What education can do?
Our school education needs a fresh vision and a new common initiative

This School Journal was founded in a village school many decades ago. Thanks to two, why, three American volunteers, one from the Quakers, two from John Kennedy’s American Peace Corps. It was started as a newsletter, metamorphosed into several versions and shapes and generously nurtured by various benefactors, from all through the world. It is now in your hands in the present format. One French Pasteur, Father Montiel, from Montage near Paris invited us as a visitor to promote Indo-French friendship in 1971 and thanks to his support and enthusiasm we travelled through many parts of France and visited and spoke to many French Lycées and met with a wide variety of great minds. We stayed with urban and rural French families.

It was a different world and an altogether different vision of life and humanity. Now we are, it seems, a very difficult world altogether. India with other nations battles the Corona virus and is in the midst of many disruptions including the schools, displaced students from their exam schedules. In India education is going through a rough patch. Education lacks leadership and vision. Education policy making is as good as dead, it seems.

No person of any consequence or merit speaks out his or her mind. Is India a democracy? Or, supposed to be a democracy? Only education and culture can give a country its uniqueness, right? Or is there any other different definition? When the new government came to power in 2014 there were many voices to go for a new type of education. Now, after so many tumults and shakeups even the weak voices then have fallen silent. India has great historic past. No doubt about it at all. Then why don’t we look at our past and draw some inspiration?

Indo-European languages and history seems one origin and beginning. We visited the Mycenae archaeological site in Athens, the site that linked the Troy civilizational site, many thousand years before that expedition. We were exhilarated by the discoveries and ever since our visits to Greece, before that date a visit to Rome and these two visits and study of  their civilisations, later the rise of Renaissance in the 14-15th centuries and the evolution of the Christian religion and its forerunner, the Jewish heritage, all had enriched the human race.

The Hindu heritage is unique and we live at a time when the whole world is agog with uncertainties and many questions about the current turmoil and the future.

These thoughts run my mind ,almost unceasingly and many questions arise for the thinking minds, thinking animals(!) as to how to fashion our common future.

I am of the firm view that education policy can’t be made by practising politicians of the present day politicians. This applies to America, India or to the older countries like UK or France. As a mass democracy at best we can make our secondary education as broad-based as possible. Make them some what like the French Lycées. The British Public Schools themselves are caught between state policy of reservations and quotas for the socially and economically deprived
sections.

Also, the cost of British education is high and the placements are too few for the current state of migration, unemployment and let us admit, the very general poverty that seems widespread. Even in the USA there is poverty.

In India, we have somewhat succeeded by many progressive policies and the education of the girl child is succeeding. What we need today is to have a long term vision. India has to remain a unique, liberal and open society. Culturally diverse and a miniature Santiniketan, culture must be strong. Many humanities course, from Indology to arts and social sciences, education must be very strongly founded. Our colonial history has made Indians weak still, low-self esteem and inferiority complex and so on. So, a pride in our past, current achievements in a liberal, open and secular society and much else can be incorporated.

There must be Public Schools to produce leaders of society and politics and entrepreneurs and many other achievers in sports and culture, creative fields and maths and sciences. How can we frame our school education curriculums? Please depoliticise the whole exercise. Give the task to educators, neutral minds and also bold minds with a vision and well-qualified backgrounds and achievements. Let us be humble and at the same time bold and decisive! Principles and ethical conduct and self-honour are critical for Indians to become men and achievers! Money power and political power are transitory!

Indian youngsters pay heavily for our own inaction
Mass higher education has lowered standards!
This has led to education as the “For Profit  education industry  growth”  only!

SAT-the great game! A blessing or a curse? Big money plays a bigger scam!

Is this a great train robbery or a great training robbery? Education has become a great greed industry! Education, from top to bottom, is no more what it was even a generation ago. It is no more seeking truth or any enlightenment. It is pure and simple self-survival for this generation. Mass education is now at our door and school and higher education have gone mass scale. It is also no more education, it is edutech!

