Education is not a commodity

By Tushar K Mishra

Since a decade or so, our universities, business and technical schools have come under enormous pressure. They are increasingly forced to renovate and do educational roles efficiently, and the transfer of their results should generate economic as well as societal benefits. They should provide education for students that generate not only globally exploitable knowledge but also social benefits by way of reservations.

The tension between the two tasks or roles is increasing due to the introductory way of renovation, which undermines the role of academicians and researchers. This kind of output-oriented view also shapes the discussion about knowledge bases and the purpose of knowledge transfer. We need to discuss whether we keep up with the disciplinary perspective on transfer of knowledge or take up the economic [commercial or global] perspective as an entrepreneur. Every discipline practices transfer of knowledge, but each discipline use transfer forms which suits its sociocultural needs.

When the problems of minorities and backward classes became critical, the educational system once more is being relied upon as a primary instrument of social justice. The colleges and universities have become secular temples of socioeconomic reconstruction, opening their portals to extend succour to the socially backward, and economically displaced, including the weaker sex of society.   

Global competition, increasingly complex societal problems, policy of privatisation and commercialisation has all contributed to alterations in the socio-educational roles and responsibilities on universities. Along with the modernity-led renovation role, social accountability pressures to address governance, moral degeneration and corruption issue have mounted over time.

In policy terms, higher education is being regarded as every opportunity made available for, and every process by which, an individual can acquire skills attitudes, values, beliefs and senses within global society. The way regulations in the education sector works is now deeply influenced by external forces as well as by domestic political-business interests. This globalised educational culture can be seen as being provided by rationality, science and conception of human rights which are created through processes of cultural diffusion and installed in individuals by formal education.

The college and university system which was initially established to provide sustainable life style for the off-spring of the masses and supply skilled personnel for the business, finds its objectives expanding now. The elite wants to employ education as a device for its own self enhancement while the middle class wants to employ it as an instrument of upward social mobility. The masses, on the other hand, are using education as a means to abridge gap between themselves and entrenched privilege in the global society.

A disturbing feature of global society is that in spite of vast advances in material earth and the establishment of a number of institutions for welfare; mankind has neither developed morals nor found peace and happiness. The once slow, now increasingly fast moving economic disaster unfolding across the globe is best understood as a really, really degenerating moral principles culminating into dysfunctional relationships. Sure enough, while future of the societal relationships is shaping up in an utterly unpredictable manner, the most rational actor in this situation may be the teachers, who have a respectable legacy and a knowledge basis.

Inaugurating a global project of brahma kumaris, chief minister Sheila Dixit rightly said that excessive material, scientific and technological growth without proportionate ethical, moral and spiritual development has resulted in several social problems which are driving the entire human race towards a frightening future. She attributed 'human avarice, fear, insecurity, ills and ailments' to 'people’s increasing subservience to materialistic, consumerist and physical sense-centric lifestyle and culture'. Following can be said as the major causalities of universities renovation programme:

Holistic Education

One inevitable casualty of the continuous adding of additional roles and activities into the university system is the conventional ‘Holistic Education’. The clue to this role assigned by the state to universities, including its inevitable casualty the ‘Holistic Education’ emerged in a focussed way in a recently held international conference on this topic organised by a Delhi university college. As director of the conference; I was given to understand that with the deterioration in the general human interest, under the influence of scientific or materialistic preoccupations and result of globalisation, the demands of education are often directly contrary to those of ‘Holistic or Humanistic Education’.

Quality Learning

Judgements of the quality of education and learning have become virtually meaningless under the circumstances. The concept of what every college graduate should learn has grown increasingly ambiguous and excellence in teaching become harder to determine, but contribution to knowledge is presumably easier to ascertain – at least if it results in enhancing employability and in printed material which is acknowledged to be important by professionals of the given field. In a global society, we both learn in order to be workers so that we can produce and then we learn that we have needs to consume so that we devour the commodities that we have produced, whereas others take the profits.

Educational Accountability

System of educational accountability has been in existence for centuries, but the mode in which they are currently being used is distinctive from past. Early accountability system held principally the students accountable for their learning through the use of examination. The exams were high-stakes in that they had significant consequences for the students who took them, but rarely did they call into question the viability and efficacy of institutions of education. Under the impact of globalization, accountability has shifted on the institutions and education is being transformed into a commodity available to those with the resources.

To be continued.

Tushar K Mishra is an associate professor, Ramanujan College, University of Delhi.
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