Seriously, what is education?
It is Enlightenment!

imgYou can debate the subject however you want. However you debate the subject of education and the various strands that flow from it, the central question is that an education for any country has certain common features. American education, for instance, defines the way the American people and society conduct their affairs. So too other countries, both old and new.

However, historically the older nations, mostly in Western Europe and elsewhere, may be in India and China, two other older civilizations, we have an educational tradition, an educational history. In the context of the modern world, we take the Greek and Roman traditions seriously, for the two civilizations had come to define what we hold as marks of a civilized society.

Individual freedoms we hold dear, so too liberal democracy. Along with them, comes the constitutional form of governance, then comes the rest of the features, free judiciary, freedom of the media and also an objective bureaucracy and the many new institutions. Women’s rights and women’s increasing role in governance and everyday, the modern society and modern man is learning to lead a more decent life and decent life style. But what do we see today in India? Right now? There seems to be an emerging anarchy, violence and much intolerance and also an emphasis by the leaders on seeing democracy as a combat zone for the rulers and the Opposition parties.

The recent vandalism of the destruction and defacement of statues of leaders of all parties and ideologies is a sign that there is some underlying hatred for those who had captured power, even though through elections. There must be some other deeper primitive energy suppressed for long and in an open democracy there are opportunities for new forces to be unleashed. The purpose of education, schools and universities and then the society that benefits by such a well-spread education is to know things by rational means. But there was these pent-up forces that were lying low so far and these forces came out not in established channels, not from writings and speeches, through books and TV channels but by brutal forces of anarchy.

Though, it might be impolite to say right now when emotions are still raw and out in the field, the parties and their leaders, if you study them as calm research students, the leaders were using much uncivilized language, as if the elections were to destroy one party to establish the other, Congress mukth Bharat etc. What is this? You don’t even care to read your history. You try to rewrite history, not history as such but history textbooks in schools? Please read the 20th century history to draw lessons. You can get some ideology as foreign. For that matter, the very word, the very phrase is foreign. For Communism you have the fascism!

We also have role models, the foreign icons for each of the ideology. Caste, communalism and much of our superstition is still afresh in our own modern democracy. Please restrain the leaders and other spokespersons! We have to recall some of the olden days. We win political freedom through a long process. Now, it is time we have to recall our current realities and go slow. Adopt some wise retrospection and let us return to some rational behavior in our public life. Education and culture and much of our public discourse must adopt some restraint.

Can we create an MIT-like institution in our life-time?

Prime Minister Mr.Narendra Modi spoke, not long ago, at the Centenary celebrations of the Patna University, about creating a competition from among the top 20 universities for reaching the Centres of Excellence by allotting Rs.1, 000 crores to each one of them.

maxresdefaultThat was a brilliant or a wild idea, depending upon how one views such a proposal. No doubt it was a brilliant idea. After all, one has to take some such drastic and unconventional idea, given India’s moribund state of the higher education sector. India’s higher education is in a state of mess. It seems beyond redemption when you look at the sector critically.

Also, let us become a bit serious and develop some degree of gravitas to imagine that Indian higher education can be revamped by one individual, however powerful politically he or she is.
So, it is time to at least read what here we present.

The president of the MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one institution that has no parallel when it comes to be an innovative education cum research centre. Rafael Reif, the one-time immigrant from Venezuela who is now the president of the MIT says that President Donald Trump’s travel ban against the Muslim majority countries is wrong for drawing talents to the US and thus enhancing its competitive advantage in the area of knowledge creation.

Also, Trump’s recent tax proposal to tax the rich private endowments like the MIT for government tax money is also illogical, says the prestigious academic voice.
By the way what is MIT doing, you know?

MIT has become now the centre of a booming biotech economy; its graduates have started more than 30,000 companies! That generates 2 trillion dollar revenue annually. Last year the university completed a 750 million dollar deal with the federal government to purchase a 14-acre tract which will be transformed to support more start-ups.

MIT filed seven amicus briefs to oppose the travel ban. Travel from eight countries (Muslim?)  restricted including Venezuela. Also, the MIT had challenged another of the legislation to defer the  Childhood Arrivals, who are protected from deportation.
Reif believes that the new immigration policies would harm the health of the American economy.

