The Education Policy

cropped-201-03-02-my-books-009.jpgPolicy is the statement by the regulatory body or ministry of the government for use by all and sundry. It should be implementable, checkable and devoid of the need to revise frequently. In the absence of strict monitoring mechanisms, even the best of polices would lie dormant.

It should direct the education system for the good of the citizens and the country. It should discourage profit making by those who provide funds. Of course, reasonable profit making will not hurt anyone. It should define inclusivity targets for each level of education. If reservations are to be given their place, the politicians should lay down timeframes when reservations would stop. The policy must remain non-parochial and it should not be influenced by sectorial beliefs.

Education policy will become unwieldy if it attempts to go into the nitty-gritty of the content design, infrastructure, processes of admissions or examinations, the teaching methods or the selection of teachers. For these activities, executive bodies already exist in the country. In the past, political leaders and the executives have been accused of corruption in the recruitment of teachers, their placements, or for allotment of land for educational institutes; this speaks volumes of disinterest in the purpose of education.

In particular, the policy should lay down rules of engagement for the corporate who undertake educational ventures; what should be regulated and what kept to the discretion of the institutes.

The Core Issues in Policy

The fundamental issue in education is how to manage the large volumes for primary education, and how to fund the expensive infrastructure required for the higher education.

Doctrines and Targets – Educating is as much a political consideration as it is socio-economic. Every major change in political regime requires a relook at the education policy, particularly with two aspects in mind; inclusivity percentage and economic options such as manufacturing, agriculture or service sector.

Funding Methodology – Universal Primary Education requires mammoth funding since it must meet the conditions of inclusivity. Securing funding for this level is more difficult than for the higher levels because corporate does not see any returns from these undertakings. Charitable institutions are sporadic and temporary, and long-term dependence on them is unlikely. The policy should therefore elaborate on the rules of engagement, particularly for subsidies, taxation etc, so that funding for primary education can become win-win situation for all.

Belief System –If the government promotes itself as a secular state then it must ensure that the religious schools are restricted from tuning the young minds towards fundamentalism. A balanced view is required on the modern ethics, morality and law keeping in mind the attitudes of the modern youth. What must be encouraged and what not, must be laid down lucidly.

Polarisation – is a menace in our society, but if is allowed to influence the education curriculum or syllabuses it will bring in degradation in character for generations. Primarily these factors are religion, language, region and reservations.

Teachers – Primary education needs numerous teachers; able, noble and motivated. The policy must make provisions for recruitment of adequate teachers, with satisfactory compensations and reasonable timings for them. The role of women in teaching should not be oblivious to their role, commitments and responsibilities as mothers for their own children.

Computers and Internet – Although there is general proliferation of computers and internet in the society, there is still a large scope in deploying these technologies for education. In fact, there is no uniformity in how computers and internet are deployed in different schools, colleges and universities. Things are left to the fancy of individuals who show some knowledge of the subject. Conservative or fearful approach to information technology will hamper the optimisation that we could achieve in resource utilisation of teachers, facilities, and other aspects that require funding. The catch is that the knowledge imparted through these devices should be authentic, well paced, creative and not addictive. It should reduce the student’s burden on time, travel and expenses.

Meetings and Conclaves

The process of policymaking is important as well. Who makes these policies, what processes are followed for this exercise. The forums and conclaves, one could call them meetings, seminars or anything else, are generally attended by a lop-sided gathering. In official meetings, one sees the presence of corporate. In commercial seminars, business partners are present. The representation from administrators and teachers is generally scanty. The press is always present.

Participants of these high-level meetings are unaware of the grass root level issues and difficulties therefore their priorities are skewed. In one such meeting for primary education, a representative of the tribal area asked the logic for attaching proofs of residences for the tribal students in different forms, when such a document is not available in general. Another representative demanded the answer for charging the computers with electricity in remote villages where it was not available for days. And decision makers, were planning to introduce more automation in education at the remote schools!

Those attending such meetings have personal axes to grind, mangers looking for ease of implementation, intellectuals wanting to promote a certain subject, businesspersons looking at profit making avenues and regulator too thinking about joint ventures with the corporate. Speakers overstress a particular aspect as if their experience is more relevant and their recommendation just the perfect fit. The official seminars suffer from the authoritative attitude of those in the chair and hours are wasted for recording minutes of the meetings. Seminars, if commercial, have no standard method of submitting findings and proposals to the authorities. Imagine if hundreds of such conferences are conducted with hundreds of viewpoints, how a policy can be drafted.

