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Rethinking Education

11 years ago | 4693 Views

other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important
ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and
finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these
are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most
important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense, as a vision for
creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment
and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I
want to focus on one of them — education.

reason is we are being outthought. Education in Zimbabwe is creating a
mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate
America or British, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is
turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our
success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times,
that we don’t recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.

is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership
is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society
they still treat as 14th century.

dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education
are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of
productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don’t know
whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a
minister for housing because building education is a totally different
game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with
it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the
multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have
patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at
these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions
policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a
modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of
the modern university.

we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gushungo or Mqabuko
vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class
English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers
our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More
students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than our own Phathisa Nyathi or Ndabezinhle Sigogo.

is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and
miniaturisation. A society’s inversion of Macaulay’s perverse dream.
Macaulay’s arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not
worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced
Western civilisation to a shelf of dull functional books. We then
bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or
cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a
textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher’s
ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an
instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the
tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry
into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.

imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic
civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot
be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be
more inventive.

crucially, India can’t create a history where education mimicked the
violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising
development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to
assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where
craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our
linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.

university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant
for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from
that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but
mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in
the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is
losing out.

need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the
centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of
being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To
a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge

have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have
to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the
tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of
survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a
knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The
democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of
democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we
are a knowledge economy.

The Knowledge Commission actually did not
work. We need such an overall statement which links education to new
ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are
continually rethinking their universities. These changes don’t merely
cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure
of science.

paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a
collection of add-ons. What we need is a new “Educational Report” which
is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to
other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on
Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state
document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in
community and civil society. A project that links all these into a
vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is
do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement
it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our
populism-seeking elite?

Adapted from Shiv Visvanathan article

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