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Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

India’s education needs a massive quality check

Lack of a clear-cut educational policy resulted in institutions becoming victims of apathy

I was appalled by what happened at a university last week. Students of Gujarat’s Kutch University surrounded one of their professors and blackened his face in the classroom. When the professor fell down, two students pulled him up even as a third student continued to smear his face with a black substance. This shocking incident didn’t stop here. Subsequently, the hapless teacher was made to sit on a chair and “final touches" were given to his blackened face.

The rowdy students were so arrogant that they then decided to parade the professor around the campus. Whenever the teacher slowed down, he was pushed from behind or dragged by students walking ahead of him. A few years ago, a similar video had emerged from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, in which a professor was beaten up so badly that he lost his life. Incidentally, both these brutal assaults were carried out by activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

This should not make you assume that ABVP members are the only culprits. You may recall the farce that was enacted on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus two years ago. Students were raising provocative slogans propagating freedom for Kashmir and the disintegration of the Indian union into pieces. Allahabad University, too, witnessed a similarly shameful incident on 5 June. When, in accordance with the orders of the high court, the process of vacating the hostels began, all hell broke loose. A cycle of bombings, violence and setting things afire, was used to intimidate people. Even last year, this university had become infamous for a spate of violent incidents. The student elections here were won by a socialist students union.

The quagmire of dirty party politics had earlier vitiated our political discourse. Now it is the turn of temples of learning.

Let us return to Kutch. The plight of the professor had brought back visions of an incident that was buried in the cache of my childhood memories. I was a student of Class II or III at that time. My family and I were visiting a renowned temple where goats are sacrificed. I saw a man dragging a young goat towards the temple. The goat had been bathed, dressed and caparisoned with a shiny red and golden cloth and adorned an eye-catching tilak on its forehead. I asked my father: “The goat should be happy that it has been decorated. Why is it resisting going towards the temple?" “The goat realises it is being taken there to be sacrificed. No wonder it is dragging its feet," explained my father.

The professor in Kutch was caught in a similar situation. The question is: Since when did our teachers turn into sacrificial lambs? They have been revered by everybody, since times immemorial.

In fact, the lack of a clear-cut educational policy after independence resulted in our educational institutions becoming victims of apathy. There was a time when Allahabad University was known as the Oxford of the East. Banaras Hindu University and Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan were compared with gurukuls. Delhi University was renowned for its classicism and Jawaharlal Nehru University for its progressive values. Pune’s Ferguson and Uttar Pradesh’s Agra College were also rated highly. While teaching here, scholars such as Anant Sadashiv Altekar and Manohar Ray never felt they were second to anybody. The commercialization of education has given us a generation of semi-literate lecturers and rudderless youngsters instead of well-trained experts. The incidents from Ujjain to Kutch are burning examples of this.

Multinational corporations eager to expand their footprint in India often complain that they don’t get good managers. The youngsters complain they don’t get jobs in the first place. Only quality education can bridge this gap between demand and supply. Unfortunately, that is missing in our country. The posts for teachers in our educational institutes are lying vacant. Even if education is being imparted in certain courses, the courses are being run on an ad-hoc basis. Are you surprised when underpaid lecturers—whose job contracts are renewed on an annual basis—sow the seeds of frustration rather than good values in their students?

I urge the members of our Parliament which is disrupted on a day-to-day and session-by-session basis on trivial pretexts, to make sure that they discuss this issue at least once. It is a question of future generations. We cannot keep behaving irresponsibly towards them for too long.

Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin

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