Monday, January 8

commerce, liberty and education

A few weeks ago there was an article in Outlook by P.M Bhargava titled Harvard @ Dhenkanal about foreign educational institutions setting up centers in India. Bhargava has made wonderful arguments against the move and is of opinion that they would harm the Indian Educational System. I was almost convinced that Harvard is the new “East India Company”, so much so that I would probably stop traffic for a “Dharna” against them all. But, two points of Bhargava’s argument made me wonder about some of the deeper problems of our educational system. One of them is commercialization. In his own words,

Their presence here could lead to a collapse of the entire educational system in the public sector, as happened with our excellent governmental school system when school education was commercialized.

And the second one is about “indoctrination of our young”.

..they get to ‘convert’ us to their country’s way of life and thinking—make us believe, for example, that US intervention in Iraq was absolutely right. We would, of course, have a regulatory system. But the endemic corruption means the FEPS will work around it.[…] […]no amount of regulation would prevent subtle indoctrination of our young.

Another article in NY Times about the state of education in India titled A College Education Without Job Prospects. Though I found this article too bent about the lack of talent development, rather than about problems of the system, some arguments were interesting.

India is that rare country where it seems to get harder to find a job the more educated you are.[…]
A deeper problem, specialists say, is a classroom environment that treats students like children even if they are in their mid-20’s. Teaching emphasizes silent note-taking and discipline at the expense of analysis and debate.

I think, there is a relation between the problem “classroom environment that treats students like children” observed by NY Times article and, Bhargava’s prediction of FEPS’s “subtle indoctrination of our young”. I think, the basic premise of Bhargava’s prognosis is the prevailing classroom environment that emphasis discipline and compliance, rather than, analysis and debate. Bhargava assumes that the role of educational systems is to indoctrinate and inculcate, rather than, counsel and guide. Education in India assumes the role of being a third parent. Of course, this thought stems from the Indian view that duty of our education systems to be another parent as in the maxim - “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Dev”.

I think, Bhargava’s other question about the collapse of education due to commercialization is just a cultural apprehension of commercialization. This fear is not just for education, but for anything that is realized as a service under our cultural context. Given a choice between private establishment and public establishment, we would, no doubt, choose the civil institution. The reason is that we automatically associate evil with anything associated with commerce. For us, Profit could mean just one thing - corruption.

I think both of these problems - patronizing classroom environment, and apprehension of commercialization - spring from the same source: They are the few of many elements that our culture necessitates to sustain its identity. I think, such elements are irrelevant in the goal and purpose of educational systems. Our educational systems should be farms of free thinking, devoid of a culture’s survival rules. Our educational systems should get rid of the patronizing role: stop teaching, in the literal sense.

I would actually suggest the kind of commercialization of our schools that they schools work with an entrepreneurial spirit. Schools still should, of course, be non-profit organizations, but they should financially accountable against their societal obligations. I don’t mean that all schools should charge a heavy fee to sustain itself. I think a school try to raise its own funds, if not all, at least a part of the funds.

Schools should be held accountable for their products, and their stake holders - their students. Every process: the recruitment, the development and their results, should be transparent and be audited. Their records should be available to public scrutiny (with some sort of Ombudsman). Such a liberal and free system of commercialization could actually develop talent better than placing our schools in a vacuum of financial responsibility. We need that kind of commercialization, that would get rid of the patronizing roles of our schools.

While Bhargava calls for democratizing and secularizing education to reach the massees, but what we really need is to liberate Indian education from its percived cultural roles by running them as entrepreunrial ventrures.