Education reforms not so easy and that calls for deep thought!

BhagwatPranabFormer President Pranab Mukherjee was in Nagpur the other day. That raised many eyebrows. For the right and wrong reasons! The guest speaker said that India’s identity is about tolerance. Fine, perhaps we would have said, Indian polity too should be known for its great tolerance. Diversity is another Indian character, said the former head of state. We would have said rather diversity of thought, speech and writing is our defining character. And so it can go on. On the whole, contrary to the much fear and apprehension expressed at many fora, Pranab da surprised everyone by winning hearts at the RSS camp as well as in the Congress fraternity.

That is wisdom and experience and a bit of a tolerant outlook on the part of the senior Congress leader. Now, we see the education sector in India and decry the steep fall in standards and shall we say in the way the education ministry is going about in its endeavour to search for an identity for its own programmes. Education is a serious field. We should know that in ancient Greece, education was a very serious affair. The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974 edition has a 100 page write up under the head, education! We would recommend our hon’ble ministers of education in the states and the Centre must glance through these pages.

Now, in the four years that elapsed, the Central Government didn’t do a thing for which we may like to recall and remember after this government completes its term. For the simple reason, we imagine, the government didn’t think it right to call for the experts, great thinkers and intellectuals or see what is happening in other progressive countries and societies.

Now, we read a small news item, so small that we might have missed that this government wanted to replace the many education regulators, UGC, AICTE and others with a single body. Please don’t do that! It might lead to more confusion. Why do we say this? You first show us the experts who can demonstrate some credibility. Niti Aayog has advised so, says the news item. Niti Aayog is not the competent body. You have to have an Education Commission and the names must be publicly known and winning credibility. Anyway, the proposed reform is postponed. Better it be so. Wait and invite opinions and views. There are eminent educationists in the country.

Consult them and also consult even some foreign experts, invite scholars from Oxford and Harvard and beyond. Let one or two Nobel Prize winners join and give India the best expertise in the areas of specialisation, more so in higher education.

Education in an uncertain world
Education for Enlightenment! Please understand one and all!

Yes, Indian education today is being driven by the sheer mindless market forces! Everyday, we are flooded with full-page newspaper ads claiming this or that targets of first rankers or other exams. But do you know the world outside? There is resistance for migration and asylum seekers in the West. Why, even inside, we see there are vacancies in the much-rated IITs!

MaucaulayA total of 18,138 candidates out of 1, 55,158, who appeared qualified the JEE Advanced this year. So, there are vacancies here at the IITs too! Abroad, USA, UK, why even in Europe there is resistance to migrants into their countries. Italy refused to take in a migrant ship carrying 600 migrants. So, the long waiting list of Green Card seekers in the USA and the long list of illegal migrant in the UK must send some signal in the Indian academic world. But alas! Indian educators, the education entrepreneurs live in blissful ignorance or unconcern! So, where does our generation of youngster, the original Macaulay children, is left with? No one has an answer or a clue. So, what is education for?

We say it is not for education to get you into another country. May be you would be left with only to live in this country. So, you, all, please realize, sooner or later, that education is not for jobs or migration. It is for your own Enlightenment! We have had some education histories and these were long time ago. We are not sure of what is being taught in the large number of teacher’s education colleges or among the university departments of education. Macaulay had chosen the English medium in 1834 and since then English language had come to dominate and the consequences are so serious today to drive much of education activities towards a mind-killing memorization and  driving the students, bright Indian youngsters towards a soul-killing  competitive exams, a series of competitive exams that had replaced any learning as such.

Today, the newspapers, almost everyday, round the year, we see carrying so vulgar a scenario with the first two pages, why even four pages ads on full-page basis proclaiming all sorts of nonsense as education courses.

In the 18th century England, there arose an industrial and social and class differentiation that Matthew Arnold (Culture and Anarchy) called the new classes emerging: Philistine, Barbarians and the Populace. A similar situation is now emerging in the Indian educated classes. We can call them here by the very same epithets. Are we not creating a new class of Indian barbarians among the so-called educated? The whole lot of people who benefit by the various dubious education courses from universities offering open-university degrees whose worth you have to check for yourself.

