Monday, September 07, 2009

The Telegraph comments on IISc's proposed undergraduate program

Its editorial is very positive.

At the root of the word, ‘science’, is the idea of knowledge. It is important to remember this when education in India seems to be forgetting the crucial distinction between pure learning and the teaching of skills or the practical application of classical systems of knowledge. So when a premier centre of advanced science research like Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science thinks up an undergraduate course in the classical sciences, then it is time to start feeling somewhat reassured. To create a broad and high-calibre foundation in the basics of pure science, mathematics and engineering, rounded off with training in the rudiments of research is a solid idea.

It goes on to make a larger point -- which I agree with, entirely -- that our universities should get on board the undergraduate train:

But it is not enough to create such pockets of pure learning only in a few well-funded institutes. The country’s best universities also need to become centres of classical learning and research, with their faculty compensated and encouraged similarly for this to happen. This is not an elitism-versus-accessibility issue at all, but one of resurrecting universities as centres of learning. In fact, some would argue that burdening advanced research institutes with undergraduate teaching may not be an entirely good idea, and that universities are the best places where this kind of teaching ought to be strengthened. But young learners and advanced scientists could also challenge one another in ways that could benefit both.

The editorial ends with a strong pitch for humanities:

Moreover, this move towards high-quality options for pure learning should not remain confined to the sciences. It is only when the role of the humanities in themselves is also recognized in a similar way, and not merely as a humanizing supplement to a scientific education, that Indian higher education will attain the proper balance that it risks losing now.

* * *

An otherwise un-controversial editorial is marred by this unfortunate remark buried in it:

When the majority of the best minds in science tend to move towards turning themselves into techno-coolies, one hopes that the creation of such opportunities will produce other forms of excellence in Indian higher education.

This says something about the general disrespect that the editorial team has for coolies -- techno or otherwise. Celebrating "the idea of knowledge" should be possible without harboring such thoughts about people's choices, no?


  1. Anonymous said...

    Well, I agree that the word "techno-coolie" may have the unfair concoction that you are suggesting, but I guess it's all because our minds are colored that way! An alternative thinking might yield: "techno-coolies" are they who diligently follow (read: follow instructions) someone else's (read: supervisor's) load (read: code/project/task) on their back (read: night shift, odd hours, overtime, etc) without themselves having to think or choose much. Isn't that what real coolies are supposed to do anyway? There is no disgrace in it!

  2. Ludwig said...

    > says something about the general
    > disrespect that the editorial
    > team has for coolies -- techno
    > or otherwise.

    There's that word again :) Since I'm the resident national expert on "respect", kindly bear with me while I hold forth.

    Treating the job profile "coolie" (i.e. in the commonly understood sense of "someone who does dehumanizing, backbreaking, mindless (or combinations thereof) work because their circumstances are such that they are unable to do more desirable things") with disrespect may not be such a bad thing after all, it possibly serves as one way to remind people about how unpleasant it is, and get them to work (in whatever way) towards some other more pleasant state of affairs.

    Of course, from a very practical standpoint, we end up conflating the job description with the individual and I guess that is what you are getting at?

  3. Anonymous said...

    At least Sci. & Tech. gets so much attention/funding to improve it thru IIXs and special programs and centers. Does the lack of talk in the media about excellence and improvements in so many non-S&T fields - Law, Arts, Social Science, Journalism, Geography, Economics, Commerce etc. indicate that the univs are doing a wonderful job as good as the premier instis. in S&T ?
    Not everybody can e working in S&T and the society doesn't run just on S&T.
    And again no talk abt plans for raising the profile and level of a "real university" and not just fractured and segregated instis. based on specific programs/fields.