Monday, June 23, 2008

Time for a Paradigm Shift in Indian Higher Education

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Ever since the process of economic reforms began in the 1990s, we have been hearing pious noises about the urgent need to reform education also. Obviously, the linkage is pragmatically motivated: economic growth cannot be sustained over a long period without a suitably reformed education system. This is good as far as it goes. If a concern for sustaining economic growth can trigger reforms in education, we should embrace the opportunity.

But it would be disastrous to hang education from the peg of economics, as seems to be happening, without considering the other larger reasons for restructuring it. The need to see the larger picture is urgent also because the dominant vision of economics in the country today is itself very narrow. This is a vision shaped predominantly by corporate interests and not inspired by a socially responsible economic philosophy.

A worthwhile exercise in educational reforms, on the contrary, must take into account the larger role that education plays in contemporary societies. Particularly, it must grapple with the changes that have swept the world during recent decades and anticipate the issues that are likely to seize the world in the coming times. Otherwise education will no more than subserviently reflect temporary business trends.

During a recent interaction with several educationists, I found very few responding to a simple question: Given complete freedom and every resource, how will you reorganize the classroom space? The silence of those who were otherwise even impressively aware and sharp was clearly not a sign of incompetence. It was the symptom of a deeper, systemic problem that we may understand if we consider the organizing rationality of our education system . . . .

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