(TV Mohandas Pai, a Padma Shri Awardee, a former director of Infosys, current chairman of Manipal Global Education and Aravindan Neelakandan, co-author of best-selling Breaking India, do an engaging discussion on the mess that Indian education is. Bhumika Arora transcribes, a slightly condensed version, for readers’ benefit).
Mohandas Pai: We have over 975 universities, maybe 350 private universities. State, Deemed and private universities too. The fastest growing section is private universities—about 65% of students are getting educated in the private universities.
Today we have some 3.8 crore young people in colleges. We graduate about 92-93 lakhs. Our Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) for education is about 51% in Tamil Nadu to 19% in West Bengal. North is a problem though.
In the higher education space today, we have a higher GER for women than men. That. Is a very significant development. SC-ST make up 16.6% of the population. There are 14.8% students in higher education, ST is 8.2% of the population. The backward community is about 40 percent of population. Muslims are 15 percent of population. Among the scheduled tribes and in the Muslim community, we are seeing about 7.2-7.5% percent increase in enrolment year after year. So after 34 years, we have a huge education policy which promises greater autonomy to universities, which is more student-centric which calls for multidisciplinary universities.
So hopefully you can do a degree in nuclear science with chemistry and also do dance and cricket and possibly sociology, philosophy or whatever you want. We need multi-disciplinary universities, and not just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Today, if you look at the universities, we find a very strange thing. We have the very large STEM universities, maybe 3,500 engineering colleges maybe 100s IITs, NITs, IIITs etc focused on STEM with a little bit of social science. The New Education Policy promises more experiential learning, more and more experimentation and project work rather than rote learning. It also promises us exposure to Indic languages and subjects.
However, there is a worry that multi-speciality universities would have much of social science which would contaminate the rest of the STEM excellence. And that capture of many universities by the Leftists would dominate the social science sector of the university.
It has opened up the field for private universities. Some like Ashoka Universities are aping American education. I personally believe that trying to create Indians to get an American style education here devoid of connection to the reality of India is not what social sciences should be. Social science universities should have a connection to your roots, to your civilization; connection to the reality of India rather than the of the United States. Then there is technological universities that’s coming up in Chandigarh and Bangalore. People are looking at the research-based technology university.
We know that higher education has two components—the creation of knowledge and the dissemination of knowledge. The creation of knowledge can only happen if there is research funding- that our faculty has an open collegial system and they allow for fresh thinking, challenging dogma. And exploring in the STEM areas, we require money for research because we need labs, we need interaction with the world and that is lacking.
Social science area will require more openness a freshness to new ideas and a departure from dogma and ideology which dominates the liberal arts or social science universities in this country. Globally, the social science education, in my view, underwent a change after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Along with the Berlin Wall came the destruction of the Soviet Union and the decline of the Left.
When the Left declined as an ideological enterprise, Left hit upon from what they had learnt: The idea of penetrating the academic circles all across the world; to spread their ideology in a very big way, to create a new society and it morphed into something else, a very intolerant closed system which is bent upon demolishing, rubbishing and demonizing the past; that all the ills of the past have to be cured by young people and in the universities and that means that you are to shut out the people who are part of the earlier system and draw red lines in the sand. To say some things are not open now.
Education has always moved forward in a very liberal environment where academics had the full freedom of thought they could go into any stream of education they could learn they could debate and they had free views and there were no dogmas that is what a liberal education is all about.
Liberal education is all about being open to new ideas and protecting the views of others which are different ideas from your own and liberal education is not about pushing a particular ideology and shutting out other people who don’t subscribe to the ideology.
I don’t wish to be part of the ideology and that exactly what is happening in the world today in the name of social sciences and that is very dangerous for human thought. The idea of liberal education is a reaction to the dark ages and the domination of the church; the Renaissance and the Enlightenment came to open up the human mind and that led to great progress globally as you know but also to the rise of colonization for Asia.
At the same time in India when we became independent we had a very low literacy rate, I think it was about 16-17%, very low urbanization rate and with the advent of Indira Gandhi in 1969 we saw a dramatic shift in the focus of our education.
We had Nurul Hasan who brought in ideology, particularly the communist ideology, to ensure that in the guise of national integration, we had people of a particular ideology and persuasion getting jobs in the government colleges and government universities particularly in the social sciences to propagate what they thought ought to be learned by India. It led to the massive rewriting of history; it led to the glorification of Muslim rule in this country; it led to the denigration of our Indian civilization it led to casteism becoming a dominant theme in education. It demolished the idea of liberal education.
Most of us innocently became victims to that kind of an ideology which is epitomized in the JNU where some people have no love for the country; they are wedded to one kind of ideology and intolerant of everybody else who don’t subscribe to that ideology.
They’re reinterpreting history rewriting history in their own world view, pushing it down the curriculum for young students etc. So 1857 was a sepoy mutiny, Mughal empire was glorified, there was no learning of Cholas or the Maratha empire.
India is an extremely complex civilization with multiple layers of existence, multiple centuries of existence, a lot of deep history going back into antiquity. There is a lot that we need to change. It’s a unidimensional view that has permeated everywhere and contaminated our education system. These people joined with evangelists in many of the missionary schools to push their own agenda. It could be seen in Tamil Nadu today and in parts of Andhra Pradesh.
