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"Education - The Challenging Relities"

Lecture at the Symbiosis Institute of Management Sudies, Pune, on 24th November 1999.

Prof.Mudholkar;
Learned Members of the Faculty; and

Ladies and Gentlemen;

It is not for the first time that I am amidst you to share my thoughts. All these years - thanks primarily to your Director, I have kept myself informed about the Institutues' activities and the strides that it has made to provide a contemporary orientation and policy frameworks to education that would enable it to cope with challenges and demands of the next millennium. This requires both vision and determination to ensure that coming generations do not miss the Third post-industrial revolution. This requires deep insight and an analytical understanding of the technological revolution that envelopes the world. I am glad to say that the Symbiosis is bravely struggling to meet this call. In the spheres of science and technology, our achievements are praiseworthy. But we as a nation, cannot afford to sit back with songs of laurels on our lips. It is incumbent for academics and the thinkers to critically look at our short-falls and indicate directions for future growth.

These days media is focusing on "The crisis of governance". This concern is valid. The Human Development Report of South Asia has said that South Asia - that includes India, "is the most illiterate, the most malnourished and the least sensitive to the needs of women……." and this to a large extent, is because of grave deficiencies in humane governance that has excluded millions of our compatriots "for being poor, from a different faith, or of the wrong gender; and their exclusion perpetuates deep-rooted social cleavages in society, stifling the region's economic progress, and adding to the significant human distress".

The Report also pertinently tells us that social and economic inequities have led to a growing sense of despair and have pushed many to the fringes of society:

"The richest one-fifth of South Asia's people earn almost 40 per cent of its income while the poorest one-fifth earn less than 10 per cent.

More than a sixth of the region's population, almost 200 million people, are not expected to survive to age 40.

Each day as many as 100,000 children in South Asia sell their bodies simply to earn enough to survive."

Apart from such deficiencies in governance, there are several deficit areas in our nation's life that require urgent attention. We must appreciate that education, training and skills to the young and upcoming citizens is of supreme importance. Human development, in other words has to be the core of our efforts and the most effective means of realizing this goal is to redouble our efforts in the fields of literacy, education and training. We must focus on such strategies as would eradicate illiteracy and the universalise the basic education, improve the quality of education and take affirmative steps to enable all children to complete primary, secondary, vocational and higher education. And particularly ensure full and equal access to education for girls and women. I have, no doubt, that this approach steadfastly pursued holds the promise of great success and we must re-dedicate ourselves to these objectives, while finding ways and means to strengthen commitments and priorities in this area.

The more I consider this matter, the more I am convinced that it is education and learning that offers solutions for the future. The fact of the matter is that in today’s world, commodities and materials are in abundant supply. Whether one considers steel or oil or automobiles or ships or computer chips or telecom lines, the fact of the matter is that all these products and, like most others, are often in over supply. On the other hand, the item that is in perpetual scarcity and short supply is human learning and ingenuity, in particular, the skills and talents of well-educated and trained professionals. Whether it is computer programmers or systems analysts, whether it is designers or engineers or surgeons or doctors, professionals with any degree or skill and competence in their respective fields command a significant scarcity value and their earnings and remuneration levels are increasingly reflecting these scarcities.

Our education policies are confronted with several deficiencies. Years ago the Constitution of India had said "the state shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years". Let us recall that the promised ten years expired in 1962. Yet the stark reality of millions of our children even more specifically the girls, not going to school confronts us. I am conscious that the quoted Article-45 is a non-justiciable part of the Constitution. Is it not time that we make the 'Directive Principles of State Policy' from Article 43 to 51 enforceable by law ? There is a discernible talk about review of the Constitution. Whatever may be the other merits or de-merits of this moot, the nation will turn a crucial corner if our half a century old Republic were to make the Directive Principles enforceable by law. A few modifications may be needed but sustainance of its spirit will give an added vigour to our democracy since its attention will be focussed on issues that are vital and basic. Can there any programme more important than eradication of mass illiteracy? Efforts in this direction are afoot but the achievement fall short of our ambitions.

May I say higher education needs a sustained attention. Paucity of resources must not come in the way of making our institutions excellence-oriented. This must aim at preparing professionals to develop, manage, teach in and influence our public, private and non-governmental institutions. "Institutions of higher education bear a profound moral responsibility to increase the awareness, knowledge, skills and values that equip individuals to pursue life goals without adversely affecting human health and the environment. Higher education is one of the significant but largely overlooked leverage points in creating a just and sustainable society". This induces me talk at some length about the realities of environmental deteriorations that we are doomed to suffer. Yet there are few educational institutions in our country that accord it the due attention. I am conscious that there are structural difficulties that confront our educational institutions. But these must be surmounted. Since "understanding the interactions between population, human activities and the environment; and developing strategies, technologies and policies for an environmentally sustainable future are among the most complex issues with which society must deal. These issues cross disciplinary boundaries making it very difficult to convene the skills necessary for effective teaching and research. Educational institutions encourage the development of specialist knowledge in traditional disciplines rather than inter-disciplinary study".

"The values and assumptions of these disciplines, as well as their connections and conflicts, are largely invisible and infrequently discussed in formal education, even though they have created the current paradigm. For example, neo-classical economics views the economic system as separate from the bio-sphere rather than one of its sub-systems. Engineers believe that most human based technology is an improvement over 'natural technology' and feed economists' assumptions that science and technology can substitute for any resource we deplete, or any species or eco-system we destory. This will require comprehensive short and long-term educational change, necessitating unprecedented leadership and commitment by colleges, universities and professional schools……".

