Is education a commodity in India?

Youth are crucial for the success of any country. They are the catalysts for change

Samudrala VK Jan 09, 2021

Youth are crucial for the success of any country. They are the catalysts for change. Going by the demographical numbers of India, it is no wonder to say that India's future is in the hands of the young generation. Historically, India has failed to tap the creative potential of its people due to several reasons.

The overall development of an individual in any nation depends upon social, economic, political, historical, and cultural factors. Earlier, in India, societal forces like caste and religion acted as impediments not only for the progress of an individual but also the society.

Caste hierarchy, an offshoot of the varna system, defined the roles and responsibilities of an individual based on his/her birth. This system decimated the creative quotient of people from the lower castes and the untouchables. The caste system, which is characterized by inequality and rigidity, is one of the reasons for India's backwardness. Lasted for almost 2,500 years with no chance for the reformation and renaissance as happened in Europe after the dark ages, the caste system made India's social fabric largely static and made knowledge and ideas transferable.

In Europe, with the rise of modern political thought, the social and economic relations between the serfs and feudal lords were dismantled and individuals were freed from the shackles of serfdom and ignorance. Western nation-states were successful in freeing society from religious dogmas and stereotypes. A liberated individual acts according to his/her conscience and would play a pivotal role in the progress of society.

Soon after the Bolshevik revolution, the USSR centered its plan agenda around the youth. The then Soviet leadership was aware of the fact that in order to compete with the western economies it is not only important to industrialize the Soviet Union on par with the western block but also to capitalise on the strength of the young population. It took measures for the all-round development of an individual and emphasized on co-operation rather than competition. On the one hand, it encouraged technical education  and on the other hand it equally inspired arts streams to support the creative freedom of an individual. The Soviet Union, as a part of its planned development programme, designed its educational framework not only to meet the man force and skill requirements of core industries but also to harness the true potential of an individual.

Freedom, till now, has been viewed from a political lens. Yes, political freedom guarantees an individual from the excesses of state (political authority) and provides an individual with certain rights. But, freedom cannot be confined strictly to the political space. Real freedom empowers an individual to search for the truth. There is a direct relationship between personal freedom and creativity. Creative minds need political as well as personal freedom to realize their potential.

In India out-of-the-box and creative thinking are being viewed as signs of abnormal and unacceptable behaviour. Creativity and innovation form the bedrock of development. The prevailing social norms and stereotypes have been killing the creative appetite of young minds. In addition to the existing unwritten norms, the fear of failure is hampering the young generation to venture into new and unconventional paths.

Creativity is something different that we cannot fix in an existing hyper-competitive environment and market-oriented education system. Now, it is the market rather than an individual that is deciding the career paths and future. In addition, what ails the current young population of India is the social and parental pressure as a result of expectations. Parents have been pushing their unfulfilled dreams onto their children. Due to parental and peer pressure, the teens have been opting for academic courses that are not according to their tastes and wishes.

Coaching centres, schools, colleges, and online ed-tech companies have been banking on the emotional weakness of parents. The existing framework of education and its inflexibility has been restricting the young generation to choose academic courses according to their passion and ability.

With the advent of neoliberalism, education has turned into a commodity. Like every other sector in capitalist economics, education and knowledge are seen as an easy profit-making industry. Obviously, there would be more buyers in this segment as every parent would dream to deliver a better life to their children. Earlier, in India, the social status of an individual was linked to his/her caste. Now, the social status of an individual is decided by his/her qualification. Rather than viewing education as a tool of enlightenment or as a process of transforming an individual, it has become a normal or routine exercise. The market-driven educational system has forced the Indian youth into a mindless rat race to grab ranks or percentages. This phenomenon has been defeating the very purpose of acquiring knowledge or education. In fact, knowledge is multi-dimensional. One can acquire it in many ways. Theoretical and academic learning is one aspect of it.

When we think of the youth, the thing that comes to our minds are novelty, energy, freedom, creativity, unyielding, and do or die attitude. Unfortunately, at present, market capitalism has been hijacking the minds of India's youth.

In the past, social factors like religion, caste, and cultural norms cumbered the free thinking of an individual, but now the market has been dictating the minds and aspirations of the young populace.

The growing tendency among the youth to ending their lives for preposterous reasons is a cause for concern and this can be attributed to the unregulated market. If this trend goes unchecked, the nation has to pay a hefty price.

(The writer is a columnist on international affairs and contemporary issues)