Pune is a city with “a glorious past, an enviable present and a very promising future” according to one of its boosters. It is the “cultural capital of Maharashtra,” an “established manufacturing hub,” the “queen of the Deccan,” the “fourth greenest city in India,” a “pensioner’s paradise,” one of the “emerging global cities,” an “IT capital,” and, last but not least, the “Oxford of the East.”
With pride, perhaps, its only certifiable sin, Pune boasts both of a notable heritage and an embrace of modernity. The vibrant intellectual culture, and love of learning, is evident in the countless colleges, universities and research institutes that attract intellectuals and students from India and around the world-the most foreign students in India, according to one source. As I pointed out yesterday, Deccan Gymkhana and Shivajinagar, where we are living, is home to Fergusson College, the ILS Law College, the Symbiosis Law College and school of Business and Management, Garware College, and the Film and Television Institute. Pune’s intellectual culture is alive on almost every street, where signs for classes in physics, information technology or language study invite students to consider yet another class.
Yet one senses here in Pune a familiar slippage into a particularly narrow idea of education: the pruning away of a well-rounded curriculum in favor of more applied learning in “useful” subjects that prepare a person for the technological needs and opportunities of short-term economic expansion. A comment on my post yesterday is telling. “Pune is infested with mediocre educational ‘institutions’, especially the colleges and ‘business schools,'” this person writes. “There’s one on every street – their quality is second rate all the time, and it shows in the quality of graduates they mass produce. When so called MBA grads from ‘International School of Business’, and IIPM can’t construct English sentences correctly, nor address people appropriately – there is obviously a problem.”
The ideology of these vocational ideals promotes the dream of economic success and well being-a direction that is, in my view, both as necessary as it is incomplete. As Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen point out in their recent work on economic and social development in India, models of development that focus on economic enrichment appear to benefit people in a developing country such as India. And yet technological development to encourage foreign investment, a trend one can read about every day in the Times, has not focused on the education of the rural poor, for example, or the education and empowerment of women, nor does it promote critical thinking about structural inequalities or the complex problems of poverty, class and caste oppression.
Education for human development is Nussbaum’s phrase for an education that would prepare citizens for participating in a global culture, and cultivate an understanding of the minimal entitlements of all individuals so that when an educated person realizes her potential, she will consider both her own well being but also the well being of those less fortunate. Such a model of human education and development would work to produce information technologists, business leaders and managers, doctors and lawyers, engineers and other professionals with such human capacities such as curiosity, compassion, empathy, respect, accountability, dialogue and deliberation, self-examination and criticism, historical imagination. These are just a few of the qualities that are lost when the arts and humanities are diminished in the long process of cultivating what Nussbaum has called the narrative imagination-that is, the capacity to imagine what the inner life of another person might be like-so that issues of class, religion, poverty, gender inequalities will be considered in relation to the difficult decisions that must be made to promote economic development as well as a sustainable democracy.
Meanwhile, the promises are promoted ,and the students come, most unable to glimpse why these the educational scams are not worth their rupees. Still, it is refreshing to be living in a a culture where education is valued so highly-so different from so much of the United States, where schooling is too often considered a means to an end. ( I realize, too, that this ostensibly pragmatic line of thinking is infesting the waters of the Indian mind.) The study of language is perhaps the most notable difference. This is where the United States lags far behind. Most educated Indians speak Hindi, at least one regional language like Marathi, Telugu, or Malayalam, and English. And others, like a farmer I met in Ellora who spends the tourist season selling stones and coins, can converse in English, French, German, and Japanese. The indifference to learning another language in the US is dispiriting. And the xenophobic “English only” campaigns would appear laughable from here were it not for how seriously people cling to the idea that a single national language is in the best interest of the country.