THE INDIAN EDUCATION RACKET
In a society that has almost normalised the practice of corruption, is it surprising that we are hearing the never-ending tales of scams in the educational sector? Yet, despite this routinisation of corruption — and even its societal acceptance, when we find a Vice-Chancellor (VC) involved in selling fake degrees, or a minister and his associates manipulating the entire process of recruitment of school teachers, it becomes difficult to remain silent. The reason for this anguish is that if we continue to destroy the realm of education and devalue the vocation of teaching, none can save our children and activate their creative potential. In the process of worshipping money, or celebrating the newly emergent ‘heroes’ — techno-managers and traders as educationists, and politicians as agents of the corporate elite — we have almost forgotten that a society that has lost its teachers, the carriers of the illuminating light of education, is already dead.
|WHITHER INDIAN EDUCATION|
Switzerland with a total population of 8+ million tops the Ranking in the Global Innovation Index (indicates innovation performance). Ironically, India stands 52nd in the same list despite having a population of over a billion and producing over 1 million engineers annually. No Nobel Laureates in Science from India since independence. The US has 100+ Nobel laureates with a far smaller population. PhD holders applying for clerk jobs is a common sight.
What’s failing? Despite having such a high number of graduates passing out each year, where are we lacking? Do we detect signs of a fraudulent system anywhere?
Manav Bharti University (MBU) of Solan in Himachal Pradesh has been embroiled in a massive scam, understood to have been ongoing since around 2009 when the institution was opened. Issuance of fake degrees numbering over 36,000 to students across 17 states was first unearthed when an anonymous complaint was registered with the University Grants Commission. The UGC then proceeded to inform the authorities about the fraud back in 2019.
The education system that we follow was set up during the East India Company rule under the guidelines of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 1830s. This system was based on the British requirement. They wanted Indians as clerks and labour, performing all the low-level work. Communication was also a challenge. Hence, subjects like English, Math and Science made it to the curriculum putting aside any holistic approach in studies and suppressing creative thinking. Unfortunately, even after independence, we’re still a slave to this curriculum.
In most cases, the education system fails to teach the relevance of subjects in practical life. The pattern is such that the students are gauged on the basis of their cramming abilities barring any creative approach to learning. Decent marks do not assure proper learning and actual application ability. A banal example is how the students cram Sanskrit textbooks in schools and score high marks but when it comes to speaking, they fail miserably. Limited options of courses are another hurdle for students trying to make unconventional career choices.
The most successful Indians we see, top business tycoons, sportspersons, politicians, et al, have not fallen victim to this age-old education trap. Most of them have either educated themselves in what they actually want to do or have pursued education in foreign countries rather than just aiming to get a degree. The plight of the Indian Education system is well-known to everyone, this is the reason why most Politicians and big shots prefer to send their kids to foreign lands for education. What then, is the need of the hour? is to eradicate this system and emphasise an overall holistic development approach. The world is changing dramatically and new technologies are emerging with each passing day opening up a different arena. Jobs like that of Influencers, SEO managers and Artificial Intelligence Engineers weren’t even dreamt of back in the day. We will see new jobs in the coming future that we might even not have heard of.
Think of a huge tree in Santiniketan, and under its shade Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi sitting together, reflecting on education, culture and civilisation, and inspiring a nation with new dreams and aspirations. Think of an educationist like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in Nehru’s Cabinet, and educating the political class. Think of some of our great VCs like Ashutosh Mukherjee and Gopalaswami Parthasarathy. Think of great professors like CV Raman and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. And think of many unknown, yet, immensely dedicated, teachers who drew their inspiration from the likes of Maria Montessori and Gijubhai Badheka, and sought to implement a creatively nuanced and life-affirming agenda of education. Think of a generation who loved to converse with Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, or was fond of listening to Jiddu Krishnamurti’s talks on education. Think of some of our finest minds — historians, physicists, social scientists — giving up lucrative careers, choosing to work with rural and marginalised children, and making it a point that the Eklavyas in new India should not be deprived of light education.
Possibly, the new generation would not believe it. The reason is that they are already disillusioned as they hear an altogether different story, say, the notorious tales of some of our VCs. Recently, the Hyderabad police arrested a current and a retired VC of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan University, Bhopal, for providing degrees — from B Tech to MBA — in exchange for money. And the chairman of a university in Himachal Pradesh has been accused of selling 55,000 degrees. There seems to be no end to the tales of these multi-crore scams. Yet, in another recruitment scam in state-run government-aided schools in West Bengal, the minister concerned, it appears, was involved in manipulating the merit list for the recruitment of out-of-turn persons in 2016. No wonder, the Calcutta High Court did not hesitate to instruct the daughter of West Bengal’s junior education minister to return the salary which she has received since 2018; she has also been barred from entering the school premises where she was working as an assistant teacher. Amid the constant flow of this sort of news of corruption and nepotism, is it really possible for the new generation to believe that the world can be different?
How do we make sense of this education racket? There are many reasons —the naked form of commodification of education (money can buy a cup of Starbucks coffee; likewise, money can buy a B Tech, BEd, MBA or even MBBS degree); the unholy alliance of the political class and the traders of education resulting in the mushrooming growth of poor quality medical colleges, and technical universities with ‘management quota’ and capitation fee; and the chronic diploma disease that urges many, even the most disinterested ones, to get a BA/MA or even PhD degree at any cost.
But then, what about people like us — English-educated, urbane, professional middle-class? We are no less responsible for this pathetic state of affairs. Do we really value the vocation of teaching? Do we really want our children to be nurtured by great teachers? Do we really come to the street, and demand that our children need good libraries in schools, creative and experimental pedagogic practices, and good teachers who make them realise that education, far from being a mere technique of cracking standardised tests, is essentially the integration of intellectual cognition and aesthetic imagination, or sensitivity that generates humility, kindness and a sense of altruism? Do we raise our voices for saving some of our good public universities from the ongoing political assault? Or do we think that we need not bother because our children would leave India, go abroad, and settle down comfortably? Or, are we only searching for some brands, or, for that matter, coaching centre strategists, Ed Tech companies, and packaged ‘success manuals’?
How many of us realise that a teacher is not a technician who forces the child to memorise that ‘A’ means apple; or 19x19 is 361; instead, a teacher is a catalyst who, even at the time of playing with mathematics and physics, or history and geography, seeks to arouse the child’s hidden faculties? We seem to be in a hurry. In the age of instantaneity, we need instant results — a seat in a medical college at any cost, or admission to a foreign university. No wonder, we passively watch this severe blow to the vocation of teaching and allow the mafia to run the emergent education industry.
Without a people’s movement to save education, there seems to be no escape from this rot.