Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Defying The 'Hindu' Rate of Education

India used to be known as a sickly economy, known for its 'Hindu Rate of Growth'. A term originally coined by Economist Raj Krishna, to explain India's lowly rate of growth of 3.5% annually between 1950s and 1980s, the 'Hindu Rate of Growth' was to mean what the Economists call the Secular Rate of Growth, which means just the trend level of growth - the rate at which nothing really changes. India somewhat escaped the Hindu rate of Growth starting 1990s, when freeing up of the entrepreneurial energies of Indians allowed the economy to progress, and some changes did indeed happen, particularly in the Middle Class life and in the Cities. However, lately, this faltered and India returned to an anorexic growth rate. 

So, the primary job of the newly elected Hindu Nationalist government in New Delhi is to prevent India going back to its 'Hindu rate of Growth'.

But we can introduce another term in the same vain, the 'Hindu Rate of Education', which may be used for a similar meaning - the rate of education which keeps society as it is - to represent a similarly daunting challenge for the new government. There is some growth to be squeezed out of structural inefficiencies, but if an Indian miracle has to happen, it will happen only by transforming the Indian education model.

Post-Independence, India built a top-down state, very much around the British bureaucratic model. The Indian education system was built to support this model, to create bureaucrats who can control everything from the commanding heights of the state machinery and large corporations and banks. While this principle of statecraft may have been abandoned in the nineties, the attendant idea of education have now survived five decades: Education is still for social privilege in India, a good job, dowry etc. This is for the select few who will rule, manage or lead the others. This idea refuses to die: The previous government made bold noises about vocational education - education for the less able as if it is their fault - and wasted a lot of money on it. Underlying this, however, was the same Elite-Commoner divide that I am complaining about.

Seen this way, India's rather pathetic enrolment ratio of 15% - only 1 in 8 eligible young people go into Higher Education - sounds about right. This is not about citizenship; this is not about economic possibility; this is not about knowing India and contributing to society. This rate - this is The Hindu Rate of Education - is reflective of how India saw education.

The attempts to change it by expanding capacity has failed. Even if the capacity was expanded manifold - more than half of India's higher education capacity has been created in the last six years - the enrolment rate declined to budge. Part of this is India's growing young population; but the other part is the pointlessness of the whole education business in India.

There may be new colleges with shiny infrastructure, but no new ideas: The best Indian colleges could do is try to borrow curriculum and ideas from their old colonial masters, Britain, and some from America. For all the expansion, there is not a single coherent discussion about how education should be in India. Rather, Higher Ed is the playground for political privileges; donations to a local politician is the best way to set up an university there. And, indeed, India has some really frightening universities therefore, with no efforts to do anything meaningful. No one can blame the students shying away from these places, and in fact, that they do is good for the nation: There is nothing worse than bad education, and citizens who think they are educated when they are not. (Or, more practically, when incompetent Engineers build bridges, Doctors who bought their certificates perform operations, or, on a personal note, you submit to an untrained dentist's chair)

The new Indian government has made its intent clear: That they want a Hindu system of Education. Though this has no connection with what we imply with the 'Hindu rate of Education', the former is likely to reinforce the latter. Hindu education, which is basically the education of the classics and the arts for a select few (in fact, most castes are prohibited from learning): This is the problem that underlie the 'Hindu Rate of Education', or the British-imposed Education to Govern (just read English rather than the Vedas).

The argument I am pursuing is that to avoid going back to Hindu Rate of Growth, the Hindu Nationalist Government in Delhi has to break the trap of Hindu Rate of Education: While their minds are set upon a Hindu System, an exclusive, privilege-based idea which aims to produce a governing elite, this is not going to happen. The root-and-branch reform of Indian Higher Ed is not about throwing away English (far from that: I actually believe that India should look at ways of accepting and integrating English without its inherent colonial rhetoric and ideas: See Contra Macaulay)  but throwing away the colonial idea of education for a special social privilege and to create a governing elite.

Indeed, even a rose-eyed optimist knows that it is not going to happen. The people who run the new Higher Education institutions are in the game not to rock the boat but to make money from it. And, the Public Higher Education system is too politicised, too distracted, and too elitist anyway to do anything for anything.

Therefore, a self-perpetuating Hindu Rate of Education will persist. The only hope is that some business person somewhere will realise how fragile all this is, and will change everything. Yes, to make money, but India is one place where one can make a lot of money in Education and build the Google or Facebook of education, rather than making small money to hide under the carpet. All one needs to build is a smart education that works; teachers who teach, courses which make sense, a system that respect and encourage the student rather than demean and intimidate them. All the government has to do, when such a business emerge, is to stay out of its path. This is unlikely (as such an winning idea would upset a lot of powerful people) but the urgency for growth may just allow them to act sensibly.

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