New Education Policy 2020 is now poised to be introduced in the Indian education system. With it education curriculum will come to be comprehensively remoulded at all levels, starting from school to university levels with the intent to make students fitter to meet the challenges of an era defined by what is popularly referred to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Jeremy Rifkin in his new book by the same title, says this is destined to be an era of Artificial Intelligence, AI, bringing in promises as well as nightmares. Rifkin of course is best known for his book which preceded this one, the “Empathic Civilisation”, which departs from earlier understandings of the base and superstructure of human civilisation, including those forwarded by Locke, Darwin, Smith, Bentham and not the least, Freud, and argues it is empathy which is at the root of all civilisations, and that humans are soft-wired for empathy unlike most others in the living world, also definitely much more than all other animals which do know empathy, in particular other primates. The empathic circle of humans has also been expanding, once confined within small bands of hunter gatherers, to larger communities, tribes, nations, races, co-religionists then even came to cover all sentient beings. Now, it has expanded even more and there is beginning to be even an ecological empathy, and indeed many today feel hurt at trees being felled, the rivers, lakes, the atmosphere or ocean being mistreated etc. But this is already the dawn of a new era and therefore new challenges. How then would this empathy bondage going to pan out in the age of AI? Would the human self-perception and identity remain the same? Indeed, we are staring at very interesting times ahead and it could either be a brave or a grave new world, or maybe a bit of both.
Whatever the future holds, like it or not, we have to prepare for it and its fallouts, and indeed the best way to do this is by reorienting the direction of our education. The important question is how do we do so, and exactly what part in this entire new era economic and political eco system must we try to fit in and make the best of, as well as contribute to. Quite obviously, there will be parts which are beyond our realistic ambition and others that match the genius of the place. The quest must be for a right balance that would enable our younger generation to remain connected with the new paradigms of the new age. Quite obviously, Manipur must not be satisfied with a one-size-fits all approach, and instead look to creatively adopt the Union government prepared National Education Policy 2020 to fit it better with the peculiarities of its people’s needs, temperaments and life opportunities. For this the state government must widely consult those in the field of education at every level. It must take into consideration inputs from government and private schools, colleges and of course the universities, in particular the Manipur University.
Without going into details, here is a scan of selected features of the policy document which should be seen as extra important for Manipur. At the higher education level, there will be no longer any hard separations between curricular, extracurricular, academic, vocational, science, humanities and arts streams. This is something not altogether unfamiliar and has been in practice in many developed countries already. The biography of many of the most successful men from America, for instance in the story of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page whose joint Ph.D thesis on page-ranking system was incubated to become the Google search engine business that we all know and are familiar with today, is one such fascinating story well documented in David A. Vise’s authorised biography of the company, The Google Story. In this story, we get to see the magic that can result from a blurring of boundary between academic and vocational knowledge pursuit. This story is repeated in so many other stories of stellar successes in so many different fields, business, technology, sports, academics and more therefore deserve much attention.
We also need to take cognizance of what some of the top leaders of new age technology and businesses, such as Apple’s Tim Cook who praised the spread of vocational engineering skills in China which made it an indispensable destination for the most sophisticated gadgets such as the I-phone and I-pad. Likewise, Microsoft’s Steve Woznaik, said Indians do well because their education system is designed to make them work hard and acquire relevant skills, but this has meant a shortfall in creativity therefore while Indians remain good managers, few are gifted when it came to innovation. But related to this, and much more relevant is what educationist Sugata Mitra said in a TED talk to remind everyone. Once upon a time, he surmised, when the erstwhile British Empire was a well-oiled administrative machine that had no matches in the world, an education system was fashioned to serve its end. In Mitra’s analogy, the British colonial empire was like a giant computer that encompassed the entire length and breadth of the empire. But this computer was made of people and this was the colonial administrative system run by a bureaucracy. This computer perennially needed the people to run it and therefore the Empire also needed to make the kind of people it needed. And this was accomplished with its education system. The British education system which India also followed at the time, and still continues to follow, was designed to ensure that this computer did not fall short of spares. The objective of this education was to produce identical components in plenty so that whenever the computer needed spare replacements anywhere in its vast domain, any one of these parts produced anywhere in the Empire could replace them. If an office in London needed any class of staff, and such class of employees were in short supply at the place, they could be transported from anywhere else in the empire. Hence, just as English employees could come to India and fit into the administration without any problem, Indians trained in the same education system in India could also be taken to England or any other extensions of the British Empire, and within a matter of a day or two, they would fit in and be able to handle the given task as anybody else. The British Empire has long dissolved, but it seems many of its legacies continue to linger on. This is sometime enchanting, but not always. Education is certainly one of the latter, for rather than serve the needs of the long gone era, it should now be looking to equip the younger generation with knowledge and skills needed to meet the challenges of the present times.
There is now a blueprint of an education system that the Union government has provided. There can be no question this will have to remain the foundation of the system Manipur also builds. But since education is in the Concurrent List in the 7th Schedule, therefore a shared responsibility between the Centre and State, there will be room for interpretations to fit in local needs and aspiration. This is where the government will need to put its mind to and come up with its own policy. The success in this enterprise will also determine the future of our land and people, therefore the need for this to be taken with the seriousness it deserves.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author