Education And The Culture Of Dialogue

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By Ananya S Guha
Two National Institutes of technology have been recently established in North East India, one in Meghalaya and the other in Nagaland. The noteworthy point about them is that they have been located away from the capital town, which means that at least some rural people will have access to it. In Meghalaya it is in Cherrapunjee, and in Nagaland on the outskirts of Dimapur. The Union HRD Minister went to both these places to inaugurate them. What he said however in Nagaland, surprised me a little. Replying to the Nagaland Chief Minister`s request that an IIM be set up in Nagaland, he did not encourage the idea because he thought the local people would not benefit, as very few students from North East India, and Nagaland in particular make it to these Institutions. Instead he said, he wanted the local youth to benefit, like having more Polytechnics, than Engineering Colleges for example.

Though his intentions may have been earnest, I find this strange and warped logic. Once a National Institution is established in backward regions of the country, the local people get more exposure, by way of interaction, information and knowledge. Secondly, it can attract good teachers, if not some of the very best teachers from different parts of the country.

IIM Shillong has introduced short term management courses related to areas such as sports etc as training programmes for the benefit of the local people. These are envisaged on the lines of professional training programmes of short term duration, the certification for which will help the local people of the state. Moreover, most of these courses are free of cost. IIMs set up in semi rural or rural areas or for that matter any professional institute will have to contextualize their academic programmes in the area of local or indigenous support. In other words, they have to think out of the box and develop short term modular training programmes targeted for the local youth, who can get immediate benefit out of them for self employment, employment or upgrading in their existing professions. The traditional MBA Degrees or Diplomas will continue, but the idea is to focus on local needs such as indigenous production of goods, artisanship etc. The overall framing of such institutes will have local thrust and responsibility.

Next, as the existence of such an institute continues I am sure the local youth will be motivated to get admission and work hard enough for this. So, in the near future, we can expect local students to get admission into the mainstream academic programmes. But just to dismiss this proposal in  a facile manner is I think not only presumptuous but a little fool hardy. We must concentrate on academic development of North East India if we are thinking of the so called mainstreaming of the people especially the resilient youth of North East India. The progress in education in Nagaland has taken strides but more must be done in the areas of technical education. We hope wisdom prevails in our education policy makers and they do not de-link education with national development. In fact, education lies at the core of such development, the very fact that only six to seven percent of our GDP is allocated to education shows our lopsided policies.

In Guwahati the IIT has existed for quite a few years now and reports say that even now very few students from North East India get admission there which is through national admission policies and competition through an all India basis. However, it is a process and time will determine when youth from North East India begin making the mark. But the overall point is that establishing such an institution in Guwahati which is of national repute, has contributed to the overall development of the state in academic and intellectual terms. Attracting some of the best teachers from different parts of the country has undoubtedly contributed to the academic resources of the state in particular and the region in general. Also, this has led to research quality and innovation; and faculty in IIT Guwahati has made innovations in technology contributing to community welfare. Similarly, the IIM in Shillong has led to interaction between the faculty and the community in matters of human resource training and non conventional short term training programmes for the youth. The presence of such institutions in the region has to be seen in larger contexts and not only in terms of how many local students get admission. At a point in time, they will surely but the process of academic growth in the region has started, and this should be taken positively. The more you have national institutions in rural or semi rural areas, the more benefit will accrue to the people of the region. It is also an exposure for the society in general and the local or regional academics for dialogue, academic growth and intellectual stimulation. These are all positives and one must not measure the growth of these institutions in the region, only in terms of students getting admission. Students from other parts of the country who come here to study also get the exposure and the opportunity to understand the cultures, communities and peoples of the region which contribute to not only human resource development but also to national harmony. Recently, an IIM topper mentioned how his stay in Shillong benefited him not only academically but also culturally. This may be one example but experiences work silently, and experiences are largely contributory to mental and intellectual development and make enormous contributions to an overall growth of the individual, in the process also dispelling certain myths. Experiences of learning go beyond the classroom and are largely retrospective in appeal.

Hence, the establishment of such institutions in the region lead more to a dialogue of learning between people here and those in the rest of the country.

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