It is indeed time that we ask this question and seek an answer. After all, we live in the age of, what some observers claim, an education bubble. Who would have thought, only a couple of decades back, that more education could be seen as a bad thing? However, as the college debts soar in America, and graduate unemployment keeps rising, it seems that some people will indeed go bankrupt for their education, and there is a real fear that it may pull an economy or two down. It is therefore pertinent to ask what the college does to a person, and see if it has, as an institution, any ongoing relevance in the modern society.
But, before that, let us acknowledge that it is indeed one of those big hairy questions that no one wants to answer. College is a good thing, we have come to accept. We live in a knowledge economy, we have come to accept. More education means greater productivity, and only a moron can question this assumption. Education has become key to employability, and this should be obvious to anyone with, er, education. Good education means better salaries, or at least, used to. The college is about delivering education, which enhances 'useful' knowledge and skills, which should get a person a job: Period.
However, with the benefit of the recession, as we come to see that going to college does not automatically mean getting a job. In fact, this may mean an ultimate disillusionment. Also, suddenly, there are other avenues where one could learn things. There are a number of non-college programmes one could attend. Besides, there is online: Google, YouTube, TED etc. And, now, there is something which many pundits are dubbing as the college-killer, the likes of MIT, Yale and Stanford putting up their stuff, lecture notes, videos and now even credit-bearing courses, online with no charge at all. If this does not drive people away from college, what will?
I, however, don't think the free online stuff, or the lack of jobs, will kill the college. If anything, they will enhance its appeal. While the naysayers may see lack of jobs discouraging people from going to college, collectively, humans are an optimistic species and they link getting education to future jobs and not what will happen to them today. Besides, they actually see college enhancing their marketability in the future, particularly when there is more competition for jobs. This has happened before and this will happen again. The fact that the enrolment is down in some business schools isn't indicative of people losing faith in education: It is just indicative that the said business school, or schools, were not delivering value.
For the free online stuff, it is extremely valuable to people who have already been to college. They are the ones who are mentally prepared to look out for such stuff. When Open University started in Britain in the early seventies, the founders hoped that this would advance social justice and become the 'university of second chance'; instead, it quickly became the university of lifelong learning, with middle class college graduates flocking to top up their knowledge with something they wanted to study, but didn't manage to. This is what is happening with Open Courseware: There are school teachers studying high finance, and Army Captains studying physics. It is addressing one of the great imbalances in modern education, that to be great, great institutions have to be extremely selective, but it is hardly making college irrelevant.
This brings me to my idea of why we need college. It is not to make someone fit for a specific job, because this can only be effectively done with pre-employment or on-the-job training. It is not even about imparting knowledge or skills, because that a library should be doing, online or offline. The key function of a college to make a student, a student; to create that social environment built around learning, to encourage people to read and spend the long hours in the library, to challenge the word of the newspaper and the words of Google, to learn not to succumb to the obvious and to discover that there are more than one ways a person can get things right. The construction of student identity, built around the relationship between the student-as-person and knowledge, is the essential thing that the college does.
I have indeed seen institutions which do not get it. These colleges are all but rows of classrooms: They believe students don't want anything but skills and 'employability'. Indeed, they get it wrong. They prepare students for jobs which no longer exist, as fast changing environment always means that one trains for yesterday's jobs. They get the meaning of 'employability' wrong: It is not about fitting a particular job spec, but being able to find jobs and keeping them (the latter being the bigger of the problems). They allow little social space, engage students little outside their timetabled hours, they challenge little and do not inspire: The conversations, in their hallways, if indeed there is a hallway, are about getting degrees. Now, these institutions are indeed being made redundant, by the twin forces of recession and online. But, the colleges which help build the student identity, which are built around knowledge and enquiry, which are designed to inspire, keep attracting more people than ever.
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
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 was gui
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
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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, as
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
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
As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.