Chapter 9: Higher Education in Kerala

The Church’s Mission and Post-Modern Humanism
by M. M. Thomas

Chapter 9: Higher Education in Kerala

Chapter 9: Higher Education In Kerala

A paper presented at a Seminar at Santhinilayam, Thiruvalla on 28 Oct. 95 under the joint auspices of the Kerala Council of Churches and the Mar Thoma College, Thiruvalla.


I. Conceptual Shift in Higher Education - A Critique

The conceptual shift in Higher Education which this seminar is considering, I suppose, is the one that is reflected in the policy of the government to permit self-financing colleges of higher education, specially meant for giving training in technical and managerial skills to those who can afford to buy them. This however is not a shift merely in education. It is in fact an extension into the field of higher education of the government policy of globalization, that is, of letting the global market decide the pattern of economic development of the nation without intervention from the government in the name of social justice, protection of the natural environment or national self-reliance; it is a decision to make economic growth the ultimate criterion not only of economic development but also of social and cultural development of the peoples of the country. This calls for converting not only economic but also cultural and educational goods and services into commodities salable in the market for profit, and therefore producing such of them which have demand from those consumers who have the most purchasing power. It is necessary therefore to evaluate this “ideology” of the market-economy if we have to evaluate the commoditisation of education which is now adopted as the government policy as a part of its policy of giving priority to economic growth.

Markets have been in existence in every society from old times. It was used by society as a means to achieve social objectives. Even when Adam Smith made markets the providential order, it was never the only criterion for deciding economic activities. “The view that markets and the price signals they provide should be accepted as the only criterion for all economic decisions and actions became doctrine or ideology only much later”, says C.T. Kurien (The Economy, p.108). Even when market with its goal of economic growth became decisive for economic activities in capitalism, it was never accepted as decisive for the lion-economic areas of social or cultural life. The ideologisation of the market which commoditises and values everything including culture and morality in terms of its demand and price in the market, is more recent. After the disintegration of the socialist regimes of Eastern Europe it has become the dominant ideology globalised through the Brettonwood Institutions, the IMF and the World Bank, in an unipolar world.

Of course, Individualism which elevates the individual as a law unto itself denying the larger dimension of personal fulfillment through responsibility to community, and the mechanical-materialistic view of the universe characteristic of the Newtonian age which denied the organic and spiritual dimensions of reality, have been the ideological framework of the modern market from the beginning. But it is strange that they have become globally reaffirmed after all the Social Sciences have proved the social dimension of human nature beyond doubt, and after Einstein has brought about a revolution in the philosophy of even the physical universe, displacing the mechanical by the organic.

The Constitution of India formulated by the founding fathers of India’s nation-state, has clearly laid down both in its Preamble and in its Directive Principles of State Policy, that politics and economics are instruments of social objectives rather than the reverse. Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are the goals to which “we the People” commit ourselves in establishing the nation-state. The word “socialist” which was added later to indicate the character of the Indian Republic only clarified this. But the “socialist pattern of society” was the declared goal of the Nehru era. Further, education was conceived as an instrument to realize the goal of a casteless and classless society. The State shall “make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education”(Part IV, 41), provide “free and compulsory education for all children”(45), and “promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people”(46). I am not saying that the Nehru era realized these goals. Far from it. But it never repudiated them as goals to be striven for. The shift today in the first place is in the ideology of the leadership of the nation-state and as a corollary in the objective of education. The ultimate commitment of the political community today is to the “ideology” of market-economy with its prime objective of economic growth which inheres the promotion of class society keeping as much of the patriarchies and hierarchies of the traditional society and culture intact as are possible; and education is conceived as an instrument of this end.

Even in the meaning given to Privatization of education, there is an equivalent shift. Earlier, it was a call to private agencies to enter the field of education, at the primary level of helping the State in imparting education to the poorer sections of society, and at the level of higher education in imparting liberal education for leadership of political democracy and social change. In fact the “fundamental duties” of citizens, (enshrined later in the Constitution) gave priority to the development of “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform”(Part IVa). Today the State is closing down the state primary schools for the poor, and they are not interested in aiding private agencies to conduct such schools, because they see it as a costly exercise in social welfare which reduces money for investment in hi-tech development aimed at economic growth. Privatization today is for conducting self-financing technical and managerial professional colleges for the rich to take advantage of the TNC’s hi-tech growth-oriented pattern, of development.

The difference between education understood only as training in technical skills within the ideology of the economic growth and education for promoting a technical society within the framework of a culture of “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”, is indeed great. It is the difference between promoting technical rationality which concentrates on “means” of living and promoting revolutionary or critical rationality which examines critically the “ends” of living often embedded but hidden in the so-called neutral means. It is the difference between pursuing knowledge as power only and pursuing knowledge as power at the service of values and responsible to social and ecological justice and to the people whose welfare is affected by the exercise of that power.

