But the ministers, policy makers turn it into a consumer product

The rest of the crowd, the private sector educators and the money-minting machines turn it into a fast moving consumer goods sector!

chairmanIs this all about education we have got to say? You see we are at this sector, at this journal for the past half a century. But we are not called a brand, or an icon or a legend! We would have called ourselves so if only we too played the marketing game, right?

But education is after all something above all these petty and narrow considerations. Education, we believe and it is actually so through all the historic periods, is all about man’s imaginations, aspirations and search for some certainties only through education and speculation and daring to predict the future forever! Education, to quote another famous line, is a search for beauty in all its simplicity!

Man has evolved through the history by this constant search and unceasing quest and we see where we have come all through these processes. That is education, please all stakeholders, understand and concede to some of these eternal verities!

Now, we read that the HRD minister, the hon’ble Jawdekar has a quota to allot seats in the Kendriya Vidyalayas under the HRD control. Is this news, we ask. Yet this is reality on the ground. The HRD minister this year has allotted 6,500 admission requests, commands that we all know would be obeyed instantly! His quota is only 450 but he has exceeded owing to pressures. His predecessor did the same. So, this continues, this process of recommending admissions to some of the low-fee high quality secondary education! But as a HRD minister he has an obligation to the larger society.

Education in India, right now, is not in the best of health. We don’t know, there is no way to know it, whether the Prime Minister knows what is the state of education. Education in a society like ours is a highly exploited subject. Society being what it is, an unequal and inequitable society has to have some long-term perspective.

Given the stage at which we find ourselves as a free country, we have to go a long way ahead. We have to fight for justice, social justice and an enlightened society; we have to debate, articulate what sort of an enlightened society and a civilization we aspire to. The class structure in the country is such that we have to reach out to a better integration of the various classes. Then, there is the caste society, that too the Hindutva conception of the Hindu society as it is, we have to weaken the hold of the entrenched caste system. There were just some nine or so castes, we are told in the beginning. But today the castes are getting  split into new castes and sub castes and we do practice still a caste based politics, right? Or wrong?
So, politicians, given their mental horizon would only play for consolidation of the castes only.

So, we as thinkers and leaders should have a moral duty, commitment to see that at least in our education system, as we are able to have now, no undue advantage is taken by the middle classes that are now becoming more and more prone to corruption, corrupt practices to get admissions to other consumer goods and services. So, the middle class driven quotas and reservations and the quotas in the KVs must be resisted. The education minister must set a good precedent to resist this temptation to corrupt our education system.

Once you resolve to resist this temptation then other good things would come about.  The secondary schools in the states, mostly run by the state governments are in dire need of up gradation. So, the government schools where the poor go, would get justice in terms of any new facilities. Use the IT tools to impart quality education in the government schools.

Just now we read that the SSLC results in government schools show very varying standards.
Where the poorest results come through the governments must introduce only the latest technologies in imparting quality instructions. Some balancing of government policies in terms of allocation of funds to introduction of IT tools must be the high priority. The HRD must bring some of the tools, like corporate social responsibility into the government schools sector in the most neglected regions, say in the tribal belts or backward regions.

The HRD ministry news must be about the big picture, not about the nitty-gritty of pandering to the petty demands like admissions to schools. We know from our personal sources that even the other Cabinet Ministers, why even the PMO sometimes come into the prestigious secondary school domains.

Public schools are another area where we have to concentrate. These schools are supposed to to produce leaders, of society and polity! Now, they too produce only clerks and other jobs seekers category only. A great pity, indeed!

We live in a globalised world, right?
What is the future of global civilisation, if at all?

romanAfter the ‘Decline and Fall of Roman Civilisation’, what are the new features of a civilized world? What would shape man’s hopes for a better style of living? Is a more equal world, a more equitable world possible?

