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Emerging Role of Quality of Higher Education Institutions in Indian Education Ecosystem

A Note based on the deliberations and ideas generated in the “BW Higher Education Conclave” held at Bengaluru, on 1st September 2017.

BW Conference1 01092017

I must congratulate the organizers of “BW Higher Education Conclave” to catch the latest conceptual phrase of ECO-SYSTEM. We have gotten into the habit of thinking in clichés and this one is the latest one. Probably it means ecology of education, Or the interconnections, connectivity and inter-relationships which affect each other at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of all happenings in education in the country. Let me divide this dynamic structure in three parts for the sake of understanding:-

1. Environment that impinges upon higher education;
2. Factors impinging upon the quality of higher education; and,
3. Cultural factors encouraging or retarding the needed change.

As far as the Environment of education is concerned we have the following;
1. UNESCO statistics state that India has enrolment number of 28.6 million students against the US number of 20 million and China number of 34.1 million. A good number indeed. But when you break the Indian number of students you find that of the total enrolment number, 79.87 are enrolled in the Under Graduate classes and 11.45 % in the PG; only 0.34% are enrolled in M.Phil. and 0.10 are in the Ph.D. This is a strong indication of the dismal position of research-led educational degrees in the country which stands always, in every society, in direct proportion to the scientific research being conducted in the country. India shows a big time lag in its educational achievements, and that is where we all have come here to think where to go.

2. What affects economy of the country also affects the education. What the mixed economy did to India in the sixties and the seventies in the context of development; and which perhaps was the most needed thing for a newly independent nation like India to do; it also did to education. As a result, the country rightly has the right to boast about excellent beginning in engineering education, medical education, number of institutions etc. but all under the government investment but with the happy trend of free education. This investment is paying off today in having a vast army of our engineers and scientists nourishing a global economy, which is slowly turning in favourable aspects of the Indian side. But as much as the Indian economy remained under the control of the government, so has the education administration. As a result of this, private education could not be profit-oriented; and to this day remains an area of charity, free social work or an action of altruism. As a result of this, many times professionalism and economy of such ventures suffer.

3. Historic changes and impacts of technology on every aspect of individual, social and national life resulting in:-
a. Overall heightening of aspirations of the dominant population which is constituted of youth. Never ever before in the country’s history has there been so much HOPE; yes, hope of perceived opportunity with which comes a vibrancy in society that constitutes a formidable social capital;
b. Industrial growth, mainly in the small and medium industry- sometimes organized but mostly unorganized sector;
c. Widening of services sector of economy, and of Commerce; not only in their economic aspects but also of the initiatives linked with legal and legislative measures;
d. Changes in Lifestyle with new dimensions in entertainment, expenditure, consumption patterns and informal spread of knowledge and technology-savvy interaction and communication; and,
e. Several connected issues of transformation and change in society that all converge on the need and result of more education, information and knowledge.

4. The great divide. The great Digital divide; Technology divide; Literacy and Education divide; Prosperity divide etc. All these divides show up in widening of disparities in the country resulting in angst living side by side of the great Hope in this great age of Anger today.

5. Changing economic and employment relationships; and,

6. Assertion of the felt need of Quality Assurance, Accreditation, Ranking etc to mark, indicate and create a hot environment of competition, quality assurance and new compulsions to survive in an atmosphere of faster life style. It is also visible quite blatantly in the matter of higher education today.

Factors impinging upon the quality of higher education are too well known;
However it would be useful to revisit them not in a way of what lacks in our universities and higher education by way of measuring lack of quality but by reviewing on factors that lie behind the success of world class universities. Literature on education have mentioned time and again several such factors. However, the most important ones that have a way of providing high inspirational impetus to our institutions are:-

1. Pursuit of excellence; pursuit of the most ideal forms of learning, teaching and doing research. And here by excellence I mean what I said in an interview with Competition and Success Review sometime back:
“…….. excellence in education lies in our ability to elicit students’ quality response to our teaching. And in order to have better student response, the teacher will have to connect himself with students. … The intervening factors between a teacher and a student are not ignorance or lack of information alone, but a lot of other factors like culture, values, methods and above all integration. So the connection, the integration, ought to be complete…”
Student’s response to teaching carries whole gamut of possibilities and norms like questioning the cause, existence, volume of education, extant of possibilities to do more in one’s chosen field; and Research. Education is for the student and the researcher. It is all about making a student capable of crossing the Rubicon of one’s ambition or life goal. This is possible when the STANDARDS ARE VERY HIGH. So comes with “excellence” in education is the standard that our society will set with education. If our standards remain frozen for a long time, and if we do not revise our syllabi, modes of learning, interactional patterns, collaborations with other institutions of excellence and funding structures and methods, then we simply go “out of date”. Nothing in the world is worse than being called outdated! So, the first lesson lies here: GO FOR A NATION-WIDE REVISION OF SYLLABI AND RESEARCH NEEDS.

