A stock of adjectives used with education illustrates the variety of interests in what is perceived to be pillar-stone of any society. From the days of studying professions or pursuing vocations, adjectives have been added to this natural activity of a community. Study had been restricted to the domain of religion; renaissance brought it to secular domain. In a feudal structure, only the curious pursued it and found it strangely illuminating their minds and liberating their consciousness from immediate concerns of here and now. The enchanted mind could transcend the bounds of history and geography and soak his thirsty soul in perpetual fount of knowledge. It was with his blessed state as a model that education found its truest epithet. Liberal education existed till almost the final decades of last century, but paradoxically the political change it formulated and realized – burgeoning of democracy – could not support this ‘feudal’ ideal and it gave way to several of its avatar-s, each of which tried to replace it fully and failed. Well, failed to hold their own, but together they almost succeeded in flushing it out.
In its various avatar-s it has donned the garb of professional education, vocational education, value education, goal-based education; taken up experiments like inter-disciplinary approach, psychological, motivational approach, learn-by-fun, role-play, problem-solving; employed numerous theories, adopted different delivery systems. In short, like a blindfolded child given a few turns who begin to enjoy guessing her position as much as those watching her, contemporary Education has no clue about its role, direction today and tomorrow, holds no pretension whether it will achieve/deliver any of its promised pretensions. A lot of schemes have been forwarded for (a) introducing technology (b) awareness of technology (c) teaching ‘technology’ (d) using technology (e) using technology to teach (f) teaching to use ‘technology’ (g) using technology in evaluation (h) using technology in paced learning (i) using technology for self-paced learning … ad infinitum. By the time teachers could attain a consensus about ‘Internet as educational resource’, the very nature of internet has changed. It is tough to retain a common semblance of a long-standing institutions. Recently someone explored institutions mentioned in medieval texts and found that of 66 existing till now 62 are universities. But no two persons talk of the same notion/concept when they discuss education.
For quite sometime, it has been under pressure to supply results demanded by society for which it was never structured. Generations exist (8% above 65, around 22% above 50 years) which might still recall the period when first five years of schooling trained the young in use of 3R-s; when rhymes, stories and idioms learnt in initial eight years gave ample skill and sense for one to base important decisions throughout life. Yet, for quite some time education has been perceived solely as economic activity. The by-product – ability to conduct affairs more skillfully – has come to be regarded as be-all and end-all.
Where so ever quality was visible, profit-motivation quickly quantified it, churning out ‘professionals’ in that field beyond actual requirement, drowning possibility of quality in competition. Pandering to dreams of youth and their doting parents, ‘educational packages’ have been designed. Sometimes it is ‘personality development’ or ‘communication skill’ more often a coaching package leading to admission in some high-quality courses.
Learning is holistic, rigors of academia universal. An engineer follows same set of logical tools that a lawyer or a philosopher employs. Only with illumination of mind comes the skill to order the physical world. It was joyous achievements of those who espoused studies in a liberal spirit, which appealed to imagination of the general populace. Their achievements served as motivation and their pursuits as educational models. It was with admiration for the genius of these achievers that institutions were formalized to impart education.
In India schools could be operated by charitable trusts, subsidized by the government in many ways to honor the genuine spirit of creating an educated citizenry. The government run schools ranged from promoting excellence to providing literacy. A few ‘prestigious schools’ incorporating multi-faceted holistic approach also existed, exclusive and out of reach for masses. Political upheaval in mid-‘70s started questioning the existing educational structure and soon with currents of globalization and ease of communication, from a noble profession and public service the field of education was turned into an industry.
The quality-oriented institutions started in 1950s had paid off rich dividends. So, with eyes closed to infrastructure and human resource, profit-oriented entrepreneurship was given full reign. A few years down the line, public institutions too were allowed to run ‘self-financed’ courses. It is with this that era of education for knowledge (howsoever flimsily followed) gave way to unabashed ‘degree-for-job’ mind-set. Promise on one end, payment on other.
Describing the dire situation of law-education in U.S. a professor labels the whole act as “the epic scam of taking money from kids who don’t know any better and will never be able to pay off their debts”. Washington University law professor Brian Tamanaha further defends the desire of students taking loans for a better future.
