The University of Grants Commission (UGC) recently launched Indian Knowledge System (IKS) online courses for undergraduate and postgraduate students.
It has also introduced IKS in UGC-NET to encourage doctoral research in the same.
This move comes in the wake of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 making incorporation of IKS at all educational levels one of its prominent tenets.
In current times, these steps represent systematic efforts towards the revival of IKS. Fragments of Indic knowledge have survived through oral traditions, manuscripts, and dedicated scholars, even when its preservation was threatened by a millennium of invasion and colonialism.
After centuries of suppression, there has been a resurgence of interest and recognition of the value of traditional knowledge.
The establishment of the Ministry of AYUSH under the Narendra Modi government in 2014 and the participation of various other organisations display concerted efforts by the government since then to revive, validate, document, and promote India’s ancient scientific knowledge.
Among different organisations for promotion, appreciation, and deep understanding of IKS at educational levels, the National Council of Education and Research (NCERT) holds special significance.
With approximately 10.5 crore students at primary and secondary levels and only one-third of it at undergraduate level, the NCERT has bigger shoes to fit than UGC. The role of NCERT textbooks is consequential and irreplicable for many reasons.
First, the sheer scale of NCERT reaching millions of students in India is unparalleled. There are almost 27,000 CBSE schools across the nation that subscribe to NCERT textbooks for teaching.
As NCERT also provides standardised curricula nationwide, it is a mass platform for creating awareness about India’s scientific heritage among students from diverse socio-economic-cultural backgrounds.
Second, school education (especially till Class X) influences young minds in their formative years. It is a perfect time to create strong foundations because whatever children learn at these ages remains imprinted on their psyche.
An early exposure to IKS in sciences will instil a lifelong appreciation for age-old wisdom and set the stage for revival and engagement with India’s scientific traditions. It will also encourage students to pursue careers in related fields by instilling a sense of mission in preserving these practices throughout their lives.
Third, there is no bridge between generations like school education. By passing down the traditional scientific knowledge to younger generations through NCERT textbooks, future generations can embrace and celebrate it.
With sustainability as an inherent thought, India also boasts a rich heritage of various indigenous technologies, such as sustainable agricultural practices, architecture, and handicrafts. Within these texts and practices lies a treasure trove of scientific knowledge with the potential to push modern society into a healthy and environment-conscious lifestyle.
NCERT books must work towards incorporating these concepts in their syllabus in addition to modern technologies.
As modern society grapples with lifestyle-based health concerns and sustainability issues, students, especially in secondary grades, must be exposed to ancient Indian practices that can provide plausible solutions.
For instance, particular emphasis can be given to revitalising Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation. The books can incorporate concepts like tridosha (vata, pitta, kapha) and pranayama and their importance in a balanced lifestyle. It will help students understand a holistic and personal approach to health and well-being.
The learners can also be introduced to traditional dietary principles, such as saatvik, rajasik, tamsik foods, and shat rasa in Ayurveda. These concepts can discuss the benefits of balanced diets, millets and the importance of eating locally and seasonally grown food.
The NCERT books can also introduce the knowledge of medicinal plants and their therapeutic properties, allowing students to learn the benefits of indigenous herbs like turmeric, neem, tulsi, and amla.
Among many traditional practices, India has a long history of sustainable agriculture, like organic farming, crop rotation, and water conservation techniques. Exposure to these concepts can further explore innovative and sustainable solutions to modern-day agricultural challenges such as soil infertility, biodiversity loss, and food sustainability.
Students can also be taught traditional techniques of food preservation, cooking, sprouting and fermentation that were used to maximise nutrition and taste.
Famous for its pedagogical approach, NCERT can go beyond theoretical knowledge and encourage students to explore, experiment, and experience the practical applications of ancient scientific wisdom.
The books must also highlight the contributions of scientists and scholars from ancient India to instil pride and curiosity. By integrating ancient wisdom with modern scientific concepts, NCERT can foster appreciation for ancient India’s intellectual prowess.
School education is a conduit for connecting the ancient and modern worlds. It should let students appreciate the relevance of ancient practices in contemporary times.
The inclusion of ancient practices in school education, when facilitated by NCERT, will ensure that millions of students know India’s scientific legacy from an early age.
These initiatives go beyond teaching and research to actively work towards preserving traditional knowledge, facilitating its accessibility, and protecting it from misappropriation.
Reclaiming India’s ancient scientific knowledge represents a remarkable journey of rediscovery and celebration of a rich intellectual heritage.
As the nation reconnects traditional wisdom, it paves the way for a future where the past and present converge, empowering individuals to become torchbearers of ancient wisdom and innovation.
Akanksha Jain is a doctoral researcher at Faculty of Life Sciences and Biotechnology in South Asian University and has been a Project Fellow at NCERT. She tweets @akankshajn14.
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