With the instrumental value of education acquiring center-stage in today’s world, it is being increasingly and more and more vociferously argued that forging and fostering strong education-industry linkages is the need of the hour. Two reports that I read in the Indian Express (http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/digitisation-partnership-of-ideas-4951582/) and (http://indianexpress.com/article/business/companies/bharti-airtel-foundation-artificial-intelligence-4952074/), encouraged me to articulate my thoughts on this growing trend, which is generally portrayed and perceived to be an extremely positive one. However, I wish to disagree with this dominant view, and also wish to place my disagreement, along with the reasons for the same, on record.
In the first of these reports, the author is arguing for harnessing the opportunity provided by digitization to strengthen the ties between industry and academia. This caters to the dominant narrative about the education system today, which views it as a means for securing decent and well-paying jobs, as far as individuals are concerned, and a means to move forward on its defined agenda of ‘growth and development’, as far as society is concerned. The second article which I have referred to above, if looked at with a critical lens, clearly delineates the extent to which the dominant narrative, of the need of education to align itself with the trends in industry, has established itself in the public psyche. The largesse being offered by a big technology giant for opening a University in India, with a special focus on artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality and the internet of things, with the added promise of providing this education free of cost to the children from poor communities, is being portrayed as addressing two challenges at the same time, one that of the woeful state of the present education system, and second that of threat of innovation, by embracing it upfront.
In the above mentioned narrative, however, many things have been left unsaid. Firstly, the altruistic motives of the technology giant, in open and complete display here, may be in need of further examination. The motive of industry or a ‘for-profit’ organization, when it indulges in philanthropy also, need to be subject to examination. The first and foremost motive of the industrial and technological world is to ensure its own growth and development. This, of course, is as per the natural order of things. The industry-technology lobby will thus always push for the alignment of educational goals with its own goals. In keeping with this, Bharti Airtel, while announcing its huge philanthropic effort, also made it clear that the focus would be on development of future technology. When I argue, therefore, for deconstructing the above narrative, I am not coming from an anti-industry, anti-technology mindset. However, what I want to emphasize is that the slogan should be “Technology for Education” rather than “Education for Technology”. By this what I mean is that the growth and development in technology should aid and assist in furthering the goals of education rather than adapting the education system to fit the needs of industry and technology. This definitive shift towards completely instrumental goals of education is deeply problematic.
Secondly, the manner of presentation of such philanthropic efforts permanently casts the targets of this largesse in the frame of passive receivers, devoid of any agency, to be pitied upon and rescued from the abysmal conditions they are in. Such a frame of reference is forever defined in terms of “large-hearted rich vs needy poor”, “decision-makers vs meek followers”, so on and so forth. There is an inherent problem in such kind of a world where the poor and their poverty need to be put on a perpetual showcase, so that the rich are able to justify their wealth.
Thirdly, by not questioning and critically examining the narrative of the industry leaders, and their constant demands for establishing industry-academia linkages, a tacit support is being rendered to such a narrative, and as time passes, a situation might arise where it will then become impossible to question this narrative at all. This has already happened in case of ‘capitalism’ having established itself as the only currently operative and possibly operative ideology in the future as well, throughout the world. Any alternatives, even if mentioned, are sidelined and hardly taken seriously.
Lastly, I think it is imperative that education and learning is rescued from the hold of instrumentalism, as soon as possible. The survival of this world and this earth crucially hinges on this. The loss of social, environmental and humanitarian perspectives from human lives, is leading the world on a fast track road towards destruction. The sooner this is realized, the better it shall be, for all mankind.
Nivedita Dwivedi has done MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Science. She blogs at http://fromwordstovoid.blogspot.in