Higher Education in India: Critical issues and challenges
Dr. Xavier Mao, Professor, Department of Philosophy, NEHU Shillong
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] wish to begin my article with a definition like a statement about education. Education is a unitary concept. In other words, education is an organic and holistic concept. Unfortunately, holistic nature of education has not been emphasized in modern India. Further, this may not be an exaggeration to say that even in the western world that is, the so called developed industrialized countries for some reason or other had miserably failed to emphasize this point. Therefore, this may not be wrong and inappropriate to say that today in the world, the basic objectives of education have not only been wrongly set but there is mismatch. In other words, there is nothing in modern education that aims at creating, fostering and nurturing the basic objectives of education. From time to time survey reports purportedly placing educational institutions in terms of advancement and excellence. In India, the so called reports are causing headache among the educationists including statesmen and politicians. The cause of this worry and lament is that no Indian educational institution finds a place in 200 top universities in the world.I wish to point out in this connection that the first and foremost objective of education shall be to create good human being. Today in the modern world this point is carelessly ignored. There are top ranking universities in the world like the MIT, Harvard, Standford, etc in US, Oxford, Cambridge, London University in UK, Heidelberg University in Germany and Tokyo University in Japan. However, in their curriculum there is nothing which aims at creating good human being. Civilization can grow, sustain and develop only when there are good human beings. Most of the crimes today in the world like rape, theft, murder, embezzlement of public funds and killing of innocent human being are done by the so called highly educated people. What could be the reason? Less educated or non-educated ones very rarely commit such offences. Even as per the statement made by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar that educated man without moral values and character is dangerous than beast testify to the above. I wish to submit in this connection that there is something basically and primarily wrong with our educational system.
The second objective of education shall be to create and develop the cognitive faculty and also to inspire and encourage questioning spirit in the students. The mushrooming of coaching centers and tutorial homes in length and breadth of the country not only in humanities and social sciences but also in hard sciences like physics, chemistry and mathematics and applied subjects like medicine, engineering and technology have created havoc. To realize this fact one has to simply come to metropolis like Delhi, Mumbai, Madras, Bangalore, etc. and look at the houses of advertisement for coaching for various entrance exams. The disease is so rampant that the day we give to small children of primary school studying in class 1, they are sent to coaching centers. I call them teaching shops. In due course of time, in attending such coaching centers the child loses interest in study and home work. Private coaching and tuition are like disease like a government doctor doing private practice. To realize this point one has to simply to come to West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala etc. to see government doctors indulging in rampant private practice. Willy-Nilly private tuition rendered by government employees of school and colleges and private practice of government medical professionals affects not only teaching and learning but the health care of common people in whose name democratic government is supposed to be run.
The last but not the least objective of education shall be to empower and equip the students to earn a decent living. But unfortunately this thing is not being done in India. As a result unemployment keeps on rising at an alarming rate. Without realizing this important fact and without taking necessary steps to ameliorate this precarious condition the so called education planners in India wish to increase the number of universities and colleges. The other day the ministry of human resource development of the government of India declared that she wants to multiply the number of post graduate students in India. I will point out in course of my article the minister is without proper thought and planning.
I wish to maintain that education is a unitary concept; therefore, the division of education into primary, secondary, colleges and universities, education has created havoc and lopsided development. The post independent India has witnessed a set of commissions on education, but it will not be wrong to say that we have not achieved anything at all. Primary education constitutes the very basis and foundation of all education including university education, teaching and research. It is unfortunate that primary education in India is not properly organized and planned. Ideally speaking up to 10+2 level education should be compulsory and free for certain weaker sections of the society. But regrettably, this is not done. Further medium of instruction up to class 6 level should be in mother tongue of the students. Unfortunately, the English medium school through private enterprise is multiplying like anything. It is sad to note even in certain states in rural areas private English medium schools are being setup. On the one hand, central government has started giving classical status in certain Indian languages. Recently, oriya language has been accorded classical status by government of India. Previously Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi and certain other languages have been accorded classical status. Giving classical status has monetary implications to such languages. Government of India gives one time grant of 500 crores of Rupees and annual grant of Rs. 100 crores to encourage research in these languages. But it is a travesty of fact and irony that no parents are willing to send their small children to mother tongue school. Not only is this an established fact that small children spent their time and energy in learning foreign language at primary stage. Ideally the child must be taught in the languages that s/he speaks at home, otherwise, it leads to stunted intellectual growth. The situation in the North-East is very precarious. Many sub tribes of Nagas have no literature in their respective languages. If one visits Shillong, one will invariably notice that Khasi medium schools are languishing day by day. This shows the language policy in India is faulty and defective. Every Indian must learn Hindi, English compulsorily besides mother tongue. The three language formula Hindi, English and mother tongue if encouraged will be meaningful remedy for India. Though initially there was strong reaction in Tamilnadu against Hindi, yet the politicians and statesmen of Tamilnadu have grown judicious and they have allowed students to learn and pickup Hindi. It may be mentioned in this connection that Hindi related speaking language, Hindi should be compulsorily taught. After six decades of Independent Indians do not have a clear cut language policy in India. Willy-Nilly the Indians have accepted Hindi as the Lingua Franca as necessary.
