Myth and Reality in the History of Indian Education

Parimala V Rao


At the outset, «myth», which is a widely held false belief, and «history» as a scientific discipline based on actual fact might appear to be incompatible. However, the history of Indian education abounds with several myths that are far removed from reality. Such myths were developed for political and ideological reasons. As Eric Hobsbawm argues, «myth and inventions are essential to the politics of identity»; to claim that «we are different from, and better than the other is part and parcel of this process» (Hobsbawm, 1997, p. 7). In the history of Indian education, myths were invented and perpetuated to prove that Indians were essentially different to Europeans. In certain myths, Indians are superior to the Europeans and do not require the knowledge created in Europe, and in other myths it was the might of the colonial state that imposed modern education upon the passive recipients. All these myths begin with basic assumption that the world consists of neatly divided categories of East-West; coloniser-colonised, and European-non-European. These categories are often considered to be mutually exclusive, incompatible and impermeable. This paper addresses two primary myths in the history of Indian education – that «pre colonial indigenous education was oral» (Kumar, 1991) and «modern education was European cultural imposition» (Carnoy, 1972) – as well as a cluster of secondary myths created to reinforce them.


India; history; education; Gandhi; myths

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