The famous German woman liberation theologian Dorothee Solle in her essay on “A Christian Critique of Ideology” (in Confronting Life- Theology out of the Context ISPCK Delhi) speaks about a German film by Lanzmann, where the technicians follow the instructions of the Nazi ideologists in building a suitable truck to gas the Jews without any question because they are interested only in scientific technology and “brushes aside all questions about side-effects, victims and interests as unscientific” The technicians spoke technical words like load, loading, units, and operational period ignoring the meaning of these words in the context (The “load” meant children women and men in mortal terror, “loading” meant the herding of these creatures by their executioners into the trucks using dog-whips, the “units” were people who knew they were going to be killed, the “operational period” was the time during which the people utter death-cries as they got suffocated by the gas). She comments, “As I see it, the technical experts or the managers who are totally free of ideology, are the ones who are gaining ground. And this supposed freedom of theirs from ideology and their detachment from traditional myths is at least as dangerous as the blinding of the masses by an outspoken ideology such as Nazism”(p.33). Technocrats and bureaucrats unconcerned with values can easily go along with tyrants.

I must explain however my statement above of the “so-called means which embodies but hides false ends under neutrality”. No technological system is just neutral. It is always technology integrated with some end in its very structure. Therefore, an education that gives training in technical skills and do not help the trainees to examine and discern the false ends which may be hidden in the engineering and managing technology that they use, is not service to humanity. Gandhi used to insist that violence was embedded in large-scale technology. Vandana Shiva finds that much modern science and technology are patriarchal projects. Philosophy of knowledge affirms that scientific knowledge is the result of the subjective self observing objectified nature, and that therefore the subjectivity, the subjective purposes of the self, always plays a part in the knowledge attained. That part is greater in social sciences and social technology. If this is true, then technologies themselves need reshaping to make them acquire a human face and embody values of justice and community of life. It is this that gives relevance to the idea of “technology with a human face”.

Any higher education which ignores discourse on knowledge of social objectives and human values must end in creating what the Radhakrishnan Report calls a Rakshasa Raj. Of course you might well feel that this is the situation in our institutions of liberal education even today, and the new shift is only revealing the truth of our present situation. But realization of this truth is itself healthy if it calls for a proper response to the challenge of the situation.

With these words I inaugurate the Seminar and wish it success.

II. Self-Financing Higher Education- its Cultural Effects

Based on the Valedictory Talk at the Trivandrum Seminar organized by Vichara, Mavelikara on a critical evaluation of the Kerala govt’s policy of promoting self-financing of Higher Education, with “Higher Education in Kerala-Financial Crisis” by Dr.K.K.George (professor of the School of Management Studies, Cochin University.) as the paper for study.

The basic points which I wish to draw attention to in the paper of Dr. K.K. George are contained in his “summing Up” part on p.24. There he says, one, that the shift from the concept of “the State’s role as providers of equal opportunities to every citizen” to that of providing education, health and other social services “to those who can afford to pay” is a U-turn in public policy which “has been made surreptitiously by administrative action without public discussion and legislative sanction”; two, that the total commercialization of social sectors is “alien even to free market societies”; and three, that “the ready acceptance of self-financing concept in social sectors alien even to free-market societies is the end result of gradual disenchantment with the Kerala Model of Development”, which has been emphasizing the social dimension rather than the economic, but that it is quite false to present the situation as calling for a choice between social development and economic growth. Social development has already made a contribution to the economic development of the state and he has a long quotation from his earlier writing to affirm that it is possible to develop a Kerala Model of Economic Growth on the foundation of its Model of Social Development by a new State strategy of “transforming its expenditure on education and health from merely a social welfare expenditure into an investment in human capital”, and that in fact any other path of economic growth is full of risks for Kerala which has only “limited raw material and fuel resources”.

The classical economists are responsible for the general disenchantment of the Kerala people with the Kerala model of development. It is in striking contrast to the enthusiasm with which the Harvard economist Amartya Sen supports it in the book India-Economic Development and Social Opportunity (Oxford 1995) which he wrote with Jean Dreze and published recently. It presents the Kerala model as something from which the Union Government and other Indian states like UP and Bihar have to learn their lesson that without a basis in social development like literacy, health and women’s education and social security there can be no participatory economic expansion which is necessary if economic growth has to serve society. This is also the lesson they draw from the successful strategies of economic development of China, Korea and other Asian countries. It is also the lesson the study draws from the failure of Brazilian strategy of economic growth to achieve “little reduction of poverty particularly in terms of social backwardness and sectional deprivation”. The book warns that “India stands in some danger of going the Brazilian way rather than South Korea’s”.