There was a time when the Indian students pursued education to learn skills and acquire knowledge. The pursuit of learning then was not about cramming by rote, but was directed towards the acquisition of wisdom and thus to enrich society at large.
It was a time when none needed Government permission to open an educational institution and when no formal degrees or diplomas were awarded to students by the renowned gurus through the once-famed Gurukul system of education.
The willing parents sent their wards to the Gurukul where there was no screening test for admission. A student’s sole criterion for being accepted as a learner by the Guru was his eagerness to learn and acquire knowledge.
That knowledge was never linked to particular jobs or services as mechanically imparted today. There were fewer Gurukuls, and yet there was no mad rush for admission to those institutions because the concept of education was never confined to the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic).
Those interested in trade, business, commerce, arts and crafts learnt the same directly on-the-job through the practitioners of the respective professions. The caste and class system in the Vedic Age is said to have been open and afforded lateral movement for people depending upon their trade and profession.
Knowledge was pursued for the pleasure of learning and depended on the interests of learners. Trades and professions were learnt mainly through practical experience. Those pursuing education derived pleasure in sharing the same rather than using their knowledge to earn their thirty pieces of silver.
Education was never deemed as a product or a means only to earn one’s livelihood; was more of a way to nurture one’s creative faculties. Perhaps that is why, India of the past was far more advanced economically, socially, spiritually, materially and intellectually.
Ancient India excelled in science, metaphysics, literature and commerce. Our ancient thinkers are still more revered for their originality and path-breaking discoveries than neo-Indians, as the product of the modern education system are known today. In fact, many of us have made their mark after going abroad.
We have reached a stage in which schooling and the pursuit of education have become tedious, mundane and joyless even though our educational policies over the years have emphasised the need to make education joyful while linking it to the acquisition of skills.
However, we are still far way from realising the profound objectives. As a country of over 1300 million people and where about two-third of the population is below 35, we have millions of degree and diploma holders without any worthwhile “life skills”, or are largely unemployable, and lack the confidence to think of a career beyond the formal, organised or classical sectors of livelihood.
It is these disoriented youth without a vision and self-confidence who have become a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, thereby nixing our entire demographic dividend. They are often used and abused by different vested interests as they, despite the acquisition of formal education, don’t have the capacity or ability to tell the chaff from the grain and hence, become cannon fodder for nefarious and negative activities.
It is here that we need to pause and ponder about the way we are evolving as a society and a polity. If we don’t intervene immediately and take corrective measures to bring about the desired changes in our education system, we will continue to languish as the world’s “Back Office” for doing the menial chores for rest of the world and by also becoming a supplier of skilled labour/brain power.
We need to wrest the initiative to retrieve our intellectual position in the comity of nations by reworking our education system, by carefully nurturing creativity and originality among our children, by acting on the myriad recommendations made by experts and specialists on the subject.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 had envisaged a National System of Education ‘capable of responding to India’s diversity of geographical and cultural milieus while simultaneously nurturing our common values’.
Our National Education Policy, as changed from time to time, has always endeavoured to make school education comparable across the country in qualitative terms in sync with Constitutional values and also make it a means of ensuring national integration without compromising on the country’s pluralistic character.
While many changes have been introduced over the years, more often than not, these have been cosmetic and piecemeal in nature. Our education system, like any other, has been status quoist, trying to sustain the age-old societal consensus and wisdom on different aspects of life.
So, even though we have more schools, more classrooms, more playgrounds, better infrastructure, better facilities and services, more teachers, more training, more students in the schools in keeping with the parameters laid down in the Right to Education Act, 2009, we don’t have quality and class in our education system.
Our youth boast degrees and formal qualifications, but they don’t have skills required to survive during difficult situations in life. They expect to be spoon-fed by the Government through doles, patronage and other populist programmes… in the manner of parasites.
The country’s education policy should equip our youth to face every situation in life, to confidently to see every challenge as an opportunity. On the contrary, because of skewed priorities, the difficulties and hardships of life often breeds a sense of negativism, including increased alienation and frustration.
Thanks to a developing economy, there has been a vertical split in our society, of a kind that Andre Gunder Frank would call ‘Core’ and ‘Periphery’ or ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Satellite’. So, while people from the ‘Core’ are no longer dependent on the Government for their needs and comforts, those from the ‘Periphery’ are completely dependent on the Government for meeting their basic needs, including education.
So, the children from the two backgrounds have different cultural capital of their respective sub-cultures and have access to two different education services ~ one in the Government sector and the other in the private sector even though both are informed by the same educational policy.
The expectations and priorities of respective clienteles can also vary due to different backgrounds. Hence, the differential outcomes in their educational attainments.
There are many children who are disadvantaged or handicapped as they belong to inferior or lower sub-cultures with a value system that is different from the dominant one.
Students from the private schools do better in a highly prejudiced social pecking order, while those from Government schools often languish unless they are suitably motivated to break through the glass ceiling of status and class.
But all said and done, the basic thrust or the thread running through both kinds of schools remains the same as they are both guided and informed by the same educational policy and social consensus on education. Hence, even those with the superior cultural capital have a utilitarian and instrumental view of education.
(To be concluded)
The writer is Commissioner of School Education, Govt of West Bengal. The views are personal and don’t reflect those of the Government.