Alive in a living world?

We are a product of our conditioning, a result of our environment, starting from our home and family to our neighborhood, social network, educational institutions, the city and the world at large. Each of us defines and perceives these based on our experiences and thus the environmental influences form a part of our identity. If these influences have such a strong role to play in defining our identities and personalities, shouldn’t we in turn be active participants in defining the environment we live in?

Good or bad, correct or incorrect, there is a lot of action and debate around us, be it with respect to traffic, safety of women, youth culture, social media, going green, saving our natural and built heritage, changing retail patterns, real estate development and much more. As students, as professionals and as responsible citizens, can we live on without engaging with what is happening around us?

Yes, we read headlines and articles in newspapers, internet or television. Yes, we at times empathize or sympathize with the victimized, or curse the guilty in our eyes, but what beyond that? The sense of purpose cannot be created in a tangible sense by distant engagement, an issue that is all the more pertinent in the era of web based social networking and communication. Recently, 10 students from Sushant School of Art and Architecture led by a young conservation architect who is a visiting faculty and alumnus of the School visited towns and villages of Uttarakhand, assessing the damage suffered by historic buildings.  In the process, they witnessed a lot more that was suffering! The takeaways from the life changing experiences they had are beyond words. In most probability, the experience brought them closer to reality, real issues and questions and this could be a new creative beginning for them!

If each of us doesn’t care about events and processes taking place around us, who else will? If we aren’t willing to face the hard truths of life, how can we really be a part of it? Seems like we need to step out of our comfort zones and engage in such debates, discussions and experiences that orient us towards participating in the creation of a more optimistic social, cultural, economic and physical environment. The first step is to take a glimpse into the multidimensional, ever-changing environment through firsthand experience and reflect on the issues that we feel being close to our heart. May then that is when we shall feel more alive as a part of the living world around us!

Parul G Munjal
Assistant Professor
Sushant School of Art and Architecture

Higher education in India

Higher education in India – a sense of complacence or an aggravated challenge

Enhancing productivity, developing global human resources, creating entrepreneurs, becoming a knowledge economy, innovating technology etc. have been some of the cherished goals of Indian education system. But, unfortunately, we have not been able to meet any of these objectives.

Till now, we have adopted a strategy of development which, more through an act of omission than of commission gave a low priority to education. The Indian Universities and institutes of higher learning, from the point of view of infrastructure and management, are not in a position to cater to the huge student population (growing nearly at the rate of 15% per annum).

From the point of view of higher education in India, what needs to be underlined is the fact that today the concept of higher education is somewhat bloated because of the existence of a substantial number of students who do not know what else to do and therefore join a college. Employment is difficult as the job market is overcrowded. Moreover we have not made any effort in developing and promoting entrepreneurship in our educational programs in the universities. The linkage between expectations and fulfillment today is not as definite as it was a few decades ago.

While, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) set up by the Prime Minister calls it a ‘quiet crisis’, the Human Resource Minister calls higher education ‘a sick child’. Industries routinely point towards huge skill shortages and are of the opinion that growth momentum may not be sustained unless the problem of skill shortages is addressed.

There appear to be endless problems with the Indian higher education system. The higher education system produces graduates that are unemployable, though there are mounting skill shortages in a number of sectors. The standards of academic research are low and declining.
An unwieldy affiliating system, inflexible academic structure, uneven capacity across subjects, eroding autonomy of academic institutions, low level of public funding, archaic and dysfunctional regulatory environment are some of its many problems.

More than 35 years ago, Nobel laureate AmartyaSen, while analyzing the crisis in Indian education, emphasized that often wrong policies are pursued due to the government’s tendency to formulate educational policies based on public pressure. Unfortunately, it is believed that policy-making suffers from similar failure even today. Rather than pragmatism, it is populism, ideology and vested interests that drive policy. It seeks to achieve arbitrarily set goals that are often elusive and, more than that, pursued half-heartedly.

The emergence of a global economy due to increased trade, investment and mobility of people and, more recently, work across borders has forced nations to adapt their systems of higher education to the changed global realities. Several countries are reshaping their systems of higher education for making them globally competitive. Pragmatism rather than ideology is driving this change.

Can India sit complacently in the face of this challenge?
- Dr.C.S.Nagpal