Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dr Anand Teltumbde's Address at the Convocation of the Karnataka State Open University, Mysore 10 May 2014

The 14th Convocation of the Karnataka State Open University, Mysore
10 May 2014

His Excellency the Governor of Karnataka and the Chancellor of the Karnataka State Open University Dr Hansraj Bharadwaj, the members of the Board of Management and Academic Council; Prof M G Krishnan, the honourable Vice Chancellor of the University, the distinguished academics, social dignitaries, faculty and dear graduating students - 

It is a great honour that has accidently befallen me to deliver this convocation address at the 14th Convocation of the Karnataka state Open University. It might be the unique occasion in the history where a recipient of a degree also makes a convocation speech. Friends, my latest tag as the professor of IIT is incidental as I have passed most of my time in the corporate world which is the main consumer of the university output. And we are living in what is called neoliberal era, which is just a euphemism for the corporate-centric world. Here everything happens with the logic of capital, not the capital of previous centuries but its vicious form - the global capital. The logic of this capital vis-a-vis education is that it is the input to people to transform themselves into ‘human resource’ to be devoured by a giant mill of accumulation of the global capitalism. As such, I probably uniquely represent the entire supply chain, by being today a supplier in the education industry and a customer in my previous corporate avatar.

In the bygone era education was a sacred thing. In our Asian culture, it was akin to a worship of god. But even in the western world, it was not any different. John Dewey, one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century had famously said, “education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” Babasaheb Ambedkar was so deeply influenced by Dewey, who was one of his professors at Columbia University that he said in 1953, when he himself had emerged as one of the greats of the century that he owed his entire intellectual life to John Dewey. Babasaheb Ambedkar inherited the philosophy of instrumental education from Dewey and saw it as the key to emancipation for Dalits. He was perhaps the only one among the notables, who particularly emphasized higher education.

Much of the educational rhetoric had otherwise stressed literacy; but as we know literacy does not do much to a person except for getting him into the market net. With literacy, he can read the advertisement and become a consumer of products in the market. But real transformation is brought about by higher education, which makes you think, understand the processes that affects your life and impels you to do something about it. This paradigm is completely changed and education has become today a commodity to be bought by the students in the educational market so as to equip oneself to fit the requirements of the corporate world. Alas, today this world is incapable, thanks to technological marvels of displacing labour from production process, to consume this output and rather thrives on adding to the  proverbial ‘reserved army’ of unemployed by rudely declaring majority of our university graduates as unemployable.

This is the inexorable logic of the global capital, which no single country perhaps is in position to thwart. The simple strategy for the countries therefore would be to make use of it as per its own strength and weakness. Those who have graduated in management science would understand better what I mean. We have an Asian peer in China since ancient times. It would be interesting in this context to see how China emerged as a global industrial power making use of this neoliberal paradigm and how we are faltering to regain our much flaunted growth pace. In 1989, China had lagged behind India on many a developmental parameter. It had a huge population to feed and also to meet their aspirations for better life heightened through the proletarian revolution in 1949. We just apologetically console ourselves dismissing Chinese progress by saying that China is a dictatorship and we are a democracy, actually betraying superficial understanding of either- democracy as well as dictatorship. But one has to appreciate that China is the land which had seen three momentous revolutions in a single century and we are the one that has refused to change over a long past of three millenniums. Such polity as Chinese becomes potentially difficult to manage just with a stick. 

What the Chinese rulers did is to strategize how Chinese people would be gainfully employed and towards that they emphasized development of the manufacturing industry. Today they have created an unshakable manufacturing platform, which is known as the workshop of the world. On this platform now they are in position to layer services. What we did is exactly opposite, placing cart before the horse, aping the Western economies, with population less than even that of our smallest states and emphasized Services over Agriculture on which 60 percent of our people still survive and utterly neglected manufacturing. This is shown up in the composition of our GDP, where Agriculture contributes just 17 % but sustains about 60 percent of our people and Services which sustains just about 25 % people but contributes nearly 66 % to the GDP. The Industry is sandwiched with a meagre 17 % contribution to the GDP for the balance 15 % of people. In China this composition is reverse, with Agriculture, Industry and Services contributing to their four-times-our GDP, approximately 10, 45, 45 % respectively as of last year. The Services component in this has risen during the last two decades as a necessary complement of the rise in peoples’ living standard. The key of China’s progress lay in this basic strategy. If one cares to recall, Babasaheb Ambedkar way back in 1918 had proposed this very strategy for India in the context of the so called problem of small holdings.

