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

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.

We have to wait for an opportune time for things to change for the better

Education budget is now 3.71%, dipped from 6.15% of the Union Budget
between 2014 and 2017.Not just funds can improve education.Education can be improved only if we search for intellectual debate and freedom of expression for the and public intellectuals.Education has become big business in India.It is now becoming more expensive and also more questionable in terms of quality and job market. May be the education sector is also becoming more fast growing economic sector. The only beneficiary,it seems,are the education promotors. The sheer numbers would daunt anyone engaged in this sector. From the primary level onwards, education is also becoming so expensive almost everyday.

The very pressure of numbers is such that even the States and Central Government are forced to take note of the public discontent and there are any number of education issues,from the fees fixed for the LKG to UKG and also the medium of instruction from the very beginning, at the LKG level itself and also the medium of instruction.The teaching of mother tongue is also becoming an issue.Even for admission for the LKG the capitation fees range something from one to two lakhs, if not more.That is one reason why very many new fancy names for the schools crop up.

You can call them by any name, no more such traditional names like Montessori or something else.The edge in admissions is that the new names,new promises and new franchisees and what have you. The daily newspapers carry any number of education ads, many times in a week you have full-page ads and in multicolor. And next to full-page ads, there are also ads for tuitions and also for various competitive exams for various competitive exams. Oh, then you have the American SAT and GRE, GMAT etc.

Why, don’t you know many of the State governments, may be all the States have one education programme. That is they train youngsters for the much-sought after IAS exams. Ministers do promote these programmes as one of their education policies.
Now, even the daily newspapers, in the regional languages have a regular daily pages devoted to publishing the State level competitive exams, questions are published for the State government posts. Take one recent example of the Tamil Nadu Government exams for State government jobs!

It is becoming a scandal of the first order and you have such juicy information about who played what role and every day arrests are made and the so-called accused are produced before the courts and sent to jailfor a number of days. What a waste of time and energy and what a pass we have come to! Then there is higher education.Here every thing is in a mess! There are now separate ministers for higher education. Nothing wrong! We do need ministers to tackle the mess in higher education. Given the complexity in imparting various degree courses,from professional courses,say in medicine and engineering to general degree courses in arts and sciences there is a whole new breed of educationists, administrators to teachers, from Vice-chancellors to professors, a whole new generation of academics are now in great demand.

The only latest news we read is that for instance, with 40 Central Universities there are reportedly 6,000 and odd posts of university professors, teachers whose posts are empty, remain unfilled! If you are interested in higher education (May God bless you!) then you have the problem (or headache?) to get to know the latest developments in the appointments of Vice-Chancellors.In law, the State Governors are the heads of Universities,the Chancellors,they are supposed to be the appointing authorities, the Governors’ signature legitimise the appointments. Then, as we write there are some ex-VCs languishing in jail (or, are they out on bail?). Why this happened? The appointment of VCs is guided by the search committee names. These search committees themselves are problematic.

There are any numbers of illegalities. Only recently, as we know things in TN, some Governors have taken themselves seriously and appointed some names in a bureaucratic manner.One or two good names also have come up. But given the mess in which we have run into this sector we really need to radically constitute a new committee of competent persons who can also stand up to the new types of ruthless education entrepreneurs,whom we term as real adventurers(see the people who are now crorepathis in higher education as you can see them in the Southern States, it is next to impossible to reform this sector unless you assume some extra-Constitutional powers! Education promoters amassed money and wealth through very many devious routes. They are such diverse fields like films, even a Member of Parliament and also in many other fields like media, TV entrepreneurship etc. The final point we want to make is when India would retain its foreign degree seeking craze. The Universities in USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand are minting money by charging Rs.35 lakhs and above! May be we have to raise our hands in the air and say: Helpless in education reforms!

This seems to be an ideal world. The one we live in is the bestof all possible worlds, right? So, educators have a duty and also a right to ask questions. Prof. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Professor Emeritus of Jadavpur University, Kolkatta has written a thoughtful piece in the Economic Times of 6thFebruary, 2020. We like to request someone who may be near the PMO to bring this piece to the immediate attention to the Prime Minister himself.

