The volume asks a fundamental question: What is education? While there can be no one answer, the contributors provide a clear understanding of the current state of education in India, which stands at a crossroads. .
Education is a fundamental right for the empowerment of every citizen, and the holistic development of the Human personality. It is not only about literacy and grades, nor merely about knowledge creation. A common theme that runs through the papers in the recognition the education has to teach us to think and question. If this is the imperative, education must take cognisance of disparities in incomes and socials status, the heterogeneity of culture, religion, language and lived reality. .
Most importantly, however, is the crucial need for value education, as brought out in the Foreword. The 20th century has been major development in science and technology, for instance. On the other hand, it is the movement for us to draw on our rich heritage and promote intercultural education. .
This volume is essential reading for those in the field of education, of course, but also public policy and the non-government sector.
About the Author
Apoorvanand is Professor of Hindi, University of Delhi. He is part of the core group that designed the National Curriculum Framework for school Education in 2005; member of national focus group of teaching of Indian Language (NCERT); and on the Committee to advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India, 2008. He currently edits Alochana a quarterly journal of criticism.
Omita Goyal is presently Chief Editor of the IIC Quarterly, the Journal of the India International Center. Prior to this she worked at stage Publications India Private Limited, subsequently initiating the social science programme for Taylor & Francis under their social science and humanities imprint, Routledge.
Education is an area that lends itself to extensive analysis and, often, intense controversy. This volume brings together a large number of contributions by many well-known scholars in the area of their expertise from around the country.
Instead of attempting a synoptic view of the whole problem, I will confine myself to a single set issues involving what may be called ‘value-based education.’ Educational technology is changing rapidly; the traditional classrooms is in danger of disappearing, and even the art of reading and writing that were so crucial in our lifetimes are getting displaced by increasingly sophisticated gadgets. The whole area of educational technology aside, however, it is crucial to pay attention to the content of our education. Education is not merely an exercise in transmitting information. It must also involve the transmission of certain value that we consider essential to the very well fare of human civilisation. In the face of the overwhelming threat of violence and fanaticism, it is, in my view, important to lay stress upon value-based education.
Today, humanity stands at a crucial and potentially decisive crossroad in its long and tortuous history on Planet Earth. On the one hand, the 20th century witnessed an astounding development in almost every sphere of human activity, with science and technology transforming life on this planet in a couple of generations. Breaking the space barrier, landing on the moon, probing the planets and the stars beyond, are all symbols of the astounding creativity of the human mind. Instant communication has now become routine, and the Internet and other aspects of Information Technology have spread around the globe. For tens of millions of human beings there has been a substantial rise in living standards; some have reached levels of affluence unimaginable in the recent past. The world has literally shrunk before our eyes, and whether we are probing the majestic rhythms of the galaxies or the subatomic dance of the neutrinos, human ingenuity has broken all barriers. We now have enough resources, if used with wisdom and compassion, to insure for every human being the material, educational and vocational inputs necessary for a decent human existence.
On the other hand, the 20th century has been perhaps the most lethal and destructive in the recorded history of humanity. The first and Second World Wars, and dozens of regional conflicts, some of which are still raging, have killed millions of human beings—men, women and children alike—and dislocated many millions more. The ideological systems of Nazism, Marxism-Leninism, and Maoism resulted in immense human suffering, death and disaster. Then advent of nuclear power has introduced a new and deeply disturbing dimension into possible future conflicts. Fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism are on the rise in many part of the world, and while the member of nations endorsing a democratic system has considerably increased, many authoritarian regimes still prevail, and grave treats to global peace and stability remain. Unilateralism has become a new doctrine, casting a cloud over attempts by the United Nations to build a more democratic global society.
In this ambiguous situation, educating children and youth for intercultural and inter-religious understanding assumes tremendous significance. The UNESCO Commission for education in the 21st century published a report in 1996 entitled Learning: The Treasure within. 1 I commend this document to educationists around the world as it covers—in a comparatively short compass—a broad gamut of educational problems and challenges. In it are identified ‘Four Pillars of Learning’—‘Learning to know’, ‘Learning to do’, ‘Learning to Live Together’, and ‘Learning to be’. Here, I will focus on the third of these, ‘Learning to Live Together’.
