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RAISING A QUESTION: Professor Andre Beteille
RAISING A QUESTION: Professor Andre Beteille

``Social discrimination in disguise is presented as discrimination on academic grounds'' ``Social discrimination in disguise is presented as discrimination on academic grounds.''

The students and faculty of IIT-Madras were witness to yet another lecture, this time on making education in India accessible to everyone, but this one had a difference.

Professor Andre Beteille threw light on matters previously overlooked and perhaps avoided easily, but of great importance.

Andre Beteille is a professor emeritus at Delhi University's department of sociology and he delivered an extra mural lecture at IIT-Madras recently.

He started his lecture by asking why is it that India hasn't done well in education in spite of the fact that it started much before China.

"China seems to be going ahead of us at a much faster rate and not all Indian universities have been doing well. They have become too large to be managed efficiently. Castes, class, and gender have been restrictions to access. Better institutions have not been able to recruit and admit from all sections of society. Though academic standards have improved, the change has been painfully slow. A growing conflict that has emerged is between maintaining the academic standards and making the universities socially more inclusive," he noted.

So, is something inherently wrong that makes the compromise inevitable? Is it entrenched in the deeply hierarchical structure of our society?

Class privilege

Citing the formation of the Radhakrishna and the Kothari Commissions, Professor Beteille explained how primary education and higher education have been dealt with, how it should no longer be a class privilege.

But these couldn't explain as to why the growth hasn't been rapid.

The answer lies in the fact that various levels in education are interrelated. Performance of each level depends on the one directly below it.

But the requirements of all the levels are different. What applies to a primary education centre doesn't apply to an undergraduate course.

Professor Beteille said that in primary education there should be no discrimination based on gender, race, caste or creed and ability, merit or performance.

The latter may apply to undergraduate education. Indeed social discrimination in disguise is presented as discrimination on academic grounds.

``Not a number game''

On the state of education in India, he said it was not a matter of numbers anymore. It is pointless telling the universities to expand without building the necessary platforms.

The state of education in India is certainly improving. Citing the example of the Calcutta University, the professor said that in principle it has started opening its gates to all communities. The upper and the upper middle class now no more find it difficult to get education for the girl child. But it has not percolated down the social hierarchy.

"We have failed in accommodating people from the less privileged sections of society. China went through a churning process to evolve, but we are still stuck in the conundrum of waiting for the government to take action. Prestigious universities in the United States such as Princeton and Harvard took up the initiative of inculcating Affirmative Action on their accord."

He was in favour of positive action and not just merely numeric quotas. "We have got completely diverted by the slogan of equality, which indeed is a misnomer, and indeed should have been universality.

The difference between Indian and foreign universities has been the motivation, which is government-driven in the former and self-driven in the latter.

This needs to be inculcated to achieve universal education," he concluded.

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