Whither Education - An Apathy

Even after half-a-century of Indian Independence, the fate of education, educators and students has hardly improved. The apathy of the power that be, including a large section of society, has not changed when it comes to human resource development and education. Even now there are more than four crore educated unemployed youths in India.

India boasts of being world's third knowledge power but effectively this is the lowest when judged against per thousand-population base. Societal degradation, inflicted by political might, is reflected in educational institutions across India. Aberrations have become the rule on campuses that are infested with self-seekers and politicians.

Democratization of higher educational institutions, though a noble concept, has in the past 20 years turned campuses into a cauldron of stinking filth. These are managed by affiliations charged with little regard for excellence, honesty and intellectual probity. Unethical and politically-motivated decisions serve a few and are reflections of societal catharsis.

Geographic India consolidated into a polity by the British has muted into conglomerations of politically charged, disjointed entities and facsimiles of democratic degradation. The classic conservative yearning for an ordered polity and commensurate pursuit of knowledge on the campuses are missing. Whichever brand rules the country, this section of society commands no respect now. May it be students or teachers they don't have a voice, they don't constitute an essential service and education is not a national necessity. Being a state subject, educational policies suffer from innumerable deformities.

Though it is a constitutional obligation, the non-availability of funds and vested administrative setup have led to the mushrooming of universities, fake campuses, private enterprises and numerous makeshift centers of education as also fly-by-air foreign campuses. It has proved to be a great financial endeavor with hardly any risk involved because it does not come under VAT or any other financial constraints. India has by now more institutions of such type than colleges, an excellent opportunity to rope in knowledge seeking youth and those who desire to fly off to greener pastures.

When it comes to the formulation of policies about higher education, structuring the system, financial assistance, grants and salary, the statutory body-University Grants Commission-is mentioned like a sacred cow worshipped as well as butchered in the streets. How far the UGC is autonomous is a common knowledge. It has become a post office, a government organization, disbursing petty grants, sanctioned by the Central Government, among universities or institutions with a number of tags attached to them depending upon the status of the recipient institutions, state, Central, autonomous or deemed universities. There is a perpetual complaint about the non-availability of funds. The administration should appreciate that the jumbo cabinet and expenditure on legislatures could be cut down to feed and educate a few villages. The teacher wants to be a ladder upon which students could climb and scale new heights.

The Central and state governments invoke ESMA to curb the voice of agitating people, but it takes no time to give benefits to politicians and bureaucrats. It is essential to please them so that a symbiotic balance is maintained as also to oblige a few of them. The government has failed to take effective steps to curb industrialization of education. Within hours the doles given in Parliament and honorarium were doubled but the 6 per cent expenditure of the GDP on education has proved to be dogma persisting right from the Kothari Commission recommendations for over four decades now.

Students of various educational institutes go on strike, almost yearly, demanding withdrawal of excessive fee hike. The tuition fees make up only about 13 per cent of annual expenditure in the present university education. It is now a formidable industry and the aim is to make money. Poor students, however, intelligent they may be, cannot afford to join colleges, professional institutions or courses. They may join such courses by putting their families under heavy debt of banks or financial institutions. Even in the USA, tuition fees contribute to about 15 per cent of the total annual expenditure on higher education. Nehru said: "If all is well with universities, it will be well with the nation." Whereas Rabindranath Tagore once compared educated classes in India to "A second storey in an old building that was added in, but unfortunately the architect forgot to build a staircase between them."

Teaching profession is devalued in the country because the teachers can't compete in our society, have no muscle power, are educated and hence behave differently. Neither do they have guts of creamy bureaucrats nor institutional support of any kind. A teacher can entertain you with a pale smile on hearing that this is the profession of nation builders, the cream of society and a noble profession. The next moment teacher will be branded as cancers in societal marrow, getting salary for no work, craving for power, equality in salary and status with the Class A government servants. The teacher was the consultant and conscience keeper of society till mid-century. One could identify him by his tattered clothes, emaciated pale face, soft voice and meek behavior. He was the guru. That guru, comparatively having a better outfit now, has metamorphosed to a present teacher.

Newspaper reports are replete with his shortcomings; his misconduct in preaching indiscipline, enough is paid to him for no work, as he has to teach only for 181 days in a year. How could he dream of the parity with his bosses in the secretariat, his class dropouts in Parliament and the government. In order to save our hard-earned "democracy" which is being strengthened by a few hooligans, politicians and administrators, the government has to suppress the genuine demands so that education does not progress to the detriment of "illiterate democrats". A handful of teachers adopts unethical means to become rich just like any other segments that are designated scamsters today. Exceptions, however, do not make the rule.

