Articles

Educating The Future Minds

EDUCATING THE FUTURE MINDS

Y.S. Rajan

Honorary Distinguished Professor, Department of Space/ISRO

and

Chairman, Board of Governors,

National Institute of Technology, Manipur

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INVOCATION:

It is indeed a special honour for me to be a participant at the beginning of the celebration of the 150th Centenary of Sri Asutosh Mukhopadhyay which is also coincidental with the 160th year of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (with its germination 180 years ago).

The Chamber has produced many leaders who promoted the growth of commerce and industry in India, thus making India grow into a modern economic power. It has also helped in the formation of a slew of educational and cultural institutions. It is still growing strong.

I am hopeful and confident that the new ideas which will emerge during the celebration of 150th centenary of Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhyay will be captured by the Bengal Chamber and at least a few of them nurtured and grown by the Chamber in a major way. That indeed will be the fitting tribute we all can pay to the great Man of Action (Karma Yogi), Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhya. I can say with confidence that such action oriented initiatives will draw many young men and women from all over India and even persons from abroad; several new Asutoshes will be emerging out of these initiatives to lead the India of future.

I was poring through a few books that are available on Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhyay and also the material available in electronic searches, to understand him better. I am aware of the fact long ago that Sir C V Raman (without an advanced degree then) would not have emerged with his world class research but for Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhyay’s bold decision to let him do research. My readings showed as to how many more persons like Meghnad Saha benefited due to his early encouragement and practical support.

In an interesting book “Nucleus and Nation : Scientists, International Networks, and Power in India” by Robert S Anderson (The University of Chicago Press, 2010), there are a number of references to Sir Asutosh Mookherjee and a brief note his life (pp 584-585) All references to him are very positive.

It would suffice to quote one sentence from the book: “No greater friend to young scientists could have been in the Vice-Chancellor’s office than Mookherjee, and this continued even when he left that office to become justice of Calcutta High court in 1920 until his death in 1924.”  He wanted to prepare all of them to excel by international standards, that was emerging then.

Most important element of Educating the Future Minds, lies in such an access, such a commitment and enabling environment, for all aspiring students not just in science alone, but in all subjects and multidisciplinary fields (even if some of them are ill defined at that time). It should not be mere virtual or electronic access, but also a physical access transmitting affection and confidence. (The reason for this emphasis can be seen in the later part of this talk when I address the Learning Society).

Do youth of today have such a facilitating mechanism or process? Before elaborating on it, let us explore what the Future may be like.

EMERGING FUTURE

The word “future” could span several millennia, many generations or a few decades or a medium term of several years or a short term of a few years. In a larger sense, all of them are interconnected.

Unfortunately the powers – that – be in the country are tied up with fire fighting the neglected problems of the past or dealing with things of their concern for the next few days or the next few weeks or the lucky ones (!!) with the next quarter! While these are not totally irrelevant, as they are real problems for them, it is sad that most of them do not even worry about short terms of a few years and medium term of several years. Decade horizon has disappeared for most of them.

It is amidst this milieu, I ventured to outline the “Next Sixty Years” Actions Now” during the 24th convocation address delivered by me at the Bharatidasan University at Tiruchy on 12th October 2007. The copy of the talk can be downloaded by Googling my name “y s rajan”.

I had envisaged in that address a turbulent fast growth during 2007 – 2017 and 2017-2027 being the Innovative Decade of India.  2027-2037 India could possibly the Decade of Prosperous India. All these will still be mostly an imitative India--following Europe, America, Japan, Israel, Asia including China.

India’s own genius can emerge only later, after about a quarter century or more from now as we still have a huge backlog of the past: extreme poverty, a bulky base without relevant economic/social skills to meet the challenges of a globalised world, and technological/knowledge gaps due to many missed opportunities (due to our own arrogant governance during the six decades of post-independent India). I had envisioned that the subsequent three decades namely 2037-2047, 2047-2057 and 2057-2067, can be very different since most countries / societies of the world would have come out of poverty. 

I describe further: the division of nation states as they exist now and even regional blocks such as ASEAN, European Union (EU) etc., would have outlived their utility. Humanity for the first time would feel as one, with free movements between different geographic locations. I describe more in my 2007 address; I had named these three decades as Decades of Transformation of Human Beings.

More than five years have passed since I spoke at Tiruchy. I had, based on many facts and through some intuitions, envisaged a cataclysmic fast growth for India. Now definitely we have a cataclysm but the fast growth has slowed down rapidly. Global financial problems are part reason; much more is due to our own internal problems: Sins of the past have multiplied manifold and India appears to be heading towards a severe slow down and simultaneous presence of rising inflation.