Everyone is cheating himself or herself with those degrees. And alas! The universities running such rackets whose actual activities have come out in the open and no one cares to correct the aberrations in the name of open-university degree courses. The most corrupt practices, the universities give affiliation and collects hefty fees and the colleges; most of them very third rate, in turn collect hefty fees and sign the degrees on paper.

This is called Open University degrees! Some universities in the South, we know for sure in Tamil Nadu which have open, or permitted to be opened in some 500 centres from all over India! A remote small town university had in fact indulged and what this seems to be the pattern elsewhere and this racket had now been stopped we learn, but we are not sure; till a new Governor, the Constitutional head of a university, has come and had stopped this racket by showing some active interest in the University administration. But the arrest of three Vice-Chancellors for corruption of this nature had been reported! The point here is that we in India had been witness to some blatant negligence of education as a serious and dedicated area of public service.

Unfortunately, we have perpetuated the old-style Macaulay, clerical education that is the worthlessness of education as a way to life, jobs and various skills, not learnt in the proper sense. Today, under the Narendra Modi regime, we haven’t improved in our opinion, even one percent in education reform. In a recent ‘substantial’ interview the current holder of the portfolio, the hon’ble Prakash Javadekar (The Hindu, June 13) the minister says about many things. But most of the questions and answers seem to us as not substantial but superficial, surface questions like the expansion of unregulated engineering colleges, deemed universities and autonomous colleges.

The only news is that this BJP government had allocated 4% of the budget for education. Hardly this is news. May be he must have done some calculations how much money is collected by the new money-making class or the new class of Philistines and Barbarians and the Populace class, the unsuspected new class of education seekers. The new class of education seekers is of course helpless, so we can’t blame them, they might take this is the only way to escape from poverty and backwardness.

It is the new middle class that has come to corner much of the government jobs under various quotas and their only hope is to migrate at the first opportunity to the US shores or other countries where they are given an asylum. In UK alone there are reportedly some 3 lakh and odd illegal refugee Indians! All highly qualified. Is this the education we Indians feel proud to promote here? Is this the goal of education providers, in all these full-page advertisers?

In the teaching and coaching, tuition industry we have some of the biggest corporate names too! To that extent those corporate entities have to hang their heads in shame. Of course, we can see some bright lights in the form of Private Universities. We don’t know yet their real genuineness. We are sure that given the poor foundations on which these Universities have come to be established there can’t be any deeper foundations. They are in the state’s Higher Education Councils. One such is there on the Marina Beach in Chennai. You have to go into the premises to find out how ‘bogus’ the functioning of such bodies.

In conclusion, we would only say that we have to go back in history that our whole ideas of higher education have to start with Greece and Rome and come down to the later ages. Perhaps the European Enlightenment, the French Revolution, later-day developments to the establishment and fulfillment of the British Empire and the whole history of British education based on the Greek and Roman classics, the study of Greek and Latin languages and the Greek and Roman institutions of Athens and Rome, democracy, freedom and ethics and truth, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, down the ages we come to what we have to really call the Westernization of knowledge. This is a tough territory to go into. But we have to go into this tough territory and recast our idea of education, pursuit of truth and ethics in our public life.

We have to teach history, politics and Parliamentary history to give a rounded liberal education. There is no other alternative way in education. Please learn to digest the genuineness of this history. Someone has to bell the ‘cat’! Who can do it is a question that can’t be answered here!

The nitty-gritty of education! Yes, education for what? Skills, jobs or migration?

rteIndian education, in our view, is in deep crisis! No one in authority has a clue where our education is heading! It is heading simply in the way market forces to push education pursuits. The rising middle class, not the old middle class but the new middle class that comprises a whole lot of new social strata that often takes the political roles, one political outfit, we hesitate to call it a political party; calls the NEET to be abolished or tailored to promote students from one state only and no consideration for even the whole country.

