If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Monday, 7 May 2012

Higher education off the shelf

[This is in continuation of my previous post, "What ails our education system". I would request you to read that article, if you haven't already done so, before you read this.]

It has been heartening to see some thought-provoking comments in response to the blog post of 4 May: What ails our education system. I am quoting two of them here. The first one, written by Indrani, is:

Single child is the norm in today's world. Most children are not even taught the basic duties of caring for their near ones. Parents send their kids to distant schools and when they grow up, to distant cities to give them a wider and better exposure. Rich parents pay huge sums of money to get their kids admitted to foreign universities. In most cases these kids are pretty average and completely confused and selfish lot. It is high time we revamp our education systems.

A friend of mine who doesn’t want to share his name wrote:

[When we were young,] education meant much more than scoring high marks in the exams. We were taught to be decent, selfless, helpful, compassionate and loving human beings. It wasn't just the teachers who “educated” us. Our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and even neighbours too played a crucial role in shaping us.

This “education” that we received is etched in stone in our hearts and minds. Our teachers ... had a gift that seems to be pitifully lacking in teachers these days. I'm talking of the sheer love and passion to teach! Our teachers went beyond our textbooks to enrich our young minds. 

At home, our parents guided us by imparting high moral values for us to emulate. 

I finished my schooling in 1966. Yet, forty six long years later, I still remember the names of EVERY teacher who taught me. I just have to shut my eyes and think of them for the faces of these noble souls to appear in front of me.

Do the students these days even bother to remember the names of the previous year's teachers? Having said that, it may not be the fault of the children alone. The fault lies with the teachers! What is the calibre of the average teacher in a school these days? Apart from “finishing the portions” in time for the exams, what do they teach?

… With teachers who are only bothered about their paycheque and the parents placing the onus on the schools and teachers, what we see today is a generation totally devoid of any social skills. 

Their parents are probably very thrilled that they're scoring the expected high marks. What sort of human beings will they grow up to be? Who cares!

I couldn’t agree with them more. We have conveniently accepted a narrow definition of the word “education”. And the problems of our education system stems from that basic sin. It would be wrong to blame students for what’s gone wrong. They are following a path shown by their parents. They are both beneficiaries and victims of the system.

What do middleclass and richer parents want their offspring to become? Better human beings or someone with a comfortable job with a fat pay-packet? Although the two are not mutually exclusive, the question is relevant. And we all know the answer. Commodification of education that began in the 1990s suits them fine. If I have money, I can BUY a comfortable future for my son or daughter. It doesn’t matter whether they are intelligent or mediocre, hardworking or lazy. This has been a fact of life in some countries like the USA for long. Otherwise George W Bush wouldn’t have become a President of a country that has produced hundreds of Nobel Laureates. In India, this is a recent phenomenon. How will this work in the long run?

My peripheral connection with two engineering colleges convinces me that nowadays, education is indeed available to the highest bidder. Students with bare pass marks in school leaving exams can enrol in an engineering (or medical) college!. And there is an unwritten agreement between the college and the parents that none will fail. Teachers have become education vendors rather than teachers. Consequently, they deserve and receive as much respect as shop assistants do. But that is only collateral damage.

The main issue is that in the present scenario, rich people’s kids are cornering all the opportunities while the doors are being shut on the faces of the poor. Parts of India like Bangalore and Noida are first-worldly glitzy, while more and more people are being pushed to the margins. The India where I was born was much poorer, but the difference between the rich and the poor was never so obscenely stark. Neither was greed the force that ran everything. A cash-and-carry higher education system will perpetuate the present situation. Already, it is making the odds impossibly high for a vast majority of our people. If APJ Abdul Kalam were to be born today, he wouldn’t possibly become a scientist or the President of India.

Every Indian should demand two things from our government: (a) make primary education available and compulsory for all, and (b) fund the higher education of every student that qualifies for admission to government run and other reputed institutions of higher education. Funding shouldn’t cover only the tuition fees, but all other expenses as well.

The government of course has no money to meet either of the demands. But if you buy a Mitsubisi Pajero for Rs.25 lakh, or some other fancy vehicle, our government will give you about Rs.10 for every litre of the diesel you buy. How much money does it cost the exchequer to subsidise owners of private vehicles by way of cheaper petrol and diesel?

But should we complain? Doesn’t the government run for people like you and me, who own computers, drive cars, and holiday abroad?


  1. Sri Aurobindo once said that 'all life is yoga'. I would like to add that all life is education. 'As long as I live, so long do I learn,'said Ramakrishna Paramhamsa. The Parmahamsa did not go to any school, yet he was the same man who inspired Romain Rolland to write that 'he (Ramakrishna) knew the whole book of life by heart. Today's education is a 'bread-winning' education, and I think that as far as true education is concerned, we have to give it ourselves. For the bread-winning type, it is a rat race. The government has to come in.

  2. MANI MENON.....Our schools and colleges today don't produce thinking, inquisitive individuals. They are nothing more than programmed robots. Sorry! It's an insult to robots as many of them are programmed to think! Can't blame them as they are taught to go through life like some creatures from a Kafka story. They resemble cars coming off an assembly line in a factory! Different colours, but the same stuff!

    If APJ Kalam were to be a student fresh out of college, the poor soul would have ended up a pen pusher in some dusty, musky government office!

    As a nation, where are we heading? It's too terrifying to contemplate....

  3. I completely agree with the views above
    My friend has spent the past twenty four years teaching English to students in a rural college near Andul.He is the sole teacher in his department. There are several posts lying vacant .The college did not get certain funds from UGC this year because it did not have have the requisite number of teachers on its payroll.In recent times many teachers who were selected and offered posting in the college did not join .Even part time teachers do not want to work in the rural setup.In the young we no longer have idealists and individuals who can live for a larger cause.

  4. Santanuda,

    Your last two posts on the topic of education are extremely timely and needs serious discussions.

    There is no doubt whatsoever that our country has failed to develop a proper education policy. You as well as many of the other readers have very nicely described the deficiencies in our system. The sooner we try to address them, the better it would be for all of us.

    The problem I suppose is that most of us do not even realise that the way things are going is not correct. You can rectify a wrong system only after you understand that there is actually a problem. Since our education system creates people who are ignorant, selfish and without any capability to think independently they have lost the power to distinguish between the right and the wrong.

    The two proposals that you have given are basic rights and should be provided by the government at any cost. It is being done by a few other countries and India should follow suit. No matter what it takes education must be made compulsory and accessible by every citizen of this country.

    But along with what and how it is being imparted is of equal importance.

    I fail to understand why in our country do we have so many separate school boards with each having a different syllabus. Why can't there be a single board, with each state having the choice of adding their respective language as the second/third language. Why can't we all study the same thing? It might a daunting task in a country like ours but certainly not impossible. At least there would be parity in what we are all being taught.

    Probably this would be one step towards bringing a student in a remote village and a student of an elite school in a city of our country at the same level.

  5. Thank you all. Each one of you has made some point that demands careful thought. Personally, I am learning; and if our efforts lead to slightly better appreciation of problems that affect us, it would be great. Anirban, you are absolutely right. The question of changing anything begins only after a sizable section of the population are aware of the problem and demand change.

    But simultaneously, we must change ourselves ... how can WE contribute? Maybe, those of us who can afford, can sponsor the higher education of at least one student? I know that some people are doing it already. Let us not think of another NGO - can we turn it into a social movement in which thousands of people will participate voluntarily? I will be delighted to hear your views.


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.