It won’t take more than, say some 10 minutes and so the PM can be drawn attention to this piece which elaborates and succinctly puts all the questions that might be agitating to educators, teachers, and students and why even the ones like State Governors who are now the Chancellors of the Universities. Unfortunately, as things stand inIndia the education system is not producing a greater India, instead we are all feeling like ponies, small men and women when it comes to what weread about the state of our education.Prof.Chaudhuri sums up so clearly what is wrong with our education system in which India doesn’t finda mention even in the world’ s top 100 universities.

There is dullness in the country and no one seeks to speak out their minds. This is so bad for a democracy which by definition promotes diversity of opinions and citizen must only listen to what the politicians say. The current criticisms of the ruling and Opposition parties, theirleaders, a mixed bunch no doubts, the discussions and debates havedeteriorated so much that there is no way to find out where the Indian education system stands.

Every year thousands of students compete for very limited seats be it in Delhi or in other cities.For instance, in Delhi, St. Stephen’s college is fancied very muchas the elite college but do you know that most students enter the college under several quota systems. It is a Christian denomination institution and as the governmentpolicy on reservations is such that the best not always gets in. Something like 20,000 students compete and how many can hope to get a fair chance? So too universities the world over! Now, the Indian students flock to foreign shores where the chance of staying back for work for 2 years in UK, 3 years in Australia and forother lengths of time in the USA.

So, theunemployment market is expanding and the Indian talents are being destroyed for lack of good education back in India. So, Indian education has to be reformed to retain talents in critical fields like engineering, IT, medicine and India-born citizens must live a life of dignity and self-fulfillment. To be able to live a life of freedom and dignity we have to improve our education, its philosophy and its ethics.

Prof.Chaudhuri says that first –intellectual, honest must prevail and we must know that university staff, students are thinking people. They are think tanks! They are also public intellectuals. They represent the collective intelligentsia. So, they might often disagree with bureaucrats and practical politicians. So, there could be conflicts of opinion. This is where the current protest must be seen and understood in a sympathetic manner. You see politics is always a matter of power and how the exercise of power affects the wielders of power. Everyday new problems crop up. You see that the latest Supreme Court judgment on eliminating criminalization of politics where the persons contesting elections with a criminal history must explain why he or she did involve in criminal issues, this must be uploaded on the website within two days.

Such judgments might go against the wishes of ruling party. But we have to accommodate such divergent views. As for education we have to update the quality. At Oxford too, something like 20,000 students compete and something like 7,000 students only get in. The national Educational Policy didn’t take off. Right?
Why? Simplybecause experts are uneasy with the government. The PM must invite such independentminded experts and talk with them and assure that there is freedom of expression and experts can speak out. You see that the private universitiesenter the scene for the profit motive and yet with the commitment to produce high quality students. And yet, it is the public universities that had promised independent high qualityresearch, be it the old ones and the new ones.

The innovative ideas only can make a university great. The current eruption of protests all over India and in the leading universities, some of the best 10 are the ones that came into the public attention, JNU, Jamia Millia, and others. No Indian university came in the top 300 world universities in the World University Rankings in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. This must be our one goal. How Indian universities must aim for inclusion in the rankings. Then only other changes we might effect. So, there is genuine dissatisfaction after the higher education has become a mass-market.

India, Russia and China’s different political cultures?

The outbreak of Corona virus in China had brought with it so many questions about how countries run their affairs. In today’s The Hindu (Feb, 17, 2020) there is an elaborate write-up on how the media is tightly controlled in China and how that had led to such scale of tragedy. There are such lessons for all countries in governance issues.

Jung Chang

I have three books before me written by the veteran lady journalist and writer, a former Chinese national, now a British citizen, the world- famous, author, Jung Chang. Her widely read book was on Mao. The other books are on her own family history, the latest on three sisters, one married Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of Chinese Republic in 1912 by overthrowing the last dynasty in China and her younger sister, May -ling is none other than Mrs. Chiang Kai-shek, the nationalist leader who was defeated by Mao’s Communist party. Jung Chang now lives in Britain.

