Prof. KA Isaac Commemoration Lecture :Education for a Changing World by Shri T.P. Sreenivasan, IFS (Retd.) Vice Chairman, Kerala State Council for Higher Education.
I am delighted to be back in the precincts of the Kerala University Library, where I spent the best part of my best years as a student of the University College. I was invited here on an earlier occasion in connection with the acquisition of UN documentation by the Library, but today I am here as the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Kerala Higher Education Council to pay my tribute to the legendary librarian of Kerala, Prof.K.A.Isaac, by delivering the Commemoration Lecture, 2011. Even during my days here as a young student between 1961 and 1966, Prof.Isaac was well known for his scholarship and administrative skill. If I remember right, the University Library moved here at that time and I was among the first batch of students who benefited from the change of venue. In my view, Prof.Isaac was not just a great librarian and a great teacher; he transformed library science and the profession of librarians into a noble and sought after vocation. Till his time, nobody had thought that there was not only science, but also art in taking care of books and making knowledge available to those who seek it. Long before the advent of the computers, he made it possible for students like us to find the right books at the right time. The librarian was as important as the teacher. His contribution will be remembered for long by those of us who were fortunate enough to use this library.
If you had asked me to deliver this lecture two months ago, I would have chosen a different topic, but still connected to the dramatic changes in the world.. I would have spoken of, say, Indian diplomacy in the new world context. Today, my thoughts are focused on higher education in Kerala in the context of the changing world. Like diplomacy, education must also change to suit the needs of the new world, which is changing at a bewildering pace. No other time in history has mankind been subjected to so many changes in a single lifetime. If we look back at the world of just twenty years ago, we would realize the speed and extent of the changes that have overtaken us. Today, we have begun to look upon a person without a cell phone or an email address as though he came from the Neolithic age. But none of us had even heard about such things even twenty years ago. We have no clue what we will be writing with or what we will be speaking into in the next ten, or even five years.
In such a situation, our education today is aimed at a generation which will run this state, this country and this world in the next thirty, forty or fifty years. The question to be asked is whether the education we provide to our children will be beneficial to them in the years 2030 or 2050, about which we know very little. Unless we can comprehend the changes in the offing and try to devise a dynamic education system, we shall be doing a disservice to the future generations. The case for critically examining the curriculum, overhauling, updating and injecting life into it needs no further elaboration.
We have to assess the content of our curricula to identify what to keep, what to cut, and what to create, and where portfolios and other new kinds of assessment fit into the picture. We have to examine programme structures to see how to improve our use of time and space and grouping of teachers and students. We have to see how technology is transforming teaching and how to take advantage of the natural facility of students with technology. We have to identify the best resources for helping students become informed users of multiple forms of media. The challenges of globalization are no less important. At the same time, we have to instill in them enduring values and beliefs that will lead to healthier local, national and global communities. Above all, we have to find the thinking habits that students, teachers, and administrators need to develop and practice to succeed in school, work and life. In other words, our educational institutions should be transformed into learning organizations that match the times we live in and the world in which our children and grandchildren are likely to face.
This bewildering catalog of reforms required in education have been identified by educationists in other countries too, but the challenges are more acute in India and particularly Kerala, where our graduates have to seek employment in countries, where life is changing even at a faster pace. If we cannot cope with the changes in our own backyard, it is even harder to anticipate the needs of other parts of the world. Needless to say, the changing world has made changes imperative in our education system. Changes have been made in the past and sometimes parents and students have lamented frequent changes with no apparent purpose. There has been no dearth of Commissions and Committees, recommendations or exhortations. Education remains like a patient, whose illness has been diagnosed and medicines prescribed, but no treatment administered.
One can also argue against major changes, as some do even today. Our graduates have done reasonably well in different countries and have competed successfully against the graduates of the best universities in the world. We have even instances of self made men, with little or formal education, rising to become millionaires. When we have to educate the masses with scarce resources, we have to focus on quantity rather than quality. Huge investments are not necessary for Kerala model development, which has registered indicators that can match those in the developed world. If the system has largely met our needs, do we need to make massive investments on innovation and reform?
