HRD Minister and the noise about a formal degree
by M Pramod Kumar on 04 Jun 2014 14 Comments

In 2011, Forbes magazine released a list of 400 richest Americans. Some of the billionaires on the list were self-made entrepreneurs who were college dropouts or, worse, did not go to college at all, which revived the long debated question as to whether formal education is necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.


The Indian scene is no different. As soon as the Class XII CBSE results were announced last week, IBN Live published a feature story on 10 Indian millionaires who share the distinction of being college dropouts: Gautam Adani, Mukesh Ambani, Azim Premji, Kunal Shah, et al.


Even more startling is the result of this survey on unemployment: The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) numbers for 2011-12 show that the unemployment rates for young male graduates in the 15-29 years age group in urban India was as high as 16.3%. In contrast, the unemployment rate among illiterate men in urban areas in the 15-29 years age bracket was as low as 2.5% in 2011-12! Simply put, the NSSO survey says that the more educated you are in India, the less likely that you are going to get employed!


Take the case of a small town called Tirupur in Tamil Nadu. Tirupur, till recently, was known for a flourishing textile industry with a turnover of over Rs 5,000 crores per annum in exports alone. According to a Boston University study, this success story was largely scripted by school and college dropouts. When the Director of the Swadeshi Academic Council interviewed one such school dropout turned textile entrepreneur, he asked him how he managed to correspond with his foreign clients, given the fact that his knowledge of English was very limited. The textile tycoon smiled and said, “Oh, that is what we employ the MBA grads for”, and went on to say, tongue-in-cheek, that he would never entrust his business to an MBA grad! Such is the irony of getting educated in India today – MBA grads often end up working for school dropouts!


No wonder Ajay Maken’s crass tweet on Smriti Irani drew sharp responses from the twitterati who questioned the contribution or lack of it in the last ten horrific years of UPA rule by its ‘Oxbridge’ qualified ministers. Even a superficial glance at world history shows that the real game changers more often than not came from outside the box. The box here is the education system which traps young minds into conventional thinking patterns and blunts their native genius. Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were neither school toppers nor rank holders in college.  


Talking of his almost illiterate guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, who attained the pinnacle of spirituality through traditional image worship which the educated Bengali Brahmo Samajis looked down upon as superstition, Swami Vivekananda thundered, “It has been a trite saying that idolatry is wrong, and every man swallows it at the present time without questioning. I once thought so, and to pay the penalty of that I had to learn my lesson sitting at the feet of a man who realised everything through idols; I allude to Ramakrishna Paramhamsa. Take a thousand idols more if you can produce Ramakrishna Paramhamsas through idol worship, and may God speed you!”


An illiterate woman born in a poor family in Kerala belonging to the most backward fishermen community is running one of the biggest chain of educational institutions in India today: 80+ schools and NAAC ‘A’ grade deemed university with around 24000 students, viz., Mata Amritanandamayi and the Amrita Vidyalayams and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.


There are no two opinions today about the tragic condition of the Indian education system which has failed to strengthen Indianness and produces emaciated degree holders who go on to become ‘mercenaries’ in the words of Sri Aurobindo and work for multinational corporations. Our education system is in urgent need of a complete overhaul. The decolonization of the Indian education system is an unfinished task which perhaps can be better done by a person who is not a ‘victim’ of the system, to use Ananda Coomaraswamy’s famous expression to describe Macaulay’s children.


The media is trying to revive the ‘saffronisation’ debate to derail the Modi Sarkar’s educational initiatives. The personal attack on Smriti Irani is only a warm-up exercise. Hence, the HRD Minister must focus on bringing in lasting educational reforms instead of paying too much attention to her detractors or getting embroiled in needless controversies as Murli Manohar Joshi did in the previous NDA regime.


School education needs to be rid of the poison of cut-throat competition – admissions, interviews, marks and grades have long suppressed the joy of learning for our kids. Skill development, character building and overall grooming of the child’s personality have been completely ignored and sidelined in the mad rush for degrees and ranks.


A study published in Lancet journal revealed that suicide rates amongst Indian teenagers are among the highest in the world. A major cause for these suicides is failure in securing a pass mark in the board exams or other competitive exams. Working as a teacher, this writer has been a painful witness to three such suicides of school and college students in the last two years. Our children deserve an education that makes them stand on their own feet, not force them to take their own lives.


Investing in children’s higher education has become a back breaking financial burden for the middle class. Making higher education more affordable and accessible to the masses, setting up new medical colleges in every state, monitoring the quality of the scores of private colleges and deemed universities which are mushrooming across the country, setting up world class institutes of research in science, technology and the humanities, should be some of the top priorities for the new HRD minister.


Smriti Irani has much to cheer about as she is not an emaciated victim of the Indian education system. A lady who managed to scare the M Phil pass from Trinity College, Cambridge, UK (or so we are told), and reduced his victory margin drastically in barely a month in Amethi, is definitely capable of emerging as a game-changing HRD Minister. She may yet plug the gap that produces educated clerks while entrepreneurs find their own way by exiting the educational mainstream.  

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