By Ananya Guha
Elections are dominating everything in the news today. Elections are round the corner almost every time. If there are no central elections, there are state elections, or better still bye elections. Even elections in University campuses make headlines of sorts. We get to see everything about elections even before it has begun. Never has an election been so smeared with words that malign an opponent or an opponent’s party. Electing an individual or a political party is the law of the land. This will continue to take place as per political and constitutional processes. But this dominating every minute of the news is a testimony to politics taking possession of our lives. It has come in a way that we can view nothing but a political context. That is why this context is everywhere, in education and social contexts. It is high time we evolve methods for peace, development, health and education. My point is that politicization of everything not only weakens the body politic of a nation, but its sustainability and overlooks the happenings in our surroundings. Poverty for example, the plight of the poor, the struggles for a daily living in a country like India.
Then where do we go to? Yes a new ruling government will come. Let it come and let the work for development and for the common man, employment and above all living in peace come. There is a diversity in the country which is unique. Such diversity must be the strength even while the disparity in terms of social and economic conditions must be alleviated. Then only can the strength of diversity be brought to a common platform. Otherwise the proclivity of driving wedges on the basis of caste, community and religion will remain.
And how do we play up to all this? The mainstream media does by constantly introducing acrimonious debates or discussions, where you have politicians dominating the scene, or journos and academics that have political leanings. This will hamper education and the right to think in our country. In short we are being brainwashed, and the vicious hand of hatred takes over our psyches. Are we looking for change? No. We are only anticipating change in a political firmament. Do we want to see more education for those who cannot access it? Very doubtful. What happened to the Right to Education? How do we address the needs for a holistic education for the drop outs and the disadvantaged? Without education there can be no access to a better living. This is simple: because education provides sustenance for combating the outside world; it arms an individual to question and also makes a person more discerning. Skills can be developed concomitantly. How much of focus is there on education in the media?
Coming back to university campuses, political groups dominate there as well. What do these student leaders do for education in their respective regions?
If we are remembering Gandhi today, what are we doing to understand the art of persuasion, dialogue or mediation? It is here that education is the fount. We can resolve conflict through mediation, and meeting something or someone half way. We do not. We simply aggrandize and thrust our views on others. We play politics and groups in our ethos, workplace or even homes. Then where is non- violence, satyagraha, being civilly disobedient? We remember the patriarch but not what he stood for. We mouth these terms but do not put precept to practice. Gandhian ideals are mouthed, not practiced. We need more introspection. Education and the manner of bringing resolution to crises can help us achieve these. It is a feeling versus reason dichotomy that we must constantly resolve, not the politics of bickering, shaming and attacking.
Then only can the cultural heritage of India be understood and realized in a seamless context. That can be done when we veer round to the common man and his innate penchant to learn and harness applications of knowledge. It is simply that the opportunities for education are missing. The man who owns a small grocery shop gives the best education he can to his children. Those who have practical skills say in plumbing, electrical wiring or plumbing have an intelligence that is not measured. The common man uses technology with aplomb but does not possess formal qualification. When we think of votes we think of the common man but not when we think of education. Technology and say the internet is best suited for education because we have free and open sources on the internet, open source libraries, open access to journals etc. Literacy and numeracy must be amenable to open access so that people can read, write and learn. What we call literacy today is only signing of names. Literacy is the base and springboard for education. And, open and accessible education vis a vis the internet of things (www) is the solution. Once the common man is educated or has access to it then only we can have a free thinking society when people are not galvanised or exploited as a vote base. It is here also that learning ontologies can focus on open and distance learning which is accessible and affordable. Distance Education is for the masses: the antinomy are the classes who are privileged to have an elitist education.
When demonetisation took place I was pleasantly surprised to see here in Shillong how shop keepers used the Pay TM mode to transact their small businesses in the absence of notes. These very people are ‘ uneducated’ but they know very well the utilitarian value of technology and its application processes. And such processes must be used for education both formal and non formal. The cynosure must be the common man and the weapon: technology for education, to learn, gather information and hone cognitive skills. Earn and learn is truly a catchword, but it can be practised through distance and open learning. Alternating between work and study is what distance and open learning provides to the common man or the professional, who is also a ‘common’ man.
My point is that technology is not being used enough for education. The common man grasps instinctively its entertainment value but not its educational value. That is because the position of the radio, the television, the internet and the mobile phone are undermined as educational value. When it comes to education these are almost strictures and fall under a ‘ prohibited’ order.
Let us posit in this manner. Education can be mass oriented when the focal point is the man on the street or the common man who must be taught not only to vote but to learn. Then only does he exercise true franchise and is a liberated soul. True education is a liberating force and doubly egalitarian. When we speak of equal opportunities or the right to education we must think of the poor and the unequal.
It is sad that the import of distance and open learning has not been understood in a nuanced manner. They encompass radically the following: cost effectiveness, continuity in education, non formal and formal learning and both Young and Adult learning. Where else would you find such educational holism ? And here the benefits can be reaped by the common man, the unlettered, the hitherto untutored and the less fortunate in terms of educational advancement. Linking degrees with jobs or employment is not the only criterion for a sound educational system but also the development of thinking skills and application oriented knowledge.
I started my article with a note on the tenor of politics, but have drifted mid stream to education with a focus on education for the common man. If we can think of a common school system we can also think of a common education system.