From the White House: British schools need to teach more history of India

English: State Visit of Indian Prime Minister ...
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I watched the President of the United States from the White House speaking in Hindi, to welcome the Indian Prime Minister. Obama speaking Hindi having invited on the prestigious occasion of his first ever State Dinner the Indian Head of Government. Oh, I should confess I was not there in person. Thankfully the White House website broadcast the event live and as I am a political junkie I sat watching it at 3am from London.

Of course President Obama also in his inauguration speech acknowledged that America ‘is a nation … of Hindus…’ The first ever US Presidential inaugural speech to acknowledge Hindus. Why do Indians feels such astonishment at recognition from a Western voice, more so than their own? After all the Indian Prime Minister spoke in English?

The parody from Goodness Gracious Me of the parent who explains to his son that all good things were ‘made in India’ is funny because it is true that our parents did exactly that. And we, the children of Britain, would with exasperation refuse to believe the wonders of far away India. Thankfully things have come full circle and parents no longer need to speak with such pride – American Presidents do it for them.

When I wrote Trading Online I dedicated the book not to any living person or recently deceased relative, as is the norm, but to ‘My Indian ancestors, for a proud heritage’ and I quoted from amongst others Albert Einstein who said, ‘We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made’.

Would a quote from Radhakrishnan, no less a great man in his own field as Einstein, about the greatness of Indian heritage had as much impact upon my reader – Western and Indian?

But why does Indian heritage generally get such little coverage? When I was appointed by the Prime Minister in 2000 to the UK India Roundtable Chaired by Lord Paul to examine all aspects of the bilateral relationship and ways of improving bilateral relations even further between the countries, one policy recommendation I made repeatedly was that greater Indian history ought to be taught in British schools.

If you want a child to leave school with a full rounded education, and ensure they understand not only the forces shaping the world today and into the future, but the forces that have shaped the world to date, then education about how the end of the largest Empire known to man, through peaceful political means, and the growth of one of the largest dozen global economies ought to be in the curriculum – I would venture a guess?

I fear the reason education about India is lacking in the curriculum is because of the old Victorian Lord Macaulay attitude that ‘I could not find one of them who could deny that one good shelf of a European library is worth the whole native literature of India’. We must not in Britain become Macaulay’s children – for Britain’s sake.

As the US President readies for Copenhagen and the climate summit we should all recall the words of Toynbee, ‘ it is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending, if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race.’

And that education will better equip Britain in the future to engage politically and economically with a country of rising political and economic significance. Britain recognised it on the eve of the birth of the East India Company, it ought not to forget it in its education curricula now.

1 Comment

  1. Could not agree more! I was brought up in Bradford, where many different people from different cultures and backgrounds live, I feel that history at school should cover more social history regarding the British commonwealths e.t.c as this would help young people understand more about why we have so many different cultures in our communities, I remember learning about American Indians in our history lessons, this was interesting but bears no assistance in understanding British people from different ethnic backgrounds, I was always interested in the culture of my Indian/ Pakistani friends and this has helped me build relationships with people In Business and my community and can see how education can help British people understand each other better and also in the long run work better with other countries.

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