There is an accident Sanskrit hymn which exhorts: ‘Let us work together, let us enjoy together, let us achieve together, many there be no hatred between us’. Highly consistent with the framework, ‘Learning to Live together’ implies that value education should include at least six interrelated Dimensions. The first of these relates to family values. By these, I do not mean a reversion to conservative or retrogressive social structures, but the necessity for harmony within the family, which, after all, is the first classroom and laboratory for every child. If there is constant conflict within the family, the effect upon children cannot but be negative. Family value, such as respect and regard for elders by children, and children by elders, helpfulness, cooperative functioning and mutual affection help lay the foundation for how we learn to live together over the whole of our lives. Although our educational systems do not integrate the family lives of individual children into the classroom, there can be no doubt that the first elements of education are inculcated within the family, which also requires strong parent—teacher association within our schools.
The second set of values, which I call societal values, include courtesy, consideration to strangers and elders, punctuality, cleanliness and cooperation. After the family, it is in school that these values need to be inculcated. Although competition is important, we must cultivate the art of cooperative functioning within our educational institutions. Among many other avenues, sports and involving students in community service project can be excellent training for intercultural understanding. For example, in developing nations like India, the concept of Socially Useful productive Work (SUPW), in which students make periodic visits to slums or villages in the vicinity and assist in projects distinguished by cooperation andservice to other.2
The third set of values involes environmental sustainability. It is now well known that the 20th century witnessed a massive exploitation and degradation of the biosphere. Millions of acres of forests have disappeared, tens of thousands of species have vanished, the ozone layer is steadily attenuating, glaciers are melting, and sea levels risings. If these trends continue, even the medium-range prospects for the very survival of the human race will be in question. It is therefore necessary that student develop an awareness of the importance of preserving and preserving and protecting the natural environment. Importantly, all religions address the value of preservation and protection of nature. The historic conference at Assisi in Italy in 1986 resulted in the Interreligious Declarations on Man and Nature. Although written from the point of view of different religions, these declarations are remarkable in that they all emphasise the spiritual significance of nurturing Mother Earth. A world Wildlife Fund-India publication containing these declarations is invaluable as an educational tool.3
The fourth set of value involves interreligious understanding. Historically, religion has a decidedly mixed truck record. On the one hand, much that is great and noble in human civilization—art and architecture, painting and sculpture, scriptures and literature, mortal code and social organizations—have their genesis in the great religions of the world. At the same time, countless millions of human beings have over the ages been massacred and burnt, tortured and persecuted, in the name of religion. Even as I write, fierce conflicts are raging around the world between and within religions, causing havoc and massive suffering. The astounding rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has introduced a new dimension of violence and terror.
Complicating matters, in many countries, school textbooks have misleading and biased information about religions that are not in the mainstream, thus imprinting negative archetype on children from a young age. In order to counteract these distortions, the Interfaith Movement emerged over the last century, seeking to bring people of different religions persuasions together in a harmonious and creative dialogue. Between the first Parliament of the World’s religions in Chicago in 1893, and the sixth in Salt Lake City last year, there have been hundreds of interfaith meeting around the globe, along with the development of several major interfaith organizations, including the Temple of Understanding.4 The key to interreligious understanding lies in the acceptance that there are multiple paths to the divine. In declaring that ‘The truth is one, the wise call it by many names’, the Rig Veda recognises a growing global sensibility that there can be no monopoly of divine wisdom or spiritual methodology. In other words, in the divine exists, surely it cannot be monopolized by any one creed or religion. Whereas it may be acceptable for us to claim that our own religion is the most effective way to achieve a spiritual goal, it is manifestly not acceptable to persecute and terrorise people who belong to different religious traditions or on the basis of gender, caste or sexual preference. Who are we, denizens of a tiny speck of dust that we call Planet Earth, to declare that in the infinite billions of galaxies that surround us, the illimitable spirit of the divine can appear only in one form or at one place or at one time?
