It is, no doubt, a very difficult proposition to write afresh on Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s (1820-1891) oceanic contribution to the spread of education in India. Vidyasagar was born on 26 September 1820, and it is to him we must turn to undertake a thorough introspection on form and content of formal education at different levels.
A changing economy seeks necessary expertise and functional knowledge from deliverers of education. But in our country, education has not been able to provide this commanding leadership. Instead of a convergence between education and economy, there has been a growing divergence; education as a result suffers from terrible redundancy and obsolescence.
It will appear very surprising if one resorts to a cost-benefit analysis of the abysmally huge allocation higher education receives from the government. On an average, a college or university teacher who has served for no less than 25 years gets a salary of around Rs 1 lakh. In many universities, a teacher does not have much scope to take more than 200 classes in a single year. The arithmetic works out to Rs 6,000 per class. There are some dedicated teachers who remain engaged in continuous research, fieldwork, publication of books and study reports, but their numbers are too few.
This apart, the content of education at the under-graduate and post-graduate level is rather outdated—a result of a callous approach on the part of a section of teachers. The University Grants Commission had made it mandatory for teachers to undertake one Orientation Course and two Refresher Courses for promotion to the posts of Assistant and Associate Professor, respectively. However, in many cases, senior teachers who are invited to such courses deliver lectures on subjects that do not have any relevance to the needs of the economy.
Knowledge has two major branches: pure and applied. Though both are inter-related, the content of pure knowledge undergoes change at a pace much slower than the content of applied knowledge. Therefore, students often do not find much interest in attending classes regularly.
At the beginning of the course, the attendance is good, but the number dwindles significantly later on.
These days, students’ politics has become a matter of serious debate. Who can deny the glorious contribution of politics in reforming the society at large? There are ample instances wherein a student who had participated in politics and simultaneously attended classes regularly has proved to be more social and amicable.
But these days, students who are found to be active in politics do not attend classes and fare badly in examinations. Therefore, many members of the aspiring middle class favour educational institutions that are bereft of students’ politics. But they say nothing of teachers’ involvement in politics, for petty gains.
The tremendous crisis with regard to employment has made many students, especially those studying general degree and post graduate courses, suffer from frustration and despair. They lose interest in studying hard, with discipline and sincerity.
It is high time the form and content of higher education be constantly calibrated to suit the needs of the economy. It is in this regard that we recall the salutary contribution of Vidyasagar. The way he tried to institutionalise reform in society and education needs to be undertaken now, wherein the teaching community should play the role of a pivot.
Apart from being the harbinger of educational reforms, Vidyasagar’s personal contribution was no less significant. He was a well-known figure of the Bengal Renaissance. A philosopher, academic, educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, social reformer and a philanthropist, he simplified Bengali prose and rationalised the alphabet and type. He received the Vidyasagar title from the Sanskrit College due to his contribution to Sanskrit and Philosophy.
Some of his best known books are Barna Parichay I and II, Rijupath I, II and III, Vyakaran Koumudi, Sanskrita Vyakaraner Upakramanika, and Banglaar Itihas, among others.
In order to spread women’s education, he approached sex workers in Sonagachi and appealed to educate them. He used to say that we need to inculcate a mindset that makes a man charitable, but with humility.
It is high time the lessons of Vidyasagar as an educationist and a great humanist are cultivated in the earnest. The cleansing of the body and mind of the temples of learning should be accorded the highest priority.
We celebrate 5 September as Teachers’ Day. Can’t we celebrate 26 or 29 September as Education Day to bestow the highest regard to the best teacher our country has ever come across?
The writer is Associate Professor of Sociology, Presidency University.