Social sciences refer to study of the society in a logical and scientific manner. In school, they draw content areas mainly from four disciplines — history, geography, political science and economics. Subjects like sociology, anthropology, logic and philosophy, etc are also there in invisible form in social sciences at the school level. These ‘invisible’ forms appear only at the higher stage of learning. Thus, the study of social sciences forms a broad knowledge base required for the building of a just and peaceful society. This makes its study indispensable at the school level.
Critical exploration and questioning are the key objectives of social science. They familiarize the child with social realities and help him/her in relating life experiences to them. Understanding in place of remembering by rote method, critiquing in place of silently accepting the texts and narratives, and deliberating in place of mere listening to lectures are the prime focus in the selection and organization of materials in the curriculum, syllabus and textbooks of the subject. If the focus is deflected, there has to be serious introspection.
The study of social sciences is not much welcomed at the school level. This needs a critical look. Science and mathematics, two other areas of school curriculum, have a direct bearing on professional education of engineering and medicine, etc. The parents while parenting the adolescent children insist on the ‘overlearning’ of these areas and let their wards presume that learning of social sciences and languages are ‘superfluous’. They refuse to believe that the ‘other’ curricular areas — such as health, art and literature — complement holistic learning. Learning of science and mathematics in isolation, without any supplement of social sciences and languages and literature as well as other curricular areas, may cause the greatest harm to the prospect of learning itself.
In other words, lopsided understanding of education results in the causality of the subject as well as of the learning process as a whole. Its obvious victim is the learner. Learning social science is indispensable and un-replenishable by any other curricular subject areas. This needs to be inculcated in the mind of the learner as well as of all those who ‘decide’ the choice of the adolescent learner.
Social sciences do not become ‘competitor’; rather they are for harmonizing the school learning situations. Knowledge is one and the different subjects supplement one another in the formative stage of learning. This means diluting a particular subject area may make the learning process lop sided.
In this context, teacher training seems to be an important area which needs a relook and introspection. Unless the social science teachers learn and realize to be continuous learners of the subject themselves, explaining its role in the making of a just and peaceful society and inculcating a sense of pride in the learning of subject will continue to remain a day dream. The poor self-esteem of teachers as teachers of the subject and their smugness in the handling of the subject and its texts as ‘final truth’ makes the subject uninspiring. Each subject is dynamic and ever growing, but it’s the teachers of the subject who must recognize it.
Generally a school child likes a subject through her teacher. In other words, a child gets to know about the subject through her teacher. It is the teacher who inculcates a sense of liking for the subject through her own perseverance and love — both for the child and the area. However, both in rural and urban schools, expensive and inexpensive schools, private and government schools, barring a very few, social science is more neglected than other learning areas. At times the teacher is induced by other stakeholders to neglect it.
It is a matter of regret that the system is getting prejudiced to look down upon the subject and, in the process, its teacher. In most of the cases, social science learning is mere perfunctory in the formative years. Is it not a common fact that the vacancy in social sciences is considered a lesser worry to the school than that in science or mathematics? Is it not a fact that all four areas (history, political science, geography and economics) of social sciences are handled by the same teacher (or at best two teachers), though her teaching expertise could be only in one area? As a result, the focus is on remembering facts — and not questioning, debating and discussing them. This makes the subject uninspiring, dull and repelling.
In a diverse society like India, social sciences, like language and literature, give an understanding about the social groups irrespective of their regional settings. The locality, nation and the broader world with their harmonizing and well-balancing affects get adequate focus only through this study. Avoiding its study or any perfunctory study may cause incalculable loss to the society as a whole.
The choice before a child with innate calibre is not between social science and no-social science at the school level. Rather, it is for studying it with the objective of understanding and exploring the grand ‘mystery’ of nature and society in a comprehensible and scientific manner; and discussing and deliberating it in an open-ending manner.
Educating the teacher is as much important as educating the parents and guardians of the learners in this respect. Presuming social sciences to be superfluous in school education is like de-capacitating the child and curtailing her subject choices.
(The author is Professor of History, Regional Institute of Education, Bhubaneswar)