For these and other reasons, the time has come when the great religions of the world must forgo their mutual antagonism and work together for the abolition of poverty and deprivation, hunger and malnutrition, disease and poverty that still engulf more than half the population of our planet. At a corresponding level, interfaith education must become part of educational curricula and programmes around the world. I am aware that such a call is inherently sensitive, but if a basic introduction to the great religions of the world could be available to students as a matter of course, it would help them broaden their outlook and prevent extremism, while furthering interfaith and intercultural understanding.
The quest for greater interreligious understanding inevitably leads of the question of spiritual values, the fifth domain which may facilitate our capacity for learning to live with one another. There is a distinction between religion and spirituality, although these spheres are usually closely intertwined. Religion necessarily involves a great deal of outer conformity, whereas spirituality attempts to access the divine power that resides within the deeper recesses of our consciousness, and cuts across theological and denominational divides. In this regard, the ‘Noor-I-Ilahi’ of Sufism, the ‘Bodhi-chitta’ of Buddhism, the ‘Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ of the Bible, and the seers of the Upanishads who exclaim in ecstasy, ‘I have seen that great being shining like a thousand suns beyond the darkness’, are all maniufestations of deep spiritual awareness. All religions emphasise this ‘inner light’, this ‘treasure within’ to which so many aspire through an array of methodologies such as prayer, meditation, yoga, Zen,Tao and Zikr. Rather than focusing on differences, therefore, our education would do well to reflect on the fundamental spiritual values that we share across religions, including the most basic contention regarding our essential essence as human beings.
Sixth and Finally, we must embrace the shared values of an emerging global society, displaying the courage to think and act globally, and abandon rigid, traditional paradigms. In so doing, we must mobilise our inner and outer resources im order to construct a new world based on mutually assured welfare, rather than destruction. As global citizens committed to human survival, we must use the most recent array of innovative and interactive pedagogic methodologies to structure a worldwide programme of education for children for children and adults alike. Such an approach should open our eyes to the reality of this global age and our hearts to the cries of the oppressed and the suffering. There is no time to lose. Even as the global society inexorably emerges, regressive forces of fundamentalism and fanaticism, exploitation and intimidation are also growing. As we conceptualise and create a global society grounded in shared values of coexistence, we must not underestimate these destructive force, while simultaneously seeking to understand and address the fears of such individuals and groups within the broader international community.
In conclusion, I feel that with our rich and multifaceted religious and cultural heritage, India is in a significant position to promote and indeed spearhead the whole concept of value- based education.
According to the the Ministery of Human Resource Development, the essence of human resource development is education, which plays a significant and remedial role in balancing the socio-economic framework of the country… the youth of the great nation awaits a new paradigm of education that fosters knowledge with analytical skills, logical reasoning and the ability to imagine beyond the given.
The current events on university campuses fly in the face of these very pronouncements.
A little over 36 years ago, I was catapulted from the sheltered and homogeneous environs of a convent school to Delhi University’s North Campus. It was an eye-opener. I shared space with students across the country, some of whom were more comfortable speak Hindi. One of the first questions I was asked by my classmates was, ‘what is your caste?’ It brought home the reality that is India. Today, it is difficult to comprehend the effort of stifle rational, questioning voice. My best memories of those five years are the after-class gatherings of students, talking animatedly about the state of the nation at large, voices getting lauder as opinions clashed. We are often joined by our professors, who sharpened our thinking and made us question even more. Is what a thing of the past? I sincerely hope not.
But we should remind ourselves that the state of education in India today goes deeper and further back. Some of the concerns are brought out in this collection of papers. Quite deliberately, we decide not to concentrate on the specifics of primary, secondary and tertiary education, nor is there a lot by way of statistics of literacy, dropout, enrolment rates, etc. These are certainly important, and have been touched upon by the contributors, but data for these is available in other sources, Here, the contributors ask a fundamental question: What is education? While there can be no one answer, the contributors provide a clear understanding of the current state of education in India, which stands at a crossroads. There is limited space here to give a short summary of the all articles. Instead, I highlight some salient issues that have been dealt with individually and across papers.
