This past academic year we launched the first Naujawani.com Sikh Studies course. The course lasting 14 weeks for just 1 hour a week, was made available to any university Sikh society in the UK that wanted to offer it to their membership – we would provide teaching, reading lists and other resources, whilst they provided the room. I had no idea what kind of reception we would get: How many Unis would want in? Would we face animosity from anyone? Would anyone see out the course?
These anxieties are natural and I told myself and the board at Naujawani.com that if we offered it, students would take it. Having taught our final week of the course today in the surroundings of the beautiful British Museum, I have no doubt that it was not only a success, but a stepping stone to greater things. Not only for Naujawani.com and our work in helping to advance the Sikh and Punjabi communities worldwide, but also for the field of Sikh Studies in higher education and Sikh societies in UK universities.
You’d think convincing uni students to engage in academic study that does not count towards their degree is relatively difficult. But throughout the course we didn’t find that at all. In fact we found it easy to enrol young people from Sikh families to learn more about the way of life that was supposed to be their own. Young people always get a hard time and always will. Every generation forgets what it was like to be young and looks at the ‘youth of the day’ negatively, pointing out their foibles and discretions. In the UK in particular, young people from Sikh backgrounds are generally considered to be either uninterested in Sikhi or ‘militant’. The group of students we taught this year were neither – they were interested in learning about Sikhi in a way that was systematic and therefore familiar to them. Our syllabus covered basic history, culture and ideology in a chronological format providing ample references to primary sources, a range of authors and any number of journals and articles.
This is generally a new way of teaching Sikhi in Sikh circles in the UK. I myself was taught about Sikhi in this manner, but am well aware that very few of our Gurdware, school classes or Gurmat camps teach young people in a way that they can question, reflect and then go away to continue the study in their own time, based on the references that they have been given. It shouldn’t, but does shock me when young Sikhs who otherwise appear to know so much about Sikhi have never heard of the Vadda Ghallughara or the Annexation of Punjab, or don’t know the authors of the Guru Granth Sahib or the constitution of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution… these are direct results of a lack of methodology in teaching young people about Sikhi. We hope that this tide may be turning.
The quality of the students would certainly suggest so. As part of the course, students were encouraged to write about what they had learnt in a private, online space accessible only to other students on the course. Take-up was and is slow, but work began to materialise – some of it surprisingly remarkable. We held a monthly competition for the most interesting piece of work produced and offered a prize ranging from books to an ipod Shuffle (we ended up giving away two of those!) Students such as Navraj Singh Kular, Jasdeep Singh Gill, Akaal Kaur, Jaspinder Singh Baidwan and Harkiran Kaur Sagoo were worthy winners as were the two delightful students pictured below, Inderveer Khaira and Preeti Dulay, who managed to maintain a 100% attendance record – no mean feat considering they are at university and the course ran over 14 weeks! They were suitably rewarded with books and French Connection vouchers!
You can read more about the course at our resources website dedicated to university Sikh societies, SikhSocs.com.