The Unending Quest
C.N. Chitta Ranjan
ISSUES AND CHOICES IN HIGHER EDUCATION (A SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS) by Kishore Gandhi B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi, , 194 pp., 55.00
Sept-Oct 1978, volume 3, No 2

Reorganization of the education system in India, admittedly inadequate to meet national needs that are constantly getting wider and more complex, has been dis­cussed for long, with many commissions, committees, seminars and conferences con­tributing their learned mite. The volumi­nous Kothari Commission Report is still referred to because of its wide range. There have been separate reports on higher education as well. But the situation that prevails after so much study, so many recommendations is clear from President Sanjiva Reddy’s recent observation that ‘instead of giving higher education, we have to think whether we have to follow the system of the USSR to branch off students after basic education to different lines of avocation’, and from Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s declaration at the Education Ministers’ conference about the urgent need ‘to bring about a com­plete change in the educational pattern from top to bottom’.

It is against this background—continu­ous dissection of the educational system without concrete results in terms of change—that Kishore Gandhi’s ‘sociolo­gical analysis’ of the basic problems of higher education must be seen. At the outset the author tends to make the reader sceptical by describing his work as an attempt to look forward ‘to a total and evolutionary system, to an environmental, a planetary, electronic and integrative ideal’. As he says straightway that ‘there is no ready-made answer to our problems’, and as the sub-title defines the limitations of the framework, one is pre­pared not to look for clear-cut answers, even if the series of questions at some places may cause some surprises.[ih`c-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”block” ihc_mb_who=”unreg” ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]

Discussing the ‘climate of opinion’ rather cursorily, Kishore Gandhi con­cludes that the system ‘lacks both vitality and meaning’ that the functioning of universities ‘continues to be perfunctory’, that the Government has enough resources to engineer the radical changes needed. The chapter on ‘Directions of Advance’ may not clearly indicate these directions or how to proceed step by step in the process of ensuring change, but it does provide interesting tables that bring up to date, or almost up to date, some of the statistical data provided by the Kothari Commission. Expansion of higher educa­tion, growth of student enrolment, some comparative figures about Asian coun­tries, postgraduate and research students’ strength, staff-student ratio, expenditure, etc., are covered in the table which should be of use to researchers.

There is reference in some details to the quantitative, and partly qualitative, changes that have taken place in the system, as also to the development of science education, including medicine, agriculture and technology. One looks for the author’s suggestion regarding ‘direc­tions of advance’ in the future and comes up against the statement that ‘Indian education has miles to go before it can lay claim to meeting qualitatively the increasing demands of stability and growth of the nation’.

So the author goes on to ‘investment in man’ and the reader comes across gems like ‘Education is not what a person learns but what he becomes’, and ‘We must look forward to an ideal system of education which may lead to the integrat­ed development of man and the emergence of a new philosophy of life’. Constructive ideas—or what there is of these—are found in quotes from the Kothari Com­mission or other sources. Discussing ‘purposes and priorities’, the author avers that Indian universities and colleges ‘have responded with flexibility and initiative to the quantitative pressures which have been thrust upon them in the 60s and 70s.’ But fundamental changes have not occurred in management systems and practices. There has been no system­atic cost-benefit analysis of educational planning. Educational activities have ‘expanded in response to factors other than the dictates of planning’. The author refers also to caste and other factors and to neglect of rural develop­ment.

What is the answer? Simple. Kishore Gandhi says: ‘Planners and policy-makers must give top priority to the identification of programmes offering employment opportunities… Regional and sectoral imbalances and distortions must be avoid­ed in future planning… The enrolment policy must be rationalized and selectivity, as against open-door, should be adopted as a national policy… The various com­ponents of planning should be clearly spelt out leaving no room for vagueness, uncertainty’ and so on. Vagueness and vapid generalizations should be left to editorial writers and authors, obviously. In the next chapter, the author is clear about the emergence of youth power but quite vague about what to do to channelize it. There is however a profound observa­tion about making the next generation committed ‘to the future of the country and the emerging world order’.

In talking of ‘styles of teaching’, the author refers to unmotivated’ and uncom­mitted teachers coming in the way of curriculum restructuring and renovation of the whole system. He wants a link between parliamentarians and academi­cians. One is not quite sure what that means. In the next chapter the Education Commission is criticized for not having formulated necessary operational strate­gies or modalities of action in respect of curriculum revision to meet the new national needs. The institution of exami­nations is sterile, and learning has to be tested in other ways. Internal assessment too has proved inadequate and sometimes harmful. The author wants a ‘new strategy’ but has refrained from outlining one.

The language issue is one that admits of no easy solution, and it is not surpris­ing that the author ends a discourse on the subject with the words: ‘Educational strategy should be designed in such a way as to allow English and regional languages to work in harmony’. The solution is ‘versatile reaction’.

The chapter on ‘cultural fragmenta­tion’ is more substantial than the earlier ones, perhaps because the theme is closest to the author’s specialization. But even here, talk of ‘current crisis in our value system’ being embedded in ‘our faulty and perfunctory system of education’ is not followed by elucidation of the kind of system the author envisages. The author has criticized other scholars for having confined themselves to diagnosis of the problem without offering sensible alter­natives for improving the system. The same criticism would seem to be valid in the case of Kishore Gandhi’s work also, despite high-sounding phrases like ‘balancing and coordination of satisfac­tion along many dimensions’ and ‘ecolo­gical and self-realization ethics’. The book, which contains numerous questions and few answers, almost ends with a ques­tion mark.

This is perhaps inevitable if one deals with the top of the pyramid, forgetful of the long-neglected base. But the volume contains an impressive bibliography, apart from the usual footnotes that are the hall­mark of scholarship.

C.N. Chitta Ranjan is a former Editor, National Herald, New Delhi.