So, what is education? First and foremost, it is a fundamental right for the empowerment of every citizen, and the holistic development of the human personality. It is not only about literacy and grades and rankings, not merely about knowledge creation. A common theme that runs through the collection is the recognition the education has to teach us to think and question. If this is the imperative, education must take cognizance of disparities in incomes and social status, the heterogeneity of culture, religion, language and live reality.
At the primary level, the right of education has is some small measure helped reduce inequality in access to education. But we need to reaffirm our faith in public schooling and invest more funds for basic amenities and good teachers. In higher education, there has been breakneck expansion, particularly with the growing number of private providers. What is not clear, however, is whether this expansion has in any way improved the quality of education. This is not to say that privatisation of education is in itself a bad thing: the concern is the real danger of education becoming a commodity with a market value. What is need is better regulation and a clear government policy.
There is much, much more that this volume offers, but there are also some areas we could not include for want to space. However, we believe it is a significant contribution to the current debate on education in India.
Education seldom makes news in India. Very few occasions attract media attention: there is the annual ritual of national lament when India fails to appear in the list of the top two and four hundred universities globally. The discussion on school education is also largely restricted to controversies about the content of textbooks. Then, too, it is only history textbooks and controversies around them which hog the limelight.
At the time of writing, the India full of reports about campuses. They seem to suggest that campuses have turned into battlegrounds and a nationalist anxiety has gripped the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and university leaders are vying with each other to prove their credentials. This battle of nationalism is being presented as a war between the elite and the subaltern. It is claimed that these elite institution are eating into scarce national resources, using their privilege to shelter anti-national elements and foster their ideology. Interestingly, the nationalist argument is now being spelt out in a language of equity. It is laced with the data per capita expenditure on students, teacher—pupil ratio and the like, to prove that the common texpayer’s money is being used by students and faculty of privileged institutions like Jawaharlal University (JNU) and Hyderabad Central University (HCU), without making any significant contribution to the national economy.
It was amusing, but also worrisome, to see the government and the ruling party contrasting the image of a soldier buried under tons of ice at Siachen with students and teachers comfortably ensconced in those campuses. A language implying betrayal and ungratefulness is being used to question the very existence of such universities. Army personnel being invited to campus to seek their advice on how to run a university deepens this perception. It is fusion of utilitarianism and nationalism to redefine the very purpose of education.
All this could have been a blessing in disguise: it should have ideally led to a fresh discussion of the aims of education and the role of education institutions in the new national and international scenario. Economics redden with crises, large-scale forced displacement due to unending wars, failed nation states, violence and mistrust that defines human relationships in the globalised world, and ecological predicaments facing humanity have placed new challenges before education. Education is expected to first identify and articulate these challenges coherently, and then suggest ways to deal with them. It is a huge task if we consider the fact that education, in a way, is itself a product of the very forces responsible for the planet’s problems. If takes only a subservient role and legitimises the status quo, the university or school systems run the risk of failing in the original mandate of providing solutions through critical study and thinking.
In the Indian context in particular, the present crisis of education has awakened sleeping ghosts. The suicide of Rohith Vemula in HCU has brought the question of cast based discrimination in educational institutions into sharp focus. We are repeatedly told that caste is no longer a marker of inequality and we need to move beyond it in formulating policies to ensure equitable quality in higher education. And yet, the letter written by Vemula before his tragic death brings to the fore the painful reality of discrimination in educational space, and the insensitivity of policymakers and university leaders towards it.
