Prestige & Market value: The twin pillars of our education culture

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Before we march ahead and revolutionise the way education happens, it is important to have a clear understanding of how it is right now. This is an initial assessment of the core structure of the way the current mechanism is designed and how it operates.

The origins

The present day state of affairs cannot be discussed without a note on the history of how this entire establishment came to be. The way the current structure is designed has its roots in the Colonial British establishment in this country. What it is today is just the product of iterative refinements over the initial foundation laid by those who designed it. There has not been any fundamental overhaul, only the inevitable changes that a system ought to undergo to survive the vagaries of time. So it serves us to note the initial purpose of establishing this structure in the first place. The initial purpose was quite simple — to generate a mass of human resources, trained in the English language, that would act as an effective intermediary between the British rulers and the native population. They would be equipped with skills that would be useful in executing economically relevant activity of the times. They were being trained to integrate into the colonial machinery purposed to rule this land for British interests. Usefully skilled slaves who will quietly and obediently carry out someone else’s vision and serve someone else’s interests, to put it succinctly.

And to this day, the machinery survives. As noted earlier, it has undergone changes required to ensure its continued survival through the decades, but its effective purpose remains largely unchanged — to convert human beings into tools that could effectively execute someone else’s vision. I say this not as a historian who has studied the decades-long transformation of this enterprise or someone who has researched the initial days of its establishment. I’m not an expert historian. I know this to be true because I grew up in this machinery. Even before I was old enough to articulate its flaws, I knew it was skewed, either purposefully flawed or it was this way out of sheer incompetence on the part of those who had made it and those who maintain it. The history is just a story, and rather than the history offering credence to my narrative on the present state of affairs, in my mind, it is the present state of affairs that offers credibility to the historical notes on what happened that led to its establishment. It makes sense, given how things are today.

Its evolution

When the British left in 1947, they left behind a land of hungry masses who were keener on the prospects of their next meal than they were at the finer points of how education happened. Slowly, as people gathered onto their feet, education became the safest ladder both out of poverty and towards societal respect. For an overwhelming majority of the society across several generations of the post-independence era and even today, education is just that — an economic ladder. What makes it appealing is that it offers the promise of an ethical road to economic opportunities and social status.

Even today, for a typical Indian family, their relationship with education is about enabling their child with a good life. And a good life happens through money and social recognition. These twin factors of prestige and market value are so prominent in our societal consciousness that even our media, catering to our audience, parades the alumni of premium institutions who bag seats in top multinational companies with fat packages, as if that is the achievement to prize. And our universities boast of their placement records, how many got placed in big companies and how many of them had the fattest packages. There’s nothing wrong with speaking of those, such numbers do highlight the factors that the masses care about. But where do they stand in terms of their research output or breakthroughs they’ve made in frontier sciences or seminal studies their scholars have brought forth? Such a discussion never happens because there is virtually no institution in this country that actually specialises in that. There is no university, even at the very top of the list of premium institutions in this country that actually stacks up to the top 100 universities in the world in terms of quality of research conducted, number of seminal publications produced or breakthroughs in research. And just to remind everyone, the whole purpose of setting up universities since the dawn of time has been to further human understanding and produce scholars and experts in their field of study, not solely to get citizens favourably employed.

What is wrong?

Much of the mainstream discussion around education happens through the lens of what is socially relevant, or what is economically relevant. It is about empowering the future of a child in the society or about empowering the economy with qualified personnel who can shape its future. Now, let’s take a step back and look at the broader perspective.

We’re born into this cosmos. We open our eyes for the first time with no memory of what came before and no understanding of what we’re seeing and no imagination for what comes later. But slowly as we grow up we gain these faculties. There is perhaps never going to be a moment in our lives when we would be able to remember everything that came before, see everything that is happening now or imagine everything that is possible. But we continually progress in our perception and our ability to act in the world each passing day, until after a certain point, everything starts fading away and we diminish, and eventually go back to the ground. The point of it is that our existence in this potentially infinite cosmos is brief and what is possible for each of us in this brief span is nearly infinite. When such is the case, we must do everything we can to ensure that our time here is spent wisely and efficiently, and more importantly, towards a worthy purpose.

So what is wrong? Our current educational machinery is designed for the menial purpose of converting human beings into an economic resource in return for an opportunity at glorified survival. It is not about enabling this innately human longing to pursue the exploration of the unknown. It is not about the desire to build something profound for the whole of mankind. It is not towards enabling individuals to reach their fullest potential. Instead it simply equates the empowerment of individuals to offering them the opportunity to become qualified for economic consumption. It equates success to comfortable survival in the society. In effect, education the way it happens today is short-sighted, narrow minded and more of a restraint than a catalyst in the natural human longing for seeking that which is beyond survival.


We have witnessed the massive paradigm shift in how the world operates in the past several decades. We have arrived at a point where we can no longer afford to build on top of what was laid down several tens of decades ago. We must fundamentally re-envision the foundation of our educational process. We are in fact at a great advantage to be able to perform a complete overhaul at this time. We can utilise the recent advancements we’ve seen in technology and the dramatic shifts in both personal lifestyles and global dynamics over the past several decades to re-imagine an educational foundation that will last several decades to come in furthering a more profound and a more relevant purpose for education. If we could do it right, we could even lead the rest of the world to a better approach to education.

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