Thursday, April 7, 2011

Face-to-Face (Interview by News Magazene, School of Educators)

Education reflects a society’s fundamental assumptions: Dr. Anoop Swarup

Professor Anoop Swarup, presently Vice Chancellor at Shobhit University is a recipient of Presidential Award, Republic of India in 2003, has 43 commendations for distinguished service. He has been a Finance Expert with the United Nations and the Govt of India having extensively worked in public, private and not for profit sectors. A Fulbright Visitor to the United States in 2005, he founded Global Knowledge Alliance in 1996, was Patron, Melbourne School of Knowledge Management, Australia, and had set up ‘Sambhav' Trust for deaddiction in 2008, ‘Sambhavami’, to promote microenterprises in 1992 and ‘Youth and Biosphere’ for environmental consciousness in 1984. Prof Swarup has studied and taught both in India and abroad having a brilliant academic career with a Doctorate and three Masters, has extensively traveled globally having represented the Government and the United Nations on various international forums. Has a very rich career profile starting as a research fellow with the UGC and CSIR in 1980, joined GIC in 1981, Civil Services: IRS in 1985 was ED at NYKS & Director in Ministry of HRD and Ministry of Finance and as Commissioner in various capacities with the Govt of India. Nominated as a Fellow of World Business Institute and Member of International Institute of Strategic Studies he has earlier been a National Gandhi Fellow, Research Fellow with CSIR and UGC as also a National Science Talent Scholar with NCERT. A GEO Reviewer with IPCC he has been a visiting Professor/ Resource Person with WIPO, WWF, WII, WTO, WCO, IIMA, NACEN, NIFM and NADT and Monash University, Australia. He has authored and edited many books that include ‘Money laundering, Commercial Frauds & Financial Crimes’ and ‘Regional Economic Engagements & Free Trade Agreements' and over 200 other publications.
·              Education should ensure access, dignity and social mobility.
·              You educate a girl child and you educate the entire family & country.
·              Government is acting as a controller instead of being a facilitator or a regulator.
·              Abolition of 10th Board is not in consonance with Gandhi’s vision and for reaping the country’s demographic dividend.
1.           Your career has been very challenging one: from a National Science Talent Scholar in India to General Insurance in London and from Indian Revenue Service in India to a Professor at Monash in Melbourne and from the United Nations in New York to a Vice Chancellor here ! What have been your driving force, rewards, regrets and challenges?
         Question is a difficult one! Initially I started my career as a researcher with the National Science Talent Scholarship of NCERT and later on fellowship with the CSIR, and with the UGC. However on joining the public sector, General Insurance Corporation of India and later the Indian Revenue Service or at the United Nations and now in the academics, I have felt that the challenge to bring about a change for the better for the society really lies in trying to be better than the best, to put your heart and soul at the job on hand. Thus, while fighting the smugglers and the drug traffickers on the ground and facing their bullets head on, I have been extremely fortunate in having survived or later while investigating a number of key cases ranging from hawala and money laundering to commercial frauds and tax evasion against well known traffickers, smugglers and even high profile individuals my driving force was the unstinted support, comradiere and teamwork of my team. My success, be it the first posting as a Assistant Collector and SPS in difficult and far-flung border areas or at the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence Headquarter in Delhi and as Director Anti Smuggling, in the Union Finance Ministry and later as a Commissioner of Customs, or with the United Nations, can be directly attributed to team ship. I am grateful for the reward and recognition both within and outside the civil service, be it the Presidential Award for undertaking risk of life or the Presidential award for distinguished of service to the nation beyond the call of duty. The challenges as also the rewards have always been different more so in the academic arena as the outcomes have always been different. If I reflect back the only short cut to success is hard work and more hard work discipline, drive and dedication.
2.           You are the follower of Gandhi ji, now with Anna ji and for the past 30 years shouldering a lot of other responsibilities. How do you manage all these?
         I always remember Mahatma Gandhi’s “My Experiments with Truth” that I read during my school days and his mantra for me has been “When you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man, if he gains anything by it, if it restores him control over his own life and destiny, and whenever in doubt my ‘self’ melts away. Yes I regard myself as a very humble proponent of the ‘Lokpal movement’ from its very inception, being an ardent supporter of Annaji from the 90s when I was the Executive Director of Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan always have been a believer in transparency and the right to information and the participation of civic society in the democratic process and nation building. Thus, I believe that if you are passionate about your work and your ideals, you have to draw a “work-life balance” as every moment in your life counts and time management takes care of itself.
