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date: 24 June 2017

Psychology and its Impact on Education in India

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Psychology, more than any other discipline, has been a major influence in departments of education and has shaped the ways in which classrooms, pedagogy, and to a large extent curriculum, have evolved within school education. Learning theory, behaviorism, and a dominantly positivist framework have been instrumental in shaping the discipline of psychology, especially as it evolved within the newly created departments of education in the early 20th century. This was also the time that formal schooling for the masses and large scale public schooling systems were being consolidated all over the industrialized world. The comfortable convergence between a behaviorist view of human functioning and the mass socialization of children that schools were expected to fulfill gained credibility, thanks to the “scientific” nature and credentials of this theoretical framework at a time when positivism pervaded thinking within the social sciences.

In India, departments of education have always had a strong component of psychology, which constitutes one of the core foundational disciplines (in fact the one that is incorporated most seriously) within education and continues to form a considerable component of all teacher education programs and courses. It has, however, remained deeply entrenched within the positivist framework and a behaviorist paradigm. Mainstream educational research within departments of education has largely been shaped and influenced by this model, with a focus on empirical work. This behaviorist model of understanding learning and teaching has had its strongest influence in the sphere of pedagogy, where it has helped to strengthen traditional models of learning and teaching.

In the Indian context, psychology has, by and large, helped education researchers to maintain the notion of children as de-contextualized. The individual is attributed with characteristics such as intelligence and personality, and “measurement” has long been a technique for sorting and selection. It has also helped the field of education to maintain the idea of students as “gifted” or other, and to attribute responsibility for success and failure to the individual (student and teacher, and often the parent) and her/his capacities. This idea fits in well with a selection model for education that reinforces notions of individual merit, side-stepping issues of inequality, lack of access, and other social, political, and economic factors that are responsible for exclusion, marginalization, and, increasingly, a system of education that is deeply divided on a variety of parameters, ranging from class and caste to gender, community, region, etc. This perspective of school and the child has allowed educational research and practice to disregard the larger socio-economic and political structures within which schools, teachers, and students are embedded.