2. Finding new avenues of research; and being probing and creative in finding leading positions in our Science and Technology research. If we do not have this culture and apparatus of research, then we lag behind. Time, in the manner it is moving in the field of technology, is in utmost shortage today. Any time lag between our knowledge load and the best that has been achieved already, will put your institution down not by the measure of the lag but many multiples of that. Time lag works in its result in geometrical proportion. So, the second lesson is: BE LATEST. Revise the books, collaborate as much as possible; get, import or buy the latest knowledge posts and train our teachers to avoid time lag.

3. An excellent university selects, retains and incentivizes best teachers, researchers and students. Means are important for doing this. Let there be a nation-wide debate about how it is to be done. If there is a shortage of teachers in the country on a subject, we find ways of getting more.

4. Excellent institutions of higher education are not objects or products. They are evolving beings in an ecosystem of mutual benefit and cooperation. They have certain integral system of competence and capability of not only creating knowledge and information but also wealth. Patents, industrial inroads and collaborations, research-for-profit, knowledge production in forms of papers and books are some of the hallmarks of a productive ecosystem of knowledge and wealth. This factor of excellence in education demands a very intelligent policy response from the government and a positive attitude of civil society towards the profession of teaching. Do we rate the teachers high and give them the respect in the manner Germany and Japan does, or we treat them like salaried employees come to teach as the last resort of failures in the job market? Or have we created that situation for them?

5. Excellent institutions stand in a society that gives them full autonomy to work, to plan, to think and to execute their plan.

6. Excellence in higher education also demands excellence in education at primary and secondary levels of schooling. So, by implication, the factor that impinges upon the quality of education is a holistic way of improving education from the beginning.

Cultural factors encouraging or retarding the needed change in quality;
1. Attitude of society to education. This factor can best be dealt with by answering following questions:-
a. How do we rate our teachers? How do we rate them in terms of their salary, respect, autonomy in decision making and pursuing of excellence?
b. How does society- including government-respond to the new investors in education by law, by new legislations and by the proposition of equality in status Vis a vis the pre-established set up of higher education. Do we make the private universities- comprising whopping +31% of the total number of universities- feel at home in status and government rules! Here, while I maintain this question, I am also aware of the fact that excellence of its own has a strength of attraction. Some private universities in the country have begun well in the quality measure of education and standards. So, given the space, private investors in education have been able to create a new environment of excellence in education.

2. No change in any society is possible unless there is a consensus on what we wish to achieve. This consensus is somehow implicit in our democratic set up where legislation is done in the state or in the centre and initiatives are taken by both- the government as well as the people. Nothing works more and better than the collective will of the people which eventually turns into cultural mores. Agreeing with Dr. Mashelkar who in his famous book Re-inventing India gives a wonderful recipe for creating world class Research-led universities and institutions in India, I’ll list out a few cultural imperatives for our society and government to follow:-

a. High Political Will, Ambition and massive Funding like China has done;
b. We have got to agree that India needs still more than 31% investment in education to make education sector as a creative and self-sustaining for-profit sector of economy as well, and not just a matter or part of residual social work. Yes, the matter of plentiful of scholarships can be made a matter of not-for-profit especially for a number of students who do not wish to avail loans. India must be open to the idea of having more university campuses of excellent foreign universities.

3. Innovation is the key of Science and technology research. Society, industry and the University together will make a network of efforts to create demand for this, so that, in turn manufacturing can be augmented. So there will have to be ways of such collaborations as will dovetail our research and development into the industrial output.

4. Quality education demands quality teaching. As I have said earlier, if we do not have enough of quality teachers we should be open to hire from other places in globalized society. No globalization is complete unless the global ethos comes closer to portals of learning.

5. Inclusion of the kind suggested above, excellence of the kind demanded of the time, and expansion of the kind envisaged in the demand of education for the burgeoning youth population in the country—are all possible only if there is collective and political will in our governments, in our administration, and in our economy.

I have come across recently a paper circulated by the Yes Bank that emphasized on the term Glocalisation for quality improvement in education. This term GLOCALISATION, I think means thinking global and doing local simultaneously. You may find any number of votaries on this thought. However, we must be on guard about one thing, that the knowledge in its ultimate and eventual manifestation may not always be euro-centric. It is often said and emphasized on the name of quality excellence in teaching that the teachers are responsible for creating universal values among the students. Some modernists argue that the teaching should be value-neutral and that the teachers should most (and at least) fill the student’s mind with clarification about values while emphasizing that the facts ought to be value-neutral. But we also know that science and technology is value-neutral. Hence the only value that eventually ought to prevail is the value of unity in diversity where the world is one big family: vasudhaiva kutumbakam.