3.           Do you support the abolition of class 10th Board Exams?
         No, not at all, as the abolition of class 10th Board exam is not in consonance with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of skill-based vocational education that ensures access, dignity, social mobility and employability for our youth. In our country, poor parents can ill-afford higher education for their children even at 10 + level. Also if we have to take the advantage of India’s democratic dividend for the nation’s GDP growth, we do need skill-based training just after the 10th Board Exams more so as 52 % of the population is 25 years and less as the country keeps getting younger for many more years to come. The 10th Board provided uniformity of assessment across the country and considering the simple fact that further education even at + 2 level may not at all be necessary for a majority of our youngsters. This is evidenced by the stark fact that due to economic and social reasons India has one of the highest school dropout rates at 88 %. Incidentally, for a skill deficit nation as ours where at the policy level we talk a lot about dignity of labour but act little and where only 12 % of the population is skilled and only 2% receive any formal skilling. Unfortunately the ITIs and the polytechnics can accommodate only 10 lakh students and therefore it is the schools that should provide skilling and vocational education for gainful employment in multiple trades to these year ten students. I am all the more convinced on the lack of perspective and vision amongst our planners every time I visit abroad and study the skilling process in countries such as Australia, UK, USA and even China.
4.           Is the Grading system relevant in the Indian context?
         Yes, very much! We live in a global village where we have to keep pace with the changing standards, values and advancements in our understanding of human ethos and the educational dynamics. International grading system ensures continuity in imparting knowledge, better participation, close and continuous assessment and evaluation where the teacher has to be constantly in touch with the students and involved in their academic monitoring and knowledge dissemination. This having been adopted all over the world as better innovation should also be integrated in both the schools and university education in India.
5.           Mahatma Gandhi and education in India
         One of the most widely-quoted aphorisms of Mahatma Gandhi is,
         "Be the change you want to see in the world."
         The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is! We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist, there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.
         Given Gandhi’s values and his vision of what constituted a truly civilized and free India, it was not surprising that he developed firm views on education. Education not only moulds the new generation, but reflects a society’s fundamental assumptions about itself and the individuals which compose it. His experience in South Africa not only changed his outlook on politics but also helped him to see the role education played in that struggle. He was aware that he had been a beneficiary of Western education and for a number of years while he was in South Africa, he still tried to persuade Indians to take advantage of it. However, it was not until the early years of this century, when he was in his middle thirties, that he became so opposed to English education that he could write about 'the rottenness of this education' and that 'to give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them ... that, by receiving English education, we have enslaved the nation'.  He was enraged that he had to speak of Home Rule or Independence in what was clearly a foreign tongue, that he could not practice in court in his mother tongue, that all official documents were in English as were all the best newspapers and that education was carried out in English for the chosen few. He did not blame the colonial powers for this. He saw that it was quite logical that they would want elite of native Indians to become like their rulers in both manners and values. In this way, the Empire could be consolidated. Gandhi blamed his fellow Indians for accepting the situation. Later in his life he was to declare that 'real freedom will come only when we free ourselves of the domination of Western education, Western culture and Western way of living which have been ingrained in us. Emancipation from this culture would mean real freedom for us'.
6.     As we have seen, Gandhi ji had not only rejected colonial education but also put forward a radical alternative. So what was this alternative? What was so radical about it?
         First of all, I need to say a word about Mahatma Gandhi’s attitude towards industrialization. He was absolutely opposed to modern machinery. In his Collected Works, he refers to machinery as having impoverished India that it was difficult to measure the harm that Manchester had done to them by producing machine-made cloth which, in turn, ruined the internal market for locally-produced hand-woven goods. Typically of Gandhi, however, he does not blame Manchester or the mill owners. 'How can Manchester be blamed?', he writes. 'We wore Manchester cloth and this is why Manchester wove it'. However, he notes that where cloth mills were not introduced in India, in places such as Bengal, the original hand-weaving occupation was thriving. Where they did have mills e.g. in Bombay, he felt that the workers there had become slaves. He was shocked by the conditions of the women working in the mills of Bombay and made the point that before they were introduced these women were not starving. He maintained that 'if the machinery craze grows in our country, it will become an unhappy land'. What he wanted was for Indians to boycott all machine-made goods not just cloth. He was quite clear when he asked the question 'What did India do before these articles were introduced?' and then answered his own question by stating 'Precisely the same should be done today. As long as we cannot make pins without machinery, so long will we do without them. The tinsel splendour of glassware we will have nothing to do with, and we will make wicks, as of old, with home-grown cotton and use hand­made earthen saucers or lamps. So doing, we shall save our eyes and money and support swadeshi and so shall we attain Home Rule'.