In addition, serious turmoils in most of the middle-East countries add severe potentially disturbing forces to the global economy. Economic turmoils in EU may lead to social turmoils in some of the European countries. I can add more examples of serious problems from the Asian region including serious problems in the South Asia. Africa continues with several old problems and new ones, while there are many bright spots, as well.

Would my depiction of the future especially for 2007-2017, 2017-2027, 2027-2037. (let us take the first three decades) be still valid? I think so with some corrections what I envisaged as the cataclysmic fast growth for India, may turn out to be cataclysmic structural Adjustment for India as well as much of the world economies and societies (2007-2017). The cataclysm will sweep away many inefficient entities, fads, fashions and mechanisms; also the catharsis of the past hypocrisies in public business and private lives will burst open.

Each of the present nations/societies will learn to readjust to more viable systems. India can still have a return to fast growth, if we learn to openly get away from the hypocritic high moral grounds, we claim to be guiding  our public life. We should learn to use pragmatically the huge stockpile of black money accumulated both within India and abroad, so that we can help to stimulate the economy and prepare all the youth for the future.

Thereafter 2017-2027, 2027-2037 can lead to a steady progress of innovative and prosperous India, and also in many parts of the world, if they also act pragmatically. That will lead to next three decades thereafter as described earlier.

I think the above may still happen perhaps somewhat messily because the middle class in India is sufficiently large sized and its self interest lies in faster economic growth of India drawing more persons from the bulky base to become a market as well. The developed world such as USA, EU, Japan, Korea, Israel, etc., also have their self-interest in keeping the Indian market and make it a growing one.

We will come back to the last three decades of the six decades, towards the end of the talk. Let us concentrate on the decades upto 2037 now and how to prepare for the same.

There is also another well researched scenario building report for the world: “Global Trends 2030 Alternative Worlds”, a publication of the National Intelligence Council of USA, December 2012. It has considered several facets: technology, economics, politics, non-state actors, societal tensions etc... The report considered Mega Trends and Related Tectonic shifts; Game Changers; and also potential Black Swans (that is, completely unexpected events) Four possible States for the world are described. It is largely USA-Centric while considering other countries like China, India etc... China has lots of space in the document; India is not covered as much since many economic, military, trade indicators are low for India in global standards. I had studied the report in detail and adapted it to suggest future oriented strategies for India. It appeared in my article in the Kisan World March 2013 under the title: Alternative  World 2030: India’s Options.

It may be seen in my website www.ysrajan.com, in the Article Section.

In this talk therefore let me address the future for the next quarter century or two decades from now and how to prepare Indians for the same.

CURRENT INDIAN DEMOGRAPHY

The world and India have become extremely complex than what it was seven or eight decades ago. Technology, health care systems, agriculture, industry etc., and economies and societies have become huge and complex.  Indian population (also world’s) has grown about 4.5 times than what it was in mid-forties. Even the scientific disciplines – be it physical, life or social sciences as well as engineering and medicine have developed hundreds of super specialisations. While it is good and perhaps essential for many  purposes, many of the silos of super specialisations also lead to narrow mindsets and have increased the ignorance of systemic connections, amongst the super specialists.

Therefore many experts tend to push for “one-size-fit-all” solutions. It has become harder to find great versatile and yet practical geniuses like Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhyay and his contemporaries, now. But the need for such great minds are much more relevant now.

Let us have a quick look at Indian demography. There are many specialist ways of looking at it. I have devised a simpler (simplistic?) way to help us to think of different solutions for different segments (layers) of our people. The numbers, I give, are therefore indicative. Yet they are useful to infer systemic approaches.

On the top of demographic hierarchy are about 100 million (about 25 million households) Rich and Super Rich (RSR) (by Indian standards) all over India, in villages, towns and cities. I do take into account, in such a classification the ubiquitous money supply which is not accounted for in the usual economic calculations or census as well as the black money already with them. Their lifestyles are different; aspirations are different. Many of them send their sons and daughters to the western world, to get some western university degrees. No doubt some of these youth are very good but most of them are cut off from the realities of India. They take for granted their own supremacy and their roles in the power hierarchy in India.

The real engine of the current day Indian economic growth is the Upper Middle Class (UMC) right next to the rich. They can be estimated to be 200 million (50 million households). They aspire to become RSR, send their children abroad, but still most of them have to study in India, work in India. They are urban. Their education in India is a crucial element to shape the future of India; if it is excellent, meeting the demands of a globally competitive economy, trade, society etc., it will meet their aspirations. And most of them, will opt to be in India, as their primary base.