The tragedy at HCU is reminiscent of an incident at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) 10 years ago. We were there to seek facts about a reported incident of caste-based discrimination. When we reached the complainant’s room, we were shocked to see the choicest abuse scribbled as graffiti across his walls. There was cunning behind them; they did not mention caste specifically so as to evade the provision of the SC/ST atrocities act. Later, the then director of the Institute mobilised the full force of his faculty to assure us that caste was alien to the Institute =, which was concerned only with producing excellence. We could sense the embarrassment which this incident had caused to the member of the Institute and could understand their denial. The investigation could not proceed further as the complainant disappeared. One faculty member explained that the treat of punishment for violating the privacy of ‘family’, i.e., the Institute, could, in such cases, ruin the career of the complainant, forcing him to withdraw.
Clearly, we can see that far from being engines of transformation in our social relations, educational institutions are mostly unequal space in themselves. The story is similar if we look at school, where children from the scheduled castes and tribes still do not feel at home. Stories of villages boycotting schools with a Dalit cook, for instance, exception. If we do not here of such instance more often, it is because the authorities address communitarian sensitivities right in the beginning.
Apart from the schedule castes and tribes, the absence of minorities, especially Muslims, from higher education has not even entered the discourse on exclusion. The ‘Muslim issue’ remains confident to a discussion on madarsas and institutions like Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The intervention of the state is in the guise of modernising and secularizing Muslims. The minority status of institutions (AMU, for instance) is seen as a special concession given to Muslims and is used to create resentment against them. Instead, the larger and more crucial question of their exclusion from educational spaces needs to be brought to the forefront.
The question of the autonomy of universities has not been discussed sufficiently. We know that this word has become irrelevant in the context of state universities, where vice chancellors work at the mercy of their political masters. The Acts, which govern the functioning of central universities, provide safeguards for vice chancellors against the whims and fancies of the political power of the day. Despite this, many have been seen to voluntarily act as agents of the government. If the Acts ensure autonomy, how was it lost? Does autonomy mean autonomy of the vice chancellor alone, or is it a sum total of the autonomy of the all the constituent units of the university?
The universities gave in to the demands of the government to first implement the semester system across India, irrespective of the nature of the university. Next, they implemented the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), which also means that the universities would have to follow a common curriculum prepared by the University Grants Commission (UGC). All this was done in the name of ensuring efficiency and uniformity without an adequate consultative process. The opposition by teachers was portrayed as being supportive of the status quo and driven by the interest in protecting their privileges. That teachers should also have a right to decide the content and from of teaching is treated as a principle fit only for universities of the first world.
It has often been said that institutions should prove that they deserve autonomy, and that autonomy always comes along with accountability. Is autonomy then to be treated as a reward for excellence, or is it a necessary condition for it? Professor Upendra Baxi once remarked that we should use the world responsibility in place of accountability. Responsibility should be read here as response-ability. The manner in which the organs of the university are made response-able should lead us to the question of governance and structure of the university.
The issue of governance, too, needs to be foregrounded. Not just central universities, but state of private universities should also be brought into the discourse. We need to examine the processes and structures that govern a university. Why is it that the head of the institution is not accountable to the university community? The relationship between universities and the apex regulatory body—in this case the UGC—does not make for a pleasant story. At the same time, the weakening of the autonomy of the UGC by successive government has made it so fragile that it now resembles a subsidiary of the Ministery.
Does this insensitivity towards autonomy have something to do with the erosion of the agency of teachers? If we look beyond the central universities, there are universities and colleges across India that have functioned without teachers and decades. Turning teachers into informal, contract labour is a phenomenon which started with schools and was ignored by the teaching community in universities. Unfortunately, it is now a reality. Despite these open positions, universities and colleges conduct examinations regularly. The most important, rather the only function of the institution, is to provide certificates to students. Everybody is happy as long as examinations are help peacefully and results are out on time. It should be noted that students no longer agitate to extend the dates of examination, which was the fairly regular demand three decades back. What does it signify? The total dissociation of classroom from examination has become a fact for state-run university in India.
The collapse of state-run universities is a tragic story, which is waiting for a narrator, to be told with all its poignancy. In the ruins of the public university system, experiments like the Nalanda University and South Asian University are like blossoms in a desert, but their claim and clamour for autonomy in all aspects seems to suggest that autonomy flows from eminence. It is not a right for commoners, who are to be found in the hinterland or backwaters of education.
