Education sans unscrupulous elements

This morning, like every morning, I looked for educational news and found plenty of it. All 23 IITs across the country would scout outside India for ‘foreign faculty’. IITs of Bombay and Delhi, now designated as institutes of excellence, could appoint up to 30 per cent under this category and would be free to negotiate the ‘package’. The presence of foreign faculty is expected to “improve the research profile of these institutions and fast-pace innovations.” Very encouraging indeed. But one wonders why such liberty could not be given to universities to scout for talented persons from within India. Mahamana Malviyaji invited people from all over the country, created a great pool of talent, the legacy of which still propels the wings of credibility of the BHU.

Can we not trust some 50 of our Vice-Chancellors to have a free hand in scouting around for talent within the country? Could the foreign ‘talented’ experts really contribute fully and effectively if the institutions continue to suffer 40-60 per cent faculty shortage? How could they, or for that matter any expert, enhance the research environment if half of those in the department concerned are ‘ad hoc’ for over 10 years, unsure of their continuity next year? At present, all appointments in universities have been stopped as certain issues are ‘sub-judice’.

One is (unnecessarily) worried due to the other news of the day that Parliament was informed about two Vice-Chancellors whose doctorate degree was found fake. One of them was removed earlier and the other was reappointed for another term in the same university. Closely related to these two in more than one way, and as an indicator of the existing scenarios in higher education, one would find screaming headlines that said “thousands became engineers by bribing TN professors”. How will this impact India’s credibility in the international educational scenario? There are considerable and genuine concerns in the higher echelons of the education sector on account of the absence of Indian institutions in global rankings, also published by a couple of agencies. Several steps are being taken to remedy the situation. The prime issue is simple: We have to set our own house in order. Any other initiative will help only after that has been achieved. The Tamil Nadu university scandal revealed that marks of 40 per cent of those who applied for revaluation were increased. And this has continued for years together. Nothing will emerge even if an inquiry is conducted, as answer sheets have already been destroyed.

Practically every day, there are facts that loudly indicate how tough is the challenge before the India’s education system that appears to have lost its basic moorings in the last few decades.   Stories of mass-copying stand ‘routinised’. Paper leakage in board examinations and more prominently in job recruitment examinations hardly put anybody to shame. The nexus of coaching institutions, nakal mafia, school/university administrations, too, is well-established. Some of the kingpins are regularly arrested and released. India can genuinely claim credit for expanding its education system during the last seven decades against several severe odds. To claim an enrolment of over 96 per cent in schools in spite of the population increase of over three times is no mean achievement. It is now being increasingly realised that the expansion has weighed heavily on learner attainment in schools, quality of products prepared by higher education institutions for the job market and overall credibility and public esteem of publicly funded educational institutions across the board. The other realisation that now frequently emerges is practically most of the informed deliberations are on the educational gains and inadequacies. Several factors are identified that have led to the focus shifting rather totally to the ‘head’ in the trinity, ignoring the ‘hand and heart’. The impact of this neglect is visible all-round in public life, in personal and family life. Indeed, everyone and every sector of human activity in India is complaining of erosion of work culture, deteriorating levels of commitment to values, to society and to the nation.

It is interesting to note that education was given highest priority by leaders of the Indian freedom struggle. This was unique not only on the political forum; this importance was realised amongst philosophers and intellectuals as well. Several of them presented a philosophy of education that could help develop a model of education that was “rooted in culture and committed to progress”. The moral and ethical angle was never ignored or neglected in these formulations. At the time of independence, India had a strong indigenous philosophical base available to implement. One could mention a couple of names: Swami Dayananda, Swami Vivekananda Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, and Rabindranath Tagore. They knew India, its people and practices, tradition and culture, and above all, the tradition of knowledge quest that has fetched global admiration for India’s rise in spirituality. In his vision of independent India, Gandhiji was clear on his priorities. He articulated these in Young India of October 1, 1921: “Whatever may be true of other countries, in India at any rate, where more than 80 per cent  of the population is agricultural and another 10 per cent industrial, it is a crime to make education merely literary and unfit boys and girls  for manual work in afterlife. Indeed, I hold that as the larger part of our time is devoted to labour for earning our bread; our children must from infancy be taught the dignity of such labour…It is a sad thing that our school-boys look upon manual labour with disfavour, if not contempt”.

Things have changed, the 80 per cent may have dropped down to 60 but the essence of the argument remains valid even today. By discarding the manual work, or working with the hand, we have completely erased the necessary initial yearning for subsequent interest and acquisition of proficiency in vocational education. China and Korea are now known for emphasising working with hands during the school years and the advantages these countries have reaped are now globally appreciated. Realising the folly, the Government of India created the Ministry of Skill Development, which is making attempts to achieve an attitudinal transformation. However, a tremendous transformation is needed to create a new mindset in the schools of India to convince parents and teachers how essential it is to acquire productive skills using the ‘hand’.

Through the Buniyadi Talim, Gandhi wanted every individual child to “acquire the capacity for self-reliance in every aspect of clean, healthy and cultured life, together with an understanding of social and moral implications of such a life”. If this aspect had found adequate place and importance in the scheme of things in Indian education, we would not have been blessed with Vice-Chancellors with fake degrees or those enhancing marks of engineering graduates without considering the social and moral implications of their misdeeds.

Working with hands was considered essential as in Indian conditions, it would ensure a reasonable level of earning for everyone. India could have reaped rich dividends if this aspect was given its due not only in policy formulations but also at the implementation stage. Education, however, is also the process of ‘manifesting the perfection already in man’. This concept of perfection includes preparing the person for addressing ‘various problems human beings encounter in society’. This was articulated by Vivekananda: “The education which does not help the common mass of people to equip themselves for the struggle for life, which does not bring out the strength of character, a spirit of philanthropy, and courage of a lion — is it worth the name? Real education is that which enables one to stand on one’s own legs”.

This is essentially the major lacunae that has engulfed most of the products of the present education system — young graduates are unsure of themselves and know not what future has in store for them. They are not responsible for the unenviable situation in which the system has landed them. When will a 15-year-old really understand the disastrous consequences of ‘copying in examination’ at the behest of the system? Or, why should a young person not get his marks enhanced if the ‘facility’ is available for a consideration, which his parents are ready to offer? The education system faces a crisis of character of huge magnitude. If the system is widely intruded upon by external elements who know nothing about education but successfully operate in conjunction with internal elements, its capacity to offer ‘real education’ stands greatly impaired.

What then is the way out? A serious idea exchange on a continuous basis is the dire need to create a dynamic education system that excludes dividend-seekers and profit-makers. Education systems deserve only those who firmly believe in the power of education and comprehend it as ‘life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas.’ Education systems and institutions deserve the best of talent. First, in the country, there should be no hesitation in inviting expertise from abroad. The other most important aspect both the Governments and society must not ignore is: There is no better investment of national resources than augmenting the education system and nurturing talent and looking after the talented.