We see too many ads, too many fancy names and too many tricks indeed!
Online education has turned into online companies and they are globally offering their paid programmes to students-whether in school or in colleges, not necessarily all in government-approved institutions-free of cost because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, online giants yes, they have so grown in such giant sizes in terms of numbers, be it students or in revenue and they offer every impacted university, here again there are now suddenly too many private universities, in the country and they are offered courses free access to its course catalogue through what is called Coursera for Campus.

This one company has a staggering 48 million registered learners worldwide. It is a mind-boggling story. This expansion of higher education and training! All the names of the universities you, readers must be aware of. A UNESCO report is quoted to say that about 290 million students across 13 countries will be interrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The edtech firms in a carefully-worded publicity brochures released to media, is given to influence innocent parents and anxious students and why even the general public that education is alright in this highly commercialised format. It is really scary to see the education scenario today.

Not anyone who is interested in the transformation of education in India today is speaking out. The expertise, what we have today, is totally silent and the country is caught up with so many other diversions to think and reflect on how to tackle these huge numbers of those seeking further education and also the numbers that are put out as unemployed. There is growing unemployment in the country, right? According to the  CMIE data that unemployment rate rose to 7.78 % in February from 7.16 % in January! Though it was a bit lower in the urban segment, there is a sharp rise in the rural unemployment, from 5.97% to 7.37%. This shows, say experts, the slowdown in the economy, though many don’t like the economic slowdown pointed out often!

Anyway, the educated unemployment is also high. We have seen in rural areas girls with B.Sc. Computer training doing menial jobs in hotels and cloth shops as cleaners and sellers! Engineering graduates also doing low-paid jobs!

Of course urban dwellers don’t like to read any negative news either. So, what we are left with? Why the craze for the SAT pass certificates? To get admissions to the US universities? Afterwards? To get jobs there and settle down as migrant labour, call it by any other fancy names you like! Anybody worried? We start education institutions to train them to migrate at the very first opportunity? At the very tender age? Yes, it seems to be a great education game! The US average universities recruit many students as possible from India, China and from other countries. There are any number of illegal migrants in the USA. At one country, as per the statement of US President Trump himself, there are some 4 millions Indians living in that country, many millions undocumented ‘illegal migrants’! Even this status is a badge of honour for educated and uneducated Indians alike! Where are our educators and nation builders and other visionaries?

Are we proud of our own education system and its great goals. And by the way who are our education builders and promotors? Look at any one for whom you have a fancy! You would be shocked at the experience. One great education-entrepreneur gave a hon. doctorate  to an incumbent Chief Minister in the  expectation of getting a nomination for the Rajya Sabha! Another of course got elected to the LOK Sabha. One from a neighbouring State got himself appointed as Hon. Education Advisor to the incumbent Chief Minister. All the buzz recently is about the nominations to the Rajya Sabha!

Just only recently the nomination of one of the greats was seen by shouts of “Shame,Shame”! What a honour! So, we are a nation, a democracy that should make us proud, but makes us hang our heads in shame! So, what chance we can turn the tide not to waste our resources on paying to keep substandard US universities in survival. Let us, for god’s sake, resurrect our own universities and draw students from USA and UK! Is it possible in our own lifetime? That is the big question.

Yes, it is a fact of great significance that the students, those who had left schools and joined colleges are easily taken to protests and agitations. It is a question no one asks, we mean educationists and thinkers and anyone who thinks he or she is of some mental caliber, should be themselves capable of standing up to face a government which is in power.

Incidentally, The Hindu newspaper (January 18,2020) a carries two, why even three columns dealing with education and radical student protests, also the editorial dealing with Kashmir’s Islamist youth. Prof.Krishnakumar has raised many issues. One the very public life in India, a whole new generation has been let down what he calls a hollow public life, where the very much institutional deterioration from universities to educational administration and other forms of behavior and public conduct erosion are no more front page news but everyday happening. This also includes widespread corruptions at all levels, bureaucrats’ proneness to exploit the politicization of our very public life.

Without elaborating the process we can say that bureaucratization of all institutions is also a major cause. To cite one example, in many states, education has become a ruthless business that even political leader who occupy party posts like the state party presidents are big owners of education institutions. From medical colleges to engineering colleges they own and they, as per some recent reports, openly flouted the rules and converted government quota seats into paying category, so that for each category of seats they cheat innocent students to cough up handy sums of 50 to above limitless lakhs of rupees!