More and more democratic politics becomes populist, more and more demands and more and more education streams are likely to permeate all sections. May be who knows a time may come when even quotas for admissions to LKG and UKG might come! The Right to Compulsory Education (RTE) has done wonders for school enrolment and there is now a sense of equity and equality in the sort of quality education. May be we have to see what new forces might come about from the more and more deprived sections of society.

Democracy in India is well-established at one level of looking at realities at the ground level. May be a time might come also for further levelling up. The exams also might become more liberal and why, even irrelevant and the attempts now made to introduce exams at the 8th or other levels might be given up. You see we have already levelled up education quality by many reforms. The very competitive providers of education call them by any name you like but don’t call them as educators, they are education entrepreneurs and there is such a fierce competition that newspaper, why even the TV channels are competing for ad space! Such is the education scenario now. Everyone is into the tuition industry and call them by whatever fancy name they are capable of.

Illiterates are educators now, the more uneducated the more clever they are. Tamil Nadu has the dubious distinction in this category of 100% pass producing schools that at one Delhi’s better colleges the entire class of Commerce is filled with students from South Indian towns. The so-called cut-off marks syndrome is broken! This is the most degrading type of education. Skills? What are the types of skills? The very many competitive education market had almost destroyed all principles of good education, liberal, rational and philosophical foundations of a creative, cultural and innovative society.

India has become a material society pursuing all material wealth and education is all about scoring marks, writing further competitive exams and also committing suicides for further pursuits. Where are the education thinkers, policy makers, wise men and women?

A provocation for this column is a news item I read in the Kolkata edition of the Times of India. The Governor of the West Bengal State, Keshari  Nath Tripathi  has sent out a letter of invitation to several city intellectuals for tea at Raj Bhavan on April 26.The letter was sent to atleast 16 writers and social activists.  

Keshari  Nath Tripathi

Keshari Nath Tripathi

The purpose was to gauge the mood of the intelligentsia, as in Bengal the pre- panchayat poll violence continues. One or two of the names I know well. Nabanita Sen( the former life partner of Prof.Amartya Sen, my own old friend of the Santiniketan days, is one among them. Shankha Ghosh is another name known to me. Incidentally my education was at Santiniketan, also later at Oxford University. The writers, poets and other names I need not enumerate for constraint of space.

In the present  time, as author Sen has said “the present political situation is such that the country and state are going through a terribly bad phase. Everyone can see what is going on and there is no reason why I should keep quiet. In fact, I would expect my fellow invitees to do the same”. Another invitee, the educationist and writer, Pabitra Sarkar said: “It is an honour to be invited by the governor “and so said another invitee, Suranjan Das, the Jadavpur University VC. This news item provoked me to write these lines.

May be other state governors under the BJP regime might also be feeling suffocated to play their legitimate roles as governors.
I know for sure that in the South, the universities  are riddled with so many problems. We talk of politicization of universities; this process started right in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian parties.

Also came the corruption hand in hand! A series of developments, some 500 odd  self-financing engineering colleges and a rash of deemed universities came in a rush and the highly chauvinistic Dravdianisation so to say; led to third rate appointment along with slogans like classical Tamil and the buildup of the personality of the then Chief Minister as the savior of the Tamil people. This was a heady wine and the rest is history.

Now, the unimagined happened. An incumbent VC is arrested in daylight right in his office accepting bribe! Another two VCs are charge sheeted for hefty corruption. Right now, the state is grappling with other scandals. Unfortunately, the governor by all means, a highly respected person is caught in this whirlwind of false allegations by vested interests. Corruption in universities is now taken for granted. Even the venerable Visva Bharati was not spared. The President of India as Visitor signed the removal of the VC! What a shame!

In Karnataka, another drama is enacted. The VC and the CM don’t see eye to eye on the university affairs.

I had had some experiences  in the university issues when I was the Member of the Madras Legislative Council. It was I who moved a private member’s bill in 1972 in the Council and made a speech that led to the termination of the legendary figure of Dr. A.Laskshmanaswamy Mudaliar’s term as the VC of Madras University. A term that lasted unbroken for 27 years!