Today we have a large number of universities but not enough teachers of adequate quality; we don’t have autonomy in our universities. But some universities which have broken out are doing quite well. Thousands and thousands of young people are getting graduated without the kind of life skills that comes through a decent education system. In the future I think there is going to be great divergence in education there’s a need for more private institution and need for funding.
You know the biggest challenge for a lower middle class parent is the high cost of education – medical education cost Rs. 60 lakh to one crore over five years. Unaffordable for 90% of our people. A good engineering college cost you Rs 12 to 20 lakhs for four years, again, very difficult to pay for and a social science university in the private schools cost you Rs. five to six lakh maybe eight lakhs. Government education is free but there is teacher vacancy and there’s a lot of other ills associated with that, in maybe 60-80 percent of the schools.
Aravindan Neelakandan: I would say that the the crisis that we face today in education as such is two-fold: One is at the global and another at the national level.
Actually the crisis in education in a way was started, let us say, in 1970s itself. I remember 1971, a book Future Shock came by Alvin Toffler and then he went on to write Third Wave. In all this he was talking about how from the mass education that is the result of the Second Wave civilization, we are moving on to this Third Wave civilization where the education would be more diverse. The very nature of search date would be diverse. In this wave, actually India has an advantage, a civilizational advantage, however we still are in the Second Wave, not really diversifying. The dominant forces of the Second Wave, Marxism, Coloniaism, the Left and they were trying to capture the institutions. In this Marxism, there is also deep colonialism so there is a kind of a synergy.
For example, you talked about Indira Gandhi’s time in which the social sciences were getting captured by the Marxists. That was the time when they launched a particular exhibition called method of science exhibition. It was designed by one of the most eminent cellular, molecular biologists of the time, Dr Pushpa Bhargava, one of the best scientists in the world actually but he was also a Marxist so this method of science exhibition contained in its panels showing Karl Marx and Lenin as examples of scientific thinking. There was not even a panel that depicted Charles Darwin. Think about it there were the mugshots of Karl Marx and Lenin in a method of science exhibition that was funded by the Ministry of Human Resources and Ministry of Education! This is how the science education was taken to the masses.
The very term scientific temperament itself is a politically loaded term. Many people attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru but actually the term was coined by Russell Beton. He coined it to denote the kind of temperament that the people needed to fight against their oppressive religious structures. It was almost irrelevant in India but Jawaharlal Nehru brought it and then it was taken as a kind of a political slogan and it was taken to the people so by the end of the day people felt alienated from science. So it is not only in social sciences, the very kernel of our scientific innovating mind has been corrupted by this particular ideological twist captured by the Marxist ideologues. They have created this alienation between the Indian mind and doing good science.
If you look very carefully you will find that the Indians were shining at one particular time in pure science. You had Jagdish Chandra. You had CV Raman. All these people happened during the colonial period because it was a spell when India was undergoing a Renaissance. It was responding to the colonial challenge in its own way. They were able to do good science.
After that what happened?
After that you have created IITs and it is produce very good technologies. People who do not innovate technology who do not innovate into the realm of ideas. You don’t have people like CV Raman you don’t have people like Satyendra Nath Bose, but you can have a lot of technological people. These technological people ultimately become technological coolies. I am not telling it in a very negative term. What I am saying essentially is that we are creating a workforce we are not creating creative people. It is the same knowledge, the same science and technology and syllabus that is studied here, that is also studied in another country, but in another country you are able to create a lot of scientists who innovate.
Here scientists are receptionists. What is the reason for this? The reason would be that our institutions are not anchored in our own culture and value. There was a very great Indian physicist George Sudarshan, and they asked him about this problem of science and technology and then he said in Vishnu Sahasranama, it is said that if someone seeks knowledge, Vishnu Sahasranama gives him liberation; a person who seeks power it gives him victory; a person who seeks money it gives him profit, and a person who works, it gives him comfort. So it is the same knowledge it is with what attitude you go towards that particular knowledge system that is very important .
And that knowledge system needs a particular attitude, that attitude needs a particular value system, and that value system has to come from the culture.
What has happened is that in some STEM institutions, you have that cut off between the culture and the scientific innovating mind. Where you have alienated your own people from their own culture. So you may have some but you will not be able to generate the number of people doing good science.
So it needs a change of mind. You need to take this point to new players. There The digital industrialisation has come in and now we are talking of individualized education. Now, as you said, a person could pursue nuclear science the same way he could pursue music. So this kind of freedom has to come in a big way.
If I am to make a parallel, if you look at our ayurvedic system the ayurvedic system is not a mass medicine system. In ayurvedic system you always give individual medicines but when this mass medicine thing came, it changed. Now we are moving into genomics and again we are going to individualized medicine.
It provides us with civilizational advantage. We can look at the individual aspect of the student, we can create a package for that, create institutions for that, based on this particular value system. That’s the challenge we are facing: How to create institutions that are radically different from the ones we have created so far.