Below them are the Middle Middle Class (MMC) and Lower Middle Class (LMC). They aspire to be UMC and also are ready to settle to be lower than them. Their constant fear is not to fall into Bulky Base (BB) of Indians below them.

MMC / LMC together will form about 200 million (50 million households) and BB will be about 700 million (140 million households).

It is crucial to adapt and shape Indian Education to cater to all of them, not just their youth, but also all of them, because most of them, even those who are 25-40 years in the BB did not have the benefit of education giving them technical and social skills needed for the modern economy. When the globalised economy demands more of “global standards” say for example different phyto sanitary standards for the agricultural/food products, most of our agricultural workforce are ill adapted to it. Note that this is not just for selling in a global market but also for domestic markets in which UMC’s and MMC’s will buy. Health activists will demand it! Media will blare about the dangers of not following them! There can be several other examples in the construction industry to highly advanced manufacturing/services sectors.

That is the reason, one often hears the complaints of the corporate world that they have jobs but do not get skilled workforce.

DEMANDS FOR EDUCATING THE FURURE MINDS

Immediate task at hand is to free the present education system, right from the primary to doctoral levels, from the plethora of government controls and other forms of mindsets developed over the past more than six decades. Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhyay fought with the British authorities for autonomy in action as a Vice-chancellor.  British were trying to curb the freedoms as they feared the growth of nationalistic feelings amongst the educated Indians. Post-independent India, unfortunately, increased the controls many many folds. There are plethora of regulating and controlling agencies. The micromanagement through rules is so pervasive, leading to interference by some courts on even purely academic matters. The fault is not with politicians and administrators but many of the academics themselves!! No wonder we don’t spot Meghnad Saha or Raman or Bose or Bhatnagar etc... Or even the recent episode of Nobel Laureate Venkat! Also there is constant and severe shortage of opportunities. 

I do not want to dwell on these details more. I have addressed the entire education sector from the pre-primary to skills to research in my recent book published by Penguin (2010) “Way Beyond The Three R’s” India’s Educational challenge in the 21st Century.

Also in a recent Lecture at the Karunya University, I have addressed the higher education in India, and how to free it. The title of the talk is HIGHER EDUCATION FOR A GLOBALISING INDIA – BEYOND 2013 - (14th Evangeline Memorial Lecture to be delivered at the Karunya University, Coimbatore on 14th February 2013) It may be seen in the website of Karunya University and also in www.ysrajan.com in the Article section.

Basic thrust is to remove the current system of rules-regulations – inspection – punish raj of Educational governance and allow for autonomy in institutions and for teachers.  Also we need to create a competitive environment. One can do away with the University affiliation system. Let the colleges be declared as degree giving ones.

I had ended that talk with a few words as under:

I  will end this memorial lecture with a big question to be pondered about by all of us. Freedom  and autonomy entail taking on responsibility directly on our shoulders and be accountable for the actions. There will be no one else to point the index finger or to send out an obfuscatory note or letter! Do we, as a part of India’s elite have the moral courage to take on the RESPONSIBILITY and to exercise the freedom and autonomy with ethical rigour? The answer to this question, will determine the future of Higher educational system in India”.

I repeat them here during this talk, as this moral and ethical courage is crucial. This is what we see in Sir Asutosh Mukhopadhyay’s entire career in education, law and public life.

Let us assume that we are able to clean up the existing cobwebs and establish a new system with autonomy at various levels. Would that suffice?

Since we have a lot of backlog and since we are laggards/followers in many aspects of science and technology as well as in the academic sector, the tendency would be to “copycat” the newer systems already in vogue in the Western developed world. Some of the academic systems may be guided purely by the narrow considerations of meeting the immediate requirements of the corporate sectors, who unfortunately have also been content with being laggards (with Government protections) and/or followers of the developed world. Their outlook in their own businesses, let alone in HR (Human Resources) is extremely short term.

In addition to meeting the immediate needs of skill sets required for the job market in all the demographic layers including BB, we need to attempt to orient the Higher education (first) and others (soon thereafter) to prepare them for meeting the challenges of and partly creators of a LEARNING SOCIETY.

