India missed the 'flight' of education

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
20 February 2010 15:12 IST

Krishna Kumar, the chairman of the National Curriculum of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), has left an awful impression in the minds of Goans. He did not turn up for his prestigious lecture on 9th February, at Festival of ideas, one of the most impressive lecture series in the country, held in the remembrance of India's unbeatable scholar, Dr Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi.

Hats off to veteran actor-writer Girish Karnad. He was the speaker the previous day. When requested, he unhesitantly participated in a last minute-arranged panel discussion on the second day on education, at the initiative of Maria Aurora Couto. Fr Romaldo D'Souza, founder of the Goa Institute of Management, and Goa University Vice Chancellor Dilip Deobagkar also participated in it.

Principal Bhaskar Naik, as a moderator, announced that Krishna Kumar missed his early morning flight coming to Goa. Mr Karnad was however bluntly critical about Krishna Kumar. "We have a chairman for NCERT who can't even catch a flight in time", he commented.

Krishna Kumar, Chairman, NCERT

The Art & Culture Department officials were tight lipped over the issue. But using my journalistic skills, I managed to find out the hidden truth behind "missing the flight." Mr Krishna Kumar did not miss the flight. He had cancelled his ticket the previous day, while assuring the organisers that he would reach in time. When they came to know that he missed the early morning Jet Airways flight, they offered to arrange Kingfisher flight in the noon. And you know what his office said? "Our chairman doesn't travel in Kingfisher."

I think Jet Airways should hire him for their promos.

The last-minute panel discussion was quite interesting. Educationists from all over Goa, sitting in the audience, were raising several questions about the existing mismatch of what India needs and what India teaches. The learned panel also had no different views. Everybody wanted drastic change in the existing educational system; just not the examination pattern.

I remembered a book I read recently on Swami Vivekanand. Originally written by Bengali writer Shankar (I read its Marathi translation) as ‘Achena Ajana Vivekanand' (Unknown Vivekanand), the book makes a startling revelation about his educational "performance". You can see this table. It says everything.

Marksheet of Swami Vivekanand

Of course, this was in the 19th century. In those days, such a performer was called a Third Class student. And a third class student was also considered a third class citizen. A non-performer. Useless person. Not worth concentrating upon. Waste of time. A real waste.

In short, the Indo-British education system considered Swami Vivekanand a "waste."

The reality? The biggest young philosopher India ever had, perhaps after Bhagwan Buddha. He literally mesmerised the international audience with his eloquent English speech (marks 46%) at the age of 30, at the Parliament of World Religions, held in Chicago in 1893.

Unfortunately, we are following this education system till date, for nearly two centuries now.

I remembered an interview I had read last year, of Dr Anil Sadgopal in ‘Sadhana', a Marathi weekly founded by Sane Guruji (Issue: 21 February 2009). It spoke about the integral relation between ‘productive work and education.'

The whole Indian sub-continent was one of the most educated and progressive region in the world at one time. We had progressed in every field, from inventions to philosophy to literature. It was a self-reliant agro economy. Education in those days was directly related to work. No separate schools for education, except may be the schools of Vedic education.

It was productive economy and a prospering economy. Right from agricultural production to town planning and weaving clothes to constructing palaces was learnt by the farmers to the artisans while working, since childhood.

It means learning was considered education. In that sense, every person was considered educated in his/her field of expertise. Though formal Vedic education was restricted to certain community on the basis of caste, others were not considered 'uneducaterd' or 'illiterate', as we consider today. The castes and sub-castes today were actually learning and working communities in every field, like farming, fishing, weaving, artisan, trading etc etc. It was blended well with the productive activities and the self-reliant economy was run accordingly.

For little more formal system of religious education, we had Gurukul Parampara (tradition of students living with the teacher). Even this education was not limited to only reading and writing etc but all kind of physical work too, including cooking, washing etc. Labour had dignity.

Later, the face of mere religious teaching was transformed during Buddhist regime. Jain and Buddhist education was more inclusive. Taxila and Nalanda were the Buddhist education centres, where grammar, medicine, philosophy, logic, metaphysics, arts and crafts etc. were also taught. Students came even from China and Central Asia.