But then, we Indians, must be knowing how the past relations between the US and China evolved.

There was a time when the Chinese overseas migration was the biggest event, the Chinese migrants in the USA was the biggest group and how relations between the two countries led to growth and also expulsion, also the outward migration of the US missionaries led to 400 million Chinese heathens  for conversion.
Much of the history of the US-China relations Indians are unlikely to be aware ad we are now only in the very thick of anxiety and insecurity about our own migration, the H-1 B Visa is our lifeline to survival in the new century.

So, we have to look at the past, the present and the future to imagine is there a way for the long-term growth of the Indian scientific talents to flourish in the current uncertainties and insecurities.

India must draw back its talents wherever it is feasible and needed to equip our higher education and scientific establishments.

Can Indian draw up a blueprint for action in raising the bar of our own higher education?

MIT attracts, why MIT alone, even other private institutions like Harvard and others the best talents from around the world.
We don’t have the funds.

But we could focus our attention  to encourage our own science and technology promotion funding. Some of our older universities and IITs must take the lead.

Let us make a start.

Why not?
After all, the person is a State’s Chief Minister!

Mamata BanerjeeMamata Banerjee, affectionately and popularly called Didi, by any stretch of imagination, is a remarkable person. She is a woman leader of exceptional merit, a proven clean leader in a society  and politics that is unfortunately a  notoriously corrupt. We live at a time when we see so many new facts and allegations are coming out almost on a day to day basis. So, this is an opportunity for the society and for the polity to debate certain so far undebated issues!

See how the legislatures are functioning? How the august institutions of Parliament, both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are demonstrating to the public  what they are capable of? How they are failing the people and yet how the  hon’ble MPs, and MLAs in the States are voting themselves for a steep salary hikes and thereby holding the great institutions to certain ridicule and mockery.

Who are all the causes of this decline in public life?
Also, the very many distortions?

How many of the great personages, the Cabinet ministers charged by the CBU and ED?

How many of the present members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha face criminal cases?

This is just the legislature.
The state of the judiciary?  The state of the media freedom? And the evolution of the polity?

Are we evolving towards a more open and liberal society?
Or, getting sucked into debates on the Hindutva vs the liberal order?

No, we seem to be becoming a backward looking, reactionary and even  a sort of feudal dynasty-dictated  polity? We are also becoming selfish, family and ethnic promoting lot.

Once you enter the political field, your life and actions, your coteries and circle of sycophants must be discarded. Has this happened in the political parties to day.

And yet, how many times you change parties and loyalties. What are your special qualifications to stick to office and posts?
And, pray, what are your political beliefs and ideologies? Simple power-grab! Nothing more and nothing less!

You, leaders, all imagine that people would remain fools for  all time to come? Indian would become transformed by the younger-age groups that enter the voter lists in the next few years. Non-performers, party hoppers, party defectors, those who accumulated black money and wealth, benami properties, faced corruption cases and even after spent time in jails, if you hope to come back and seek more plunder!

Indian democracy can’t tolerate  any further. These categories of looters much vacate political space at once.There are still more sensitive and awkward questions?

The very mindset of our  political leaders. You are all set to become a family dictated leaders, right?

How dare you ignore the people, you have simply neglected  the poor and the weak. You seek blessings from temples and mutts, you seek the God’s help for your family enterprises that are parties today!

So, in such a blatant anti-people politics of yours, all leaders, here is one leader, Mamata Banerjee who is the most non-corrupt and non-family promoting, dedicated, austere life style that is very rare indeed!

So, the leader deserves not one D.Litt, but many such degrees and public adulations.

In a state like TN, such degrees are dime a dozen! So, take heart, the so-called critics, that we should  search for corruption-free CMs and may be at one time in future, the PMs too. God forbid, there is at least one example of a clean face. A clean record for celebration. Long live, Didi! All the honour for you!

This thought flashed through my mind like a lightening rod yesterday when I saw the video of a BBC debate in the Westminster Hall in London

The subject of the debate in which two heavyweights participated was Ancient Athens vs. Ancient Rome! Who were the participants?

