Krishna Kumar: A Critical Engagement with Knowledge

Whether he is writing children’s books or teaching at the university, the former Director of NCERT and our Renaissance Person for the quarter brings a fresh outlook to education in the country

One of the characteristic features of the Renaissance was the blurring of boundaries between various fields of thought and participation. This was the time when artists and architects were inspired by the natural sciences and drew from mathematics and philosophy. This multidynamic engagement with knowledge enabled them to tap into their own creativity, which led to path-breaking works that relevantly engaged with the needs of their time. In the space of education thinking and reform today, Krishna Kumar has emerged as one such Renaissance Person.

Krishna Kumar’s professional occupation ranges from being an educator and educational reformist to a writer of a range of works in the field – interpretive history, policy documents, essays and children’s books. At the early stages of his teaching career, he started writing on children’s education for the popular Hindi magazine Dinaman. Through this, he came in touch with Raghuvir Sahay, an important Hindi poet who was editing the magazine at the time. Many years later, he published a reader on Sahay’s works, Raghuvir Sahay Sanchyita. As a bilingual writer, his publications range from books on education to short stories for both adults and children.

Noted for his writings in sociology and history of education, Krishna Kumar has used the school curriculum as a means of social inquiry. One of his most impactful and cited collection of lectures and essays, What Is Worth Teaching? (1992), reflects on the making of curricular realities in Indian schools. Politics of Education in Colonial India (1991/2014), Prejudice and Pride (2001) (a comparative study of Indian and Pakistani textbooks) and Choori Bazaar mein Larki (2013) (on the upbringing of girls) are among his major works.   

He has framed his study of education as a critical engagement with modernity in a colonized society. His writings explore the patterns of conflict and interaction between the forces of the vernacular and the state. As a teacher and bilingual writer, he has developed an aesthetic of pedagogy and knowledge that aspires to mitigate this aggression and violence so rampant in the school world. Towards this, he led important reforms in the field of education during his tenure as the Director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an apex organisation for curricular reforms in India. The National Curriculum Framework brought radical improvements to textbooks in all subjects for primary, secondary and senior secondary classes. In order to bring about effective curricular reforms, the NCERT also provided significant assistance to States under his leadership. Initiatives such as a new assessment strategy for primary schools, recognition of schools representing the heritage of the independence movement, satellite-based in-service training, and the introduction of new subjects such as creative writing and translation, and heritage crafts at the senior secondary stage were also introduced during his tenure.

Krishan Kumar was awarded a Padma Shri by the President of India in 2011.

Read our conversation with him here:

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