Google Translate

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Education in India: Is There Anybody to Pull It Out of the Current Morass!

The primitive man lived in kinship with nature. Such was his/her close fellowship with nature that man had even projected many of his/her attributes onto the animals/plants. For instance, poet Kalidasa of India depicted deer as the brother and Vanajyotsna, the creeper, as the sister of Sakuntala in his famous drama, Abhijnanasakuntalam.  In the same play, we hear sage Kanva proclaiming to the sylvan deities and the trees of the hermitage, “Sakuntala … would not drink till she had wet/Your roots, a sister’s duty/Nor pluck your flowers; she loves you yet/Far more than selfish beauty.” That was the harmony in which the ancient man lived with nature, believing that in bird and beast, and tree and man, it is the same life “that impends / all thinking things, all objects of all thought / and rolls through all things.”
But with the advent of civilization, economic stratification and the emergence of class-conscious society, man, particularly of the western world, distanced himself from nature and started using plants and animals, and indeed the very nature around him to serve his needs and pleasures. In course of time, this pride of humanity spread all over the globe.

However, once Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, the pride of humanity took a reverse swing as all organisms turned out to be of equal value, for ‘survival is the only criterion of evolutionary success.’ And this, as Julian Huxley observed, became apparent not because of the exaggeration of the human qualities of animals but more due to minimization of the human qualities of men. This reduced gap between man and animals, could not of course, last longer, for science has made firm inroads—particularly, the extension of scientific analysis to the events all around had prompted man to re-examine the understanding he has had hitherto, including that of the biological processes.

This increased knowledge enabled man to look at himself as a unique animal, and the uniqueness as reflected in his exclusive capabilities such as the capacity for conceptual thought—abstraction and synthesis—and its unique by-products: conversation, organized games, education, duty, sin, humiliation, vice, penitence—all these have cumulatively made him again distinctly different from animals. To be precise, it is this ability to reflect—the only animal that not only knows but also knows that it knows— that has made man to believe that he is distinctly different from other living creatures.

These unique capabilities and its application to scientific research has opened new vistas. His mastering the space, mastery over the fundamental forces in the universe, intellectual ability to unravel the mystery shrouding the Higgs Boson, and his art of culturing cells into malleable resources are all great technologies by themselves. Man’s ability to bring out hybrid cells has not only gained tremendous economic significance but also challenged his very fundamental notion of ‘individuality and immortality’.

That aside, his relentless search for understanding how that primitive bacteria could harness sunlight, almost 3.2 bn years back, to split water molecules into protons, electrons and oxygen—the very mechanism of photosynthesis that led to the atmospheric oxygen and ultimately life as we see it today— has at last come to fruition.  Junko Yano et al. (Where Water Is Oxidized to Dioxygen: Structure of the Photosynthetic Mn4Ca Cluster, Science, 2006) have come up with the precise structure of a catalyst composed of four manganese atoms and one calcium atom that drives water splitting reaction in green leaves generating a hope that we may in the very near future be able to develop clean energy technologies that are carbon-neutral.

All this leads us to the inevitable conclusion: Man did achieve mastery over his environment but there are also a number of questions that still need to be answered—answered scientifically. It is here that sagacity points to a phenomenon in which everything is in motion, as perhaps, man’s search has not yet attained the fullness of it.

And, no wonder, even if it remains ever so!  But amidst this flux, the need for ‘leadership’—a leadership that “can better cultivate than manufacture scientific temper by providing the soil and the overall climate and environment in which science can grow”—emerges out as the single most prerequisite to keep man focused on his search for ‘truth’.

Now, against this reality, as citizens of concern, we need to pose a question to ourselves: Are our universities/institutions of higher education aware of this need and are they providing such a leadership to the youth of the nation? Or, how prepared are we to harness the demographic dividend by nurturing functional scientific temper in the educational institutions?   An honest answer to these questions is perhaps a “No”. If that is what the truth is: Don’t you think we are losing the race in the global competition? And, is there any wonder that none of our institutions of higher learning found a place in the recent list of world’s 200 best universities?