THE LEARNING SOCIETY

A number of discerning scholars in the West have started describing the features of the Learning Society, which according to them, has already entered into many societies. Their description is that LAND-LABOUR-CAPITAL-TECHNOLOGY-KNOWLEDGE, has gone beyond this sequence to include LEARNING as an essential element for all the members of the society. Already scholarly treatises have begun to appear, for example a recent book “Innovation Policy in a Global Economy” edited by Daniel Archbugi et al. Cambridge University Press (1999) transferred to digital printing (2003). Drawing upon many elements from this book and also based on my own experience, observations and understanding of the Indian context, I had delivered the fifth C C Shroff Memorial Lecture on 17th Feb 2011 at Mumbai. The topic was “The Learning Society: Progress, Innovation, and Sustainability” (may be seen in www.ysrajan.com in the Article section). I will give a few glimpses of the Learning Society from that talk. While the essential features of market economy such as laws of demand and supply; relationship between producer and consumer (production and consumption) etc., remain, the learning society will demand systems which go beyond the usual market forces we are used to, in the current competitive world.

Then I have quoted from the cited book, especially its Chapter 2. After describing the social dimensions of learning, the author of Chapter 2 Bengt-Ake-Lundvell points out “learning and especially learning new skills and competences is necessarily a social and interactive process……..” and goes on to quote Nobel prize winner Kenneth Arrow”. “people will only pay for the knowledge they do not have but that, on the other hand it is difficult to assess how much to pay when you do not know what you are getting for your money”.

So it is not simple market-economics that is at work. The chapter-2 of the book further explores the learning process and arrives at the need for TRUST, a difficult term to incorporate in the usual economic analysis. Again a Kenneth Arrow quote: “trust cannot be brought; and if it could, it would have no value whatsoever”.

A brief description of author’s conclusion is that good communication between knowledge producers such as universities and schools on the one hand and the firms on the other; firms have also to invest on knowledge creation. And for organised renewal it is imperative that firms are encouraged to learn from each other.

This conclusion goes far away and beyond the current emphasis on secrecy in the academic and business worlds. The existing approach to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) may undergo drastic changes. However, it will not do away with competition and competitiveness, which are essential in human life, which is a part of the Nature. 

I envisage that Indian approach to epistemology, knowledge creation, knowledge sharing etc., which existed a few millennia ago, may have to be revisited to adapt them to the newer forms. It is in this context a book by Susantha Goonatilake “Towards a Global Science: Mining of Civilisational Knowledge” (1999) is worth reading. I have quoted from that book in several of my writings and books and I do not intend to so, here.

Even when we should be busy in acquiring, assimilating and disseminating the knowledge  and skills of the developed world to apply them for India to enable speedy economic growth and to increase the incomes of all those in UMC, MMC/LMC  and BB, it should be evident that pressing need for sustainability would require that the developing world including India cannot afford to follow the path traversed by the developed world and the newer systems which they may adopt. In fact, the Mother earth cannot afford it even while the world population will go towards 8 billion and even more crawling towards 10 billion in another 4 to 5 decades.

That is going to be the challenge of the future and any attempt to learn to think in that direction, is the real mission before us. We need to shape MINDS to think in that direction and to challenge the BRAINS to find practical solutions for achieving it. It is clear that the solutions are not to be based on the “theoretical concept” of equality of all. It will be a hard decision to accept it as a principle. But such an equality has to acquire a new meaning keeping in tune with the DIVERSITY OF LIFE AND NATURE, and not reduced to single parameters of per capita income or indexes of consumption.

Autonomy, freedom, etc., are in some sense opposites of dead equality.  Excitement in learning, sharing of the knowledge / skills, minimising consumption even while maximising enjoyment, shifting the competitive spirit from mere material products or money and yet challenging most human beings to adopt these new modes of competition (which is always a part of evolution) etc., are the new challenges for the MINDS AND BRAINS OF THE FUTURE.

In that sense, we all have to learn to create these new ways of life and life styles. That does not mean the rejection of life in the material world or to forget many elements of the earlier factors of production in economics like Land, Labour, Capital, Technology, Knowledge; it is another attempt to have holistic understanding and possession of them in newer contexts.

I will extract two paragraphs from the C.C. Shroff Memorial Lecture by me, referred to earlier.

“We may have to experiment with many models of organic evolution of modern societies so that all our people benefit in the good lives offered by it. Already many such models exist in India, that offer a low cost platform for IT or manufacturing to compete globally. But since they have been evolving through great struggles (without much policy support from the govt.) we need to integrate them in their symbiotic and syncretic forms with modern knowledge inputs and some policy supports from the public systems. It is pertinent to point out here about Prince Charle’s observations on Dharavi. Will Indian elite wake up to India’s own strengths and act to strengthen them further?”