Professor Baxi had once suggested that we need to do away with the term ‘higher education’. What is high about it? Higher education in India has arrogantly placed itself on a pedestal much above the one on which our schools rest. And, today, they mirror the morass and morbidity our schools have experienced for decades.
Advocates of the autonomy principle often argue that universities cannot be treated like schools. There seems to be general agreement amongst our university dons, irrespective of their ideological color, that schools are mostly places where knowledge is transferred to children. Teachers have a responsibility and duty to do the job of faithfully transferring the ‘right’ kind of knowledge. In this discourse, a schoolteacher is not given the autonomy that university teachers claim as their right. Neither are the children treated as free minds. Their susceptibility, vulnerability and impressionability is invoked to save them from ‘unwarranted’ and ‘unhealthy’ information. All attention is focused on textbooks which are repositories of authorized, official knowledge. All that is required is proper training for teachers to be able to transact this in their classrooms.
These questions were raised in the report of the Yashpal Committee (2009) that advised on the ‘renovation and rejuvenation of higher education’. Unfortunately, the Report was put in cold storage by the then government. The issue of institutional autonomy, independence of the apex regulatory body in the field of higher education, bridging the gap between the state and central educational institution, ending the fragmentation in every aspect of higher education, including policy making, were flagged for urgent attention. The urgency remains.
The National Curriculum Framework from school Education (NCF), 2005, tried to take the debate to a different plane. It advocated the centrality of teacher and students in the scheme of school education. Textbooks were to be treated as one of the actor in this drama to help teachers and students explore the expanse of knowledge with freedom. The idea of the school classroom as a site for the creation of knowledge has been heard with suspicion and derided even by those who want freedom for teachers and students in universities.
The NCF tried to move away from prescribing what to teach, to questioning the need to teach it, and how it should be taught. By privileging the learner and teacher, and emphasising the processes, the NCF sought to free the discourse of school education from restrictive ideological frames of nationalism and secularism. If the democratising potential of education has to be realized, it cannot but treat teachers and students as independent thinking agents.
The NCF was making of very sophisticated argument, which was lost on both the right and the left. The left found it wanting in its duty if secularization of education. It forgot that, essentially, secularism had to be a principle that emerges from democratic processes. Failing that, secularism will always remain an alien notion and always have an equal competitor in nationalism. In this battle, unfortunately, given the balance of forces in the Indian context, right-wing nationalism is bound to win.
The experience of newly created universities has shown that nearly all of them resemble their state counterparts. It is not surprising that the lack vigour and freshness and look fatigued, lacking the desire to undertake bold experiments in their selection processes or curricular exercise. Experimentation cannot be the preserve of a privileged few like Ashoka and Shiv Nadar University; it is the right of all universities. This is not to say that private initiatives need not be taken in the field of education. In fact, we would need to this field, but yet treat education as a public good and part of the commons.
Instead, very often, the rich and privileged first cut themselves off from the masses, establish their own educational zones, and then defend them from being contaminated with the ordinary. In my opinion, one example in the case of Sanskrit school, Delhi, which was established by the elite civil services. They approached the Supreme Court to exclude themselves from conditions placed by the Right of education Acts. This Battle, as Professor Krishna Kumar point out, shows how far the elite can go to fortress their privileges. Similarly, the right to education act was sought to be diluted by the powerful lobby of private schools which took the matter to the Supreme Court. The destruction of the common school system has to be followed by the crumbling of the public university system. The severe curtailment in budgetary provision for the public university system would further weaken its already fragile structure. This tottering figure is being adorned with nationalist armour. Which war will this caricature of a warrior fight, let alone win?
We need, therefore, to move beyond the momentary excitement that we see in the media, and look at the more long term structural issue of education that also have great impact on the everyday functioning of educational institutions. We need to inculcate a policy-oriented mindset which does not treat education in an episodic and disjoined manner. Similarly, we need to resume the discussion that NCF and the Yashpal Committee Repot had started. This volume is an effort in this direction.
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