The three books give a lot of information on how China had cordial relations in the pre-independence days with May-ling and Chiang visited Indian 1942,they also came to Santiniketan where they helped to found the famed Cheena Bhavan where I had the good fortune to study Chinese languages under the legendary Prof.Tan Yun-Shan! Where later in 1959 Choun-En-lai also visited and where he came into our Chinese language class room and shook our hands!

Of course very soon the India-China relations deteriorated and finally Nehru died in 1964 and many things changed. Few years ago I visited China, Shanghai city where I took pains to trace the residences where Sun Yat-sen, Mao’s own Shanghai residence and also that of Chou En-lai!

Now, what I want to convey to the Indian readers is that I was always interested in how democracies work after I read British Parliamentary History at Oxford and ever since I returned to India after visiting Soviet Russia my interest only continued.

Today, living though the years of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and later under various leaders as Prime Ministers with Emergency as the last phenomenon in India and now under the BJP government in the two terms I am also keen to reflect on the dimensions, great countries as varied as India, China and also Russia, not to forget the USA and other older democracies like Britain and other Western European countries have evolved as democracies and their successes and failures if any.

In India in particular, there is not much awareness, as I see, of the importance and significance of how we managed to retain democracy in the last 70 years of our freedom. Is Indian democracy at its best and how does our democratic institutions compare with other democratic countries.

It seems that in India of today there is no concern or debates at all about the need to retain any finer principles. The current scenario is one of mixed blessing if at all. The great countries like Russia and China are with big populations and compared to these governments Indian democracy is truly very big with 1.3 billion people. The world recognizes Russia and China as dictatorships, right? While India is recognized as a democracy and the outside world admires the way we run our periodic elections and our rule of law as mandated by the Constitution that is written and also as detailed by Constitution.

For long one party, namely, the Indian National Congress was the ruling party and now, there is a rival party as the BJP. The need and role of the Opposition party is recognized as the critical element in a democratic government, though this requirement is fully met with in many democracies.

In Britain, there is a long tradition of two party systems and the British Parliamentary History is a long and glorious one. But Indian Parliamentary history which is being guided by the conventions of the British House of Commons wherever there are no guidance in our written Constitution.

How far we have been sensitive and committed to democratic values is a matter for debate and this is the crux of the debate here. In China a few years ago, I was astonished by the speed of the economic progress and I used to tell myself often in China: India is still a poor country compared to China!

Such gigantic infrastructure, be it roads, even bullet trains, airports etc simply put me off!
As for the general peoples’ lives I found much liberalism, even much bourgeoisie values and also people freely enjoying themselves in public places!

In India there is unfortunately, suddenly much fear and silence and also suddenly, lately, a sort of spontaneous upsurge in protests!

This sort of phenomenon I was of course not prepared to, honestly. There are so many other distortions in public life as we have been accustomed to in the last 70 years!

Even I feel hesitant to speak out openly and freely. Now, latest I read in a Russian despatch published in The Hindu (Feb 16,2020) I find how Russia recognizes “Kremlin-sanctioned opposition” as opposed to other spontaneous protests, as in the recent case of other anti-government activism. Recently a court in a Russian city seven members of the Left group of youngsters to a cumulative term of 86 years!

There is no independent judiciary in Russia as we guess in China too. Of course there is no free press in Russia as in China. So, we have to read and write more after visiting and travelling across these countries.

Democracies in the USA and why even in Britain and other Western European countries, there are issues in their democracies and their own law and order and crime control laws etc. The prison systems there are also varied.

The point here is that as for our own democratic values and adherence to the finer Constitutional values we seem to go a long way after such decisions like actions of the government in J&K and also as to our own media freedoms and also now the long-prolonging public protests over the new changes in citizenship laws.

In the end we have to realise, as citizens and free people, we have to go a long way before all sections of people realise what is freedom about. There has not been any long tradition of seeking freedom, as it evolved in Britain after Magna Carta.

So, teaching of the role and place of freedom in our political life must start from the schools onwards. The road is of course very long and twisted and uphill, indeed!