Macaulay to COVID-19

Challenges in Education
Prof. Suresh Chander
COVID-19 has impacted practically every walk of life all over the world as never before in the history of mankind. It has deeply impacted our personalities in a manner unimaginable just a few months back.
The closure of educational institutions almost all over the world is worrying students, parents, and educational administrators in equal measures. The worries of students and parents are of different kinds. Different age groups have their own Socio-Psychological issues. These issues will provide enough work to Socio-Psychological experts, especially in the developed world. Underdeveloped and developing economies have many other issues to deal with. It is not to suggest that elders have no problems.
Lot has been written and discussed about online teaching courses on the net. The governments and teaching institutions are developing online material. I wonder if digitised course material and students with headphones is really an education? If so, why pay for expensive schools. MIT has for many years put its courses on the net with free access to anyone anywhere in the world. It will be injustice if Khan Academy is not mentioned here. The Academy has excellent material for K-12 students all for free available anywhere with just an internet connection. Not to mention availability of many technology courses on YouTube. And surprisingly many such courses are available in Hindi and other local languages. They are comprehensive and easy to understand.
The shift to online learning is almost certainly worsening educational inequality. Large majority of our students nationwide — lack a computer and broadband internet access at home. Many also work in small, shared spaces, all while having to deal with the trauma of living in a pandemic without the protections wealth affords.
Some observations and studies in the USA are of equal relevance to us too. Dr. Nina Agrawal, a paediatrician, observes in The Times, “When there is household dysfunction — domestic violence, parental substance abuse or a mental disorder — the risk of child abuse goes up, and there’s reason to believe all of these things will increase during this pandemic,” leading to serious health consequences when schools are kept closed. And the observation of The Times columnist Charles Blow: “millions of children have lost the lifeline of school meals, one of the country’s most important defenses against hunger”, has more relevance to countries such as India.
Charles Blow further observes, “All of these considerations complicate the calculus of reopening: How do you weigh the broad public-health benefits of keeping schools closed against the acute harms it does to children, who, needless to say, are also part of the public?” To all these questions, Dr. Fauci, President Trump’s Advisor, was candid enough to tell the US Congress, “I don’t have an easy answer to that,” “I just don’t.” In contrast we in India have experts on every situation without asking the right questions.
The lockdown should have provided us an opportunity to define education that we are imparting.
Plato regards education as a means to achieve justice, both individual justice and social justice. According to Plato, individual justice can be obtained when each individual develops his or her ability to the fullest. In this sense, justice means excellence. For the Greeks and Plato, excellence et Ris virtue.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously insisted that formal education, like society itself, is inevitably corrupting; he argued that education should enable the “natural” and “free” development of children, a view that eventually led to the modern movement known as “open education.”
The Indian school of thought distinguishes between Shiksha, Vidya and Avidya too. To distinguish between Shiksha and Vidya we have different terms for a student – Shiksharthi and Vidyarthi.
The concept of education by Plato and Rousseau seems to be subsets of our concept of Vidya but more easily understood by an ordinary person. Shiksha is a means for our physical existence but falls short of other aspects of education so much cherished by Indians in various discourses sans any corrective measures to integrate them with our system.
The education system that we are following was devised by Lord Macaulay, a genius who in 107 words laid the contours of our education system. Even institutions established by Malviya ji, Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan and Arya Samaj broadly followed Macaulay’s thought process.
It is based on his famous Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835.
It reads:
“It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.” (Emphasis added).
In 107 words he set the agenda for Education system in India for close to 200 hundred years. A slightly modified version of Lord Macaulay’s famous speech may have guided us towards wellbeing of our billion plus citizens. The operative phrases in the above paragraph have been changed that can suit requirements of a sovereign republic.
The following is the modified version of Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835, with emphasis on key phrases to suit the aspirations of our Independent Republic that is Bharat:
“It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be true interpreters of inspirations of millions who in fact are sovereign; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, as well upholders of values, culture and in intellect that is truly Indian. To that class we may leave it to unify the cultural, linguistic, regional and religious diversities of the country, to enrich those diversities with terms of science and technology, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”
So much has been said and debated on the subject: Education. But it appears that perhaps nobody had a deep look at Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835.
What was needed was to rephrase this small paragraph and rest everything would have fallen in place. The rephrased paragraph has 112 words.
Instead of cursing Macaulay, we should have used his wisdom to frame our education policy.
Tragedy did not end here. We blindly started copying the admission process of our institutions started with IITs and IIMs.
History of Admission Tests
The history of standardized tests is rooted in discrimination. The SAT’s origins can be traced back to World War I, when a young psychologist by the name of Carl Brigham helped develop a mental aptitude test for the U.S. Army to screen recruits. Brigham, a Princeton professor and avid eugenicist, used the results to justify his belief in “the intellectual superiority of the Nordic race” and to warn against the “infiltration of white blood into the Negro.” In the 1920s, he adapted the test for college admissions.
With the pandemic disrupting testing dates, many schools in the USA have made the SAT and ACT optional for this year’s applicants. And last week, the University of California system, which includes some of the nation’s best schools, went even further by voting to phase out the tests entirely by 2025.
The decision was in some ways a long time coming: For decades, the exams have been accused of being “extremely flawed and very unfair,” observes a member of the California system’s governing board.
We, in India, need to rethink about the utility of entrance examinations. These exams are converting open minds into closed minds apart from causing enormous mental, physical and economic burden to the parents and students in their teens.
Education is a serious matter that requires serious thinking. It is beyond admission processes and delivery mechanisms. These are part of logistics and not product description and it’s quality.
(The author is former Head of Computer Engineering Department in G B Pant University of Agriculture & Technology)