The Direction of Meetings

In policy meetings, four issues are generally discussed, content, infrastructure, teachers and methods. Executive thinking of the government focuses on increasing the number of schools, conducting training on teaching methods, formulating innovative syllabi and improving the system of admissions and examinations as the props to good education. They are dead right. It is just that these are details not guidelines. The crux of the educational challenge is not merely dealing with the numbers or techniques, but the question whether our system is able to deliver to the society, individuals with the required traits of character and the ability to perform professionally.

Worthiness of Religious History

Golden FaceThe foremost uncertainty about religions is whether someone, who said what someone, is supposed to have said, actually existed. The entities in discussion are the prophets or messengers of God. For example, the existence of Moses in Israel or Lord Rama in India is shrouded in mystery. Lack of historical and archaeological evidence questions the veracity whether the Red sea ever split to provide a pass for the Israelites. Many critics do not believe that Jesus was born to Virgin Mary, given that he had a father in Joseph. Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh religion claimed that he was offered nectar (amrit) by God. The mode of communication between prophets and God makes these mysteries even more certain. No human has ever heard voices from the skies or seen any archangel after Jesus or Mohammad died.

Hinduism too, is unable to provide convincing proofs that Ravana had ten heads. No physical evidence can be shown for the stone-assembled bridge that was propped up by the monkey army of the god Hanuman, for connecting India to Sri Lanka. Doubts arise whether king Dhritarashtra, could have 100 sons from one wife. It is certainly hard to believe that a voice from the skies forewarned King Kansa that the son of his sister, Lord Krishna, would exterminate him. To believe that a blind king could see the proceedings of an on-going war of Mahabharata for 18 days, through the eyes of another person, can be no more than an allegory. The innumerable fables in Hindu Purans, with astronomical number of sons or extended duration of pregnancy are exaggerated allegories, certainly unbelievable. And these are only some of the fallacies of religion. Many such myths exist and they nourish people’s faith in the religions. Is it that all religious stories are allegories, even if supported by partial historical footprints?

Graham Phillips in his book The Moses Legacy published by Pan Macmillan in 2002, has torn to pieces all history connected with Christianity and Judaism. This brilliant history detective has also refuted a few claims made in favour of King Arthur, Robin Hood and Shakespeare. His work is well worth reading.

The main secrets hidden under this murky set up are how and when such elaborate though conflicting literature is actually created. We of course know why. There is a first level of uncertainty and ambiguity about whether someone existed, communicated with God, assumed responsibility for God’s mission and then wrote about it.

Even If we grant this miracle, the second level of distortion hits us in the face immediately. A Latin proverb that history is written by the victor, applies aptly in the domain of religion. Roman Kings destroyed all the Hebrew literature and promoted Christianity. Then who wrote the scriptures, and so many of them? Battles were fought between Hussein and Yazid that endorsed the split of Shia and Sunni in Islam. So whatever was written in Hadith, Sunnah and even Quran, might have been doctored by people other than the prophet himself. Such garnishing of religious truths by political overtures is equally valid when Brahmins wrote the Upanishads. How one can disregard the possibility, that changes were made when Dara Shikoh, son of the emperor Shah Jehan, got 90 of them translated into Persian, in 1657. In Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev’s teachings were penned down for the first time by the third Guru, in the series of ten.

In the absence of worthwhile printing mechanisms, how much credence can be given to history? The authenticity of whatever was heard, remembered or communicated by verbal messages is anybody’s guess. To what extent one must believe the religious history, is better left to an individual’s discretion. It is strange that people do not want to dispute the obviously dubious history. They quarrel with all their might when arguments are traded on the content of religious teachings, as if everything was recorded in front of their eyes. As if, it is their experience, which is penned down.

And how does one explain the situation that people do not blame their adopted religion or spiritual guru for anything bad that happens to them. They attribute it to their karma. But for everything good that comes their way the credit is voluntarily passed on to their spiritual guru; even disowning the credit that is due to self.

If someone could isolate the history of religion from its canons for attaining the purpose of life, people may even accept the mysteries of birth, death, afterlife as unsolved and get on with their lives.

Demystifying Religion

Girl with wingsThe Eternal Questions

A question that bugs everyone is why, how and when this universe was created. Another one is on the emergence and progression of life. How was life enriched to the advanced stage of intellect and health, as it is seen now? What is our role in this universe? Are we expected to do something more than living a comfortable life or making it a bed of roses for those who depend on us? What does death have in store for us? Is there anything like afterlife? Both religion and science take shots at these questions. And if partial answers are unacceptable, both fail.

