As someone who studied at and was a researcher at Harvard University, I am well familiar with it and any over- glorification of it as an educational “Nirvana”. It and many top US, as well as leading UK, post-secondary institutions such as Oxford though, remain the dream destinations for many Indian students. Some parents, even with modest incomes will scrape together their life-savings to get the 50,O00 US dollars, annually needed to support the attendance of their children to private institutions, at least the American or British ones, for example. But should Indian parents be better thinking about sending their children to the high quality – or sufficiently satisfactory, “Made in India” universities and schools, more often entertaining of healthy attitudes, values and spirituality. That overly seeing the Cambridges and Harvards or Eton-like, so called, elite private schools as the ultimate peaks of learning is in part too much a play to neocolonial and colonial mindsets? That, in fact through the National Education Policy (NEP) of the Narendra Modi-led government, the right resources and approaches are being put forward to enhance the pre and post-secondary sectors. That is to keep and make them India relevant, not simply a reflected vision of the West, yet internationally competitive?
After all, among those who do not possess degrees from these internationally “acclaimed”, blue ribbon universities, or any foreign university is the Prime Minister, himself. So what as the PM is now celebrated, not only as being one of the best leaders India has ever seen, but the world has currently. The achievement of this leader in reducing poverty, enhancing prosperity and moving the Indian education system forward is highly incomparable to any of his predecessors. This is all done without a degree from Cambridge or any other “elite” university or having attended any British or British imitating, private schools. Then, there is Dr S.Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister who holds degrees from his mother country. It is with ease to say that he is one of, if not the best foreign minister the country has ever seen. He appears by all evidence to be the most articulate, most reasoned and intellectually deep of any foreign minister from just about any nation. While I do not want to denigrate the performance of Harvard-trained Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State or past UK foreign Secretary, Oxford-trained Liz Truss, (40 days in office as UK PM ) India’s foreign minister has been just simply surpassing their standards – and fortunately for both Indians, and the rest of the world, one might say politely?
In fact, a lot of the PM’s productive and sensible learning has come from the main street and grassroots where he has developed first hand knowledge of the needs of regular people and even those of the poor. There is, however, among US top monied layers the increasing phenomenon that they have little experience or connection with regular folk. Rather, successive generations of them have more in common with places like expensive institutions they went to, be they private schools or the Harvards. which are disproportionately attended by the well-off. And unfortunately, without well-grounded attitudes on society, you can get the spectacles like Harvard University”s recent president fired, for let us say having laxity on issues such as related to terrorism. Thankfully, Indian universities and schools by-and-large are not going that way of such post-modernism and spiritual vapidity. So, clearly should not these negative trends in too many western universities count enough in international rankings, at least unofficially and in western and other media reporting?
Additionally, the degrading comfort levels of Indian students in some places in Canada, for example have led to a wake-up call. That is when it became clear that the Justin Trudeau government was and is lenient on Khalistan terrorists and extremists “yelling” shamefully and essentially that many of these Indian students, even ethnic Indian Canadian ones “to go back” to India. The rise of discrimination of Asians who are even being discriminated against for their hard work ethic that gets them disproportionately entered into top universities in America is unacceptable. It is this work ethic of Indians that the Prime Minister is also inculcating along with good morals.The questionable antics at some western universities such as “week-end warriors” of alcohol binge drinking, pervasiveness of hard drugs and overall poor morals are not to be celebrated by Indians, nor do the vast majority do. Staying at the better embracing Indian home and helping to build the Indian university system has, indeed positive features. And the NEP, allowing top foreign university and school subsidiaries in reasonable numbers may lead to a better blend of foreign culture and academic standards, but enveloped by positive Indian culture and spirituality while being more affordable on lodging, too. According to PIE, a London- based major education consultancy and education information aggregator, the cost of lodging for students in Canada has got highly expensive.Sadly, this relates to a housing crisis in Trudeau Canada, along with growing worries that too many foreign students, including Indian ones are getting ripped off by a significant minority of institutions, given the high costs incurred for the product they get. Living costs in the West are well known to be prohibitive for many, especially students most of whom are economically vulnerable. And while attending the Harvards can lead to high indebtedness, and never ending student loan payments, even the more modest ranked universities can cost a bundle to go to in America and often in the UK.
While Indian universities may “only” get ranked up to being in the top 200 by British-based QS, it can be argued that is enough combined with better affordability and a more welcoming Indian cultural context. And be sure, a continued Modi government will ensure even further development in the quality of all Indian education levels.
I do not say all of my my schooling – or, those of others- at these various blue ribbon private schools and universities is without important benefits. But values such as feeling connected to wider citizens, broader local community inclusiveness and the poor can be truncated when too constantly and overly surrounded with the privileged and supremely inherited, politically and monetarily.
This is especially possible during one’s formative young years, but also during university years. Seeing recently, Mark Zuckerberg, head of Facebook and who attended Harvard be essentially forced by the US Congress, to make a full apology for all the harm his social media platform has done to young people, reinforces this concept about western education (elitism) being too hollow of important values. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightfully places on citizenry to have decent ones as primary education value, smartly so. These values and positive Indian culture and traditions should be kept aware of as India increasingly moves forward at lightening speed, inevitably with the superb Modi way on improving education for all.
Peter Dash is an educator, past Associate at Harvard and attended Lower Canada College