Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Capitation and capitulation - that's 'value-based education' for you

My earlier blog was about how it is best to let children pursue their own areas of interest, for often-times it is passion that helps you find your true vocation in life. Now past my prime, I feel I have missed my vocation. I’d have probably done much better as a teacher or a travel writer or perhaps a bookseller.

Well, I received an email from a rather miffed mother, stating that the money she paid as capitation fee or whatever was not paid to fulfil her dreams or anything of the kind. It was only to fulfil her daughter’s wish to go to the US of A. And taking up Engineering was the easier route. She wonders why she should be ashamed to be called a Sanskrit scholar’s mother. After all, she hails from a family of Sanskrit scholars; her grandfather was a highly respected pundit. And her daughter is the only one in the family of today’s generation who has an inclination and passion for the subject.

Now that I have been admonished and corrected to a point, let me say that it is not my intention to base stories on other people’s lives but, certainly, as somebody who takes more than a casual interest in things happening around him, I am sure I can put forth my points of view based on conversations and experiences. That’s what any form of writing is all about, isn't it?

In any case, my intention really was to point to the lack of interest in the Arts and the Humanities thanks mainly to courses being linked to jobs, overseas opportunities and even marriage prospects, and to parents and teachers being unable to guide children properly. In this case, of course, we must give it to the young student for wanting to pursue Sanskrit in a world where many people have even forgotten the subject exists. And to her mother for having taken a bold and practical stand to ensure that the best turns out for her daughter.

My intention was also to point to how parents are forced to pay huge sums as capitation fee to colleges and institutions of higher education in our country. Are we prepared to sacrifice our children’s future by not making such payments for which you don't even get a proper receipt? I suppose not. So, it is perhaps symptomatic of a wider malaise in society. But then it is strange, isn't it, that such goings on haven’t come to the fore in the media in all these years.

I wasn't surprised, therefore, to read in today’s newspapers (talk about timeliness!) about IT raids being conducted at several premises of one of the so-called leading colleges in Chennai and roundabout. What started off as a school and went on to become a college has today diversified interests – hotels, hospitals, transport, media and entertainment. Quite an empire really.

In education especially, it's quiet, hard, diligent and honest work that wins the day, and for that you need to be publicity-shy and less commercially minded. Sadly in our country, there aren't too many who fit the bill. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Engineering scored over Sanskrit...

In my younger days I often used to be flummoxed by the question, “What do you plan to do?” or “Have you decided what you want to do in life?” Because I never really had an answer. Although life was far, far more simpler then, I hadn't been able to decide whether I should pursue a career in Accountancy or one in Advertising, or whether I should seek a scholarship abroad. Going abroad for study was a huge thing in those days and it needed the determination and skills that I didn't quite possess. Also, there was the thought of leaving family and friends at the back of my mind. So, dreams of landing on foreign shores evaporated quickly and I was content enrolling for Commerce in the city where I grew up. The fact that it was one of Calcutta’s best colleges added to my sense of satisfaction.

There was no persuasion from either of my parents to take up something specific; neither of them even visited my college. At that age you were expected to do all that was needed to get in. There were not too many courses. You either opted for Science or Commerce or Arts. I had some skills in drawing and was tempted to enrol for Arts but chose Commerce, driven by the pack. There was the assuring thought that my uncle would help find a decent job for me. He finally didn't. It was actually a blessing in disguise. For I learnt to stand on my own two feet and after starting off as a management trainee at Brooke Bond’s never really looked back. That of course was my best job, one that I dumped to get back to city life, a decision I rue to this day.

Memories of my college days sprung up from almost nowhere when a close friend told me a few weeks ago that she was intent on getting her only daughter into an engineering college although the girl’s interest lay in pursuing Sanskrit. The mother had her eyes focused on the future – if her daughter was to pursue higher education or work in the US of A, a Sanskrit degree would do her no good. At least that was what the mother felt. To fulfil her (mother) dreams, she paid Rs 7 lakh or more. No receipt, mind you; amount not refundable. All the money came from her savings. She had to gnaw into her fixed deposits.

The story left me wondering why many parents and teachers today are not content leaving their children to do what they want. My daughter wanted to do Psychology ever since she was in Class 7 or 8 and that is what she ended up doing. Am sure, left to herself, this girl would have happily settled for Sanskrit and probably made a mark some way in the future. Not that she can’t with Engineering… Of course, the mother wanted the very best for her daughter and is keen to enrol her for a Sanskrit correspondence course. 

However, at the end of the day, it’s all about jobs and money nowadays, not the love or passion for a particular subject. No wonder then that the Arts and the Humanities are so neglected! It’s why our social fabric has crumbled beyond recognition. Because what these streams can teach, in terms of becoming a well-rounded and wholesome human being, few others can. I now wish I had taken up the Arts. Sadly, I can't turn the clock back. But may be some day I will enrol for a course in Literature.