I didn’t study history at Oxford. But I studied under great thinkers and philosophers of history. At Oxford, next to philosophy, the history faculty in my time, just the middle of the twentieth century, was perhaps the largest and the most talked about of the academic faculties at both Oxford and Cambridge. In my own time, the most talked about of the thinkers were of course philosophers like Sir Jules Ayer and Gilbert Ryle who taught us. They were so influential that their great books were our philosophy classics. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic went into multiple editions. It sold like a detective novel, so controversial and its some of the famous lines were always on our lips, the students! If you can’t prove a proposition, for instance by the verification principle then, it is nonsense! What doesn’t make sense must be nonsense, right? That is how we asked every argument then in our time, inside and outside of our class-rooms! That was Logical Positivism, our core philosophic doctrine! Now, Gilbert Ryle, tall and almost athletic figure who used to pause and walk as he talked on the lecture stage and holding the cigar sometimes as he talked and still remember his figure when he thundered with such authority that when we say mind, it is a ghost in the machine. There was no such thing called mind as such separate from the body, it was a bodily process, or call it a mental process but certainly it is not a separate object away from the body, right? His book, the Concept of Mind was also my classic.

Of course there were other philosophy tutors for me. One, Mr. Anthony Quinton, later, Lord Quinton was a great influence on me and I learnt to write precise English when I learnt under him to write precise, exact and correct English words and phrase. At one point I felt ashamed to call myself an M.A from an Indian university! Such was my long-winded sentences and use of too many unwanted adjectives and other excesses.

But then history? Oh, here too are many names to mention here. There was Sir Isaiah Berlin, perhaps the most formidable intellect of my time. He was a Jew and a Russian, in fact a Latvian. Only those who know or care to know more precisely about history of the Soviet Russia know that the big country grabbed and absorbed the three small nations, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. I once encountered a short and bulky Latvian (or Estonian, I don’t remember correctly in Finland, in Helsinki and he grabbed me by his stout hand and went on giving me a long lecture on the street of the capital about how Soviet Russia almost destroyed his country! I was flabergausted! I was to reach St. Petersburg the next day by ship! So, my introduction to the Soviet Russian politics and history started with such a jolt!

Sir Isaiah Berlin is exactly from Latvia and a Jew too. And he had such a formidable brain that he was elected as a Fellow of All Souls College, a great honor. He dominated the Oxford debates of my time. His lectures drew large outside crowds too! Such a brilliant speaker. Now, his specialized field started with philosophy and continued in the history of ideas. He had the reputation of having read almost all the books that mattered. That was again one more characteristic of Oxford scholarship.

I have in my library almost all that had been written by Sir Berlin and I have the books by Harold Laski. Now, as for history, my favorite lecturer of history was Sir A.J.P Taylor. In my opinion, he was the most brilliant of the lecturers. His impromptu interventions in the famed BBC Brains Trust made him a household name! He has no parallel in my view on issues concerning the two world wars. His books are equally famed. So too his writings on Hitler and Soviet Russia.

Now, there were others. Sir Karl Popper and a long line of historians influenced me. Karl Popper’s classics: Open Society and Its Enemies, Poverty of Historicism had changed modern man’s attitudes towards a new political ideology and also of the other Viennese intellectuals and philosophers. Vienna Circle is one that changed my own intellectual beliefs.

Now, I come to my recent readings. While in England I missed travelling to Greece and Rome, the two usual Grand Tour destinations, every educated, upper class families used to make during their life time. I had the money but I missed somehow the opportunity. The rare opportunity came recently. Though late, I am glad I took my family this time when we visited Rome and Renaissance Florence and also Naples and the historicity of Pompeii.

I had read Edward Gibbon’ multi-volume history of Decline and Fall of Rome many times. But an actual visit to the historic spots opened up my eyes to a new reality. How we Indians were deprived by the Macaulay education! The ruling classes didn’t expose the Indians to the glories of Greek and Rome. And as a consequence our education remained clerical job-seeking exercise. Unfortunately it remains even to this day. Now, one or two observations.

