The Indian tradition of knowledge quest flourished on the pillars of certain basic axioms that could be relevant, rather more relevant, in the current times. One of the most prominent among these was elaborated by jurist and economist Nani Palkhivala: “In ancient India, kings and emperors thought it a privilege to sit at the feet of a man of learning. Intellectuals and men of knowledge were given the highest honour in society. King Janak, himself a philosopher, journeyed on foot into the jungle to discourse with Yajnavalka on high matters of state. In the eight century, Shankaracharya travelled on foot from Kerala to Kashmir and from Dwarka in the west to Puri in the east. He could not have changed men’s minds and established centres of learning in the far-flung corners of India but for the great esteem and reverence which intellectuals enjoyed.” Palkhivala contrasts this with the current position: “Unfortunately, in our own times, we have downgraded the intellectual and have devalued the very word. Today, an intellectual means a man who is intelligent enough to know which side his bread is buttered.”
We have all seen the change on both sides. The commitment levels of the learned and scholarly leave much to be desired. The state patronage to them has also diminished visibly. These have social repercussions as well. While the scramble for coveted posts and positions in the academia is now public knowledge, the erosion in the state’s consideration towards teachers and scholars is no secret. Six decades ago, the headmasters of primary and middle schools were accorded exemplary social recognition. The vice-chancellors were considered embodiments of knowledge, scholarship, devotion and commitment to create new knowledge and pass it on to generations ahead. They lived a value-based life as they knew they were the role models for the young and also in society. Not so now. One could become a kulpati in spite of inadequate academic and professional attainments. Every time some global list of top university rankings appears, laments pour in on the poor quality of intellectual work. Insiders know that current conditions provide little motivation for quality education, research and innovations.
Higher education system in India is in a state of considerable ferment. Number of aspirants ready to join higher education is increasing while the state support to it is, in real terms, on the decline. The number of faculty positions has not gone up to match the enrolment. It applies to school systems also where several lakh sanctioned positions are vacant and an equal number is being handled by part-time para teachers who are always unsure of their job security. Has, exceptions apart, deemed university system brought down the credibility of higher education systems which, simultaneously, is also a consequence of the confusions created by regulatory bodies in higher and technical education? Is it not ironical that while we need higher participation rates in higher education, our management and technical education institutions are being wound up in droves? Simply, the products were not provided adequate levels of education and training, and knowledge and skills to match the requirement of the labour market.
The sheen of an MBA or BTech degree evaporated within a few years of privatisation taking shape. Across the line, from schools to universities, deficiencies and deprivations abound resulting in low learner attainments and lower levels of quality output in the quest for new knowledge. All this is a consequence of lack of appreciation of the intricate bond between the intellectual and the state. The weakening of this bond impacts quality adversely. India needs long-term strategies to restore this symphony to ensure that education prepares every individual to live ‘as he wills, short of infringing on the equal freedom of others to do the same’. That education alone would give dignity to every human being. firstname.lastname@example.org