         Within this context of the need for a machine-less society, Gandhiji developed his ideas on education. The core of his proposal was the introduction of productive handicrafts in the school curriculum. The idea was not simply to introduce handicrafts as a compulsory school subject, but to make the learning of a craft the centerpiece of the entire teaching programme. It implied a radical restructuring of the sociology of school knowledge in India, where productive handicrafts had been associated with the lowest groups in the hierarchy of the caste system. Knowledge of the production processes involved in crafts, such as spinning, weaving, leather-work, pottery, metal-work, basket-making and book binding, had been the monopoly of specific caste groups in the lowest stratum of the traditional social hierarchy. Many of them belonged to the category of ‘untouchables’. India’s own tradition of education as well as the colonial education system had emphasized skills such as literacy and acquisition of knowledge of which the upper castes had a monopoly.
         Gandhi’s proposal intended to stand the education system on its head. The social philosophy and the curriculum of what he called ‘basic education’ thus favoured the child belonging to the lowest stratum of society. in such a way it implied a programme of social transformation. It sought to alter the symbolic meaning of ‘education’ and to change the established structure of opportunities for education.
         Why Gandhi proposed the introduction of productive handicrafts into the school system was not really as outrageous as may appear. What he really wanted was for the schools to be self-supporting, as far as possible. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, a poor society such as India simply could not afford to provide education for all children unless the schools could generate resources from within. Secondly, the more financially independent the schools were, the more politically independent they could be. What Gandhi wanted to avoid was dependence on the state which he felt would mean interference from the centre. Above all else, Gandhi valued self-sufficiency and autonomy. These were vital for his vision of an independent India made up of autonomous village communities to survive. It was the combination of swaraj and swadeshi related to the education system. A state system of education within an independent India would have been a complete contradiction as far as Gandhi was concerned.
         He was also of the opinion that manual work should not be seen as something inferior to mental work. He felt that the work of the craftsman or labourer should be the ideal model for the ‘good life’. Schools which were based around productive work where that work was for the benefit of all were, therefore, carrying out education of the whole person - mind, body and spirit.
         The right to autonomy that Gandhi’s educational plan assigns to the teacher in the context of the school’s daily curriculum is consistent with the libertarian principles that he shared with Tolstoy. Gandhi wanted to free the Indian teacher from interference from outside, particularly government or state bureaucracy. Under colonial rule, the teacher had a prescribed job to do that was based on what the authorities wanted the children to learn. Textbooks were mandatory so that Gandhi found that 'the living word of the teacher has very little value. A teacher who teaches from textbooks does not impart originality to his pupils'. Gandhi’s plan, on the other hand, implied the end of the teacher’s subservience to the prescribed textbook and the curriculum. It presented a concept of learning that simply could not be fully implemented with the help of textbooks. Of equal, if not more importance, was the freedom it gave the teacher in matters of curriculum. It denied the state the power to decide what teachers taught and what they did in the classroom. It gave autonomy to the teacher but it was, above all, a libertarian approach to schooling that transferred power from the state to the village.
         Gandhi’s basic education was, therefore, an embodiment of his perception of an ideal society consisting of small, self-reliant communities, with his ideal citizen being an industrious, self-respecting and generous individual, living in a small co-­operative community.
         For informal educators, we can draw a number of useful pointers. First, Gandhi’s insistence on autonomy and self-regulation is reflected in the ethos of informal education. Gandhi’s conception of basic education was concerned with learning that was generated within everyday life which is the basis on which informal educators work. It was also an education focused on the individual but reliant on co-operation between individuals. There is also a familiar picture of the relationships between educators and students/learners:
         A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them. He who learns nothing from his disciples is, in my opinion, worthless. Whenever I talk to someone I learn something from him. I take from him more than I give him! In this way, a true teacher regards himself as a student of his students. If you will teach your pupils with this attitude, you will benefit much from them. Lastly, it was an education that aimed at educating the whole person, rather than concentrating on one aspect. It was a highly moral activity.