It is a very unpleasant state of affairs but then what else you see when such activities are pursued on a wider scale? In one notable state many of the party dons are such political leaders and they can command any Central bureaucrats to visit the State as honorable chief guests in many public functions. It is a pity that even State Governors participate and legitimize the open defiance of all good public conduct and visit the very delicate cultural and why even the spiritual fabric. It is also very unfortunate that many new age spiritual figures have also emerged and they rub shoulders with the high and mighty.?

The Hindu has also carried a half-page interview with the Nobel Laureate, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan. He seems to be a person of great nerve for he has boldly spoken about the current anti-science trends he has noticed especially in India at present. Science has to stand up for authority and how many can dare to do so in India at present? This is another facet of any education principle, isnt it? And Venkie Venkatraman also had spoken for, though indirectly for a secular society. Once this message gets through then there can be a radical change.

Also some other, why many more issues are directly related to education policy making. We all know there is no publicly known education policy at present in India today? Right? This is for the simple reason that India as it emerged at the time of India’s Independence, had leaders of great moral caliber. Today the whole society has undergone change. The Rightwing policy has changed the outlook of the society and the youth upsurge is such that there is no room for any reflective thought and the socio-economic changes have produced wealth for a larger section of people and also great deal of inequality.

Today the radicalization of students and the youth has widened. In Jammu and Kashmir, there are new issues of radicalisation and with the J&K leaders from the mainstream shut up under detention there are new challenges. Even juveniles, ‘girls and boys as young as 10-12’are drawn into the radicalisation challenges.

Is there a hint of some sort of the old fashioned fascist strains in the current social and class formations? Here the intellectual debate of a more abstract and more historical parallels could help. Already some of the State leaders, from Mamata Banerjee to Amarinder Singh, the Punjab Chief Minister have started using such language of 1930 political developments. Now, even the State Governors are in a confrontationist course. Universities and specially the faculty are drawn into radical action. This too must be curbed at the earliest. Surely, all these latest developments call for the top political leadership and for a dialogue among the stake-holders. Euphemisms of various sorts won’t do. Such talk’s time is gone.

For one, the education sector has become suddenly contemporary issue. This is good from one point of view. From another other point of view radical restructuring of education processes, curriculum changes and also a radical change in the university administration are all high priority issues.

The Union Minister for Human Resources has informed the Rajya Sabha that the department has received more than two lakh suggestions on the proposed New Education Policy (NEP) and the same are being examined. The Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal has also stated that the Ministry has also consulted all the state education ministers, besides secretaries and experts are being consulted before the final draft is released for public debate. Fine.

Ramesh Pokhriyal

But then we have to pause for a moment and look back how long the NEP is being talked about. The first term of the current dispensation also announced such a policy. Why then no final draft even now; after a year or so of the new term of the government, there is still the consultation going on. One wonders what is holding up. We at the journal are engaged in education discussions and debates for a long time.

We also take this occasion once again to reiterate our stand that education is a dynamic process and it is always evolving the very process of imparting education to a wide variety of people whatever they think their education needs are. There was a time when the governments decided what good education is for and how to bring in new segments of people, the poor and disadvantaged sections brought into education process. Now, there is a radical change.

Everywhere there is awakening. The poor and the middle class, the educated families, the first generation families all want not only good education but also the very poor want to educate their children in English medium. As a result, we see in many states, in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, mother tongue medium schools are turned into English medium schools.

How these sorts of new problems turn out, we can’t say at this point of time. But now, the new government also has some ideological issues like changing the curriculum, what to prescribe and what to delete. The Hindutva ideology is what is currently holding up some topics like what to delete from Indian history and what to add in the new version. So, what is holding up is not lack of expertise in education goals and processes but how to change the radical aspect of a Hindutva ideology.

So, a government in power has to take all segments of public opinion. Also, we like to say that education is a serious business. All want good education. There are issues in public and private schools. Already the new, very expensive and exclusive private schools are coming up as commercially viable enterprises. Why, even the very education is converted into commercial, profit-making businesses.

