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A very democratic decline: troubles of liberalism and end of times

Democracy is being contested. It didn't take too long for history not to end. Thirty years tops and the democratic euphoria is all gone. It's no longer an export product - Chinese made authoritarianism trumped it completely! It's even having trouble on its home turf, in Britain, United States and, in its promissory version, in India.Theories abound where it went wrong, blaming bad men and globalization in equal measure. There is a cutely optimistic streak in some of this analysis, a kind of nostalgia for the lost times and a loveable leap of faith that the pretenders will all be exposed and democracy will triumph. Everything will be alright at the end; if it's not alright, it's not the end - as they say in Marigold Hotel!Indeed, that's cute and loveable and entirely wrong. Democracy ascended not as a gradual revelation of any ultimate truth nor as gift of the benevolent, but rather as a compromise between those who had too much vested in the disappearing absolu…

Should we leave Nationalism to the Fascists?

The business of Nationalism has been left to the Fascists.
Those who cherish freedom of views, opinions and beliefs, accept the global condition of existence and strive for peace and harmony among different peoples and communities, have taken Nationalism as a dirty word. It represents, one argued, the sort of narrow territorial and cultural identities the educated and the cultured should seek to supersede.
It seems that the emotion of nationalism stood in the direct contrast of the rationalism of human histories defined by the class. It was in opposition to cool economic calculations of advantages and incentives in a market economy. In short, in the evocation of global humanity, nationalism appeared to be a dated idea to be left for the fools.
So the Fascists stepped in, gratefully. They were clinging to those outdated and outmoded ideas of race, pseudo-histories and rites and rituals and were effectively marginalised ever since the late twentieth-century liberal boom. And, suddenly,…

Designing universities for the 21st century

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In the conference circuit, there are usually two mutually exclusive strands of conversation about the nature and purpose of universities. 
First, there is this misty-eyed nostalgia about the universities being a timeless thing. It is a community of simple and sincere learners, all committed in pursuing knowledge for its own sake. It's an imagined community of medieval monks studying the Large Hadron Collider, or a group of brilliant scientific minds exploring the intricacies of Nichomachean Ethics. 
Indeed, this is historically inaccurate, even without the LHC. This presents universities as places for disinterested learning, but universities always had a practical purpose. Most students went to university to find a profession and did things, like studying law or theology, which helped them to get into one. The other problem is the premise that the fundamental idea about the university never changed, which is also inaccurate and misleading. Universities through the ages reflected …

The myth of 21st-Century Education: Preparing for the age of the machine

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I argued previously that a carefully crafted myth about 21st-century education - that the experts know what the learners will need and it will be radically different and defined by market forces - is being propagated (see The myth of 21st-Century Education). As educators, it is important to reject the deterministic overtures of this popular myth and to look at all the different possibilities that exist and could be equally plausible.
At the core of the '21st-century education' myth-making is an assumption about our relationship with technology. We are told that we are at a point of departure in history, which will be much like the past. New technologies - those that can replace humans in intellectually challenging work - would alter how work is done and this would mean a new, 'fourth' for someone keeping the count, the industrial revolution. The social relationships would change as it did last time around - humans would be replaced, most intellectually challenging wor…

The myth of 21st Century Education

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Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.

For,  despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.

We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.

When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …

The tragedy of Sino-Indian War 1962

War and geopolitics are not my focus, invested as I am in the history of universities and the role of intellectuals in society. But a combination of factors, the recent India-Pakistan skirmish, the Indian government's revisionist and critical stance on Nehru and my own interest in historical interactions between India and China, have led me to look closely on the Sino-Indian war of 1962. This is very much a work in progress, as I have compiled a reading list and started working through it, but one thing is clear to me right at this initial stage: The history of war has huge contemporary significance, particularly for India, and this should indeed be studied better there. 
For example, this war weakened Nehru politically at home and in the world stage: There is no denying the truth in Mountbatten's comment that had Nehru died in 1958, he would have possibly gone down in history as one of the greatest statesmen ever. The war also changed, I shall argue, India's position in …

India's employment crisis

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India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history. 
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all develo…

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