The Director in charge of a new university in India told me that he wanted to institute a Gurukul system, where students and teachers would live in the same campus and every student will be attached to a personal mentor. For him, this was going back to the origins - the ancient Indian tradition of instruction by a Guru - which should help regain the lost heritage that was India.
This is not exceptional. There is a search for this lost tradition all over India. There are lengthy discussions, and well-meaning initiatives, about value education, schools that espouse traditional values, a return to Hindi and Sanskrit in the curriculum, and more bizarrely, invocation of mythical technological achievements and fictitious glories. India, confounded by the forces of globalisation and pressed to find its identity beyond the consumer ethic, is intently looking rearward for a model of Higher Education.
What this reaction is against is the modern Higher Education system that India has had for the last two hundred years. Ancient Indian Education, for all its glory, did not make the transition to the modern times. It was more or less reinvented by the Colonists of the British Raj, and that happened in two phases. It is important to revisit this origins story, even if only in broad generalisations, to understand the trajectory today, both of rejection and the desire to revive, and to speculate on the future.
India did have great universities, which would have featured at the top of global rankings if it existed then, much before the great European universities came into being. Indian philosophy, which grew alongside its religion (like medieval Europe, but unlike Greece) prospered in these universities, as did science, medicine and technology. It attracted students and scholars from all over Asia, and it did send out its share of scholars and students to other lands. It was richly supported by Indian kings, who protected them as well. So, state, religion and scholarship went hand in hand, and it ensured excellence, as we will call it today.
Once these Hindu and Budhdhist kingdoms withered though, the universities, like other institutions of the state, were exposed to the full wrath of the invading Islamic armies. They destroyed these ancient universities, looting and burning and killing many students and scholars. They were wiping out a culture to institute a new one, which is not unlike any invading army ever since, and the universities were integral to the culture they wanted to get rid of.
In its place, the new Emperors and Kings established theocratic institutions, schools of music and art, but philosophy and science may have had a relative decline. Even more entwined with the state, now fully dependent on the state handouts, scholarship in India somewhat confined itself to somewhat utilitarian ends of religion, law and trade. Many Indian commentators, particularly those leading the charge of revivalism today, see this as a thousand year decline, a period when India lost its technological and scientific lead, and its philosophy got subsumed to theocracy. In fact, one Islamic empire would crumble to another - to the Mughals - as India did not have the knowledge of gunpowder, which the invading Central Asians learnt from China.
This is a time of great reform movements, indeed, but these ideas, both of Hindu and Islamic heritage, will come from outside the institutions, rather than from inside. The students and scholars would still be coming to India, marvelling at its great wealth and culture. India would be exposed to globalisation through them, to external ideas and cultures, and absorb much of it - but this was not the time for great Indian universities or world-leading scholarship any more. There would be great courts assembled by enlightened emperors, beautiful poetry and architecture (so the ideas of decline are perhaps overstated) - but the whole civilisation was settled in a resource-rich comfortable existence, led by highly powerful, militarised and centralised kingdoms and empires.
Given the technological and social backwardness, though, it was unsurprising that these empires would be overcome by Europeans. The European ascendancy in India were supported by superior technology, no doubt, but also supported by local groups disenfranchised by the dominant empires. In many ways, Hindus worked with Europeans against the dominant Muslim Kings and their courts, and Sikhs joined the European armies in great numbers. And, the English, among all the Europeans, understood the dynamic better than others, and sought to make it work for them - eventually, with great success.
One may say the English landed with an empire without really planning for it. They fought battles for trading rights (and for rights not to pay arbitrary taxes) and with support of local groups, landed up with large chunks of territories, often heavily populated and economically rich, without having the wherewithal to administer them. The first impulses of modern Higher Education in India came from this need to administer begotten territories, and the first generation of education funding by the East India Company (a join stock company incorporated in London, which had English Aristocrats and Middle Classes for shareholders and officers) were all directed at setting up institutions for training of officers in local customs and languages. This was not about training of the natives, this was not about philosophy, science or culture - this was about training English officers to govern Indian territories which the company landed up with.
This changed qualitatively after a quantitative change in the Companys domain, bigger territories, and as more complex administrative tasks, pilferage by greedy officials and bigger wars, including those with European rivals, gradually ate away its profits. There were signs that the locals were becoming restive, as the unchecked profiteering of the company were wearing down the social structures and disenfranchising the very elite which installed it in power. The British crown eventually stepped in to govern India, and one of the key changes this brought in was a doctrine for educating the natives - in the British way!
In reverse of the earlier policy of learning and preserving Indian languages and culture, the new policy was about training Indian natives on Western science, culture and ways of life. The whole system of education was utilitarian - the point was to get a government job in the end - and it focused not on social harmony but on division - of creating a ruling elite who would work for the empire. This system would eventually become very successful, and the British empire would extend its lifespan by a century - and this system would refuse to die even after the Independence. There would be other Indian universities, prompted by social/cultural (Benares Hindu University, Annamalai University), nationalist (Jadavpur University) or Romantic (Viswabharati) notions, but the dominant utilitarian theme of Indian Higher Education would persist. It would be about jobs and money from the very start.
And, it still is. Today, even after almost 70 years of independence, Indian Higher Education continued in the tradition. One reason for this is India has been a stable society, free of any shocks or any equivalent of cultural revolution. Nehru, in envisioning the Modern India, created great technology institutions, but not great universities or mass Higher Education systems. Indeed, there was some notable achievements in science (in computing, space exploration etc) and a great many Indians have made significant contributions to all aspects of human progress while abroad, but Indian Higher Education has manifestly failed to make such achievements broadbased. Indian universities lagged all others in scholarship and new thinking, and at best, remained narrowly utilitarian.
This is the model which is being questioned now, as India faces globalisation and confused by it. Its sense of identity is deeply disturbed - and its universities provide no answer to such confusion. Its cost-driven opportunistic model of global commerce are being challenged in the face of a new wave of global convergence (when production returns home) and its democracy is challenged by its own structural failings. The answer that many, including my correspondents, are providing that everything was alright in the past, but the origins story of Indian Higher Education may point to a narrative of progression hand in hand with the powers of the day. Following that morale may mean looking for answers in the future rather than in the past.
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
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.
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
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,
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
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
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 ‘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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.