Religion is a collection of beliefs, which defines the purpose of life. For some it sets a lifetime mission that of streamlining the afterlife, and keeps them busy this way forever. For others, it gives guidelines for living in harmony with self, family and the society. Let us not forget that having a congenial group of people around ourselves, is no mean an achievement. Yet, the core concern in religion remains the relationship of humanity with spirituality. It lays guidelines that help this interaction to flourish. Some religions take this undertaking very seriously and prepare you for a good though uncertain afterlife, and the others focus more on the niceties of the foreseeable present life. Religion has provided sufficient, though not universal, guidelines for human behaviour. Certainly, these guidelines are more palatable than its spiritual decrees. No wonder religion has had appreciable influence on jurisprudence, law, politics and education systems. Though religion means different things to different individuals and to different societies. Yet one thing is certain, it needs unflinching faith and it abhors arguments or investigations.

Science on the other hand, conducts experiments and research to arrive at answers independently, but misses no opportunity to validate the answers given by religions. If one is intrigued by the universe and its relationship with humans, then science will not elucidate this relationship; at least for now. Religion may still satisfy our curiosity. Social sciences are conducting behavioural analysis of an individual with self, family, society, country and the global world, but they started only recently.

Religion expects you to believe there is God or a supreme power of that sort. Whether the universe is operated by this divine entity or nature, or it runs according to scientific rules that govern conversion of matter into energy, is the eternal conflict that few have been able to resolve. For the present generation as well the forthcoming ones, it is a serious decision whether to follow the age-old religions or the modern sciences; to what extent and to what purpose.

The Scientific Answers

According to the big bang theory, the universe was formed 13.75 billion years ago, by the process of cooling a hot and dense ball of matter. After its initial expansion from a singularity, the universe cooled and allowed energy to be converted into sub-atomic particles namely, protons, neutrons and electrons. While the protons and neutrons combined to form atomic nuclei within a few minutes of the bang, it appears that it took thousands of years for electrons to combine with them and create electrically neutral items. This theory is the most trusted one, in accordance with whatever level of knowledge science has, on date. But it applies only to the domains of matter and energy in this universe.

Another unproven theory about the universe is the ‘steady state theory’, which believes that the universe existed and will continue to exist on its own though as an aggregate of constantly changing forms. If proved it will underline the Buddhist and Jain religions. Metaphysics is the subject that assists scientists, philosophers and thinkers to elucidate the ambiguity connected with God. It also delves in the domain of the relationship between matter, energy and consciousness.

The emergence of life on this planet is another subject; equally fascinating and as much in mystery. Life is a kind of energy that is self-sustaining. It defies Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. It causes movements of limbs without external forces. There has been no satisfactory explanation on how life arrived in this planet, and how consciousness was coupled with it. Science, being in its infancy, gives only vague pointers, and religion, mysterious explanations. In 1952, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey at the University of Chicago tried to synthesise organic compounds from inorganic precursors. They were able to create 20 amino acids in simulated conditions similar to the times when life was created on earth. This is the closest that anyone has gone to creating life artificially. A parallel school of thought considers that life commenced by impregnation from aliens, who might have descended from the other planets. And then it evolved.

The question is not merely, how life came into existence but also how a living being acquired consciousness and intellect. Some ideas on this progression were put forward by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) through the medium of two books ‘On the Origin of Species (1859)’ and ‘The Descent of Man (1871)’. These ideas were revolutionary in the context of the erstwhile beliefs maintained by religions. Darwin’s theory states that all species on the planet have descended from a common ancestor. Their evolution is guided by natural selection where species struggle for survival, in a manner similar to the artificial selection carried out during selective breeding of species. He used this doctrine to suggest that humans, being superior, survived whereas many inferior animals perished.

Darwin also originated the idea, that the mental faculties of man were primarily the progression from the instincts of the lower level species, like animals. For the fear of opposition, he mentioned it only in the passing in the first book. Still, it attracted enough criticism and forced him to delay further elaboration for 11 long years, when he published the second book. Mental faculties of the species continued to develop and caused formation of societies.

Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish-Dutch philosopher (1632-1677CE), covered this aspect of human consciousness by his theory of emotions and a fully deterministic human psychology. Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884), an Austrian-Hungarian scientist, advocated for the first time, the scientific theory of genetics, about how hereditary characteristics are passed from parent organisms to their offspring.

Scientists of all disciplines are at it, these mysteries of the world and beyond. In 2012 a few startling discoveries were made by astronomers. Sugar particles were discovered 400 light years away, that have a possibility of being present before a planet comes into existence. Sugar is high carbon carbohydrate that helps in creation of life. In July 2012, two independent teams of researchers working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) [1] reported a possible existence of Higgs boson particle. Higgs boson is a no spin, no electric charge and no colour particle, but it can function as a quantum exciter and create mass. This creative ability gave Higgs boson particle the name ‘god particle’.