None of us has ready answers to the need for educational reform, but from the diagnosis made by experts, one can at least identify the direction in which we should go. Since increasing educated unemployment is a pressing issue, the obvious answer is to set up courses that will increase the employability of our graduates. We need to anticipate new avenues of employment and design courses that will equip our graduates for these jobs. Weakening of student motivation can be dealt with only by incentives and disincentives. Increasing unrest and indiscipline in campuses should be handled with tact and firmness. Deterioration of standards demands better teachers and better methods of teaching.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh identified politicization of university education as a curse. This is not to be confused with student politics. University campuses have thrown up some competent politicians and more people with talents and skills will enter politics only if they have early training and experience in politics. What ails the system is the tendency to politicize appointments in education at all levels.
Our university system is particularly resistant to change. When experiments and innovations are attempted, they are resisted and if they are enforced, they are implemented half-heartedly. Such innovations as the merit promotion scheme, faculty improvement programme, vocationalisation of courses, and semesterization of courses, annual self appraisal report, college development council, academic staff colleges and refresher and orientation courses have faced different degrees of resistance.
Privatization of higher education has helped in many ways to fill the gap between our needs and the paucity of state resources. The globalization and liberalization have demanded such infusion of private initiative, innovation and entrepreneurship. But private institutions sometimes find it difficult to resist profiteering and further, they accentuate the social divide. Kerala can be legitimately proud of several private institutions, which constantly strive to reach excellence. In fact, some of them have the potential to become world class institutions. Combined with greater participation of the industry at the planning level and increased investment, the private institutions should be able to make a major contribution to educational reform in the state.
The need for reform in education for a changing world is beyond question. The magnitude of the problem and its complexity are such that changes can become only gradually and slowly. But an important and immediate need is to give all institutions a level playing field and give them an equal opportunity to achieve excellence. The world had committed itself to expend nine percent of its GDP to education and health at the dawn of the millennium. Many countries, including India, have not reached that target as yet and a movement has started, in which children demanded, “Nine is Mine”. Additional resources and imaginative and innovative changes are needed to have an educational system for the changing world.
Against the backdrop of the need for reform and innovation, the role of the Kerala Higher Education Council is modest. It is less than five years old and its impact on higher education is yet to be felt. But it has already made a beginning and the new Council, less than two months old, has formed its Agenda 2012, consisting of implementation of some of the decisions of the previous Council and some new proposals. The Agenda 2012 is neither comprehensive, nor exclusive. We are open to suggestions and proposals from the academic community and experts. A consultative process has already begun and our doors remain open. As it stands today, Agenda 2012 reads as follows:
1. Programme of Scholarships
2. Restructuring Undergraduate Education
3. Erudite Programme
5. Review of University Acts
6. Restructuring of Postgraduate education
7. State policy on Higher Education
8. Anti-ragging Campaign
2. Institutions -Industry Linkages
3. Building of Institutions of Excellence
4. Training Programmes for Teachers
5. Students and Teachers Exchange Programmes
6. Seminars and conferences
7. Assist the Government in setting up an IIT and Malayalam University
8. Vision 2030 (Education)
9. Right to Education Act- Special Course for Teachers
An additional thought that the Council has is to seek collaboration with some of the world class universities. A Kerala delegation was in London last week to attend an important meeting of the UK-Kerala Forum organized by a British Member of Parliament, Mr.Virendra Sharma, who has developed extraordinary interest in British investments in Kerala after a recent visit to Kerala. He is being characterized as Kerala’s Member in the British Parliament. He not only chaired the meeting, but also involved his friends in the British Parliament and major British agencies and companies in the consultations. Our Minister, Mr. Shibu Baby John, our MP, Mr. Anto Antony, our MLAs, Mr.Mons Joseph, Mr. T.U.Kuruvilla and Mr. Randathani participated in the consultations. An enthusiastic group of private entrepreneurs in the UK and in Kerala facilitated this important event, which was held in the British Parliament building itself. I have had detailed consultations with universities and other institutions in the meeting itself and outside. Similar consultations will be held with institutions in other countries. I have no doubt that fruitful collaboration can be established within the guidelines for such cooperation established by the Government.
India has a long tradition of running world class institutions, which have attracted scholars from other countries of the world. Some aspects of the ancient system of Gurukulam education are being rediscovered today. But the influence of the colonial system and the educational system devised to meet its needs have been largely responsible for the deterioration of our standards and distortion of our objectives. Today, even our best universities do not figure on the list of the best world class universities. The time has come for us to build institutions of excellence once again, rooted in our traditions, but capable to meet the challenges of change.
T.P. Sreenivasan, (IFS 1967)
Former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA
Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council, Thiruvananthapuram
Member, National Security Advisory Board,
Member, India-UK Roundtable,
Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.