What could be the reason for such an apathy ruling the roost across the country? One immediate answer that strikes the mind is: the kind of national fervor that we witnessed in our leaders who ruled the nation immediately after independence is somehow missing today—that too, missing glaringly. If you don’t believe, check how many new institutions of the kind of IITs, IIMs, BARCs and ISIs have been built after Nehru. And also examine the kind of output coming out from the traditional universities such as universities of presidency cities, old universities such as BHU, AMU, Allahabad, Lucknow and Delhi that were indeed known earlier for turning out scientists like Kotharis, Bhatnagars, Seshadris, Raos, Maheswaris, Sens, Meghnads, Boses of zeal and commitment! 

This malady is not just confined to the government. Look at even private individuals’/industrialists’ contribution to the cause of education in the country today. What are the new institutions of excellence that have come into existence through philanthropy after IIS, TIFR, BITS (Pilani), BHU, Sri Rams, Pachyappas and Layolas? Instead, surprisingly, the emerging multinationals from India such as Tatas, Aditya Birla, Mahindra & Mahindra, etc. are today giving huge donations to universities located in the west for establishing chairs/new departments in their names. What an irony!

The present slide in the educational standards in the country could have been checkmated to a great extent, if the neo-rich corporates had invested a part of their profits in building educational infrastructure as a part of their CSR commitment, and running them on sound managerial principles to better skill the youth to take India to the next stage of development. Alas! Instead, whatever little private participation that came into education, true to the habit of corporate, has focused their attention in milking the consumers. Exceptions are, of course, there, but are few: Wipro is doing a commendable job in creating new educational facilities in the country, particularly to improve teaching at school level.

The next alarming deterioration is in the commitment of faculty to the cause of creating the much-needed learning atmosphere in the educational institutions. The less said about the faculty, the better, for the faculty is often found pursuing personal agenda than the institution’s agenda. Pity, they no longer appear to feel proud of their profession. They hardly make any attempt to keep themselves abreast with the developments in the  subject that they are supposed to teach. So, academic  rigor is the ultimate victim. Is there any wonder if they are found pursuing side businesses such as real estate dealings, stock trading, money lending, working for private tutorials, etc., at the cost of their prime duty? What a crippling effect it would have on the ultimate output of these institutions!
Over and above all these ills, we also witness a kind of irrationalism—such as, relying on godmen and all sorts of babas; regional parochialism; cast-defined behaviorism; ‘ism/s-driven' vandalism, etc.—creeping not only into political institutions but also scientific institutions, with the result that the kind of scientific temper that the founding fathers of the nation arduously tried to nurture in these institutions is slowly fading out today.

Finally, coming to the intended beneficiaries of our education system, the students, there is nothing much to gloat about them either. Think of any kind of slight provocation and you will find the student community on the streets.  Any cause is good enough for them to avoid classes and come on to the streets. And political agencies, taking undue advantage of this known weakness of student community, often drag them out of classrooms for agitating against issues that indeed matter little to the students and for that matter even to the nation. In the fast changing societal atmosphere, even parents do not appear to have any influence over their wards, with the result that there is no seriousness either in teaching or learning.

The net result is: we are falling way behind even small nations in the pursuit of fundamental
research. Some may, however, argue that we are progressing well in the emerging field of IT sector. But let us not forget that what we are catering to is only applications part—we are only acting as car mechanics but not as car manufacturers. And there is a hell of difference between these two.  In fact, at one point of time Dr. Sam Pitroda used to lament: how is it India with so many software technologists around could not come up with a product like DOS that could have been sold in the global market.  

Now, is it not becoming imperative that urgent correction is needed in our educational setup? How then to go about it? These are the vital questions that the national leadership has to address with no further loss of time. It’s not that the leadership is not aware of what needs to be done. All that is required is political will to nip off the spreading rot and tone up the national effort to build and operate excellent institutions of learning and research. To begin with, it is sensible to focus on a manageable number to immediately exhibit them as role models and through them create a catalytic effect in the society as a whole so that the rest will follow them in pursuing quality.

There are no shortcuts! Only hard driven effort can deliver the answer. Let us hope for the best to emerge from the next elections!


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Recent Posts

Recent Posts Widget