7.     How do you perceive pre-Independence and post-Independence educational scenarios in India?
         Literacy in India is key for socio-economic progress, and the Indian literacy rate grew to 74.04% in 2011 from 12% at the end of British rule in 1947. Although this was a greater than six fold improvement, the level is well below the world average literacy rate of 84%, and India currently has the largest illiterate population of any nation on earth. Despite government programs, India's literacy rate increased only "sluggishly," and a 1990 study estimated that it would take until 2060 for India to achieve universal literacy at then-current rate of progress. The 2011 census, however, indicated a 2001-2011 decadal literacy growth of 9.2%, which is the slower than the growth seen during the previous decade.
         There is a wide gender disparity in the literacy rate in India: effective literacy rates (age 7 and above) in 2011 were 82.14% for men and 65.46% for women. The low female literacy rate has had a dramatically negative impact on family planning and population stabilization efforts in India. Studies have indicated that female literacy is a strong predictor of the use of contraception among married Indian couples, even when women do not otherwise have economic independence. The census provided a positive indication that growth in female literacy rates (11.8%) was substantially faster than in male literacy rates (6.9%) in the 2001-2011 decadal period, which means the gender gap appears to be narrowing.
         The real issue, however, is where are we compared to the China story, if the India story has to take precedence, we have to believe that given our socioeconomic structure indeed, do educate the girl first because then you educate the entire family !
8.     Having been a part of the government policy-making please do elaborate on the role of the Government of India and the States under the Constitution vis a vis the actual practice!
         Let me first delve on the genesis of the issue! Soon after the attainment of Independence, the issue of the role of the Government of India in education came up for discussion again when the Constitution was being framed. The thinking of the framers of the Constitution on this subject seems to have been influenced by two main considerations:
         (1) The general model adopted in the U.S.A.; and (2) the recommendations of the Hartog Committee. As in the U.S.A., a fundamental decision was taken to treat education as a State subject and also to vest the residuary powers in education in the State Governments by making a specific enumeration of powers reserved for the Government of India in this field. Entry 11 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, therefore, lays down that “education, including universities, subject to the provisions of entries...
         When it comes to the issue of higher education, it is the University Grants Commission alongwith other statutory bodies such as the All India Council for Technical Education, National Board of Accreditation and the Medical Council of India, under an Act of the Parliament that is vested with the powers to regulate higher education. However, in actual practice, it is the Ministry of Human Resource Development that really calls the shots when it comes to the centrally-funded and the deemed institutions to be universities. The state universities and the state-recognized private universities have a relative freedom as they do not come under the direct purview of the Central Government. The issue here is that instead of the much touted autonomy what we really have is the government acting more as a controller than as a facilitator or a regulator.
9.     What are the proposed reforms in higher education and how does the government would handle these?
         The much touted reforms in higher education are through the proposed enactments ‘The Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010’, ‘The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institution and Universities Bill, 2010’ and ‘The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010’ and ‘The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010’,as well as ‘The Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010’, being introduced in the Parliament, that may generate a lot of debate as their constitutional validity is being seriously questioned.
10.   There is a lot of talk on the constitutional validity of the proposed enactments. Would you please elaborate?
         To my mind, the Constitution of India categorically prohibits the Central Government from regulating higher education while empowering the States to do so. Parliament can at best coordinate and determine the standards of higher education but cannot regulate it, least of all control higher education. Parliament is not even permitted to incorporate and wind up universities. Let us have a look at some of these aspects:
         Entry 44 of the Union List reads: “Incorporation, regulation and winding up of corporations, whether trading or not, with objects not confined to one State, but not including universities” thus clearly prohibits Parliament from incorporating, regulating and winding up the universities.
         Entry 32 of the State List reads: “Incorporation, regulation and winding up of corporations, other than those specified in List I, and universities; unincorporated trading, literary, scientific, religious and other societies and associations; co-operative societies” and hence specifically empowers the State Governments to incorporate, regulate and wind up universities.
         Entry 66 of Union List when read with the Entry 25 of the Concurrent List, specifically restricts the powers of Central Government only to determine and co-ordinate standards of higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions only. Entry 66 nowhere empowers the Central Government to regulate and maintain higher education and research. Thus, regulation also appears to be under the jurisdiction of the state government only.
11.       Now where is the problem at the Government level, incompetent teachers or any other factor?
         The issue again is more societal than of the incompetency of the government and/or the teacher as is often lamented when it comes to primary and secondary education in government run schools. Unless we have the political will to invest more so as to reach 6 percent of our gross domestic product and have a society that respects the teachers and pays them well we cannot really build the foundation of an India of tomorrow.
