On the surface, it's a paradox: As the fortunes of political liberalism decline in India, the popularity of liberal arts at the Indian universities increase.
Indeed, one may see no paradox here at all: Indians, after all, are richer than they ever were since the independence. Also important is the professions of those sending their children to these university courses: More often than not, they have earned their money in business or employment in the private sector, unlike the government-sector parents that paid for most students only a generation ago. It's also true that some shiny new sector now offers employment prospects that were not there a generation ago: Private sector education, media and internet, international travel and tourism have all grown in size and stature. All these together may offer an explanation of why Liberal Arts are all the rage.
Except that it doesn't. The preference of Indian employers have not changed significantly and even if an engineering or business degrees are not strictly necessary for a job, they still tend to look for one as, mistakenly as it might be, they consider these proxies for focus, intelligence and hard work. Since admission in Engineering and Business courses are done through some kind of entrance tests, it is assumed that those who pass these tests have an extra edge over those who have not come through such a route. Indeed, with the unconstrained expansion of capacity, these tests now mean very little: The question papers are indeed fiendishly difficult, but as long as one manages not to get a significant negative score, s/he should be able to get through these examinations. But the myths around these examinations are a useful one, not least for the billion-dollar test prep industry that thrives on this, and the employers have not yet bitten the liberal arts apple in any significant way.
The gravity-defying popularity of Liberal Arts in Indian universities, therefore, depends on the two most unlikely factors. The first is easy to foresee: The increasing participation of women in Higher Education in India, particularly in the metropolitan areas. The rate of this increase is faster than the growth in male student population and liberal arts courses often have a disproportionate number of women. The same parent who would be quite upset if his son was to choose a degree in humanities is often very proud when his daughter gets an offer of a place at one of the liberal arts colleges.
The second is related to the aspirations of Indian middle-class families to send their children away. For those families who foresee that they can afford to pay for an education abroad - and such searches often start with the United States - a Liberal Arts undergraduate degree looks like the right preparation to have. Just when the lavish lifestyles at US Liberal Arts colleges were being derided at playgrounds of the rich, the new Indian universities are keen on emulating exactly the same and offer their students a 'luxury' experience.
There are other supply-side factors too. Private education entrepreneurs set up colleges and universities to feed India's IT services industries with a ready supply of manpower. Since the IT services industry has stopped growing in terms of headcount, the Engineering courses stopped being the straightforward thing that they used to be. Stuck with excess capacity, some of the private universities have moved on to capture the new niche of liberal arts, and Say's Law, that supply creates its own demand, has so far held.
However, because of these factors, Liberal Arts in India can not be explained in terms of the current global conversation about Liberal Arts. That professions are changing and increasing automation is highlighting the need for human skills in the employee: But no such imperative is driving the liberal arts education. It also has nothing to do with a growing sense of identity and commitment: If anything, it's the opposite - a desire to leave the country - that drives the liberal arts education. And, finally, it's not an educational vision that drives most universities to offer Liberal Arts programmes; it's much more mundane - empty rooms to start with - that really drives the conversation.
It is important to see these developments in the context of India's educational history, where higher education had really grown as a colonial overlay and as an instrument to get government jobs and there was a clear home-school dichotomy where education on morality, values or social engagement was really left in the home's domain. The new surge of liberal arts education does not - mostly - challenge this division: Instead, an instrumentalist model of Liberal Arts, with all intended ironies, have sprung up in India. That this is happening in parallel with an increasingly assertive search of Indian identity and all sorts of traditionalist innovation in campus and curricula makes it even more interesting to study. That the students should be free to choose, when the state, the society and the school are increasingly prescriptive and authoritarian, is being reconciled by not settling for one or the other, but rather in a paternalistic accommodation of superficial choices and objectives without fundamental structural change.
The point to ponder, however, if a fundamental structural change is possible. A liberal education, as it has been defined in Europe and the United States, is rooted in culture and institutions of the communities or countries involved. In other words, its historically defined. It's not really a clever ploy someone can 'instructionally design' overnight. I am, of course, confronted with such a task, and trying to recover myself from the despair of 'every country gets the education it deserves'. But then losing faith in human agency is not exactly befitting if one has to remain engaged in education, even though this task is, as it seems to me at this point, mammoth and perhaps without rewards.
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
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
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
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
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.