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Hinduism: A Religion or Dharma

When the question of “who is a Hindu?” is discussed today, we get a multitude of confused and contradictory answers from both laypersons and from Hindu leaders. That we have such a difficult time understanding the answer to even so fundamental a question as “who is a Hindu?” is a starkly sad indicator of the lack of folk wisdom today.

Some of the common answers generally given to this simple question include: Anyone born in India is automatically a Hindu (the ethnicity fallacy), if your parents are Hindu, then you are Hindu (the  clan and ancestry argument), if you are born into a certain caste, then you are Hindu (the genetic-inheritance model), if you believe in reincarnation, then you are Hindu (forgetting that many non-Hindu religions share at least some of the beliefs of Hinduism), if you practice any religion originating from India, then you are a Hindu (the national origin fallacy).

The two primary factors that distinguish the individual uniqueness of the great world religious traditions are:-

  1. a) the scriptural authority upon which the tradition is based, and,
  2. b) the fundamental religious tenet(s) that it espouses.

If we ask the question, “who is a Jew?’’ – for example, the answer is: someone who accepts the Torah as their scriptural guide and believes in the monotheistic concept of God espoused in these scriptures. “Who is a Christian?”  the answer could be: a person who accepts the Gospels as his  scriptural guide and believes that Jesus is the incarnate God who died for their sins. “Who is a Muslim?” – someone who accepts the Qur’an as   his scriptural guide, and believes that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.

But can we really define Hinduism by using the parameters as mentioned above?

Shri Aurobindo in ‘India’s Rebirth’ writes;

“Hinduism … gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the God ward endeavor of the human spirit. An immense many-sided and many staged provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the eternal religion, Santana Dharma…”

Mahatma Gandhi talked many times in direct terms about why he is proud to be a Hindu. He explained his concept of Hinduism or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ – he wrote in an article on Hinduism that;

“I had practiced Hinduism from early childhood. Later on, I had come in contact with Christians, Muslims and others, and after making a fair study of other religions, had stuck to Hinduism. I am as firm in my faith today as in my early childhood. I believe God would make me an instrument of saving the religion that I love, cherish and practice. In any case, one has to have constant practice and acquaintance with the fundamentals of religion before being qualified for becoming God’s instrument. I do not need to live amidst Hindus to know the Hindu mind when every fiber of my being is Hindu. My Hinduism must be a very poor thing if it cannot flourish under influences of the most adverse. My Hinduism is not sectarian. My Hinduism demands no pacts. I am proud to belong to that Hinduism which is all inclusive”.

Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but this absorption has been an evolutionary, imperceptible character. Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma and so it lives at peace with all religions.

Generally, we believe that the words Religion and “Dharma” are synonymous and interchangeable. Religion literally means that which leads one to God. “Dharma” is derived from the root Sanskrit word “dhri” which means “to hold together”. It has a wider meaning than the word “religion” which mostly denotes the Semitic religions, each one with a fixed formula of one God- One avatar- one book and a fixed creed. There is no equivalent word for Dharma either in English or in any other language. In this sense, Hinduism is not a religion; it’s a “Dharma”. Those who profess the Hindu Dharma and seek to follow it, are guided by spiritual, social and moral rules, actions, knowledge and duties which are responsible for holding the human race together. At the individual or the communal levels it is what is given  in the above quote from Sri Aurobindo’s writings, that is,    “…  a continuously enlarging tradition of the God-ward endeavor of the human spirit”, a journey of consciousness, a progression of the divine manifestation in oneself, an achieved sense of evolution within.

According to Swami Sivananda;

“Hinduism allows absolute freedom to the rational mind of man. It never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason, the freedom of thought, feeling and will of man. Hinduism is freedom, allowing the widest margin of freedom in matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom of human reason and heart with regard to such questions as to the nature of God, soul, form of worship, creation, and the goal of life. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate”.

Hence all manner of religious faiths, various forms of worship or spiritual practices, diverse rituals and customs have found their place, side by side, within the Great Tradition of Hinduism, and are acculturated and developed in harmony with one another. Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation or liberation is possible only through its means and not through any other. It is only a means to an end, and all means that ultimately lead to the final goal are approved of. Hinduism is not bound up with a creed or a book, a prophet or a founder, but it believes in persistent search for truth on the basis of a continuously renewed experience. Hinduism is human thought about God in continuous evolution.

Hinduism is not a religion, but a commonwealth of religions. It is more a way of life than a form of thought…The theist and the atheist, the skeptic and the agnostic may all be Hindus if they accept the Hindu system of culture and life. Hinduism insists not on religious conformity but on a spiritual and ethical outlook of life…Hinduism is not a sect but a fellowship of all who accept the law of right and earnestly seek for the truth.