12. Why is that the Government schools/public sector lose their quality?
         The reasons are indeed manifold, primary being the lack of investment in school infrastructure, not following the concept of neighborhood schools, low pay and incentives for the teachers, insistence on ‘rote learning’ instead of character, creativity and confidence building as also not adequately popularizing innovative schemes, such as the mid day-meals. The situation can be remedied if there is political will and community participation.
         Let us also briefly look at some other aspects. School education in India is mainly provided by the public sector, with control and funding coming from three levels: federal, state, and local. Child education is compulsory. The Nalanda University was the oldest university-system of education in the world. Western education became ingrained into Indian society with the establishment of the British Raj. Education in India falls under the control of both the Union Government and the states, with some responsibilities lying with the Union and the states having autonomy for others. The Indian Constitution does provide for right to universal compulsory primary education being as a fundamental right. India has made progress in terms of increasing primary education attendance rate and expanding literacy to approximately two-thirds of the population. India's improved education system is often cited as one of the main contributors to the economic rise of India.
13.    Can you elaborate on the challenges before the planners?
         Much of the challenge goes hand in hand with progress especially in higher education in our country. The private education market in India is merely 5% although in terms of value is estimated to be worth $40 billion in 2008 and will increase to $68 billion by 2012.
         However, India continues to face stern challenges. Despite growing investment in education, 35% of its population is still illiterate; only 15% of Indian students reach high school, and just 7% graduate. As of 2008, India's post-secondary high schools offer only enough seats for 7% of India's college-age population, 25% of teaching positions nationwide are vacant, and 57% of college professors lack either a master's or PhD degree.
         As of 2007, there are 1522 degree-granting engineering colleges in India with an annual student intake of 582,000, plus 1,244 polytechnics with an annual intake of 265,000. However, these institutions face shortage of faculty and concerns have been raised over the quality of education and here lies the challenge.
14.   What is the future of primary education in India? We are with, or far behind, the comparative international standard?
         Rote system of is a learning technique which focuses on memorization. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. In this regard the Indian system of education has to be integrated with world standards where the stress is now more on character and personality building as also to foster innovation, enquiry and knowledge.
15. Does Corruption in educational system and educational mafia capture the whole scene?
         Unfortunately enough, for corruption in our country some have ironically commented is a lack of opportunity. It has become an integral part of the system. That is why character-building and moral science have to be an integral part of primary education. Autonomy, total transparency, right to information and decentralization of governance will be the key to wiping out corruption. I do agree that the massive investment required in public sector schools and universities cannot feed all the demand. Therefore private investment has to be encouraged on the basis of unambiguous parameters with above board regulation for a competitive market so that educational mafia do not capture the education system and hold the society and the government to ransom.
16.  After education no guarantee of job? Where is the problem with Government policy?
         Although Education, does not guarantee a job, but good skilling and vocational education surely do! This is imperative for our demographic dividend to bear fruits and therefore, the government should foster skill development and training through a network of institutes on the lines of the TAFE in Australia. To my mind, the real contribution of education in a civilized society is through the inculcation of a sense of enquiry, pride, confidence and character building. A good education will help us in getting better and satisfactory jobs in market. If we think in the sense education is just for job purpose it is wrong. The lapse in formulation of a strategy and in implementation of proper policies by the government, both the central and the state, is real.
17.      Education is so costly, so difficult. This is the common feeling of every parent. Everywhere parents and institutes face so many problems. What do you think? Is this is a right track or do we need some changes in our policy?
         Keeping in mind the increase in the population day-by-day the public-sector investment in education (primary and higher education) is up to six percent of the GDP is still a farfetched dream. So there is need for private educational institutions where you need to recover the cost of education from those who can afford it from fee. But we should not forget that the government is also putting some effort through subsidizing educational loans and ensuring free and compulsory primary education at least at the level of primary education.
18.      Meerut is now an educational hub but there is no name or fame or position of this city on national map. What do you think are the reasons and solution?
         It is true that Meerut has become an educational hub, thanks to the enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit of private individuals. It is indeed a testimony to them that Meerut has emerged as a very important education hub because of the good name of many of the Institutions in the region. I am sure that it could have been in a much better position even on the national stage with merit based and unqualified political support of the state government.
19.      Any message for students, teachers and the educational world?
            There is no short cut to success, particularly in the educational world, but for hard work, discipline and dedication. This applies to all - teachers and the students. India is indeed at the threshold of a breakthrough and let us all be a part of this India story!

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