Ignore India 'at your peril', says Cobra founder

Peer urges schools to forge links with the emerging powerhouse

Irena Barker

Pupils will miss out if schools fail to teach them about Indian history, politics and culture as the country emerges as a global economic powerhouse, according to a peer and leading businessman.

Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer, said schools should capitalise on Britain's existing links to India to prepare pupils for business and cultural dealings there in the future. The president of the UK India Business Council recommended that pupils also learn in depth about the history of the country, exploring the ancient empire of Ashoka the Great, the origins of Buddhism and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi (pictured below).

Lord Bilimoria, who graduated from university in Hyderabad, India, before taking a second degree in law at the University of Cambridge in the 1980s, was due to speak on the subject at an education conference held yesterday at the independent school Brighton College.

Speaking to TES ahead of the conference, Lord Bilimoria said it was important that children became better informed about India from a young age.

"If schools ignore India, we will miss out," he said. "It is a growing market in every single field, from media and publishing to manufacturing. We mustn't miss out on giving children a huge head start in engaging with an emerging economic powerhouse. You ignore India at your peril."

Lord Bilimoria recommended that all British schools twin with Indian schools and that pupils develop their skills by volunteering in the country.

The conference was also due to hear from education secretary Michael Gove and Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw on how independent schools should be used to support the state sector. Television historian David Starkey was expected to use his speech at the conference to renew his calls for English history to be taught chronologically.

Dr Starkey, who participated in the series Jamie's Dream School last year, told TES that pupils should be given a strong sense of historical narrative and that to neglect the history of one's own country was "a kind of suicide". "You want to give people a sense of where they are in time," he said. "It's about saying, 'This is your culture, who you are, where you come from.'"

He said that the modern trend for getting pupils to analyse historical source documents was a "parody of learning" as schoolchildren lacked the contextual knowledge to do this.

Dr Starkey said it was dangerous to take a "postmodern" approach to teaching history that valued a school pupil's view as much as that of a history professor at Cambridge. "Why do children need to find out for themselves the date of the Battle of Hastings?" he said.

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Irena Barker

Irena Barker is a freelance journalist.

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