Much higher mean and much less standard deviation is what we need in education

Often referred to as ‘The Highest Ranked Civil Servant’ in India, T.S.R. Subramanian, the former Cabinet Secretary has taken up the most ‘firsts’ in the country. In 1992, he went to Washington as the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh and signed the agreement on ‘Education for All’ with World Bank. This was World Bank’s first loan ever to a non-financial infrastructure sector. The often used ‘Right to Information Act’ was first drafted by him. He was highly regarded for chairing the committee to provide recommendations on National Education Policy. This interview with BW Education’s Sreerupa Sil, revolves around his perception on education and understanding the past to lead us to the future.

Purpose of Education:
I think it is to enable a person to realize her full potencial as a human being- be it cultural, social, philosophical and spiritual, not in the religious context though. How to be a better human being and keeping others before you should be the aim of education.

What is our strength as a country?
The talent in the remotest part of India is enormous. Being the founder of Vidyagyan School got us access to some really strong and fertile minds in the farthest of areas in India. There so came a point when farmers and agricultural labours from different regions competed to have their children admitted. The criteria to choose students was stringent. Students from village schools, families below poverty line along with some difficult tests were criteria for choosing. They competed because our earlier students from similar backgrounds were now debating in English and travelled outside the country.

With strengths come weaknesses..
There are ills in our system I agree but all of them have easy correctable measures. There is serious lack of opportunity for young minds in India. We must remember that the innate human beings to these young minds belong to a 3000- 5000 year old civilization, next to only Japan and China. This vestige has to be followed and must be lit, since it has still not extinguished.
Education is the spark that must light up the potential.
Interestingly, Japan and China’s education policies are frequently updater. They are also directly connected to economic policies.
We had an age old education system, as everyone knows, gurukul system. In such a varna based society, the caste system automatically creeps in to the education system. Although education was limited to the Brahmins, we must not forget Kshtriyas and Vaishyas also received education. It must be remembered that the education in the modern world is coming from Macaulay’s times. Macaulay essentially had two objectives- to create babus from existent administration which was the ICS. The verdict of ICS was final, you must remember, was final. The viceroy too had to agree to it. These ICS were educated in Harvards or the Oxfords. Macaulay was very cautious, envious and aware of the Indian culture and traditions. So he tried to conquer the minds to dominate India. This called for an alternate system.

What is this changed system? Has the sector changed?
We have not done justice to this sector since 1947. There are ills in this system which are easily correctable. Application in the field is rare. For example, Right to Education act is a beautifully drafted act but is short of application. Also, RTE is applicable from six years of age, but what about pre-school? Experiments have shown that a child can learn three languages at that age, if properly taught. Why not start then with mother tongue and some more languages?

What next then?
Immediacy is the call of the hour. We must remember, education deals with one third of the population every day. No one goes to a police station every day or probably the banks. However, close to 25% students added with parents and other people involved in the education system visits an education institution everyday. Have we understood how important that is? Vested interest has characterized our system for the last 30 years.

Isn’t vested interest predominant all around the world?
Not as much as in India. Here, in a crowd of fifty MPs, you will find thirty of them owning a school or a college. Hence quality is gently overtaken by business and commercialization. Education therefore has become a highly politicized sector.

What do you recommend?
We forget that the child is a learner. Give her the space and she will learn. The child is anxious for materials especially between the age of three and five when the brain growth is the highest. The point here I make is to consciously move away from the politicians, secretaries, chancellors and focus on who matters the most in this entire procedure- the learner and the teacher.
Much higher mean and much less standard deviation is what we need in education.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'April 7, 2017' with cover story titled 'BW Education Inaugural Issue April-May 2017'

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