Further, total man power planning is necessary in India today. That is to say after completion of 10+2 level 50% should go for college education. The rest 50% should be given meaningful and effective technical and professional education depending on their temperament so that they can compete in the world market. To achieve this, available and arable agricultural land should be nationalized. I wish to point out in this connection that instead of nationalizing bank, the great prime minister of India (Indira Gandhi) should have taken steps to nationalize arable land and this land should be given to young people on lease basis with provision for irrigation and other facilities so that migration of landless laborers from one state to another state can be discouraged. By now we know the plight and miseries of such migrant laborers. I wish to point out that this is the result of our defective agricultural policy. Further, technical students should be given the arable land for scientific farming and cultivation so that they can meaningfully go for self employment. The ex-president, Dr. Abdul Kalam, is emphasizing world class technicians and technology. But one is yet to say no state has taken in this direction and no plan is in the offing, without total man power planning and creating centers and institutes for education and training, for such people the proposal becomes meaningless. The Government of India in the MHRD is planning to create more colleges and universities and their stated objective is to create more and more graduates and post graduates. They lament the less number of the post graduates compared to other countries. I wish to point out in this connection that the Government of India does not know and realize the effect of multiplying graduates and post graduates. They forget that effective and meaningful graduate and post graduate should be created. 15% top students should go for master’s courses and 5% out of 15% should go for research reserving only for those students who have the real aptitude and genuine interest. At this stage, students interested in agriculture, medicine and engineering should be allowed to compete. I wish to point out in this connection that the coaching centre in preparing in medical and engineering should be banned forthwith. Marks secured in exams and interview performance should be the sole criterion for choosing medical and engineering courses. The student capitation fee based on admission is an evil. And as far as possible it should be done away with. In fact a graduation should be treated as the final degree for any entrance to other exams like civil services etc. A new and very alarming situation is emerging in this connection in India. It may be noted in this connection that good students from various parts of the country take admission in Delhi University and JNU in post graduate and PhD and prepare for Civil Services exams thereby PhD becomes secondary. The sole motive for preparing civil services exams, one can just go round Delhi and find out bright students go for IAS exam. Our graduation program is such that they find difficult without further study of M.Phil or PhD etc. Now the question is why should the bright students choose civil services? The answer is very simple. As a matter of fact, the civil servants along with politicians rule the country and they get maximum benefits both the prescribed and not prescribed benefits. The late Education Minister, Mr.Pranab Sen, wanted to give pay parity to university and college teachers with the so called civil servants, but the situation did not improve. The best and bright students till date prefer to join civil services. Some highly dedicated and committed individuals still come to the academic profession but this number is more of an exception rather than the rule today. What could be the reason? The answer is the elevated socio-economic status. The salaries of top executives in the private sector are very high and there is no justification at all. As a result of such huge gap salary disparity hardly any person of talent feels attracted to the domain of higher education which pays a small amount in comparison. It is high time that perk and position are not given to a sector employee in lieu of others and overall socio-economic condition must change in India. During these years, the salary and promotion avenue of college and universities have increased multi fold but in spite of all these the standard of teaching and research have not improved visibly. Many teachers joined coaching centers to give coaching classes to aspirants for various entrance exams. It is a vicious circle that certain jobs are highly lucrative for example in certain parts of the country doctors from government openly indulge in private practices. In certain cases professors of medicines and surgery of government run institutions is not free from this malady. How do we expect excellence and teaching if we allow for private practice? It is late professor Triguna Sen the former vice chancellor of Jadhavpur and BHU who became the Minister of Education suggested and saw to it that teachers of the universities and colleges get pay and salary more or less on par with civil servants. Today, the situation is different. The salary and the service conditions of university and college teachers are almost on par with their counterpart of civil servant. What could be the reason? The reason lies not in the pay scale but somewhere else perhaps. Only salary of university and college teachers was very small compared to those of their counterpart in the past yet teaching was properly done in some universities and colleges. Private tuition was almost not existent and unknown. It appears a contradiction firstly the greed of so called higher echelons society at all levels and stages are increasing multifold and teachers are no exception to it. They see in their own eyes how semi-educated politicians having criminal background are accumulating wealth by leaps and bounds. And the so called leaders of government keep quiet. Rampant corruption and malpractice almost in all walks of life has given rise to such degenerate condition. Therefore, the idea of increasing the number of colleges and universities will not solve the problem. Rather, it will multiply problems. There are instances where unqualified persons appointed were cancelled and yet appointed by vice-chancellor through the backdoor such instances are not few and far between. This is in a way going to be a regular feature of university system. Of late some state universities are advertising for the post of vice chancellor and for one post of vice chancellor there are more than hundred applications and governor of the state as the Ex-officio chancellor of the university is required to conduct the interview. Gone are the days where Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, Radha Krishnan, D. S. Kothari were invited as vice-chancellors not on advertisement, but on invitation. In nutshell 1. Total man power planning is a must for India. 2. Education up to 10+2 should be free and compulsory. After 10+2, 50% students should go for technical and meaningful agricultural and industrial sectors. 3. Total arable land in the country should be nationalized and should be given to trained personnel with provision of irrigation and other necessary facilities. 50% of the rest, 25% should go for medical and engineering. Out of the 25%, 20% should go for BA, BSc and other collegiate education, post graduate education MA, MSc, MCom including research only 10% should be allowed to go. As far as possible graduation degree should be treated as the terminal degree for any kind of public examinations. In other words, Students should go for civil services and other jobs after graduation. In due course of time five year graduation program should be introduced. This proposal is bound to remain as wish fulfillment if drastic change in the social-economic order does not take place. Perhaps partyless democracy as envisaged by Jay Prakash Narayan is the alternative to cure some of the ills and maladies of Indian democracy today. Last but not the least changes in education should be treated as comprehensive and holistic.