There is some kind of consensus that education has a social role: Even those who subscribe to Margaret Thatcher's view 'there is no such thing as society' believe that education creates productive workers which help businesses and lift GDP. So, what role education should play in a society is not left-wing indulgence, but rather a pertinent discussion which everyone should join in.
This is particularly relevant in India for several reasons. Those who are in love with GDP growth, that is most people in India, frame the discussion in predictable terms: 10 million new workers are joining Indian workforce every year and the country has to equip them to be productive. In this straightforward formation, if India does this, all other social challenges will go away. Even any casual observer will appreciate the limitations of this view: Indian businesses and institutions have greater challenges to scale than hospitality workers speaking poor English. And, in that broader perspective, Education's role in the society must be framed.
There is no dearth of rhetoric, though, about Education's social agenda. In fact, the new government has a specific social goal, to 'Indianise' education, and this goes beyond mere economic productivity. This puts on education a great expectation of changing minds and puts a certain view of Indian culture at the centre stage. And, this is no mere rhetoric: The government has an activist approach to education, stepping into various matters curtailing institutional autonomy (in Delhi University and IITs), planning widespread changes in the school curriculum and even committing a significant part of Prime Minister's time to a televised programme on the Teachers' Day (September 5th). Education's social role is now in the forefront and the debate has earnestly began.
There are many positions in this arc of oscillation between education as an economic instrument and education to shape one's values and promote a certain kind of loyalty. Ever since Macaulay's famous minutes, the state support of education was primarily directed at creating a social elite, a class of administrators who would run the Raj - in the first instance - and then a vast public sector led economy - after the independence. This is in a way the original Indian position, against which the two views as above are pitted. It is somewhat the middle point of the arc, which balances the economic goals and nation building aspirations, albeit a secular one. All our debates about education's social role are an attempt to escape the geriatric inertia of this original aspiration, for which the Indian society seemed to be eternally settled - a coveted clerkship for life!
That the oscillation must begin has been necessitated by globalisation, and the need to economically competitive and socially secure are the two opposing forces driving our debate. But in the face of globalisation of the kind we are experiencing, this is a false dialectic: This reflects more the positions of the past than that of the future. So, the central argument of this post is thus: We must revisit the question of education's social role to move beyond the lure of government jobs, and in a way to achieve economic prosperity and social confidence.
To take up this challenge of achieving economic prosperity and social confidence, and to go beyond the mere black-and-white top-down agendas of skills development and Hindu revivalism, serious educators may have to reimagine the whole education debate. In this, mere revisionism may not be enough - neither 'Hindutva-lite' nor 'Indianisation of skills' are viable strategies to lead to an education that will meet the challenges of a profoundly changing society. In fact, these starting propositions, historical legacies, may actually limit the imagination rather than enabling it. I shall therefore argue that we abandon these absolute agendas - and define this in the context of the challenges, economic and social, that India faces.
However, such an assertion is not about putting this discussion back in the familiar but rather pessimistic context of the interminable list of grave challenges a poor country such as India has. These issues are indeed relevant, but solely stating how grave India's various problems are will not help shape the scope for discussion about an appropriate education. Rather, the social challenges in context of this discussion should be stated in terms of ideas, what intellectual frame of reference do we need to understand and eventually address our challenges, and optimistically, that we possess the capacity to overcome these. This will allow a mature and constructive debate, rather than the infantile nihilism of positions such as 'what's the point of discussing higher education when there is no safe drinking water'; and besides, one non-negotiable starting premise for any discussion about education must be one of hope.
If one is to accept this framework of discussion, then, I shall contend, three principal idea challenges that we have to deal with in India (and I invite the readers to add to this list):
Open Mind : Kishore Mahbubani somewhat nails it when he contrasts China and India stating that China is a closed society with an open mind - as it is willing to learn and to experiment - but India is an open society with a closed mind - where experimentation is frowned upon. With profound changes in economic and social structures as well as technology, economic prosperity and social stability both demand a commitment to experimentation, innovation and change. Entrepreneurial progress, as seen in United States and eagerly pursued in all societies including India, does not only depend on bright students and risk-taking investors, the supply-side of an enterprise society, but also 'venturesome consumers', as Amar Bhide will argue, the demand side of an enterprise society. This is not just about setting up incubation centres and venture capital networks to make India more economically competitive. The more fundamental steps must be taken inside classrooms to open up the debate and encourage the students to engage with, rather than reject, new ideas, of life, consumption and relationships. A generally open approach, such as one education can provide, goes beyond the dichotomy of material progress and intellectual excellence, but promote the value of openness that encompass both.
Expertise : India has a long tradition of valuing titles and hierarchy, and such values, due to its peculiar colonial development, are deep entrenched in the Indian education system. Established hierarchies are antithetical to expertise, and titles undermine the need for professional pride. Consequently, India has come to admire Jugaad, a culture of making-do, rather than of patient development of expertise. The salaries and prestige in Indian workplaces are attached to positions, managers get paid more, than expertise: A good programmer is a fool if she wants to be a great programmer because becoming a manager is far more rewarding. This pervades everything and therefore, people buy degrees and jobs, doctors overprescribe, public servants treat bribes as usual, educators revel at their positions but not anticipate their responsibility. Good work isn't valued and it shows up in the everyday shoddiness, incompleteness and indifference. Malcolm Gladwell's point that we should seek to create social conditions for expertise to flourish - not defer to the experts blindly but not sink into crude amatuerism in every social function - is extremely pertinent in India: In fact, India is a case study of the dangers he points to. Here, educators have a crucial role: Progress demands a departure from the blinding deference to authority that they teach and an alternative culture of celebration of excellence.
Ethics : The education for making Babus promotes an individualism with a disdain for the communal. In one way, the revivalist attempts of the current government is an attempt to push back against the selfishness-run-amok. While this is music to the ears of those economics-first thinkers of education, the chaos of Indian roads should be enough to instruct someone about the limitation of such an approach. When Indian education looks beyond the mere aim of producing public workers, and if it has to take its twin goal of economic and social progress seriously, it needs to examine closely the interface between the individual and the others, the community, that it long neglected. Call it social ethic, or community values, India is a case of civic nationalism gone too far: In fact, the nationalism, once the country was liberated, dropped off rather spectacularly and the community degenerated into family islands of various shapes and sizes. India, being a poor country which is still building its institutions, need an ethic and a commitment to social engagement from its constituents, something that squarely lands in the area of educators' responsiblity.
Seen this way, the educators' challenge in India is thus: How to create open-mind, committed and engaged citizens? Every serious educator should attempt to answer this, and perhaps add to the list even further.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The Creativity Imperative Businesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously. Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.