Colleges and society

Submitted by souravroy on

It is said that if all is well with the colleges, all will be well with the society. I am sure you will agree with me, that all is not well with our society today. Hence the conclusion is inevitable that all is not well with our colleges. It is one thing for the colleges to reflect the social reality. What is more desirable is that the college should be an agent of change in the society. In a positive and dynamic way. In a fulfilling way.

The concept of a college or university is not new to our society. Nalanda and Takshashila are not a part of fable and folklore. They were concrete realities, legends of bricks and stones built by our own forefathers. They had seekers of knowledge from different parts of the globe.

The spirit of inquiry was all at its glory. Every position and proposition was debated and questioned. And through questioning, both the learners and the teachers tried to arrive at facts and truths. Knowledge and not fulfilment of personal egos was the primary focus.

In our ancient society, universities were at places away from the general run of life activities, mostly in forests. They were places for quiet contemplation and introspection. Learning through instruction by the teachers was only one part of the education. Our method of education gave equal emphasis to other sources of learning. If we divided the learning process into four parts, one part was imbibed through the instruction of the teacher; another part was imbibed from the student’s interaction with the peer group; yet another part was through one’s own intellectual prowess; and the final part through the passage of time by gaining experience.

With time, we have moved away from that model. The reasons could be several, and I don't want to divert this article in that direction. In the modern times, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect the society not to impact the college. It is not possible to insulate our colleges, for good reason or bad, I don't know.

I am a student in one of the best technical colleges of the country, and I myself can't claim that my college is not able to fulfill its duty towards the community. It is clear that if there is any institution that is involved in the task of nation building, it is the colleges. But I need not at the same time hesitate for a moment to say that the efforts by my college are not enough. The efforts of the educating community as a unit are not enough. The colleges are probably doing their best. But even their best efforts are not good enough!

Not just colleges, but also we, the students must acknowledge the fact that in India, birth decides the fate of most people. And we belong to a very privileged lot. It is a fact that out of every hundred who join a school, only less than ten make it to the college. The rest drop out to work in farms, or raise cattle or work in hotels or become a daily wage worker. The situation is much worse among the scheduled castes and tribes especially among girls.

It is important to understand the strength we possess. India is blessed with youth power. In fact, no other nation has the advantage that India has today. More than 30 per cent of our population comprises of the youth. Indian students and youth are appreciated everywhere in the world. Our academic abilities and perspectives are valued all over the world. This is our strength, and no one, absolutely no one can take this away from us. If social responsibility is added to this strength, the result will be resonating in every gully of our nation we so dearly call ours.

There is another angle to the social responsibility, an associative one though. Most colleges cannot function with the fees that students pay. Most of it comes from the state, in form of funds or subsidies. Which means that it comes from the tax-payers’ money. In our country, most of the tax money comes from not direct taxes, but from indirect taxes. In other words, they come from the poor. The common agricultural labour, the little cobbler, the autowala and the housemaid. It is these people who finance the colleges. Even if they don’t stand at our college’s gate and ask questions, should the educating community not feel accountable to them?

Every college is a powerhouse. A powerhouse of not only ideas, but also of action. Can't the student's of a college resolve that there should not be a single illiterate in the radius of a fifty kilometers of their college? Can't the students sit down and work out a strategy, and an action plan? Should it be left only to the mercy of the bureaucratic red-tape? Can't the students ensure that no one dies due to shortage of blood in the district? Flood the blood banks with voluntarily donated blood. Why should a person beg for blood on streets?

It is not possible to see that people in the area where there is a college remain healthy. Is it impossible to see a day when people say that there is no child labour in the area; thanks to the college there? Is it not possible to see a day when every village and community is lively and healthy and well nourished because there is a college in the vicinity? Is it a tall order to expect to see a day when one says that there is no illiterate in the area because there is a college there? If it can be done, is not doing it, an abdication of social responsibility?

Recently Japan was devastated, and the only precautionary measure that worked for them was the helping nature of the people there. Such is the elevated level of their society. But have we peeped into their classrooms and seen what these Japanese are taught? They are taught compulsory social responsibilities in schools and colleges. This has another advantage. It transforms the youth into a socially aware group. Think of such a system in India. Each youngster will familiarize himself or herself with the social reality. When they leave the college, and become administrators, social leaders, doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals, they will not lose sight of the social reality. Their experience with the social action will stay with them throughout their life. A generation will awaken!

Noble laureate Prof. Amartya Sen said that if the things go on as they do now, parts of India would resemble the prosperous California and some other parts would resemble sub-saharan Africa. Poverty and Prosperity cannot have comfortable coexistence. Prosperity should spread and overwhelm poverty. We do not need great technocrats who are social fools. We need good human beings. People who feel for the cause and can bear the pain of building a nation. This should compulsorily be the mission of every college of our country. That's the only chance this country has, and we can't let it go. We just can't!

Note- This article is dedicated to Krishnaraj Sir, my teacher.