural transmission. Thus we cannot take out culture out of education. Our identity as a nation and as people of Indian culture is established by these lessons in social studies.So let us not be secular and deprive our children of our culture

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