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I was swiping away notifications from a news app on my phone and my eyes encountered something peculiar. The article read, “Art should be state sponsored”, says PM. I was intrigued. It is an ingenious idea, indeed. I don’t remember something being as delightful to my senses as this one is(even if it is merely lip service). On second thoughts, the rational sceptic within me questions the very credibility of such intentions, because these are bound to be crippled by institutional deficiencies and hard-set mind-sets.

The burgeoning traffic over social media, with people tirelessly rallying around issues of national concern, suggests that the most popular subject amongst the youth is politics. I see poetry blogs pouring in, literature seems to be rushing through our veins and music is in the air. However, I must be hallucinated because when I ask most of the people I meet, about their preferred career choice, I hear one answer, unequivocally, engineering.

Why? Because it’s lucrative.  How? Because it assures you a job (if nowhere else then in the IT coolie industry thriving in our country).  This brings into the scene, the main protagonist of showbiz called neoclassical economics, i.e., the market. So basically everything boils down to Economics, but who cares to study Economics? Since technology is the steering wheel for economic development, we’d rather steer along. Also, the stakeholders within the market are themselves looking only for technocrats.

Our educational system has failed miserably, not only when it comes to the promotion of disciplines like humanities, fine arts, and liberal sciences, but it has failed to promote the essence of education per se. We are fed with the notion that education is the means to an end, to survive and thrive. But where? The job market.  So basically, anything that does not give you a guarantee of landing you a job, is not worth pursuing.

Welfare economist, Amartya Sen couldn’t help but be perturbed by these trends. In his opening address at the Jaipur literature festival, he raised an alarm to turn our attention to the perishing state of educational disciplines other than science. In a straight and lucid remark, Sen suggested,

“Classical education in language, literature, music and the arts are being seriously neglected in India.  Very few people study Sanskrit anymore. Nor do they study ancient Persian, or Latin, or Greek, or Arabic, or Hebrew, or old Tamil. We need serious cultivation of classical studies for a balanced education. In India’s increasingly business-oriented society, there is generally far less room today for the humanities, and that is surely a problem.”

This is, however, not where I’d like to rest my case; it’s only the starting point.

Before coming to the infrastructural and institutional deficiencies, let me just sum up precisely, the circumstances which nurture the academic orientation of children (students).

Day 1 of kindergarten, a little kid brimming with anxiety, barely managing to walk in a straight line, enters the classroom. Before he catches his breath, pat comes the generic question, “Boy, what do you want to be in life?”. I leave it to the common sense of the reader to ascertain how well-informed a choice is, that is to be made in such circumstances. From the age of adolescence, children bear the burden of the expectations of a future, which is uncertain at best. Under this burden, the joys of learning are brutally crushed.

Furthermore, endless debates on the curricula at the school level and the marking system seem to have contributed little to give students the due exposure to fascinating and constructive realms of music, art and sport. Even social sciences are looked down upon in our academic circles. There is this north-south divide between everything that is science (which matters), and the rest (which is ‘whatever’).

So for starters, if we do aspire to fix this scenario, we need to nip the menace in the bud. Sports, fine arts and music need to be integrated as full-fledged disciplines of study, rather than occupying the ‘free period’ slot in school timetables. These should be introduced as a window to explore a world full of immense possibilities. Also, there is a need to do away with the watertight compartments which divide the disciplines of studies into ‘Science’, ‘Arts’ and ‘Commerce’. A student might want to study commerce but might be fascinated by history too. A science student may find Shakespeare as enticing as the romance of chemicals. To accommodate these inclinations and thus help students realize their creative potential optimally, we need to have a much more diversified and flexible scheme for the selection of subjects. This stands true even with regards to courses at the higher levels of education. This clearly is not the case with the present system. Multidisciplinary streams and subjects like archaeology, metallurgy and rock science are found to exist only in CBSE course manuals and curriculum guidelines, not in practice anywhere. Instead of fitting everything into a straight jacket, and churning out industry-ready course modules, we need to come of age and promote the idea of education for the sake of education.

So, this was about the approach at the ideological level, but tangible changes in the bigger picture can only be brought about with a firm brushstroke of radical institutional reforms. Not that all is well with science and engineering education but if we do a comparative analysis, we would see that there are a decent number of autonomous, state-run institutions to cater to these domains which is far more than the number of state-funded institutions which offer courses in fine arts, music and dramatics. Not to mention sports academies and cultural clubs are a distant dream. You may think that I conjured these facts out of thin air, but surprisingly, people from the academia hold opinions that are strikingly similar.

The Indian Express quotes Brinda Bose and Prasanta Chakravarty, (associate professors of English, Delhi University. ), lamenting over the crippled higher education infrastructure for disciplines other than science, “India has 15 IITs and an equal number of IIMs, but there’s no exclusive centre for fine arts, philosophy, religion or linguistics. The space for humanities is shrinking because there appears to be an increasing belief among policy-makers and visionaries all over the world that in a globalised economy, higher education has to directly serve the needs of the market and that the market is determined by training and expertise in business, finance, management, technology”.

Few institutions like the Lalit Kala Academy and the Delhi College of Arts, exist in the name of institutions offering courses in Fine Arts. Not only the numbers are inadequate but also the stagnation in the organisational machinery of these institutions makes it all the more pathetic, even for a few fortunate students, who somehow manage to make it to these ‘rare’ and ‘exotic’ centres of learning. Turning to sports, while the autonomous institutions like the IITs, boast about the availability of exclusive playgrounds and abundant sports equipment for their students, there are bare minimum numbers of academies which can afford to make provisions to coach the aspiring sportsmen in the areas of their forte. This impasse cannot be overcome until we see a number of centres dedicated to the studies of art, music and well-equipped sports stadiums and academies coming up. From the dispensation and diffusion of funds to the level of implementation and monitoring, a robust system has to be put in place. We do not need to go far to look for examples of autonomous and exclusive centres for learning.

The idea is to bring about a major shift in policy measures aimed at the design of the educational framework. We need to rub our eyes a little and see the light. At the risk of being accused of taking an anti-liberal, anti-growth and even to the extreme, a communist stance, I would suggest that at this stage, it is imperative that we distil the institutions of education from the machinery of the industry.

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