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Curriculum and ethics: to embrace the greys

Author: Melvin Mathew Thomas

Asst Professor 

NITTE Institute of Communication (NICO)


Swedish anthropologist, Helena Norberg-Hodge, spent over a decade studying the changes modernisation brought to the hills and valleys of Ladakh. In the documentary titled ‘Ancient futures: Learning from Ladakh’ – based on her study, and a visual text I often use in my classes, the viewers come across a very interesting interview of Sonam Wangchuk – a student leader. He observes how the school text books teach children how to make tea. And the most successful child in that module would be the one who can easily re-produce the steps on their answer scripts. The child might not have even tried a hand at making tea. 

For me, in an education system that places immense importance on specialisation, ethics faces the same crises. And to make things worse, our curriculum often aids in its failure. Ethics gets brushed under a miniscule subheading of a neglected unit which contains subject specific niche jargons. Often being ridiculed as a sermon that one can easily reproduce on their answer scripts. Yes, ethics requires constant practice, it ought to become a behavioural trait that one practices without any sort of conscious effort. But I believe that our curriculum, cutting across programmes and courses, can aid in this effort. 

In a country with thousands of educational courses, and hundreds of schools and colleges, can’t we formally set aside one hour per week per course, in an attempt to make it interdisciplinary? And open to all.

A moment where education is not privileged, not lectured, not taught. But debated. A moment to discuss case studies from various stand-points and backgrounds – as to practice empathy, is to encourage tolerance. To keep personal biases and baggage aside, to not see things as black and white. To accept differences. To embrace the greys.

To discuss, to debate, and to see beyond a human-centric view – while at the same time – tailoring it to the individual courses we can offer. This can happen in architecture, medicine, dentistry, communication, pharmacy, nursing, you name it. After all, isn’t this what gives us a lot of accreditation points as well? So, what do we have to lose. (While, I must add, hats off to those who have been practicing it.)

Our narrow understanding of success, progress and development has caused immense damage to our society and our environment. Unfortunately, we are still attempting to negotiate with nature even though we lost that line of privilege years ago.

Behavioural changes do not happen overnight, or in the form of time bound projects such as cleaning drives of parks and beaches, or other five year plans. Yes, it gives us a lot of likes and shares on social media, a lot of publicity, but we are merely polishing the veneer, ignoring the ruthlessly damaged vitals.

Behavioural changes is like treating a deep wound. We need to understand the immediate critical need to care for the deep wound. The infection has spread. And we need to begin with a basic realisation that band-aids do not heal deep wounds. Let us be patient and get ourselves painful stiches to heal the deep cut. It is okay to falter, but we cannot afford to negotiate.

As we accept this as the remedy, we should not pat our backs with pride and pomposity. This is not for the cameras or any other marketing strategy. We are only mending with the left hand what we broke with the right. We messed up. BIG. And the work of the left needs to pick up pace if we are to give our children and their children a fighting chance; to avoid mass extinction of innocent animals, birds and other organisms who are constantly facing the brunt of our apathy, ignorance and selfish wants that have been branded as needs and requirements. 

No, this is not out of anger, but out of disappointment and embarrassment. We messed up, big. Period. And I am sorry for playing a huge part in it.