The impact of Westernization. We, Indians, don’t understand how the latest globalization trend is a historic flow and direction of the great civilisations, Mesapotomia, Assyrians, the Persians and the Greeks and the Romans. It is the Roman civilization that gave the modern world the concepts of Republic, Rule of Law and urban government, roads, stadiums, modern civic life etc.
From now onwards too we would have to follow the very same flow and direction of history?
But then there is some new awakening possible. That is this: Democracy originated in Athens, Greece.

India’s place in the sun? Today, the world’s largest democracy is practiced in India with one billion citizens, right? This should give us a new impetus in self-discovery, a new self-confidence, right? This new historic realisation, now we have to impute to our people.
Unfortunately, this self-discovery was possible in the time of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Many of our intellectuals, in the past or in the recent past too didn’t realize the flow and direction of history. We were narrowly focused on British rule. The time has come now afresh to re-connect with the past and join the world in its historic flow and direction.

After my visit to Rome and seeing Julius Caesar and his spots I feel I had become a new renaissance man! Let us join the civilization crowd!

That is what those committed to education must be worried about!
We live in exciting times, right? Even the kids are playing with iPads! The very small ones talk of so many things, about dinosaurs, DNA and what not!

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein

We just now read about a news item on how pre-school kids read about fictional characters, superheroes that defend and protect the weak and inculcate positive values in children. No, they don’t read for the superheroes for their ethics, their positive traits but they, the kids inculcate just the opposite, the violent skills and, no moral message gives the new age kids their values, it is the aggressive themes, it is the bullying themes that catch their attention. What is the larger message? What is this education of today where the pre-school education is becoming a scandal, so much unethical billing, the long queues, the exorbitant fees, the exams for admission and what other bad behavior you can imagine in the money-makers racket, all these ills are there now in the pre-school education?

Of course there are other bad practices that have crept into the education system right from the bottom to the top? They are all now entrenched into the education system. We in the school journal have learnt many other current practices, the very aggressive mentality we also see, unfortunately, even in the adults, the school promoters and the school heads and also the parents itching to do everything so that they escape and succeed in life.

What a tragedy from our ill-thought out government and policies from many other sources. The point is that the prevailing politics in the country reflect in the prevailing education system. They don’t want to read anything about education and education policy making. And alas! Who are involved into education policy making? The government couldn’t care for indentifying the right people, instead they reach out to some secondary grade retired bureaucrats to make education policy for a country of India’s diversity and need for unity in terms of some larger vision and greater philosophy.

We have just now also read about the Imperial Viennese society at the turn of the 20th century. The ideas and arts and much else, sciences and humanities, from Albert Einstein to many others, from Sigmund Freud to Karl Popper and many others, the names are too many to believe in our times of such low levels, be it politics or the social outlook, so much divisions and so much Philistinism, the period of Viennese history from the late 1880s to the 1920s endured. Music and philosophy, two areas of life that symbolizes the man’s search for new truths and shapes and tones and those Viennese who escaped Nazism and went on to sustain in the West during the cold war and to restore what the author calls the traditions of empiricism and liberal democracy.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

It was a Viennese century. India has much to learn from this source of light, the light of reasons and beauty in living and living up to certain visions. The Viennese century saw the world to emerge as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural heterogeneous society. It has many lessons for as similarly placed multi-linguistic, religious and cultural society like India. India has to be a cosmopolitan society, not a monolithic, narrow tunnel society. Vienna was and hope still is city of coffee house. So a writer says “stir the hot milk into your bitter coffee, and imperial Viennese culture emerges”. So too, “dissolving of differences to produce something afresh”. Yes, this is what we need in much of our public policy making at this juncture. “To show modern man his true face”. Logical Positivism was the philosophy that pierced through much of the mumbo-jumbo, be it religion or other superstitious beliefs. Sciences and humanities encountered into new clashes and new collusions. Then was born a new sense of self-assertion and a new confidence in man. To make knowledge accessible to all was to make education and knowledge democratic.