I have lived in China and have minutely observed their various things including educational institutions. In one word, barring a few of our IIMs and IITs, we do not have anything that can be compared with theirs. That is why they figure far ahead of us in the global ranking of universities. The difference between us and them, in my humble opinion, is that the ruling class in China had to be critically sensitive to their people; paradoxically, the ruling class in India has mastered, in the name of democracy, the strategy of hoodwinking people with populist policies. It is not that our founding fathers had not given a vision for genuinely people-oriented policies. They are all included in the part IV of the Constitution and are called ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’. Although they are not justiciable, i.e., invokable in any court of law, they are supposed to be morally binding on the rulers while making policies. But all these years we have ignored them and as a result find ourselves in increasingly messier condition.

Take for instance; the Constitution makers had mandated the rulers of this country to provide universal and free education to all children up to the age of 14 within 10 years from the adoption of the Constitution. The importance attached to this matter could be seen from the fact that this is the only article which had its specific time limit for implementation. But nobody paid heed to it for over four decades. It is only in 1993 that the Supreme Court in totally unrelated cases — Mohini Jain and Unnikrishnan cases -- observed that the right to education was integral with the right to life, that our rulers were shaken out of their slumber. But they still played a mischief and amended the Constitution itself inter alia deleting from it the age group of 0 to 6 years and making it a fundamental duty of the parents and not the State. The process culminated into enactment of the so called Rights to Education Act in 2009. What this Act has effectively done is to legitimize the multilayered education system that had evolved in the country. It provided that a child will get education as per his parents’ caste and class, not much different from the much reviled Manu’s dictum. They have inserted a clause of reservation of 25% for the poor to be admitted in any school of their choice to hoodwink the people again. Anybody can see the spirit of the Constitutional mandate, although it was not worded in so many words, that no child will be deprived of education just because of his parentage. 

This system is universally known as the free, compulsory, universal education through neighbourhood schools. What it means is that all the children irrespective of class or caste will get same education through the publicly run schools in their neighbourhood. I would go beyond and say that in order to observe the spirit of this clause; it should be the duty of the State to ensure that no child carries the imprint of their parents’ poverty and is naturally equal when it enters the world. It would mean that when a mother conceives a child, it would be the responsibility of the State to take entire prenatal and nutritional care of her until she bears a healthy child. If this healthy child is provided with equal education, much of the burden of vexatious inequality on account of caste and class would be taken care of.

It is on this solid foundation the further superstructure of education, middle and higher education, should be erected. We have been so callous about these matters that our higher education system while it is rapidly expanding in quantity is raising uncomfortable question marks. In the holy educational arena we have let grow a poisonous crop of education lords. We have expanded the numbers just to improve our statistics. There are over 500 universities today and many more are in offing. The IITs and IIMs have been multiplied, effectively diluting their brands created over a long period. But while improving the numbers, we have been totally unmindful of the quality.

The education system suffers from multiple ills today. The biggest and the most sinful one is that entire rural area is cut off from quality education. The villages in early decades of our independence contributed brilliant people to this nation. Most statesmen and high ranking people had come from villages only because of quality education and hard work characteristic of rural life. Many of us here on dais including my humble self also are products of this rural education. But today, it is theoretically impossible for a boy or girl from villages, where still nearly 70 percent of people live, to cross the village boundary and reach a reputed institution of higher education. All talk of reservation etc has become meaningless, as they have become a monopoly of the urban beneficiary class, leaving nothing for the real needy from the rural area.

There is much that needs to be done to improve this situation. One hopes it dawns on our rulers and they mend the situation before it reaches a point of no return. During the last two decades, there has been distinct tendency towards privatization and commercialization of higher education. It has been drummed into people that private institutes are better run, they provide quality education. It is a pure lie. The private institutes have been around for years but none could produce an IIM, Ahmedabad or an IIT or a JNU. The neoliberal ethos has entered the education system in a big way to the detriment of poor people of lower social strata. The education is said to be a 50 billion dollars industry and it has naturally been a focus of global capital. The government has freed FDI into education sector with a universal alibi of lack of resources. Many bills are pending in the parliament to facilitate it that will further create a mess in our higher education. It portends worsening of things. One only keeps hope that at some point people at responsible position would realize their moral responsibility towards the masses and take corrective steps.

I could not help but put before you these stark facts. They might sound negative but they are warning bells. It is through larger public awareness only that we can hope for improvements. As for KSOU, I find very good work being done. A beautiful campus is coming up here. This university caters to particularly poorer sections of society who cannot afford regular university education. There are many technological means to create virtual class rooms to impart distant education. Perhaps I can contribute some technological ideas in this regard if the university wants them. In course of time I hope this university will adopt creative methods of imparting as good an education to students as is available in other universities. There is a scope moreover to creatively carve out syllabus to be in tune with the market. After all, we have to be strategic. These students need jobs. The university education is the only thing that they can invest their meagre resources in the hope for a better life. If KSOU in course of time comes with a plan in this direction, it would have created a model for many such open universities in the country.

Lastly, I must congratulate all those who are receiving their well deserved degrees and wish they take further strides in life. Thank you.