Equally influential later was the Islamic institution of education in India. The traditional madarasas and maktabs taught grammar, philosophy, mathematics, and law influenced by the Greek traditions, inherited by Persia and the Middle East.

During Akbar's regime, it took a step forward. He started additional courses like medicine, agriculture, geography and even teaching other languages and religions.

May it be Vedic, Buddhist or Islamic, the systems varied and were developed from time to time, but the basic concept of integration of productive work and education never changed. Each and every learning was considered 'education.'

But this tradition was literally overturned by the British in early 19th century, much before they started ruling the whole country. It was East India Company's officer Lord Macaulay, in February 1835, proposed an educational concept, called ‘Minute'. The concept was nothing but colonial.

It completes 175 years this month.

Lord Macaulay literally humiliated the rich traditional educational system India had, while introducing a classroom-based new educational system. They ‘manufactured' clerks and accountants in these educational factories. But the real hidden concept was emotional, intellectual and cultural colonisation of India.

Precisely this is the reason why Mahatma Jyotiba Fule had vehemently opposed the concept before Hunter Education Commission in 1882. He had asked for education in agriculture and animal husbandry.

Following his footsteps, Mahatma Gandhi had organised National Education Conference at Vardha in 1937. It drafted an entirely new educational programme for Our India. The Zakir Husain Committee, set up in this conference, presented a comprehensive educational programme for the country at Haripura Congress the following year. The All India Congress Committee even adopted it.

In essence, it was in tune with the same traditional education system, integrating production work with education.

But, unfortunately, the first Jawaharlal Nehru government that came to power in 1947 refused to implement it. Till date, may be with minor variations, we are following the Lord Macaulay concept of education, which has no direct relation of education with the productive work.

In fact, today's culture is like this. If you see a child working at home, we ask: why don't you send your child to school? Education is important. It means, what the child learns at work is no education. Only learning alphabets, reading, writing and answering examination is Education.

The same education, which considers Swami Vivekanand a third class student.

The same education, which considers ‘memory test' (writing exams) as the ONLY test to decide who is intelligent and who is not. 

The same education, which considers the people working on the field and helping the country in productive economy as ‘uneducated'.

The same education, which rusticates creative Ranchos from the colleges.

The same education, which compels Joy Lobos who invent remote-controlled surveillance cameras on a tiny helicopter to commit suicide.

The same education, which makes irresponsible and careless Krishna Kumars the chairmen of highest educational body like NCERT.

It is not only Krishna Kumar, who missed the flight. India herself has missed the ‘flight' of education.

The hidden truth is similar to Krishna Kumar story. India actually did not miss the flight. The ticket itself was cancelled by our rulers, soon after independence.

And we are dreaming of becoming the Knowledge Superpower, with the help of unproductive education...

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of Prudent & Goa365, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities. After retirement from day-to-day journalism in 2020, he is into Re-Search Journalism (पुनर्सोद पत्रकारिता), focusing on analytical articles, Video programs & Books.

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Every thought is important in the comments below and also from the article, but most important ingredient requires here is “political will”. One has to admit that we cannot do anything, but the people who are elected in Legislative Assembly and Parliament can do lot of things about this issue.

Secondly, take an example of Goa, and its Education minister. I really do not think that he can bring some reforms in Goa.

Yes, Mr. Kapil Sibbal at the center can do lot of things, but I really don’t know, will other illiterate people around him will allow him to make reforms in the education? Secondly, his reform ideas have to be replicated to state education boards and universities, which will not happen.

Our politicians are interested in putting their photos on the first page (like the minister for education in last ministry of Goa did). This is ridicules. We have an example, wherein the politicians even have changed actual histories. Under such circumstances, common people are really helpless.

- Purushottam Sandye, Ponda Goa | 22 nd February 2010 13:54


I agree completely with Anita Haladi. Unless the system is equitable and inclusive, current disparities will prevail. Although it is true that Macaulay's Minute was intended to create clerks, it did produce thinkers and activists who led the freedom struggle. These men and women were rooted in tradition, and in the mother tongue while mastering the English language as well. The problem is that future generations have diluted if not entirely lost traditional strengths, as also knowledge and indeed respect for the mother tongue in many cases.