From professional college like engineering and medical colleges to universities, big money is proving to be a menace to any law-abiding education activities. If you start reforming the current education scene you will find yourself into deep trouble.

All successful education entrepreneurs are also successful politicians. So, corruption in education is the big threat to any sane mind. So, from bureaucrats drawing up policy now not many are interested in education policy making. So, we take our own views here as a public policy. Our goals in education should be first to create a good quality education so that foreign students come to India, not Indian students migrate to foreign shores with lots of money wasted in foreign campuses.

Also, never bureaucrats can draw education policies. Education and culture are very critical and only creative people, intellectuals, artistes and others outside the bureaucratic circuit; this circuit is highly entrenched in the New Delhi Lutyen’s zone! So, an education minister must travel around and seek out talents in academia and social services, in NGOs and other areas of new
endeavours. Also, invite some foreign experts. Of course foreign experts can’t give a country its ethos. It is for us, from within us that a new and evolving dynamic process of self-realization can come to people and the country.

More Indian students still go abroad for higher education
When will the foreign students come to India for education?

How are our freedoms and creative energies threatened? Our universities, seniors and intellectuals are failing the common man.

As I type these lines, I see on the TV screen, scenes of protest by JNU students in Delhi and the police lathi charge in which so many students were wounded and following which the police filed FIRs and there is still a continuing protest and various stake holders taking positions. All are not of course talking objectively, the scenario is highly polarized and it is not clear how the students’ agitation would wind through. Distantly in the far away Hong Kong a much more serious agitation by the citizens had taken to street for a very longer time and there too the agitation for democracy had taken a very highly controversial political and ideological colour.

The Chinese government has just now replaced the long-serving police chief with a new incumbent. Of course the two students’ protests are not in any way comparable and yet, being student protests they impinge upon your imagination in different ways.

Back in Delhi there is one more visual scenario that is about the functioning of our democracy. The two Houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabah met on the same day after a long break. The Parliamentary scenes are not better. There were absent chambers this time in a much more accentuated manner and the empty seats and the empty promises as one commentator put it is much more disturbing.

Where is our democracy? Is it functioning? If so in what manner? It was a debate on the much sensitive pollution issue and when the debate on this is highly priority issue, there hon’ble MPs, more so those from the capital, Delhi, were absent. Why even the previous day when the panel of MPs were called to discuss the highly poisonous issue the hon’ble MPs were mostly absent! So too other issues.

A country must have some sense of peace and relaxation and there must be a sense of free atmosphere so that people can have a sense of freedoms and a sense of spiritual comfort and security. What about the other sectors? Unemployment scenario. The education and job creation policies. Who are doing what? No way to find out.

As for youngsters, there are much deeper issues. We need a very enlightened education policy, why even such frontier areas like IT and technology and innovation policies are in doldrums.

The Chennai-based US Consul General notes with certain pride and complacency that Indian students still travel to the USA for their higher education, he cites a 2.9% jump in the number this year as a proof.

While it is also a fact that this year the number has dropped from the previous year. In the USA an unprecedented 10 lakh foreign students are there for education. Why this trend? When do we, as Indians would like to see this trend reversed. May be, next, China might see a rush of foreign students. There the Universities are getting higher ranks in quality. But is there any hope that this would happen in the near future?

Very unlikely. Given the state of universities in recent times, we have to have a brave heart to imagine so. See, where is the education minister? The Governors who are the chancellors of state universities?

The routine norms of appointing, why even searching for talents are bedeviled by so much corruption and poor selection of talents, and the absence of real academic talents on the platforms of convocation addresses, some obscure officials grace the stages everywhere! Degrees are handed out as if it is a mechanical event. All so artificial!

This is no education, please! This is a sort of politics of knowledge! The less said the better! Please let us learn to respect real talents. Politics is not everything. It doesn’t justify power as such, all the time. Real talents would reach the point where there is honesty, humility and integrity. May be it would take some more time.

So, education, let us take very seriously. Let the elders show the path. If you stick to power, chairs for 25-30 years, be it Rajya Sabha or other posts that draw much of the retired officials, then there will be revolts and much else, as in our current education agitations! Let us hope we learn to live like a great nation.