Religion may be the constitutional necessity of mankind, but Dharma is that which ultimately leads man to his real nature and the Supreme Goal. Believe in your Dharma, believe in truth… be a Hindu before being a follower of any religion. And you will not need religion ultimately, at that stage when you or I have realized our inner self, as the Gita says:

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज ।
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः ॥

Abandoning all duties, come to Me alone for shelter. Be not grieved for I shall release thee from all evils. (Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnana, Bhagavad Gita Shloka 66 of Chapter 18)

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On the eve of Vikram Nav Varsh Samvant 2072. (March 20, 2014)

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Speeches and talks

 

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Time to rediscover Gandhi and to redefine Non-Violence.

My dear friends,

I am thankful to the members of Gandhi Peace Mission 2015 for inviting me to attend the inaugural session of International Peace Summit at Beliaghata, Kolkata, a place which symbolizes inter-community harmony and coherence.

International Peace Summit 2015

To stand and speak in this historical Gandhi Bhawan, where Gandhiji lived during his visits to Kolkata and where he fasted for 25 days from August 13, 1947 during the partition riots, means a lot for me. Thank you once again.

Hope you will agree with me that whenever we talk about Gandhiji, we project non-violence as a weapon against violence. But we forget that if non-violence is a weapon, then it shall not be with individuals, not with common men. Weapons are the tools of violence, all decent men detest them. As a weapon shall be with the government, with the law enforcing agencies only; this is exactly what happened – for us it has become the task of the government, of the law enforcing agencies to ensure non- violence, peace, equality and brotherhood in the society without the contribution of the society at all.

Standing here today, I wish to ponder over Gandhi ji’s role and his philosophy of non-violence in bringing peace in the riot affected Kolkata of August 1947. Once the struggle for independence was over, and the nation was preparing to celebrate its first Independence Day, instead of participating in celebrations, Gandhiji went to Kolkata on a new mission – a mission against communalism, a mission against violence, a mission against hatred. Gandhiji’s Kolkata mission and his fast was not meant to activate the government or the law-enforcing agencies, but to convey the message that non-violence, peace, harmony and brotherhood are our Dharma. As Buddha said ‘अहिंसा परमो धर्मः’, the same thing Gandhiji said again and again to all those who were killing fellow Indians in the name of Dharma itself. He knew that what no army could do, feeling of dharma could. And the miracle happened. The city of hatred became the city of joy. This miracle of Kolkata needs to be propagated, the word “non-violence” needs to be redefined from the perspective of Dharma rather than a weapon. Then only we shall be able to achieve our goal of universal peace and brotherhood.

One more thing I will like to emphasise upon from this platform; we need to understand that no growth is possible in isolation. For growth, for development different factors are required to be there. The government has to realize and understand it. The policies shall be such as will promote interdependence in society. When a seed is put in the ground, and earth and water and air are placed around it, does the seed become the earth, or the air or water? No, it becomes the plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into its own life-material and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. A Hindu is not to become a Muslim, or a Christen; nor a Muslim or Christen has to become a Hindu to live peacefully in today’s world. But each one must assimilate the spirit of the other and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. Then only peace will prevail in our world.

The Kolkata period of Gandhiji was his best period as a Satyagrahi, when at 77 he without any purvagrah (prejudice) was on a mission of peace and love. I personally feel that here in Kolkata, Gandhiji was acting greater than Bhishma Pitamah of Mahabharata. Bhishma was keen to follow his dharma only, but Gandhiji was not only fulfilling his dharma by fasting, by praying but with those actions of his was morally forcing others to follow the dharma. This face of Gandhiji has been neglected by the history. May be we never wanted to tell the world that Gandhiji was not happy with the blood –soaked partition, and he refused even to participate in the ‘celebrations’. This act of courage, where insistence with love, faith and trust brought peace, needs to be shared with our children.

The time has come when we need to ensure that Gandhiji is not deified to be worshipped as a deity in an alcove but that he was always a teacher, with enormous moral compulsion, and we and our children know him as a teacher of immense persuasion. I wish to request all my friend here to take this magic of Gandhiji to schools, colleges and universities using modern technology. Having Gandhi Centers alone will not serve the purpose, we need to take Gandhiji to the masses again. I believe that this summit will ignite a new spark in the nation, especially in the young generation to understand the meaning of peace and brotherhood, and to rediscover the real Gandhi. I am thankful to Dr Sankar Sanyal and Prof Radhakrishnan and all of you for your sincere efforts that Gandhiji remains alive where it matters most—in our heart and mind, and in action of love and peace. May this mission be a success, may we shine in unity, and may we live in peace and remain in harmony with each other always!

Thank you!

(Excerpt of the Inaugural address delivered in International Peace Summit organized by Gandhi Peace Mission 2015 at historical Gandhi Bhawan at Beliaghata, Kolkata on 02 February, 2015)

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2015 in Speeches and talks

 

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