In the previous column (May, 22, 2022) I had delineated some steps that need to be taken for making research internships (RI) at undergraduate level an institutional academic affair. This shall be a bonus for more employment opportunities for angry and aspirational youth. This shall also be counted a step towards holistic and comprehensive education. The NEP (2020) recommends these internships with local industry, businesses, village communities etc., as an essential intervention. In one sense we need to learn to unlearn and relearn things while analyzing the contents of NEP. The Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore used to say that his profession was Zamindari and his addiction was star-gazing. He had his two feet on two boats, reality and imagination, and with keen endeavor was able to keep both boats in perfect control. The interplay between the two mounts under his feet sums up his entire life and work. The NEP recommends active engagement with practical side of the learning process. True, there are areas for disagreements as well. The people responsible for implementation of policy of research internships must be mindful of the following:
First, the initial step towards adoption of the provision of IR shall be to have a correct understanding of status and size of our undergraduate education. In Jammu and Kashmir higher education appears to have stagnated in contrast to school education. The empirical evidence only corroborates it. There is a problem with our UG education keeping in view the absolute lack of quality reading material, text books and innovation in pedagogy (PG has its own problems). The issue of quality text books for students has escaped our attention for a long time and there is no planning how to overcome it. The last significant article on teaching ‘Economics’ by Sukhamoy Chakrvarty (1986) was an attempt at self-introspection. The learned professor and practitioner as key architect for five year plans lamented on the teaching of this subject in our higher education institutions. It is very much required that the economy of Srinagar city must factor in our teaching curriculum. During my talk on the theme (RI) in different government colleges it was emphasised that different stakeholders viz, students, progressive farmers, people in the Bapar Mandal too must be co-opted in the future Board of undergraduate studies to catch with the principle of multi-stakeholderism. The Krea university in the Sri-city of Andhra Pradesh with Raghuram Rajan in the advisory panel aims at porous borders between campus and the real world. All this and much more demands debate. If we kill debate we are not educating but only imparting theology to our students. We need dialogic teachers that allow students to raise questions and even tell them that in the college they have a right to be wrong. The teacher has not to be narrowly a service provider but earth- shaker.
Second, there is an urgent need for evolving and institutionalising collective leadership at UG level. The Principal-centric work culture must change. Our undergraduate colleges are under tight bureaucratic control which is bi-nodal. The affiliating university on one side and state bureaucracy on the other suck the scope for any innovation at this level. The leadership issue must be merit and performance based. The locus and focus of power must change so that institutional autonomy is dispersed. The NEP says that by 2035, all UG affiliating colleges shall be accredited and made autonomous, degree granting colleges. The principle of autonomy provides that there shall be internal decision-making where vital decisions are to be taken in areas as wide as, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, student support etc., and all this calls for collective leadership instead of single window clearance which too gets obstructed by long arm of bureaucracy. True, the NEP recommends that autonomy shall be backed by public funding but the writing on the wall is that forces of corporatization and privatization are enjoying the backing of the state and hence need for collective leadership so that alternative resource mobilization is thought about and decided in the best interest of students and key stakeholders. Further, we need to understand that institutional autonomy sounds quite fanciful and romantic in the beginning but it has the other side as well. For exercising meaningful autonomy institutions ought to demonstrate a culture of transparency, honesty and maximum utilization of minimum resources.
Third, we need to understand and do something serious to promote the culture of ‘writing’ in our institutions of higher education. This must commence right from schools so that at college level it can ripen further. It needs to be developed and properly structured so that it emerges as one of the learning objectives. It is only through writing that faculty and students can identify their strengths and weaknesses. It ought to be made essential part of assessment system. I may even suggest that each higher education institution must have a “school of writing” . It is only in writing that we find gaps and holes in our thinking. We come across the ‘Great wall’ as and when we are being asked to construct a sentence or write an application within three minutes. Carol Loomis an American financial journalist once wrote “writing itself makes you see and realize where there are holes in your thinking. I am never sure what I think unless I see what I believe. The analysis part of you kicks in when you sit down to construct a story or even a sentence”. At one time the College Magazine used to be a serious academic intervention in the life of the college and the community. The release of “Verinag” - Magazine of Degree College Anantnag was always eagerly awaited and had an attractive readership among sections of the society. A content analysis of some old issues suggests that most papers published were original and based upon critical analysis. Further, it is essential that “State level institute of translation and interpretation” is established in Jammu and Kashmir which shall go a long way in making all knowledge systems easily accessible and available to students by producing more translators. In our institutions of higher education there is dearth of competent translators so that material available in different languages is made easily available to faculty and students. Needless to mention Sam Patroda committee on National Knowledge Commission too had recommended the need for a Translation Mission.
Finally, I shall recommend for the government of Jammu and Kashmir to think seriously about establishing an “ Education city” in Kashmir to serve as a platform for conceptualizing different schemes and experimenting with varied ideas that can be easily transported to higher education institutions. The city must provide even space to public, private and philanthropic actors to establish their institution. Many of our higher education institutions don’t have the grit and gravitas to compete with institutions of excellence. Such a city needs to be thought about outside the forces of techno-capitalism and private investment. Some state governments are thinking about this as a mechanism to have collaboration with foreign universities. The needs and priorities of state governments vary. This (city) can also be leveraged for customizing reforms under NEP to suit ideals of affirmative action and much needed social justice. While the union government has maintained that the NEP, 2020 is advisory in nature and character, educationists and policy analysts believe that state governments shall be mindful of a “watching UGC”. The institutions of higher education would be conscious of benefits of implementing the provisions of the policy and disadvantages of leaving out from the system.
By way of conclusion it can be said that research internships are very much possible and available in the soft discipline of social sciences. There will be more clamoring for humanities and social sciences as India moves into ‘ Big League’ of developed countries and also as third largest economy. Some scholars have described twenty first century as a post-industrial society. It will need people capable of navigating cultural/religious differences. These differences can devastate economies and livelihoods of people and communities. After shameful incident of rape and murder of Nirubhaya the then UGC wrote to all higher education institutions to make study of social sciences compulsory for science and technology students to check radicalisation in the society. The humanities and social sciences can help in re-engineering of mind and also in containing de-intellectualisation of students. We need to appreciate that Tagore’s passion for dialogue between culture and agriculture, city and the village, the old and the new, tradition and modernity, the East and the West was the motivation behind both Santiniketan and Srinikatetan. Later, Visva Bharti would be envisaged as a meeting place for scholars from all parts of the world to share their knowledge. Tagore’s dream should guide implementation of NEP, 2020.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.