Also, I did bring another private member’s bill to set up a full-fledged Tamil University in 1972. It was later established, however, in a very different format and it remains a great disappointment. To reform the Indian universities and their ranking in the international scheme of things is an uphill task, it seems.

First, we have to tackle corruption in VC’s appointment. This step has been now taken by the TN Governor and this is welcome. We need more such efforts. Why even the government, both Central and the States have to take many other steps.

We are living in a democratic state and as such we need radical ideas to make university education as a force for pursuit of new knowledge. Private universities  are welcome and so too some specialized institutions. Both arts and liberal humanities need to be encouraged and so too arts and culture pursuits. Foreign students also need to be admitted so that new cross currents would lend some vigour and innovative spirit in our education system.

One more last most important point! The Macaulay Ghost has to be laid. India is an independent country with a long history. Great leaders had envisaged many ideas. Tagore, Gandhi and so many have  foreseen the country’s future. I have had thought about education all my years; Greece and Rome, I had visited and studied  their histories  in some depth. Great civilizations have to be brought in to build a wholesome education that would endow the individuals, the citizens and their world with the best in the world’s  past and the present.

A new committee?
Waste, waste, sheer waste! Of time and money and energies and our own imagination!

examsGovernment sets up a committee to probe the leaks! Yes, this is done. It is in our view a big waste! Waste of precious time, energy and our own imagination! The very structure of the highly centralized CBSE itself is the reason for this mistake. The only time we read about the HRD Minister and the School Secretary is only now after this leak has been blown up as if a big tragedy had hit the country. One of the most sober daily newspapers has reported the constitution of this committee as the front page Headlines news! A pity!

We have converted schools education into a highly priced commodity; the very commercialization process had reached unacceptable proportions. All the major daily newspaper now carries, almost routinely, full-page ads of the top tuition industry bodies. We restrain naming them for they are so harmful for the society to pronounce and repeat and recognize them.

In this mindless tuition industry, business has reached billion dollar valuations. This is not education, this is day time cheating, some of the best minds in education have become powerless. No one has enough courage to call this as a big cheat. This is not education; this is commerce of the worst kind, the debasement of the young minds.

The destruction of the teenage dreams and an idealism that must impart a new energy and a new sense of adventure, adventure of the young minds only can give a nation, the best that would transform our lives and inject the best of man’s history and human evolution. Now, to come to this very listless endeavour to reform our education, we suggest the following: Revamp our education system based on some historic basis.

What should constitute an ideal education? Idealism of the mind and its imaginative power. Take some of the great education systems. The Greek education, its public school system originates from Sparta and we generally associate such a system with Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s ‘The Ethics and Politics’. Of course Socrates’ questions as to what makes for good life are the starting point.

So too the others, Plato and Aristotle. Then comes the Roman law and government and the idea of Republic and governance by Senate and Council, the other office bearers. The rule of the people, rule by consensus, the idea of democracy and rule of law are all the origins we inherit in our own modern times. The British (public schools), French (lycee) and in a way, the German (gymnasium) school system has much to teach us.
Of course there were other streams.

We have to have freedoms to experiment and introduce innovations. The many educators whose individual visions are all to be studied! In India, we inherited the British, Macaulay system blindly, even after the independence. It is time, we recognize the historical inheritance. Let there be the old system. But we can distinguish the best from the ordinary, from the classs (though we might deny theoretically) and the mass basis of education.

Now, there are so many new schools, highly expensive and also introducing new innovations. The Baccalaureate is now fancied much. May be, we can introduce languages, other than English too to lessen the vernacular, mother tongue-based education that is much talked about but quietly given a burial! We are a nation of hypocritical people, right?

The point is there must be much freedom in education choices. Let us revive and strengthen the Indian Public Schools Conference and also introduce new subjects like sports and arts in their curriculum. So that this stream is there and valued for producing a leadership style education. Let there be a separate stream of experimental schools, if there are demands. The CBSE must be broken up into, say, four regional autonomous boards; some competition is good in ensuring best practices in school management and curriculum development. Each zone must be managed by a board of governors nominated by the HRD ministry. These are some of our suggestions.