When annual tuition was $10,000 to $15,000, these rationalizations had enough truth, or at least plausibility, to hold up. When annual tuition reaches $30,000 to $40,0000, however, it begins to sound hollow.
India may not have receded to such a dire state of education-caused economic disaster, but if a check is not brought on gross commercialization of education, it shall soon become an Indian reality where instead of farmers, students might be driven to brink of hopelessness.
The signs are visible. Even now the peer pressure, parental expectations and social prestige force school-going youth to spend precious time and money preparing for a career (IIT or medical education where acceptance rate is less than one percent) that shall not be available to her. With this first public stamping of failure at 17-18, he or she passes through a number of more such till an institution accepts her as a student. Things are not much different in America, with the current expenditure on high school exit exam programs being called in question. In his article, David Bloomfield points out the result of reforms:
This blind march, despite hard evidence to the contrary, indicates something other than the “data-driven decision-making” which reform advocates have long claimed as their motto. The left decries corporations’ profit motive in pushing for charters and testing. Surely this is part of the surge. But more is at work, a political moment that can be seized by private interests but not wholly explained by their support.
It has been stated in findings of a non-ideological research that exit exam programs “decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement”. The NCEE report, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for School Reform” by Marc S. Tucker, directly compares U.S. reform efforts to those of leading education nations whose strategies were studied at the request of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Based on this data-set, Tucker concludes that “much of the current reform agenda in this country is irrelevant, a detour from the route we must follow if we are to match the performance of the best [countries].”
While matters are in flux globally kudos to the trouble-shooting mandarins in India, who can combine two losses to create a win. The numerous institutions allowed to run these ‘professional’ courses, even though many of them are not recognized by AICTE* to date, produced degree-holders in engineering and management several times over the need of waning industrial sector. A few of them were gobbled up temporarily by finance and insurance for routine office jobs, some found employment in call centers and retail business; a large number remained unemployed. It was at this stage, the idea of their ‘un-employability’ came into general discussions. Instead of burden of blame resting with poor regulatory system, profit-oriented entrepreneurs, it was placed square on the victims, similar to loan-burdened students in America – “a group of people who are evidently too addled to act with rational self-interest”.
In India, despite massive funds granted under various welfare schemes, the efforts to revamp villages failed across the country. As usual blame rests with the person at bottom rung. Elected village representatives — ‘Sarpanch’ – began worrying the supply chain as things were now decentralized . The established ‘vendors’ (current euphemism for earlier euphemism, ‘government supplier’), in turn began exerting pressure to restore the regular bureaucratic channel for ‘rural welfare’. On the other hand, haste of government in promoting education-sans-quality resulting in rising unemployment levels too was being questioned. Thanks to wisdom of mandarins, a solution was formulated to resolve both crises at one go. Plans to appoint MBA and B Tech degree holders at the Panchayat levels to push up development work in the rural areas have been announced. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act Scheme, devised to do away with intermediary corruption was unique, in holding ‘no contract’ as first principle. Its sole expenditure was to be done on payments made to labors for 100 days of work guaranteed to each worker in a year.
Now payments to contract-appointed managers and engineers will be paid managers and engineers in the 2.5 lakh village Panchayats. Naturally this money shall flow out of the existing budgetary provisions till specific allocation is made.
Public money, raised out of taxes, is being used to sustain poorly-trained victims defrauded out of money by private entrepreneurs so that in turn they may help another set of entrepreneurs to collect more of it.
Shall we ever regain the ideal of education – Tamaso ma jyotirgamay – Illumine darkness of mind?
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय from
asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amrtam gamaya
Lead me from the asat to the sat.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)
*Clause regarding unapproved Institutions places burden on students, instead of institution.
Provided further that any Technical Institution, which has already started without following AICTE approval procedure, wishes to submit an application/proposal, will be considered as new Technical Institution requiring the same procedure as given in Clause/s 4 to 13, for submission and processing of application / proposal. If the Council decides to issue Letter of Approval for such Institution, after processing the proposal as per laid down procedure, its legal date of starting will be from the date of issue of the Letter of Approval and the students admitted, if any, before receiving approval by the Council, will have to be readmitted as per laid down procedure considering basic eligibility for admission from the beginning of first year after approval by the Council. Students, who are admitted prior to approval by the Council, will not have any right for readmission and will have to fulfill all the requirements for admission.