Most of our Presidents, many of our bureaucrats, including ministers, parliamentarians and others, had been in this profession. Did they not do any good work for the betterment of society before their elevation to these posts of governance and reverence? Can't the authorities assess the strength of the demand vis-à-vis the qualification, age at the time of being recruited as a teacher, lack of promotional avenues, stagnation and competency in terms of hiatus in the inflated societal values, urge and necessity to improve qualification and experience to remain in the fray. Education for teachers is a continuous process unlike "one-time-degree-obtaining-education" for others. Evaluation is paramount in this profession for every promotion. Classroom education has become drudgery afflicted by societal unrest, absolute lack of infrastructure, fear psychosis gripping the powerless parents and absences of administration.

My perception is that politicians take less interest in improving the standard of education and living because they know that once the poor comes to know about their corrupt practice they would neither listen nor elect them. Political parties make promises in their election manifestos to reduce employment, poverty and corruption. But this can't be achieved without education. To me, education comes as a discipline, which is all-pervasive. Enshrined in our directive principles and ensuring our countrymen, "right-to-education" makes me feel that we possess the right to educate".

Even when we have ushered in the new millennium, education remains a password to of those who make an arrogant assertion that they know best and are serving the public interest-an interest, which of course, is determined by them. By the perception entrenched with the British subjugation of our people elitist education occupied the center stage to produce Macaulay's clones who were Indians muted to be "English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect". "Educated slaves became strong props to sustain the British rule." Lord Curzon favored bureaucratization of education since he opined that educational institutions have become factors for the production of political revolutionaries. By the Act of 1919 education was transferred to the province.

When we educate we are involved in politics. Educators often think of education being disjointed from politics. In fact, education is perhaps the most political activity in the community. The state has always influenced what is taught in educational institutions. The socio-political (and in some cases religious) ideology colors the content of learning and the emphasis on various aspects. In fact, based on where the child was educated within India-whether it was a large city or a village, whether the school used English or a regional language as a medium of education, among other factors- the child will have a different world view. However, education, based on the syllabus, in India has largely strived towards imparting a temperament of religious, political and social tolerance. The social mores and hierarchies often seep into the arena of learning and color education.

Given the political potential of education, there have been numerous attempts to use education as a way of indoctrination. Sometimes it is covert, at other times it is overt. Sometimes it is subliminal, other times it is deliberate. However, political forces have always used education to further certain world views. Today, numerous educationists and political thinkers in India are afraid that a deliberate attempt to use education as a way of social-religious indoctrination might be the agenda of the new education policy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Not gold, but only teachers can make people great and strong-the persons who for truth and honor; sake stand fast and suffers long. It is they who build a nation's pillar deep and lift them to the sky". Teaching profession is a bed of roses. A good teacher is always his/her student's guide, friend and philosopher. A boy looked at the sticker on a car, which said, "Trees are friends". He challenged this statement, started cutting trees, saying that, "Trees are not our friends, but our enemies". When asked why he thought so. He said in his science textbooks it was stated "trees bring rain". Since his village gets flooded in every rainy season, so he thought that "all trees must be cut down". Confucius wrote, "If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for 10 years, plant a tree. If 100 years, teach the people." Literacy is not enough. It is good to have a population, which is able to read, but infinitely better to have people able to distinguish what is worth reading. With overcrowded classrooms and ill-paid teachers,coaching classes are the commercial fallout of a system bursting out of the seams. How can idealism be expected from someone as concerned about the quality of life as you and me?

We have grown up with cherished memories of special teachers who made us love a subject we could actually have been frightened of and who we respected unconditionally. I have come across many persons whose mediocrity is reflected when they project themselves as the best whereas the fact speaks otherwise and those who criticize their alma mater forgetting that they passed out from the same from which they graduated. Education can have a great role to play in decreasing social disparities between groups and in promoting social mobility. For instance, the tremendous expansion of the middle class in India can confidently be attributed to the investment in education, especially in higher education.

Universities are struggling to survive on shrinking governmental grants. In the wake of this it takes shortsighted decisions to cut expenses and increase revenue by increasing fees, which may not be in the long-term interest of the universities. Thus universities end up being run as business enterprises. Education cess is now on considered to partially meet funds for primary education and Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan. Open our universities to foreign students. Foreign campuses may prove to be of hardly any use in generating funds for Indian education. Trading in education may be another jeopardy.

Collaborations could be in specialized fields with foreign campuses like in the past. Even in the USA, private and government ratio in higher educational system does not exceed 80/20. China is experiencing two-way international student traffic with a large number of them from the USA in preference to India. This could be reversed if we build proper infrastructure and achieve proficiency in imparting education of world standard. A realistic education cannot be separated from the realities of the students' environment, which surrounds him, his aspirations, society, the local cultural factors, conditions varying in his own country and global effects. Education, therefore, should be in consonance with the day-to-day living. Till date education does not define our resurgent polity and democracy.