The recent discoveries of sugar and Higgs boson particles bring the scientist community closer to the understanding of life. Who knows they may ultimately create life. People are excited about this likelihood, but no one believes that imbibing consciousness in the life so created, will be a reality. All that we can do is to hope that someone someday will blow the lid off the whole mess of mystery shrouding creation of life. But for now, we can only wait.

The Religious Answers

In the religious domain, we have a matrix of a few dimensions, Abrahamic and Dharmic religions, monotheism and polytheism, monism and dualism, and a few variations of these. An inquisitive mind might take a whole life understanding these combinatorial ideas, and be left with insufficient time to practice whatever he learns. But for an average individual, such analysis is best ignored.

The Abrahamic religions believe the Book of Genesis has most of the answers, and so believe the Indian Dharmic religions in their numerous scriptures. The Book of Genesis states that God created world and placed man in it, as his regent. Man turned out to be disobedient and God destroyed the creation, by a massive flood. Only Noah, the patriarch, and his wife survived this calamity. The world recreated by the descendents of Noah’s sons Shem, Ham and Japheth was equally corrupt. We are told that God appeared in a dream to Abraham and called upon him to be the seed of salvation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the followers of this line of thought.

Indians have a whole lot of scriptures supporting their faiths; out of these, Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagwad Geeta, feature predominantly in religious studies. Indian philosophy depends on at least six different schools of thought namely, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimansa and Vedanta. Samkhya and Vedanta out of these are relevant to the origin and continuation of world and life. Additional philosophies, derived from the primary religions, have influenced life in India almost equally. These are the beliefs like Sai Baba, Osho, Brahma Kumaris, Radhaswami, Nihangs and they have massive followings. For a good coverage of these faiths, the Indian media network offers a few full time channels.

Hinduism does not define clearly how the universe was formed or life was created. But it deals elaborately with subjects like God, the universe and human beings. It ushers in the concept of reality and virtuality.

According to the Samkhya school of thought, which is attributed to rishi Kapila in 1300 BCE, two entities exist in this universe; prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter) and purusha (consciousness). One could look at this concept as dualism. Jiva (life), is the state in which purusha is bonded to prakriti through desires, and when this bondage is broken, salvation (moksha) is said to have occurred. The purpose of life is named purushartha. Dualism as defined by Samkhya is very different from how it is understood in the west. The dualism of Rene Descartes makes the distinction between mind and body, which are both considered inanimate (jada) in Samkhya. The dualism in Samkhya is between the real self (as purusha) and matter (prakriti).

Vedanta, a name that signifies the end of the Vedic era, was propounded by Adi Shankaryacharya in 800 CE. Vedanta is a monotheistic (advaita – non-dual) school of thought, which states that Brahman (God) is the only reality in this universe. It can neither be defined by attributes, nor be visualised in our present state of consciousness. Human soul being a part of the whole is also real consciousness; it is named atman. An illusory power of Brahman called maya causes the world to arise. Maya makes God to appear as transcendental or an entity that is different from the soul. This illusion is the cause of all suffering in the world. With meditation and self-study, the illusion is disseminated and self-realisation takes place. Soul and Brahman are then seen as one substance, a concept akin to Baruch Spinoza’s God.

Hinduism considers God as the trinity of Brahmma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva or Mahesh (the destroyer). They manage the entire creation as an ongoing process. In all forms of Hinduism, the purpose of life is to achieve salvation, which is the ultimate union of purusha and prakriti, or atman and Brahman, or soul and God.

Buddhism considers this universe and life, as constantly changing entities. Both are transformed perpetually by processes that are not controlled by any eternal entity like God. Buddhism believes in the cycle of birth and rebirth but does not consider that soul is immortal. It clarifies that soul translates into a new form based on the aggregate of karma, ie human acts that are initiated under the control of a conscious mind. Buddhism expects people to understand that their material possessions are temporary; one that belongs to someone today will be another’s possession tomorrow. The sufferings that people take to their hearts, because of losing or fear of losing, are the results of this ignorance. Enlightenment is a state where this ignorance is obliterated.

People are intrigued by the mystery of life and death, and want someone, religion or science, to unfold this secret candidly, so that the purpose of life becomes clear. So far, they have been let down. Like what is said about blind men visualising an elephant by touching restricted parts of the animal. Colossal that this animal is, they all fail even jointly to visualise the object correctly. Hinduism, Buddhism Jainism and some shades of Sufism narrate this story to emphasise that the truth in religions is heavily eclipsed by fallacies. In spite of these uncertainties, doubts and fallacies it is amazing how strongly people feel about religion.

[1] The LHC was built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries, as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories. It lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference, as deep as 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva Switzerland. It is used for testing particle and high energy physics theories, by creating very high momentum collisions of particles.