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.

No one wants to take up teaching!
Even the education institutions are not driven by any ideals!

eduIt is money, money, all the way! Society and politics is changing. So too the soaring ambitions of the new generation! Also, education today has changed. It is no more a field to seek knowledge and competence! It is the most incompetent field, we mean, the education field and where all and sundry, the lettered and more successfully, the unlettered, the milkman and the film villain and many others they defy descriptions, which are the most successful Chancellors and founders of large number of education institutions, education complexes in the country today.

Take a trip to Tamil Nadu; perhaps in other states too, you see the huge buildings, even for secondary schools that defy your imagination and intellect. So, when we read that just recently a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources Department has expressed serious concern over the shortage of teaching staff and delays in recruitments in higher education.

Of course for outsiders this high sounding committee report might look very powerful. Unfortunately it is not so. Only those who know what is what in HRD ministry and how it is overburdened with issues, from CBSE leak of question papers to corruption in Vice-Chancellor appointments  to the VCs also indulging in large scale corruption!

Again in TN which of course has a high enrollment of students into higher education stream and also at the same time a number of VCs, old and new are caught in corruption trap and arrested and cooling their heels behind the bars! So, how to tackle in education some lowering of standards? Here we need inputs from experts. There are many such enlightened persons in the country. It is a question of calling such experts into action. We have to learn from other countries too.

Of course education in this generation has changed beyond recognition. There is any NUMBER OF NEW PROBLEMS in India. We seem to be tired of too many allegations of bad behavior on the part of society’s teachers and educators. Sexual harassment is a national shame. Also, there is a tendency towards centralization of authority in Delhi. Better learn to decentralize decision making. Even policy making can stop at the state capitals for a range of issues. The universities, more so the central universities, we all hoped, would set the trend for further progress. It seems now it is the reverse happening.

The very same Parliamentary Committee report gives out that the number of sanctioned posts in Central University is 16,600 out of which 9,521 are for assistant professors. But do you know how many are lying vacant? Here is the statistics.  Nearly one third, 5,928 posts in these universities are lying vacant! So to other categories in the professorships!

All these problems in education seem too big to be tackled by the minister or his officials. We need outside talent and imagination and also the new technologies to deliver learning courses online and on other channels. Distance education without corruption, open universities and also some emphasis on innovation and quality are also some of the considerations we have to keep in mind.

Yes, it is so from JNU to Anna University and beyond!

jnuJNU as a Central University is its own fashion. It makes news for politicians.  Fine, but then it must also be a centre of top academic performance. Is JNU the number one University? No one has asked. As far as academic standards in India are concerned, nobody knows which University is on the top.

The IISc, Bangalore is ranked first but then it is mostly seen as a science research centre not a typical academic campus where debates takes place and intellectuals come to make speeches. Delhi University with its campus colleges is fine but then there is too much emphasis on scoring marks for admission has somehow reduced the campus to one of low-key ambitions. In one word, there is no aristocracy of a University lifestyle for students.

Now, the higher education as such is itself in a crisis. State universities, taking the South, TN in particular as an example, are marked with high corruption. Three or more VCs; the ex-VCs, are caught up in high corruption. The latest one at Anna University, the newly appointed one is from Karnataka and the Dravidian parties objected to it!

VCs must be from one’s own states, the Dravidian parties argue. This is absurd. No minister, the hon’ble Javadekar or his counterpart from Chennai opened their mouths. The controversy might die off. There has to be some light, some explanation or some sort of policy clarification must help. Unfortunately, the Indian higher education is marked by multiple crises.

How can you lay down the rule that a VC, the best ones are unlikely from local people, nowadays, the best VCs are somewhere in the US or from some other foreign universities. But who can explain this reality? The higher education ministers are often ordinary mortals!

The reasons how huge corruption take place is often with the connivance of the top leadership. In TN this is like daylight! May be elsewhere too! So, first reform in higher education is about preventing corruption. So, what the TN Governor has done is perfectly right. He engaged the Supreme Court judge in the selection. What else he could have done?

The second reform is to make universities autonomous in true spirit. The state CMs can be informed, not even consulted. For her again TN is an example how the great Madras University has been now reduced to sheer impotence. No news from the hollowed portals is worth reporting. So, Indian higher education is going to be an uphill task. May be one more high-powered Higher education commission with some reputed international experts could advise the Indian government/State governments  about how to go about it. But one thing must be clear. You can’t have reputed universities unless you cast your net for talent internationally.

Best talents are as good as nil! Please, politicians, realize! So too, the Indian media, TV channels report local hotheads, including the film actor-turned new style politicians talk less on higher education!

So, Indian education and much else, culture and also mother-tongue chauvinism  are all turned into heady cocktail and this needs to be realized and  conveyed to all concerned. Otherwise, India would be turning out low-performers in all walks of life and we, in India, have to live a very low caliber citizenship.