We often hear and read countless arguments and counter arguments about ongoing commercialization of education. At one end of the argument are those who claim that a large investment in, say, setting up a school more often than not results in vastly improved quality of education. Children benefit as they are exposed to more productive learning approaches which help them develop more holistically. Large investments in setting up infrastructure and providing high-end educational facilities and services need to be recoveredand so the school imposes an array of relatively high fees and charges on its students. At the other end of popular opinion on the issue are those who condemn the widespread commercialization of education claiming that business and profit cannot be allowed to become the motivating impulse of education.
Personally, I don’t see why large investments in the school education system should be looked down upon if it, indeed serves to improve the quality of education and offers children a wider variety of effective learning opportunities and support. It is only fair to expect that promoters will want to recover their investments. Of course, going beyond this point and wanting to make ongoing profit is totally unacceptable.
A corollary to the commercialization of education, whether perceived or real, is setting school promoters and the government and its agencies on the warpath, as the latter seek to regulate everything that schools do, including their fee-structures. This is a sad situation and an entirely avoidable one! The best interests of education in India would be far better served if both parties were to build stronger bonds of mutual trust and tread the elusive middle-path in dealing with one another.
But there is a larger issue involved here. Why is it that commercialization of education, notably in the domain of formal school education, is happening at all?
In many ways, our schools reflect the values and principles that we, as a society uphold and cherish. There was a time, long ago in India when social values of integration, rigorous discipline, self-control and search after truth were fully imbibed and reflected by its education system, notably the Gurukulas. Contrast these values with the lack of critical thinking rigor, intense competition, and cold, clinically detached interrelationships that characterize modern day education in India. But then, aren’t these characteristics of our present day society as well?
The problem is that of our increasing permissiveness! Wittingly or otherwise, we have allowed our society to become increasingly materialistic, among a host of other undesirable things. Everybody appears to be engaged in feverish and ceaseless pursuit of material wealth and prosperity. The very notion of progress is, in fact, quantified in almost exclusively material terms.
What this has done, among other things, is relegate education to the role of providing the tools and means necessary for achieving this highly cherished material progress. Far from equipping young members of society with the capabilities that will help them not only achieve individual progress in life but also the ability and motivation to contribute to the transformation of society, present day education has been constrained to merely deliver degrees and certificates that qualify individuals for jobs and the means of earning their livelihood–a grossly materialistic aim in the end!
The ongoing discourse on commercialization of education in India should be seen in the light of our growing materialism. Unless we suitably redefine our understanding and expectations of what education should aim at and deliver, we are going to have to face a growing number of problems. Commercialization of education pales in significance in the face of some really serious problems!
The starting point, I think, is for us to start thinking about human reality and the very purpose of our lives. Is this all that there is to life–to be rich, wealthy and prosperous? Is life all about pursuing the trappings of wealth and power? Are we to expend all our resources in seeking things that we know are finally transitory and perishable? Or is there more to life than all this!
We should know, given India’s rich spiritual and cultural heritage.