“In order to be able to progress, innovate and sustain the wealth and well being of all Indians (present and more to come!) on the lines suggested above, IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT ALL INDIANS ARE ENBLED TO BE A PART OF A GREAT LEARNING SOCIEITY TO WHICH INDIA HAS TO TRANSFORM. This complex entity will not be a single monolithic mosaic nor be a mere imitator of the now developed world. It should live up to the Rig vedic hymn: “Aano Bhadrah Kratavo Yantu Viswathah’ Let noble thoughts come from everywhere.”

SOCIAL EQUITY AND HIGHER EDUCATION

While I am also a protagonist for rapidly spreading Higher Education (HE)to the extent of 40% or more of coverage of the youth, (to cover UMC/MMC/LMC and BB) and to provide contemporary economic and social skills for the rest, one should bear in mind that HE alone cannot provide for social equity: there are wheels within wheels!.

A brilliant book based on remarkable field level research (and not a stastical fit!) “Degrees of Inequality. Culture, Class and Gender in American Higher Education” by Ann L. Mullen gives a comparative study of the Ivy League Yale University and the Connecticut State University, which are only a few miles away, within the same city.

A quote from the concluding part of the book is given here:

“The United states seems to be comfortable with maintaining the illusion of equality of opportunity while turning a blind eye to increasing inequality. As Collins (2002) puts it, expanding higher education palliates the problem of class conflict in the United States. By increasing access, America promotes the idea that it has enough equality of opportunity while continuing to deny the reality of acute and increasing social inequality. By celebrating women’s entry into higher education, it ignores the reality that in the first year after college graduation, women earn only 80 percent of what men do, a figure that drops to 69 percent ten years after graduation (Dey and Hill 2007). Without fundamental changes to US economic and social policies, Americans can hardly hope for higher education alone to produce a moderating effect on social inequality”.

While I have earlier suggested that “dead equality” is unachievable, the desire for social equity would continue to be there in human beings; perhaps it is a part of the competitiveness  inherited as a part of the evolutionary process. If ‘social equity’ is looked at in its truly multiple dimensions as the Nature has made Life, multiple (practical) solutions are possible. Part of these solutions will lie in the Education as imparted using the current processes.

EDUCATION FOR THE MINDS OF FUTURE

The other part of Education will be to educate the MINDS AND BRAINS, in a much different manner to understand the true diversity of human nature and life. In which case, the excessive compartmentalisation between study of sciences, technology, engineering, medicine, economics, law literature, philosophy etc... would have to disappear at the school stages itself. Super specialists are needed but they would also have to develop versatile interests regarding human life, and nature itself. Mythologies can have their own spaces along with rigours of logical enquiry and scientific empiricism.

Perhaps findings of modern neurosciences, advances in astronomy and cosmology, availability of living habitats in high seas and outer space (albeit in a limited scale during the coming few decades), greater mobility of people of the world, easier access of knowledge about other cultures of the world (their past and present), better exchanges of literature from many languages of the world through translations done by humans or machines, many original knowledge creation through Indian languages… Many of these newer consumptions for the human MIND, would elevate them to totally different planes of thinking, from the current narrow divisive approaches to human transactions.

All these new dimensions are to be explored even while each of us is enjoying simple and complex material life built up so far by the human beings over the past many millennia. These tasks of educating the Minds of Future, are not merely that of schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions. They are to be done by firms, governance systems, and NGO’s as well, as a part of continuing learning and sharing, as a part of the LEARNING SOCIETY described before.

I started thinking of the life of Sir Asutosh Mukhopadyay, his struggles, successes and unfinished tasks and arrived at the contents of this brief talk. Having made a write up, I now feel confident that Indians can take a lead in creating such learning societies in India and join with others elsewhere. That will prepare the humanity for the decade of 2037 and beyond which I have referred to earlier as “Decades of Human Transformation”.

In order to dothat many young men and women of the calibre of Sri Asutosh Mukhopadhyay are required. Who are they? It is best described in the words of Rabindranath Tagore: “Men are always rare in all countries through whom the aspiration of their people can hope to find its fulfilment, who have the thundering voice to say that what is needed shall be done; Asutosh had the courage to dream  because he had the power to fight and the confidence to win – his will itself was the path to the goal”.

May the Bengal Chamber and others present here commit themselves to find such young men and women, all over India, from every state of India and even from abroad, and empower them initially. They will find and make the paths for the future. Yes, we have to continually learn from life, nature and from others (from past, present and from children who will handle the future) Let me end this talk with a common prayer for all of humanity and naturally for all of Indians, as well.

It will be a grand preparation to achieve the Indic aspiration for all.

Thank you

Y S Rajan

02-06-2013