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Reinventing the Engine of Development

By EMN Updated: Jun 29, 2020 8:00 pm

Covid-19 has taken the world by surprise claiming over half a million human fatalities and abysmally plummeting the glonacal (global, national, local) economies. The vicious virus continues to devastate the world evoking the human species to recraft and redesign a new paradigm for a sustainable future. In the new paradigm shift, a kaleidoscope of ideas gravitating around rebuilding the system, not just recovery alone, but redesigning a new future is permeating and resonating well with the masses. Developing concrete policy strategies to set the stage for a new paradigm could be more complex and esoteric than generally understood. While there could be a wide potential array of developmental tools for reshaping the future, perhaps one of the most important apparatuses to reinvent the new paradigm is by transforming the higher education system, which is regarded as the engine of development, as it has enormous potential in contributing to societal development. The human capital derives its power principally through institutions of higher learning. However, the new paradigm that we yearn for cannot thrive on a shrunken engine. It will demand a conducive and congenial atmosphere for the new paradigm to take root and grow rich. To trail-blaze such a shift that will eventually attract exceptionally skilled and highly trained talents to contribute to the rebuilding process, the status quo must be challenged and redesigned to absorb the best minds and reverse the brain drain. Therefore, to effectuate such reforms in the higher education system, and to spur growth for a foreseeable future, first of all, we must have a strong and committed political will to push this agenda. Sadly the public is frustrated with the languid government and its inaction exhibited in every facet of development. Therefore, exerting a strong and committed political will in effecting constructive reforms is pivotal to engender a new paradigm. For instance, it is worth noting that in the 2015-16 budget, the central govt. had announced to establish two new Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), one in Nagaland and another in Odisha. The IISER in Odisha started functioning from the 2016-17 academic year. However, the proposed IISER in Nagaland never materialised because the govt. had no interest in setting up IISER in Nagaland. Instead, it had asked for setting up of School of Planning and Architecture vide letter no. CMN/86/HE/2015 dated 16th December 2015 addressed to the MHRD, citing that it has no regional institute except CIHSR. Had the govt. accepted the central govt. proposal, today Nagaland IISER would be functioning benefiting particularly the state and the region to a great extent. The lack of political will coupled with the lack of public demand impeded the setting up of such a premiere public Institute. Another inherent component for economic progress is the establishment of institutional infrastructure which is intrinsically woven to the development process. Currently, there are 155 Institute of National Importance in the country such as IITs, IIMs, NITs, IISERs, and the likes. Nagaland has only one such institute (NIT), one central university, no CSIR labs, no ICMR centres, and the list goes on. The creation of both central and state institutional infrastructure is integral to enhancing the quality of education, promoting economic growth, and increasing human capital. The post-Covid-19 development policies should emphasise on building infrastructures for the institution of higher learning, which can serve as a power source for new advancement by providing skills, knowledge, and credentials to individuals. Furthermore, colleges offering degrees and masters programs must reform their curriculum and catch up with the fast-paced world by evolving from the obsolete traditional based education system to skill and practical based education system. Colleges should start introducing applied sciences and other courses that are relevant and demanded by industry and the labour market. Inculcating the right sets of practical skills to students will improve their employability and productivity. In the words of Albert Einstein “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Therefore, if we desire a paradigm change, a reform that will create a highly skilled and competitive workforce leading to socio-economic development, we must be willing to recalibrate the faulty system and take corrective measures for a desirable outcome. This includes reforms in the faculty recruitment process in govt. colleges/institutes. In an information age, recruiting teaching faculties by adopting the obsolete memory-based exam is more flawed than ever. Unlike the generic civil services, academic and research positions required highly specialised and skilled individuals whose calibre must be measured and evaluated by their highest qualification, comprehensive learning skills, knowledge, and exceptional track record and not limited to a compacted three hours memory-based exam. If the memory-based exam is the norm for academic and research positions, the purpose of obtaining higher doctoral and postdoctoral degrees by investing years of research work becomes irrelevant, which in academia is absurd. Besides, learning the latest scientific skills, obtaining a patent, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, having research/teaching experiences, writing books, and winning awards, etc. are all defeated in the recruitment process. This gives a lopsided edge to the memory-based test by devaluing higher research degrees. Recruitment of faculties in state govt. colleges/institutes must be based on the scoring criteria laid down by UGC or similar to what premier central institutes have adopted in the screening process. Furthermore, faculty recruitment in the state govt. colleges/institutes must not be limited to junior level entry (Asst. Prof) alone, but also include mid-level (Assoc. Prof) and senior-level entry (Prof.). This will open a competitive gateway and create a performance-based ladder. We must redesign the obsolete system and reverse the brain drain phenomenon and attract the highly qualified, highly talented, highly skilled, well-trained scientists and scholars, who may have an exceptional critical appraisal and the ability and the real-time skills to undertake teaching, and research and development projects independently, thereby developing the infrastructures, improving human capital, and provide necessary resources in upgrading the colleges/institutions. This will reinforce the higher education system and create a foundation for a higher level of socio-economic development and better living conditions. Finally, the promotion of research and development, science, and technology innovation is the foundation for every human advancement. We must reposition our direction, rethink our approach, and refocus our vision towards that which will take us forward and make us productive in this digital age. World acclaimed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson in his book titled ‘America the Beautiful’ posed a question, quote “What will maintain the pinnacle position of our nation in the world: the ability to shoot a twenty-foot jump shot, or the ability to solve a quadratic equation?” unquote. I think we must all ask this question to ourselves and seriously ponder upon what will take us forward in this information age. Enamoured with festivals and entertainment, perhaps we are lost in a fantasy world. The Covid-19 pandemic must reawaken us from our state of insobriety. Our leaders proclaiming with a high decibel tone that ‘we are prepared’ was only an attempt to envelop the reality of our institutional, infrastructural, and manpower deficiencies in the state. As long as resources are concentrated in the hands of the few elites, who are creating social imbalances, societies cannot remain stable. Therefore if we desire a stable and prosperous society, we must revisit the foundation, realign our steps, and set our priorities in the right place. Similar to the creation of Task Force for Music and Arts to promote music and arts, the same govt. must consider setting up a task force for promoting Science, and Technology Innovation in the state. Govt. must take proactive steps in reviewing the existing flaws and redesign and reform the higher education system, establish infrastructures, introduce policies that will reinvent the obsolete system, and promote science and technology innovation. The public also must demand for the establishment of the institute of National importance and other National labs, centres, and institutes in the state. Only then, a scintilla of new hope will reappear on the horizon. With that hope of a new paradigm, I share my personal opinions and also unequivocally declare no competing interest in expressing my views.

Dr. Mechüselie Kehie

By EMN Updated: Jun 29, 2020 8:00:00 pm