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

Mr. Boris Johnson, currently the British foreign minister in the Theresa May Cabinet and the venerable academic, Ms. Mary Beard, currently Professor of Classics at the Cambridge University. To put it rather crudely, the question was which civilization exemplified the political values we all dearly uphold? Democracy as contributed by the history of ancient Athens or the Roman Republic as exemplified by the ancient history of the Roman Empire?

Here is one personal note. At Oxford, I once read an extract from Thucydides (500 BC), from his famed history, the History of the Peloponnesian War (431- 404 BC), the famous funeral oration of Pericles (494-429 BC), the Athenian statesman (who also built the famed Parthenon Acropolis temple). I was stunned by the soaring rhetoric. When I mentioned this fact to one of my Oxford Eton Public School friend who read the classical languages of Greek and Latin, he in a moment recited the original lines from the original Greek language!

Such was the proficiency of the average British public school boys! Of course, lately, as a personal note I have to confess, I was very much pre-occupied with these questions. Even today, I spend considerable time on the two great civilizations’; have travelled to Rome and Greece with my family and spent considerable time among the ancient ruins and monuments and am still engaged reading about these two great civilizations.

After my Oxford years, I realized soon when I returned from UK that in India our education, as we all know, has been shaped by the Macaulay system of education, English medium and also by a process of rote learning now, looking back to the very history of the Macaulay “minutes” from 1834, what our education has done for us, Indians?

Westminster Hall in London

Westminster Hall in London

We might have become ICS, IAS but in essence, remained slave citizens, right? At Oxford I saw the best of the British society learn the classics, Greek and Latin languages and literature. That is the basis of the famed British Public Schools education programmed. We at Oxford called it as the “Greats”, while what I studied, the famed PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics, we called “the Modern Greats”.

Leaving aside the minor details or quibblings, the fundamental strength of the history of the British Education created a modern Britain, an empire and even now, a leader in higher thoughts and very many institutions. The very important point I want to convey to Indian people is that when we still rate British education as a world model, inspite of the current US education, the British education remains at the top when it comes to culture and civilization values. Now, in the case of Indian education we still remain just imitators, more so when it comes to even the liberal education. Our school and university education remains just rote learning, just for passing the various exams.

Unfortunately, we never inherited any education traditions. In spite of there being some initiatives in the 1930s,by Tagore and Gandhi, why even after Independence, Pandit Nehru leading the country, there was no real basic thinking or any public debate as to our own model of education befitting a great country and a great civilization.

Even now, under Modi, the self-proclaimed Hindutva philosophy, what we see is mere and even poorer imitation only. What I want to emphasize here is that we have to go for the very history and very inheritance of the man’s rich legacies, from ancient Greece and ancient Rome. We have to inherit the Greek democracy legacies. We have to inherit the Roman legacies. We have to enrich our democracy, governance, rule of law, freedom of man etc. with these rich inheritances. Let us inherit the great European Enlightenment values! What is the European Enlightenment, by the way?

Those of the readers who might be school and college heads must take some time off and arrange for debates on the very legacy of the European Enlightenment. The birth of modern sciences, the values of the French Revolution, the evolution of the modern world, the post-wars legacies and right now to the current spread of democracies globally. The current Indian education is no education at all. We are talking of very elementary things, the Board exams; the tuition industry has almost replaced any other education thought at all, right?

So, I plead with policy makers, thinkers and others interested to see that India gets the very foundations of education and philosophy. Please let us go back and trace our legacies from Plato, Aristotle to Roman contributions to the rise of the Roman Republic from which springs “the rule of not of the few but of the many”, as Pericles speech exemplified the very origins of democracy to the French Revolution that upheld man’s right to liberty, equality and fraternity and our own aspirations and search for knowledge, the sciences and very many rights and privileges of the “unto the last”.

In 1947, we just got political freedom transferred from Britain to India, and the country partitioned, in such a hurry.

But we have failed to stand up and think of many issues of fundamental strength for the evolution of the country as a modern and open society. One of such issue is an education suited for modern India modern democracy in which citizens would learn of education’s enduring values and lessons. Now, at least the time has come to take time off and reflect on such issues.

