WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
For as long as I can remember, we in India have lived with quite a few myths about education that have contributed largely to (a) education ceasing to be a mission; and (b) the rapidly declining standards of education in the country. This is not to suggest that education was entirely a mission in the ‘good old days’. But what does make a difference is that it was deemed a mission too among other things. The main purpose of education, of course, was “to bring about desirable behavioural changes” in the individual that made him or her a better citizen and a more useful and capable human being. The important difference between education then and education now is perhaps that our teachers regarded their work also as a mission. This was evident from the attention that the weaker students in the class got from their teachers six or seven decades ago. This certainly resulted in remarkable improvements in the performance of many not-so-bright students. Such miracles are getting to be fewer with every passing year. Today, education seems more to be a business like any other, and the sense of mission that teachers evinced in the 1930s and 1940s seems a thing of the past. And like people ceasing to be unduly concerned about the cost of things nowadays, one does not notice any great concern about the rapidly increasing cost of education either. In those days when we went to school, there were very few private schools and the local government high school was deemed to be the best place for secondary education. The medium of instruction was the mother tongue, but English was taught very well by excellent dhoti-clad teachers who knew English grammar like the back of their hands. And what did we pay for such good teaching? Just four rupees a month as tuition fees even in Classes IX and X. Today the tuition fees in the better private schools is so high that many parents are slightly embarrassed even to talk about it.
However, since one is not considered educated enough in India unless one has gone through college and university, it may be useful to consider what precisely are the benefits derived from tertiary education (college and university education) in India. One significant difference between secondary education in Britain and secondary education in India is that any above-average student of the higher classes of a secondary school in Britain would be deemed to be an educated person, while one may not be able to say the same thing with confidence even about an Indian graduate. I have visited both Eton and Rugby in England. I have had fairly long conversations with some senior students. They appeared to be fairly educated not merely because of their ability to sustain a long conversation on current affairs but also from the way they conducted themselves in the presence of an older visitor from abroad. Their mode of conversation and their behaviour marked them as educated persons. I did not take into account their proficiency in English since it was their mother tongue.
The important thing about real education is that it is not necessarily something that one can acquire merely by going through college and university. I have been fascited by one saying about education. It is that education is what remains after one has forgotten all the formulae, equations, maxims and theories that one learnt in school and college. I have often tested this saying in my encounters with people older than me who have forgotten much of what they had studied in college. Dementia has often been the main culprit for this. Do they cease to be reckoned as educated persons merely because of what the disabilities of old age have done to them? I do not think that this is a fair way of judging who is educated and who has ceased to be so.
One of the reasons why we mistake formal and institutiol tokens of education as real education is the importance attached in India to college and university degrees. With the rapid proliferation of so-called institutions of higher education, we have maged to actively contribute to the decline of higher education in India. With hundreds of universities and thousands of colleges that have sprung up in India in just a few decades there has been no proper monitoring of standards by the authorities that are responsible for such tasks. As a result, we have some so-called universities functioning from just two basement rooms. As for colleges, there are several of them functioning around where I live. I do not see groups of students or their teachers in and around most of these colleges. It is possible that most of these colleges get regular grants from the University Grants commission (UGC). It is also quite possible that some of these colleges have come up merely because the ability to show an adequate number of students on the rolls is what is required for such grants. I am convinced that many of these colleges that have sprung up like mushrooms do not have either the number of students or teachers that they claim to have in order to qualify for UGC grants. So, when I say that education has become business nowadays, I am not merely talking about institutions that really impart education and have made it a business to provide education. I have in mind also institutions that do not impart education but merely pretend to do so. Such institutions have turned education into business in the most dastardly form that one can think of. They have turned the pretence of providing education into a dirty business. Such shenigans in respect of education can only result in education being reduced to a discredited ritual. And that is precisely what is happening in India.
One of the best ways of assessing what higher education has done in India or failed to do is to see how some of our educated youths behave. One’s education is best judged by how one conducts oneself with other human beings and how one functions in society. On quite a few occasions I have seen youths parking their large cars in front of my gate right across the public footpath. More than my irritation at finding the entrance to my house blocked, I am aghast at someone who can park a car on a public footpath and block it from being used by pedestrians. What is even more irritating and intriguing is that such conduct can never be expected of a professiol chauffeur. It is only a young man who has been to college who is capable of such lawlessness and such anti-people conduct. Such youths are the most vocal advocates of their lawless conduct and the most enthusiastic judges of the conduct of others every time they get into any conflict with anyone. So what do such arrogant lawbreakers prove? They merely prove that one can go to college and still remain uneducated in the real sense of the term. In other words, they also establish that the humble driver who parks a car in the permissible places and never parks in front of the entrance to somebody’s house thereby blocking a public footpath to pedestrians is really a better educated person in real terms than someone who has been to college but has never maged to be educated as a consequence. There are also a whole lot of formally educated youths in our State who are merrily into the process of looting their own State. They ratiolize what they do habitually by refusing to accept that looting the exchequer is the same thing as looting the State—their Aai Axam. A State’s exchequer is an integral part of the State. No amount of ratiolization or hair-splitting will change that. One always finds people who have been to college and university more enthusiastically engaged in this kind of loot of public money that is euphemistically called ‘business’. This is not to suggest that all those who have not been to college are paragons of virtue. They are in the business of looting the exchequer as well. The difference is that they have not been through college and university and are therefore not as much responsible for the kind of proper conduct expected of ‘educated’ persons. The unfortute part of so-called higher education in India is that it should leave so many of the beneficiaries of education less educated in their conduct than people who have not had the benefit of attending college and university. In India, we have permitted our colleges and universities to produce a large number of beings who may be called the ‘uneducated graduates’.