- maria aurora couto, Carona , Aldona | 22 nd February 2010 07:01


Education system acts as an essential & supplementary component in one’s professional & personal life. Striking a balance between the education system & the wok culture is therefore the need of the hour.

However, bringing in the productive work is not the cup of tea of the education system alone. It is also the willpower & potential of the person concerned to explore the new ideas and proving himself productive.

We should not forget that Sandesh Prabhudesai & few others from Goa and many more from our Country and the world, who march ahead with progressive approach; believe in making things happen & leave no stone unturned to see them happening, are also the products of the present education system.

We need to think seriously in this matter, as to who discovered these personalities, is it only the education system alone or their potentials or both ?

Whatever it may be, nothing stops us from thinking in terms of facing the change & exploring new ways to reach our destinations.

- Dr. Soniya Sirsat, Pernem | 22 nd February 2010 00:50


Critics often point out at wrong in the system. It is definitely important. At the same time we should have concrete plan or alternative, in absence of which the rot system continues.

We often blame British system of eduction. But I wonder whether it has remained the same for the past 100 Years. System and the content both have changed. We need to change more. But for what? I think we are not clear about our objectives and hence the present mess.

- Sudan, Panaji | 21 st February 2010 21:32


While I agree that the "system" of education that we have all helped create and unfortunately sustain needs a rethink....I think what is basic to this discourse is how we define "knowledge" itself! Institutionalisation of knowledge, whether in the past under the Gurukul system or in the present, is seldom inclusive.

In the 'good old days' too we excluded the poor and socially marginalised people from acquring knowledge and thus contributed to growing social and economic inequity. In fact, the knowledge economy that we are so proud of having created is based on exclusion by the insistence that knowledge be related to productivity that can be "marketed" and valued in monetary terms.

When we talk of the knowledge economy, we are perpetuating to inequity as we all know, but seldom confess, that we all thrive on maintaining the staus quo between those who 'have' and those who do 'not have' acess to this modern notion of what constitutes knowledge. In doing so, all of us have contributed to the devaluaing of our rich traditional knowledge.

As a teacher, this is the essential dilemma that I face....we are expected to produce knowledge that is marketable and hence the insistence on job-oriented education. This insistence has led to the restructuring of our school and college curriculum and the market has taken over the joy of exchanging ideas. The youth are being sucked into this as let's face it everyone wants to earn a living and then what does one do?

Unless we break these shakcles, education will remain the exclusive domain of the rich and uppercaste elite. I would love to hear from the author and the readers as to how we can begin to make a difference.

- Anita Haladi, Caranzalem | 21 st February 2010 21:04


It is not wrong with our current education system alone, but with our mindset too. It may be the impact of such a long slavery period Indians faced.

Attitude towards the life of any society reflects in its education system.. So was our ancient civilised society and so was the education system, and that was the reason for the flow of foreigners in India in ancient times. That is why the Chines scholar like Huen Sang scarified his life to take great Indian knowledge bank to China.

For Sharing and collecting the good values, the geographical boundaries cannot be the limit, but with it is our bad time that our eyesights are westerlies for every aspect of so called development.

- vasudev pagi, loliem -canacona | 21 st February 2010 19:39


I totally subscribe to the views expressed by the author about the present educational system. It is an irony that the system was designed by Lord Macaulay to create workforce of clerks and babus to rule India and we shamelessly continue to follow this even after 62 years, after becoming an Independent Sovereign State! This is a shame on all of us!

Today, a person coming out of school feels it below his dignity to work with his own hands and is in search of a white collar job. This itself is a great failure of the present system!

We are good at churning out PhDs from the various Universities and Colleges in subjects and topics, which have no relevance of any sort to benefit the society or not! The increments and perks of a Guide depends on the number of PhDs he is able to churn out, and so is the remuneration packet of the person completing his research work, irrespective of whether his research is contributing to the betterment of the society!

Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar tried to bring in some sort of accountability for the huge resources being spent on such unproductive Research work; but still no tangible improvements!

The huge income disparity of a person working hard in sun and rain in the fields and that of a clerk idling away his time in offices- passing files from one tray to another - will have visible short term and long term effects on the society as a whole and these results would not be beneficial!

I congratulate you for raising such an important issue of social relevance!

- Vishwas Prabhudesai, Loliem | 21 st February 2010 17:06


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