I am quoting this from the 'World Development - Aid and Foreign Development - 1999-2000' report. I endorse its urgings when it says: "Learning methods must embrace inter-disciplinary systems thinking to address environmentally sustainable development on local, regional and global scales, both in the short and long-term. Education must have the same 'lateral rigour' across the disciplines as the 'vertical rigour' in the disciplines. The context of learning must change to make the human/environment interdependence, and its values and ethics, a central part of teaching in all the disciplines rather than allowing it to be a subject for environmental specialists' concern alone".

In saying all this, perhaps I am spelling an agenda for the Symbiosis Institute - not wholly but at least some part.

You would have noticed that the challenges are calling for internal re-adjustments for economic and social priorities. Because of the colonial-cum-feudal baggage that has not yet been shed, we are now seeing that the quality of education suffers from class, castes and regional discriminations. Even the medium of education varies from group to group. The affluent have access to better education and English medium, while the poorer section of society are doomed to get their children educated in sub-standard schools at the mediums that do not adequately prepare them to face the challenges of the future. Emphasis on the market economy is causing its shadow on education too. State interventions in this sphere as yet are inadequate not only because of its lack of resources but also absence of political will.

I am not making any unheard of revelation when I say that wealth of a nation lies in its people. A skilled people apart from meeting their day to day needs generate economic surpluses that push the nation’s growth upwards. A view of the hind tells us that not enough was done to develop the needed skills and capabilities of our people. Not that much was not done but the challenge has been so formidable that this much was not enough. Once we succeed in making the poor productive the prospect for banishment of poverty gets within the reach.

The high mark of 20th century was that a mass non-violent movement successfully trounced a mighty empire. Vision of the father of our Nation had an uncanny method of mobilising the people to join the heroic struggle. His strategy was built on educating the un-lettered masses to discover a new meaning in the traditions of our civilization. As the struggle developed he succeeded in ushering in an era of attitudinal change towards the social relationships amongst the castes and the family members. He placed high value on status of women. He was the one who asked his followers and the admirers to eradicate illiteracy. The slogan was:" Each one teach one". Of course he was concerned about the rising population and drew the Nation’s attention to it several times though the methods he suggested were based on the tradition of self restraint that made little impact.

I do not hesitate to say, we did not succeed in wholly owning the 20th century even though the building of a modern Nation state has not been a mean achievement. There is much that we can be proud of but we must ensure that the 21st century moves in our favour.

Fortunately, it has now been established that eradication of illiteracy and primary education, particularly amongst women is a sure route to containment of population growth.

Friends, you will kindly recall that in my address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 15th August, 1997, I had emphasised importance of educating the girl child. This alone can usher in the process of social transformation that will take us to our destiny.

We all know that of the twenty five million children that are brought to this world by Indian parents every year, nearly half are girls. If we were to hand out to them what our constitution had promised that is their right to education the kismat of this nation would be undoubtedly rosy. This is not a distant dream. It only require a commitment. If on the fateful day of our nation’s dawn "we the people of India" had given to ourselves a viable democracy, we may now recall the same spirit and ensure that each and every child shall be in a school acquiring the appropriate skills then the "last person" to which Gandhi Jee referred will be made self reliant. This alone will enable India to play its role and occupy the appropriate space in the comity of nations.

This rate of demographic growth about which we are deeply concerned has not been similar in every part of the country. Sustained efforts and enlightened outlook on part of the local leadership in some staes have been able to reduce the rate of growth of population while many have not. Generally speaking, the States located in the southern part of our country have managed their population growth remarkably, while most of the States in the northern part of the country, particularly the Hindi belt, still have very high rate of growth of population.

Demographic studies in more successful States, especially in Kerala, bears out that four major forces have operated in tandem to achieve their success. These are, one, a strong political commitment to small family norm and family planning programme by all political parties in power or out of power. Two, provision of primary education for all especially the girl child; thirdly, greater economic equity and social participation in development; and finally, reduction in infant mortality and better and more easily accessible family planning services.

It is important that we transplant these Kerala policies and programs all over the country.

Once we are in a position to impart education, the disadvantaged people who presently lack power, would know their rights interests and their own problems in a way which no one else can do - least of all those who possess greater power, and wield that power against their interests. Therefore, democracy is an essential part of people centered development. We need to ask ourselves if, after 50 years, we have allowed this silenced majority the freedom and the mechanisms through which they can express their wishes and views peacefully and without fear. Accordingly, the Government and its executive at all levels and even more at the local levels must be accountable to the people on whose behalf they claim to act.

The empowerment of women is a crucial factor that is a desirable goal by itself but it is also powerful means for achieving rapid declines in unwanted fertility and population stabilization. Women can be empowered through a number of programmes; by providing them with modern, secular education; by giving them better skills; by providing them with employment opportunities outside home; and securing them independent income. Also by enabling their proper representations in managerial, political and administrative positions of power and responsibility. And finally by recognizing them as equal and responsible partners in all our developmental and nation building efforts. In this context we need not only enlightened men but also social reformers and leaders to carry the message of gender equity and empowerment across the country.

Thank you very much.

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles