On Higher Education
Keynote Address for Principal’s Conference: A Synopsis
Education and and its Significance is underestimated by many and overestimated by some. It bores politicians, except in so far as they are able to use it for their own political purposes. It bores the general public, because it is regarded merely as something we have “to go through” and be done with, so that we can begin life in right earnest afterwards. National planners regard it primarily in terms of an economic investment and therefore do not get to the depth of the real problems in education. Religious leaders often regard it primarily as a means for expanding and propagating their own religious ideologies, and therefore in that measure fall short of doing justice to education as the instrument of man’s full growth.
Only some educators are tempted to over-emphasize it as the panacea for all the ills of society. In the beginning of our century the expectations from education were much higher than today. Our century began with an optimistic outlook that hard work and a liberal education with the aid of science and technology would usher in the kingdom of God. It has taken two world wars and the current threat of a third one to disabuse us of such vain hopes.
2. What is Higher Education?
Higher or University Education has not been satisfactorily defined in relation either to its content or to its aims. This makes it difficult for us to find satisfactory criteria for evaluating current performance in Indian University Education. Are we accomplishing anything at all in our colleges and universities? Well, we can answer that question only if we know what we are supposed to accomplish.
Education happens to most of the higher animals. In man’s case it takes a little longer, and seems much less effective in equipping him for life. The human child is born more helpless and with fewer abilities than the young of other species. Through a long period of time he has to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to live as a human being. We have institutionalised part of this period of growth — say from age 5 to 21 or 22. Animals become adult without all that prolonged fuss and bother.
I have put the farther limit at 21 or 22 to include undergraduate university education and to exclude post graduate-training. I doubt, however, if I am justified in doing this. Should institutionalized education for every adult include university education? From the way things are in this particular state where we are now meeting, it would appear that most people think of a college education as a kind of rounding off, necessary to obtain a respectable job or a respectable husband, either or both which they regard as necessary for adult life.
Perhaps that is one reason why Higher Education is in such a confused state today. The time has come for us to say quite resolutely that 12 years of education (which would include the present pro-degree or pre-university courses) is sufficient general education for all except highly skilled academic and technical jobs — especially for the clerical cadre. In our State at least, such legislation is necessary to ease the pressure on our colleges and universities.
University admission would have to be limited much more stringently on a merit basis. At present in our State of Kerala more than half of the students who appear for the SSLC examination do not get through at the first chance. There is something radically wrong in such a system.
But if university education is restricted on the basis of merit, are we not paving the way for an elitism? Is this justifiable? Is it avoidable? is it partially remediable?
If university admission is on the basis of merit alone, we would not need as much high an expansion of university facilities as we are now pressed for but are unable to provide. Such education should be free, and at the same time, the economic advantages in life ensuing from a university education should not be so great as to encourage elitism. It is difficult to enforce such a provision in an economy such as ours — mixed and not totally planned.
But only in such a situation can we really remedy the major defects in university education.
All we can do in this address is to make some suggestions for patchwork, within the existing system.
3. Evaluation of Present System
University education had only one purpose in former time to be a place where knowledge and wisdom could be sought, found, and enhanced. This can no longer be held today, simply because knowledge and wisdom for their own sake have ceased to be high values in society. We live in a society where all expenditure of energy, even that spent on play and leisure, has to be functionally oriented. In such a society the university can only be a place where knowledge and skills for a particular purpose can be sought, found or advanced.
Our present universities are to be evaluated primarily in terms of their achievement in training men and women for these particular purposes, and equipping them with the skills and knowledge required.
This in three areas
a) general education in science and humanities
c) higher scientific and technological training and research
There is a strong case for the argument that only category a) should be strictly in the university; but the case for the opposite view seems to be stronger.
The achievements of our universities is perhaps least open to criticism in (b)
In both (a) and (c) we are unable to achieve the standards we ourselves have set.
A different set of criteria for evaluation can be found in the Kothari Commission’s report, page 274 ff:
” a) to seek and cultivate new knowledge, to engage vigorously and fearlessly in the pursuit of truth, and to interpret old knowledge and beliefs in the light of new needs and discoveries;
b) to provide the right kind of leadership in all walks of life, to identify gifted youth and help them develop their potential to the full by cultivating physical fitness, developing the powers of the mind and cultivating right interests, attitudes and moral and intellectual values;
c) to provide society with competent men and women trained in agriculture, arts, medicine, science and technology and various other professions, who will also he cultivated individuals, imbued with a sense of social purpose;
d) to strive to promote equality and social justice and to reduce social and cultural differences through diffusion of education; and
e) to foster in the teachers and students, and through them in society generally, the attitudes and values needed for developing the ‘good life‘ in individuals and society.“
But these are general goals – for universities anywhere today. The Kothari Commission indicates some particular responsibilities for Indian universities:
Serve as “the conscience of the nation” – as “assessors of the national way of life“; a “forum for critical assessment of society – sympathetic, objective, unafraid – whose partiality (sic) and motives cannot be suspected.
