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Education and social responsibility

Education and social responsibility
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Meeting people having similar interests is always a pleasure. For me, it gives me an opportunity to share my experiences and at the same time exchange...

Meeting people having similar interests is always a pleasure. For me, it gives me an opportunity to share my experiences and at the same time exchange views on proven ways to improve our educational scenario. My current visit to the United States has given me one such window. Most of the members I met at the FOSWL (Friends Of Similar Wave Length) are senior citizens who have settled abroad after having served in different responsible positions in India.

They reminded me once again that active minds will always be looking for new vistas to explore and responsible citizens can never take their retirement from regular service as an end of their social responsibility. In fact, this group has taken their ideology to an international level and has been contacting universities and celebrities to come together for a better, balanced and participatory tomorrow globally.

I share here the ideology which is founded in their (FOSWL) objective observation of the lacunae in our education system and the feasible, practical remedies to fill the gaps, to make our system more resilient, responsible and rewarding. We all know how the goals of education have changed over the years, how people with higher and higher qualifications tend to become more distanced from their surroundings and how there crop up many unseen walls between the elite educated members and their less qualified neighbours so much so that it is like an intergalactic get-together where one species doesn't know much about the other and the bond of trust, amity and interdependence is missing. A generation of purely subjective, career-oriented and individualistic citizens without social responsibility has awakened us to where the fault lies: it is with our education system, which has failed to serve a higher function owing to short-sighted goals.

It is education which makes or mars a nation's present as well as its future, depending on what its vision and mission are. Nearly a century of change has left our education system playing catch-up, and it will take a whole-system approach to meet society's evolving needs. Its failure to match changing societal expectations is mostly because of the educators or policy makers' piecemeal, or incremental, approach; failure to integrate solution ideas; a discipline-by-discipline study of education; and staying within the boundaries of the existing system (not thinking out of the box).

These are examples of paradigm paralysis, or "persistence in a mistaken belief". The 21st century requires a holistic approach, an integrated approach, a correlation and effective network between academic centres and the real world. Our attempts to interpret current experiences and problems using old models and metaphors that are no longer appropriate are surely unproductive. I agree that if the old paradigms won't work, something fundamentally better suited to the task, systems thinking is needed, a paradigm that illuminates the whole, not just the parts; one that is synthetic, rather than analytic; one that integrates, rather than differentiates.

Education must expand civic engagement and social responsibility in an ethical form through teaching, research and public service. A plantation programme once an year or a sporadic support march, a marathon or a candle lit parade is not the end- all of this point. As responsible educated members, it is only right and becoming that teachers, be they at the university level or any other, be role models in embedding public responsibility through personal examples, policies and practices. As Gandhiji recalls from his experience as a teacher, a teacher with character, one who walks his talk, can be a crucial and effective influence.

I know that our UGC and our NAAC insist on social responsibility of educational institutions and that for the last four decades we have had the NSS programmes being encouraged in our universities and even at the Plus Two level. While being appreciative of the NSS objectives and what is being done, I feel there is much left to be desired, much that can involve not just a hundred students and a handful of faculty members, but all the students and faculty. It is possible only when there is a partnership between primary and secondary schools with higher education, government, business organizations, media, NGOs� from local to international.

Before deciding on what our curricular reforms ought to be, every institution must sincerely make the new curricula relevant not only globally but locally too, and for this, all educational institutions must foster their partnership with their communities so that the local talent is empowered, their economic opportunities are enhanced and it fosters mutual understanding and trust between the centres of higher learning and their communities. Not only can our educational institutions release qualified graduates, they can integrate the study of the local environmental, social issues, conduct critical debates and instead of waiting always for the government to come and rectify or solve, benefit the community through their positive intervention

. The more sincere the people involved, the more the benefit. Such examples can be documented and disseminated for the communities' benefit and for further motivation too. A One way of promoting community -linked activities is to support and encourage regional as well as national and international academic associates to speak on issues of civic importance in communities by establishing a steering committee with a network of higher education institutions. At this juncture, I feel a bit disheartened that though many of these ideas are on paper and have been so for over a decade in many of our academic circles, the spirit of this vision has not permeated their calendars nor has it touched the hearts of its pupils and the beneficiaries too.

The genuine contribution of higher education institutions for social advancement and well being, either with government policies to strengthen it or with local voluntary organizations can never be over emphasized. When every town, district and state has so many local NGOs doing their bit individually for uplifting the community, why don't we acknowledge that the effect of the sum is always more than all the individual pieces put together ?

Empathy, emotional intelligence, social commitment, ability to balance the personal satisfaction and benefits with the public welfare are not impossible targets to seek. It only calls for more like-minded people to find each other, come together, plan together and spread the gospel with conviction that education creates not merely experts in hard skills sans social responsibility but mature, sensitive individuals who can share their expertise with their communities for mutual benefit. It is our lives, our future, our communities at stake and we need not always wait for just the governments to uplift us, as members in the educated strata, we can create our positive net works and change the tide for the better.

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