The conversation in India has now turned to liberal education. About time, one would say, to recognise a major problem - that the education became too vocational, too narrow and too focused on jobs that don't exist anymore - and do something about it. As the great Indian engineering machine that produced millions of graduates with an overtly theoretical training and pushed them into various IT services companies doing process jobs stuttered, the desperate search for alternatives led to the discovery of liberal education. Like all Indian 'education thought', this idea of Liberal Education came from the vocational angle, imported from North America in style and content, and without much thinking about its purpose and context. Only now, when the graduates of the new Liberal Arts colleges reaching the job market, and endorsements from leading corporations and celebrity intellectuals making it an attractive proposition for private investment, which is driving the expansion of the offerings.
Before we explore the form and content of this Liberal Education phenomenon, however, it is worthwhile to clarify that the noise does not indicate action. The news stories about new Liberal Arts colleges opening indicates not that it has become a trend, but rather they are still relatively rare and an opening of one still makes the news. Some stricken engineering colleges and failing new private universities are indeed embracing Liberal Arts as the mantra of salvation, but it is yet to become any movement. And, besides, the liberal arts they embrace is anything but liberal, being a strange hotchpotch of American label put on a colonial curry, and without aspiration to anything but to get some students who have lost faith on the Engineering-as-salvation.
Equally, it will be a mistake to write off the conversation about liberal education merely as a fad. Even if the approach is too simplistic, there is a conversation about the supposed shortcomings of Indian education for once. It may seem rather strange to outside observers, who may think that the shortcomings of Indian education are self-evident, but it is an acutely sensitive topic in India. Being self-critical isn't one of India's strengths, and a defensiveness about the education system predated the recent swell of national chauvinism: Any conversation about how India could improve its education system was met with derision, followed by claims of India's ancient, and by extension, perpetual, greatness and suspicion that such criticism is a pretext of outside interference.
Indeed, if anything, the failure of great Indian back-office project has made such defensiveness more entrenched. But the apparent failure to produce middle-class jobs, as the expansion of IT services jobs are halted and some Indian jobs start going abroad, has allowed outside perspectives to be taken slightly more seriously. The Indian tendency of hating outside advice but loving McKinsey (and any other Consultancy with a Western name) has allowed the discussion to open, if only in the limited context of placement opportunities. Yet, there was the usual protest that education shouldn't be about jobs - notwithstanding the apparent absurdity of business schools and engineering institutions making the point - and the dismissive classification of all such discussions as 'future trends', a good conference topic but not an action agenda.
Outside the vocational argument of making education less vocational, there are two other trends reinforcing the search for a liberal education. The first is the social breakdown, set off by rising unemployment but manifested differently - in rising crime, vigilante politics, an explosion of crimes against women, so on and so forth - which is posing an urgent question about the nature and purpose of education. This linkage, it is true, is rather intellectual and limited to chattering classes, but the trend has shaken them up from their usual indifference about education for the masses and put the issue squarely in the eye of the storm, on their teacups! The other is a general crisis of identity, not limited to intellectuals and not manifested in neatly turned out reports, but as real - emanating from the breakdown of families, increased migration, a breakdown of the employee-employer contracts etc: This is creating a new, welcome, conversation about the nature and purpose of education. Together with the call-to-arms for the vocational imperative and the upper-class disgust at the breakdown of social norms, this general crisis of identity, prevalent among the young and the old alike, has created a somewhat irreversible case for a turn to liberal education.
That it doesn't have a shape yet is fine: There is no ready-made formula to shape the educational ideal of a country like India! In fact, in this regard at least, predetermination is a bigger problem than the usual Indian chaos. The North American models have been embraced in some cases, but this was done all too readily and without the necessary debates and validation. Throwing in an Indian Civilisation 101 isn't the only contextualisation needed for a populous country at the crossroad of chaos and greatness. Notwithstanding the claims of American education thinkers, American Liberal Arts is a very American heritage, shaped by the country's own historical experience and the cultural experiences of the settlers and its leading men. Silicon Valley may have laid a claim on universalism, but the American Higher Education is not culture-free; and India, equally, can't get its model without first discovering its own philosophy of education.
To this, the discussion about liberal education for India must turn. For me, the necessary ideas may not be created ex-nihilio, but to be found in the history of Indian Education, and particularly in the foundational narrative of the current, British inspired, Indian education system. There is much to be gained in studying how the Indian indigenous system of education was replaced, and how the ideas about a new education system were shaped. There was much debate, between those convinced of primacy of a British model, those who sought to shape a system purely for vocational reasons and those who wanted to preserve the Indian tradition and heritage - and particularly, those in the middle, who argued for a 'liberal' model, one shaped by openness to ideas but grounded in the context of Indian history and culture. These were foundational debates, that explains why we have what we have, and my attention is therefore focused on the debates of the Nineteenth century (and, as a separate project, those of the early Twentieth century, when a National Education movement confronted the Nineteenth-century ideas). This is very much a work in progress, but I would continue to write about this work as my research progresses.
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
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
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
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.
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,
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. Reli
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
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
Italy recently apologised to Libya for its occupation of the country between 1911 and the Second Word War and offered an investment deal of $5 Billion over next 25 years towards reparation. This is largely symbolic, and investment deals could have been done without adding this moral halo . But the apology itself is an important step. The key question is one of principle, indeed. It is about whether the occupying countries do accept that their colonial exploits did enormous harm to the occupied, and whether they are ready to accept the responsibility. As the world becomes more sensitive towards the wrongness of occupation [even George Bush was heard saying that occupation of Georgia by Russia is unthinkable in the 21st century!!], and the world justice system gears up to try the leaders causing genocide and violence, paying for past crimes - including occupation - becomes ever more relevant and important. There are several issues which are still hotly debated - slavery, for example,
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.