Today in India, we can see much that is negative, calls for narrow sub nationalist causes. How to understand and act on the public perception of public men, leaders, parties and need for new sophistications in refining democratic norms and values?
These are some of the basic questions that must evoke our educational outlook.
Our education must tap the latest trends in child psychology, sociology and many other sciences so that we really aim for a new India of a progressive liberal democracy. How to live as true democratic? What should be our personal ethics? And no less our public ethics? These should be some of our basic questions when we sit down to draw our education policies? In short, the Liberal cause must be the aim of education, justice, equality and equity.

No pre-conceived dogmatism whatever might work but as the Viennese write-up calls “the lived experience of individuals” that should give our education system the vigor and character to our education.

Does it help to diversify our education processes?
More regimentation of learning doesn’t help. Many creative processes are lost in any such regimentation.

cnr-raoInstead of bureaucratic controls, decentralization, why even a degree of de-schooling could enrich the schooling process. Indian education history is long and very unique.

The old Sanskrit education, the pathashalas and much else had given the Indian education and even the philosophical tradition, a very strong unique Indian air and historic context. Our attempts to revive the Nalanda and other ancient education spirit have to be seen in this context only. The point we want to highlight here is rather modest.

The Bangalore-based Prof.C.N.R.Rao Foundation is reported to have undertaken teaching sciences to the school teachers. That seemed very unique and also triggered some related thoughts. We have in India many other unique institutions like the Bangalore based Indian Institute of Science and also some other institutes promoted recently in the sciences and technologies.

Rather very appropriately, we have the new Azim Premji Foundation, also a university that is doing much good voluntary services in education. In a way, Bangalore is a new centre of many new learning institutions and also at the cutting edge of many new companies, the Start-up culture makes Bangalore the very new creative centre from other areas of learning also like literature, arts and much else.

So the thought came to the fact that as things are at present the CBSE, based in Delhi seems to be concentrating too much on one area of education. The secondary education is also a critical area and we have many new secondary education streams. We have many private and public-funded schools, from Navodaya, Sainik and Kendriya schools, besides some other states-funded residential and day secondary schools.
Aslo, the secondary education sector is changing fast. There are any number of fancy schools here, charging heavy fees and calling themselves International Schools!

When does a school become really an international school? Not when you don’t have foreign students? Not when you don’t follow any radical school syllabus like the ones we see here and there, as in the Nilgiris where you have the Blue Mountain School or some other experimental schools. There are many in Europe and we ourselves have visited many such in France, Switzerland and also in UK. There is a long history of school education experiments.

Now, the point here is the thought why allow only the CBSE to decide everything for the Indian schools from the North to the South. The CBSE, it seems, is doing too many things, from collecting data base, entering all data in a computer to suggesting new exams like a terminal exam at the end of the 10th standard etc.

Do we need to let the CBSE to do so many things for such a large and diverse country like India? We like to invite a debate on this uniform system of secondary education that is also fast becoming highly commercialized. In fact, many CBSE schools have become money-minting machines. We know in some states, high corruption prevails, in granting NOC certificates and the going rates of bribes are unbelievable.

Time for reform is urgent; some autonomous bodies on a regional basis can improve matters. As of now various inequities and inequalities in access to fees and social justice etc are making CBSE ineffective.

Our few suggestions pertain to why not allow such independent practices like CNR Rao Foundation teaching sciences to schools have some formal approval (from society and parents)to benefit others, other schools too in the region? Why not institutions like IISC also engage itself in education experiments like teaching the history of sciences etc.
The possibilities for enriching the learning experiences are immense.

How many know in India that how the sciences grew in history? In 700 BC while translating Greek, natural philosophers in Latin, Bede the Ecclesiastical establishes a method for calculating the date of Easter. He also investigates Earth’s spherical shape, the Moon’ governance of tides and the shortcomings of the Julian calendar!
So also, how the sciences grew in Britian, how the universities of Oxford came into being once the Louis VI drove out the ‘foreigners’!