(b) to “develop programmes of adult education in a big say, and to that end, to evolve a wide-spread network of part-time and correspondence courses” bridging of the gap between the masses and the intelligentsia is part of this task.
(c) to assist the schools (secondary and elementary) in their attempts at qualitative self-improvement — through experimental schools, advanced courses in their subjects for teachers, training of teachers etc.
(d) to “shake off the heavy load of their early tradition which gives a dominant place to examinations, to improve standards all-round”.
(e) to promote an all round knowledge of Asian and especially Indian civilization and culture, and an awareness of our national identity and heritage.
It is to be noted that the Kothari Commission was not scared by the bogey-man of elitism. The gap between the university elite and the rest of society should be narrowed and bridged by the university itself. The University has a responsibility both to change society, and to act as its conscience.
How is our success to be evaluated at this point? Performance varies from university to university; but none can claim any brilliant success in this regard. I hope this conference would pay special attention to our performance in these regards.
What about the relentless and fearless pursuit of knowledge? Do our universities, especially Christian Colleges, make a significant addition to the sum-total of knowledge every year? Do we create new knowledge by research year by year? Again we must first be our own institutional conscience before we can be the conscience of the nation.
4. Academic Reforms
Can we list below the major academic problems confronting Christian Colleges?
a) Have we liberated our colleges from the undue domination of the examination system and sought to provide a more noble motivation for university education than passing exams and getting jobs?
b) Have we succeeded in breaking down our students‘ general reluctance to engage in physical labour?
c) Have we succeeded at all in relating our colleges to society through student service programmes?
d) Have we succeeded in building better teacher-student relations in the college, through guidance programmes, cocurricular activities for teachers and students together, giving students more significant responsibilities in the life of the college etc.?
e) Have we helped our teachers to stimulate each other and to be stimulated by debates and discussions in which prominent thinkers from the outside participate? Have we given our teachers any incentives for doing research and improving their knowledge and skills?
f) Has our college done anything to promote the qualitative improvement of school education?
g) Have we sought to serve as an objective forum which brings together opposing points of view in society for friendly but honest debate and discussion?
h) Have we sought to evaluate objectively as colleges, with teachers, students and members of the public participating, what is happening in our nation politically, economically, and culturally?
i) How have we sought to make our courses more directly related to the life-issues that confront mankind and our nation today?
5. Administrative Reforms
a) Are we still running our Colleges on the patterns of ancient feudal society, with the Principal as the Lord of the Manor? To what extent are we drawing in our faculty members into college administration, so that they can feel it is their college and thus take a lively personal interest in its work?
b) Have we dealt with the student unrest in our colleges in a humane way, or have we sought the force of impersonal authority to suppress their revolt? Are the management, principal, faculty and students becoming related to each other in a more and more human and less and less formal way?
c) Where we have introduced continuous evaluation by the teacher himself, what have been the overall reach reactions on the part of teachers and students?
d) What new student services have we set up in our colleges — Orientation for new students, health services, guidance, counseling, co-curricular activities, etc.?
e) To what extent have we been successful in evolving a student-led machinery for dealing with student indiscipline?
f) To what extent are we able to give special encouragement to the most gifted students to make the heat use of their time in College? These are only some of the questions. Others will be presented by the various position papers.
6. The Challenges before us
Clearly the criteria set by the Kothari Commission themselves confront us with some of the most exciting challenges. In many cases only our diffidence, lethargy, and fear of uncharted seas that keep us from facing them.
It is perhaps time that Christian colleges stopped looking to the UGC and the Education ministry to give us any lead in university reform. Within the existing structures themselves we have to begin to pioneer — at least in the following most important areas.
a) making students more directly and actively aware of what is going on in the nation economically and politically. This is to be done not through one-sided lectures, but by mutual confrontation of opposing points of view by equally competent exponents. This should he done in the vernacular if necessary, so that students can take full part in the discussion.
b) helping the formation of a representative body of students who will take a responsible and leading part in the formulation of policy for the college, along with management, faculty and the principal. They should also gradually evolve a responsible teacher student court to deal with cases of indiscipline.
c) giving opportunities to students for combining productive manual labour with service to the community, and thereby help develop a new mentality of service in the student body as s whole.
d) giving maximum opportunity and incentives to the teachers to enhance their knowledge, and skill, to do creative research and writing, and to engage in more human and less formal relations with students through invitations to their homes, joint excursions and activities, games etc.
e) win the respect of the whole public by becoming a community of truth and love — i.e. where issues are discussed and clarified in an unbiased and unpretentious spirit, and from where productive, warm, creative, human service flows the surrounding community.
I have purposely refrained from speaking about the religious and moral education role of Christian Colleges. To me such education can mean anything only if it is done in a community of truth and love, where Christians have no special privileges except that of loving service, where all views can be expressed and defended, where there is no alienation either between various groups in the college, or between the college and the public. In such a community, which can be sustained only by a small nucleus of deeply religious and completely dedicated people, a kind of religious and moral education will automatically ensure, but in a living and creative context.
The creation of such communities of Truth and Love remains the major overall challenge before us.