Aims of History and Social Sciences Education

In my previous post, we explored “What kind of Social Sciences is worth teaching.”
Will there be any contention if it is stated that travelling to see places, armchair politics and stories concerning people- famous and ordinary, are among the top topics of non-work discussion for ordinary people in India (and elsewhere as well)? I do not think so. Ask any tour operator and he/she would confirm that our local tourism industry is thriving; Check any discussion forum, be it an informal gathering or a formal, one will find that politics is the most discussed topic; and a glance at the daily supplements of our newspapers and general magazines confirm the marketability of stories concerning people. If we strip the subject of social science down to the bare minimum, one can see that it is all about stories of people, places and institutions and we see all around us people tuning into stories, be it on the television, movie screens or newspapers.
However, survey of people, in general, on how interested they were in any of the social science subjects during their school days will indicate that either they were bored and hence completely switched off or disinterested because they saw no value add from these subjects to the practicalities of living life. And this when the subjects are all about living life!
In 1964, the Kothari commission said that one of the aims of teaching social (studies) science is to help students acquire certain values and attitudes which are critical for participation in the affairs of the world other than the acquisition of knowledge of the environment and understanding the human relationships.

 

The subjects that make up social science in school connect us to the past to understand, appreciateand learn how we have reached to where we are now; they also connect us to the present through the study of institutions that govern us; and contextualise the past and present by providing us with an understanding of the larger ecosystem that we are a part of.
Social science helps us to dream of building a better world. Practical questions related to human development such as ‘How to make our cities better, improve standards of living, reduce crime rates, overcome discrimination, provide better governance, improve productivity’ are what social science is made of.
The social sciences are sometimes described as the policy sciences, although the contribution of disciplines such as sociology and political science to the making of policy is indirect and limited. In any case, it would be unrealistic to aim to make school students into policy makers or even policy advisers. At the same time, a general awareness of how economy, polity and society work can help them in later life to understand the role of policy in public life. It can provide them with a basis for taking an informed view as to why some policies and not others are adopted, and, among those that are adopted, why some succeed and others fail. My view is that the more significant contribution of the social sciences is not in the training for policy making, but in the education for citizenship. An educated citizenry is indispensable for the proper working of a democracy. One does not pluck the qualities that make a good citizen out of the air; one needs a certain kind of education to acquire and promote them. To be a good citizen, it is not enough to be well informed about physical and biological phenomena; the good citizen must also have an informed understanding of the social world of which s/he is a part.
In 2005, in its position paper on social science, the NCF said that it is important to ‘reinstate the significance of the social sciences by not only highlighting its increasing relevance for a job in the rapidly expanding service sector, but by pointing to its indispensability in laying the foundations for an analytical and creative mindset’.
Educating students for citizenship, for example, requires encouraging them to think clearly, systematically and objectively about the social as well as the natural world. Beyond that, in the social sciences, it is important to give them some knowledge and understanding about the varieties of economic, political and social arrangements in such a way that the description and analysis of facts is not subordinated to the preferences and prejudices of teachers and writers of text-books.

 

In the next partof this blogpost, we’ll explore how teaching of the social sciences to school children is complicated by what may be called the ‘value problem’ in these disciplines.
– The blog piece has been written by Ms. Vasundhara, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 
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