Blackboards to call our own

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

I have recounted this incident before and I do so again. Many years back, David R. Watkins of the US Environmental Protection Agency once said, “India and Indian scientists should be grateful to the US for feeding India and giving it so much aid and assistance…they should be prepared to do what they are told to do by the US.” He wanted the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and me to work on the toxification and metabolism of chlorinated aromatics, banned as pesticides in the US.

It is not difficult to imagine that this was one way of controlling our agro-chemical and seed production.

There are ways and means to such subtle indoctrination. The proposal to allow foreign universities will only end up with them controlling higher education in the country. It will lead to a scenario where our students will be taught to privilege US actions and priorities over everything else. We have no place for foreign universities in our country. Eighty per cent of our engineers are unemployable and the arrival of foreign universities, and their readily getting accreditations from the AICTE or the MCI, as envisaged in the Foreign Education Providers’ Bill, will only make it worse.

I remember a desperate engineer with a first-class degree asking me for a job. He was willing to settle down for a salary as low as Rs 2,000 per month. But I was shocked at his appalling ignorance in answering some of the questions I posed to him. They were questions meant for a high school student. Is this what we want in the country? Colleges selling dubious degrees to Indian students who are not fit for employment in India? We are producing tremendous mediocrity. What kind of education are we seeking to impart?

The motive behind the Bill is the craze for anything western—a middle-class craving that seeks endorsement from the West. Just as we take pride in sending our children to private schools, we like to send them abroad for a degree. And just as there are good government schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas, there are excellent colleges and universities here. But the question is, with 22,000 affiliated colleges already in the country, how many of them are setting standards in higher education? We need 3,000 universities and have 300—of which, perhaps 10 make it to the A grade. Isn’t it time we worry about the quality of education we are providing to our students?

My suggestion is to pick at least 1,000 Indian colleges and turn them into universities. We have all the recipes available within the country. We don’t need anyone from outside. Incoming foreign universities will be driven by commerce and the need to repatriate profits to parent organisations. And in any case, we will get only second and third-rate universities who will spend a fortune advertising their excellence. Tell me, does a JNU advertise its facilities and staff? Does a St Stephen’s use the power of multimedia to sell itself?

But, above all, a successful education system needs a bottom-to-top approach and not the other way round. We need to allocate money for improving primary and secondary education and work our way to the top. And we have to decommercialise education. It is not a commodity on sale.

Reference: Blackboards to call our own. P.M. Bhargava. Outlook, 22 June 2009, p.34

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