Before I conclude, I request the readers to reflect for a moment that in how many countries, you can have a practicing politician like Boris Johnson who can stand up and debate with a polished academic and great scholar like Mary Beard? That is one more indication why British education is basically still the most well-founded and evolved education system. Let us give credit where it is due!

Mere academic discussion alone won’t transform Indian education!
We need a broad social and political ideology!

Prof. Krishna Kumar

Prof. Krishna Kumar

Those opens up and integrate into a new class-based liberal society where the upper class, the middle class and the rest of the classes feel the society opened up and accommodate all citizens as enjoying equal rights and opportunities for progress.

Adolescents are a wealth of a nation!
Or, adolescent dreams represent a nation’s wealth! In India, this dream, this wealth is mostly burnt up in preparations for the examinations! How many times we have heard of these types of statements?

May be most of the times whenever we come to the topics of education system in India. In fact, some educators like Prof. Krishna Kumar of the NCERT, National Council for Education Research, of which he was for long the director; maybe there are many such sensitive educators either in some government jobs or outside who work for an education system that doesn’t kill the youth power, its dreams and idealism and what not?

But unfortunately Indian education system has not evolved; we often also blame the Macaulay system of education which introduced, so say many that is responsible for the present Indian mindset that seeks for quick deliverance from such niceties like textbooks, teaching, exams and escape from the oppression and suppression of the Board exams and pass out to reach the college.

But then the dreams of a university education are also unfulfilled  for the many for the higher education system too had fallen into a rut, as we can see in many states, mostly so in the more advanced states like Tamil Nadu where you can see the worst developments in the name of research and faculty development.

They, most universities in that state, have split up the departments into as many as 83 departments in the Madras university; also the same practice is seen in Madurai and in Bharatiyar university in Coimbatore to reward the loyal teachers. The selection and appointment of Vice Chancellor are all so faulty that recently the then incumbent Governor of the State had appointed, he signed the order of appointment and even now other universities are unable to even find a non-controversial member of the selection committee to search and indentify suitable candidates for the VCs jobs! Why?

What else the unstated state of the role of big money in corruption in university education!

Of course, the mention of money, corruption, why even the role of politics and politicians, the very process of politicization of education is where the Macaulay model of education finds itself.
If you want to mention politics then the very education experts all vanish in the air for the fear of the incumbent holder of the lever of power. There are as many stories within other stories when it comes to education policy making and education administration.

Fortunately, this journal is not a pure academic education journal. It is an independent education media where we discuss the more realistic ground-level realities of how education has been turned into a commercial product that even, (only in India?)where even the big corporate houses run tuition industry as a most profitable field of money-making. Or, some of the collaborations in education are forged with those in such Gulf countries like Dubai or Abu Dhabi!

It is taken as a badge of honour to add in your CV that you had worked for some years in the Gulf countries. So, what is the future for the adolescents in India who, as recently happened in Panapakkam in the rural town of Vellore district where four adolescent girls jumped into a well and committed suicide for fear of facing the school exams. It is not a rare incident. In fact, we have to go for the high society, the elite, yes, including the political elite class who run big corporate style large scale network of schools, from Delhi some of these schools have come to Bangalore and set up highly profitable schools with fancy names, charging very stiff fees. The more your school’s fee structure is the more reputed is your claim for social recognition!

Now, what else we can do to liberalize education? What we need is a more practical and even drastic step on the part of state education departments; from the state education ministers. The boards, both State and Central, can order the schools, at least some of the bigger ones to appoint full-time or part-time arts, music and dance and art teachers and allot marks in these subjects in the final exams.

There should be marks for sports, or social activities.

The often misled parents’ emphasis on marks and selection of subjects in final school exams must be dictated not by blind beliefs of parents but by teams of education experts and education psychologists and others. Unfortunately, once the Public Schools were leaders of good education.

Alas, no more! They too have fallen on the same enduring bad practices like tuition-inclined trends. The IITs and IIMs are all have not yet broken this crushing of creative talents of youngsters. We have to revive and vitalize the creative talents of the individual students in a persistent effort to open up the closed education syndrome.