Such stories of the histories of sciences could be taught by various science labs, as the Prime Minister himself has said in the latest Indian Science Congress. Anyway here are the suggestions for others to think and act upon!

Dreaming for global standard universities!
An enlightened political push could lighten the flame!

mamata-banerjee-a-bestselling-author-at-kolkata-book-fair_310114094008One of the big dreams of the BJP government is to set up 20 best universities. This has been mentioned many times and now, the HRD minister Hon’ble Prakash Javadekar, has said the same thing at the Bangalore-held Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Fine! But one more news is that Mamata Banerjee, the Hon’ble CM of Bengal has also mentioned the very same topic, this time she wants to start one, near Santiniketan, near Birbhum district, where the original Visva Bharati University is functioning for long.

Before we proceed further, would like to mention one or two points of personal nature. I studied at Visva Bharati and have many friends in Bengal and as such I have a special attachment to things, Bengali, from education to arts to music, Ravi Shankar to Satyajit Ray! I was one of the first to see the Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali when it was screened and when the local theatre in Bolpur ran an empty house. It was early days. May be I have views and opinions drawn from my Bengali days and who knows may have been influenced by the very Bengal Renaissance spirit! I also went to Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya and so the Vivekananda spirit etc! Anyway, I have much interest in idealist schooling, international quality pursuit of knowledge etc.

One more point. Whenever I visited Santiniketan and my Bengali friends the talk would center on things of beauty and joys forever! Last time when I visited Visva Bharati, I saw things in decline. The old spirit had gone and I saw many things that distressed me. The Ramkinkar sculptures were left to the elements and there were all around neglect of things.

After my return I wrote in some detail about the problems I saw and heard and posted the journal to the Visitor, the late APJ Abdul Kalam and the Chancellor, Acharya, the then PM. But I received no replies. Typical of what we talk and what we do! Now, the latest was when the last VC was dismissed from service by a Presidential signature. What a fall! For an institution founded by Tagore and nurtured by a succession of great minds. Now, to the subject of establishing 20 top universities! It is a great resolve if we can really do it. I like to share some of my thoughts and some concerns.

The Hon’ble Minister must really assemble some able minds and be open to invite the top names from all across the globe. Just today I read in the same news, that in Bangalore the Infosys Prizes were awarded to six distinguished persons, from sciences to social sciences. Prof.Venkatraman Ramkrishnan, Prof. Amartya Sen, two Nobel Laureates were present. Prof. Ramakrishnan, who is incidentally, also the President of the famed British Royal Society, has spoken about what is the status of sciences education in India and what India needs to do to improve things.

Among other things, India needs to fund more on sciences and more significantly, we have to create an environment where research is free from politics! More pointedly, we need a pool of people within the country even when we seek the foreign technology and discoveries. More can’t be said here.

Unfortuntaley, we are only talking for very long. Our existing universities are far from competing even with our Asian neighbours. The Time Higher Education Supplement publishes every year the ranking of top 100 and 200 universities. India is way behind others.

Our suggestions- Invite the Nobel Laureates, those who are willing to head some top universities in India so that credibility and confidence is built among the teaching and academic community. Let us not mince words. Learn from what we did on the Nalanda University Project. Prof. Sen was ‘ousted’ as he himself puts it!
The Presidency University in Kolkata is trying to reach an international standard. Why not include it in the list of the proposed top 20! You see you can’t create a world class university from the scratch, can you? At least let us learn from what we have done with our Central universities. Some are located for political whims in remote rural areas where quality faculty won’t go! And so on and on! In some states, gross corruption prevails in appointment of VCs! So, it is a tough call to establish world class universities.

So, why not be pragmatic and go for identifying existing universities for further upgrdation. Invite the participation of the states and of course, the private sector.
At least in some disciplines India must excel! In maths and some branches of sciences, we might have some lead. I don’t know! Of course the political push is very much a factor. When Biju Patnaik was the CM of Odisha, he created an institute and invited the late J.B.S.Haldane to work there. It is this type of political initiatives that could spark the flame! Jai Hind!