We have to create institutions that are simultaneously prestigious. Like for example you have a Leftist scholar for a talk for a memorial lecture that is considered prestigious; but if you are calling an Indic scholar, it is considered less prestigious. You get branded. So we have to move out of that mindset too.
Mohandas Pai: You know, I differ with you in many aspects And that’s because we need to understand the situation before and after independence.
Yes there were colonial universities but very few got into colleges. They were at the top of the pyramid, very motivated small numbers, exceptional people. Ordinary ones couldn’t get a college degree because there were not enough colleges. Frankly, British were more liberal than what happened later with the Marxist. In the sense that they allowed some of the students to pursue what they wanted to pursue. After independence, the government started investing and creating its own structure. Till Nehru’s death, it was still possible for the some kind of culture to exist.
But after Indira Gandhi came and Nurul Hasan came, that’s when the destruction of the higher education system began with too much focus on ideology. You know what happened in NCERT and other government institutions dominated by people like Romila Thapar, rewriting history, it contaminated the whole system, getting more and more Leftists who got in not because they were great scholars but because they were of the same ideology. They didn’t allow too many private sector universities to come up. Those who were once students, indoctrinated the students.
As far as STEM colleges are concerned, I won’t blame them because it’s a very small number of graduates. Some 91-94 lakh graduates, a few lakh engineers and maybe 12-13 lakhs so-called science graduates and some two lakh students from our technological universities.
If you look at post-independence data, we didn’t invest enough in sciences in the universities. And I agree with you, the science again was contaminated by ideology. You can find out how CV Raman spoke about the interference of Nehru in his writings. CV Raman was forced out of the science and other areas because of Nehru and all those policies. We have seen a kind of totalitarian thinking has come into high education.
Teachers were much better paid at the time of independence. Later the salaries didn’t rise. More and more people did not go into the education and went into public sector undertakings for jobs. Remember we have a very large system and you could have 2-3 lakh good science people created every year. Our curriculum updates have not been good. The top 20-40% of bright people have gone overseas for better opportunities. Today there is an opportunity for the private sector to reverse all this. And that’s why I feel people who are patriotic should come forward to start new universities. They must demonstrate a commitment to very liberal kind of education in the Indic sense, not the Western sense—where multiple streams of thoughts could exist without the domination by the disgraceful Left.
If my city of Bangalore, a billionaire has started the university but it is captured by the Left because in the social sciences, 90% of all faculty are Leftists. We don’t have enough scholars who are independent in social sciences.
There is a need for funding for R&D across all Indian universities instead of funding by the CISR and others. Much of the money has to be done in the cities and that should come along with the new education policy. If you’re able to do all that we should able to see a flowering of science in multiple areas across India
The United States has some 15 million people out of which about five million are students from abroad. China has something similar to us, may be ahead in numbers. We soon would have a crore people graduating every year. We’re going to have a new architecture for private universities. That’s where right-thinking people should come together. This is one thing which didn’t exist 10 years ago. A lot of people have pride in India than the earlier lot. More young people are fighting back against the lies of the past.
Social media has opened enough to new influences to new discoveries to new lines of thought where they are questioning. There are so many multiple opinions, so much of multiple things happening.
The decline of the Left in India after the Modi government has come, they are on retreat and becoming very vicious.
Aravindan Neelakandan: I would like to just point out that Indians were systematically discouraged from conducting experiments. Youngsters could finish their graduation in physics or chemistry without entering a lab. Till 12th, in my times, we were not allowed to enter the labs. All the experiments we were supposed to think in our own minds and write it in the notebook. That’s how it was.
After 1998 it changed. One of the reasons was that Abdul Kalam came with his famous book India 2020 and Kalam became a kind of a phenomenon and suddenly the teachers started talking about doing projects. For the first time the students were allowed to do projects even when they were in the 5th-6th standard like that. We need to adapt and update ourselves with the latest knowledge streams. We need to fill the gap for any educationist to happily come. There is a gap we have to fill. If we don’t fill this gap, the Left will come and kill this guy.
I would give you an example. In India, we have the largest decentralized educational network system, that is Ekal Vidyalaya. Now it is a very unique institution, a single teacher going and reaching out to students. and also the pride in being Indian and produce quality things we are producing. But but it is not enough and more importantly we have not created a proper model to offer to anyone who wants to invest for example a philanthropist who wants to invest here in education.
Mohandas Pai: You know Aravind, you and I live in different ecosystems I presume you’ve seen Loyola College and frankly Tamil Nadu is on the way to becoming a failed state because the Dravidian evangelists are all bent upon destroying the State by doing all the things of hatred and there’s a fightback by the Hindu community which is very good. Chennai is going to be a battlefield for the mind of the Tamilian people in the next decade and we got to see who is going to win.
So I think the key, from what we talked, is that we need a broader ecosystem. We shouldn’t have any ideology dominate. To my mind, we need a broader ecosystem we should not have any ideology dominate the education ecosystem. We should need more funding and more Indian citizens should come forward to make sure the education system remains open. In the social sciences, we need to focus more on our own culture and what makes us successful rather try to ape the West and become White people in brown skin. We need to have more pride in our country. It would naturally come as we become more economically successful.