By Justice Markandey Katju
Hon'ble the Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, learned Vice Chancellors, learned Professors and other teachers, research workers, dear students, and friends.
I am grateful to the Hon'ble Vice Chancellor of AMU for having invited me to address this august gathering.
I know that most of you are highly respected and very learned people, specialized in various subjects, about which I have little knowledge. But I would like to speak on a matter which is a matter of great concern which has been on my mind for quite some time, and on which I wish to express my views.
I am known to be an outspoken person who does not mince words, so I hope you will not mind if I speak freely about what I wish say. At any event, I believe that the time has come in our country's history when what one believes should be spoken out openly instead of remaining silent on the issue.
As the great Urdu poet Faiz said :
" Bol ki lab azad hain tere
Bol zubaan ab tak teri hai "
I was told that the budget of the University Grants Commission was Rs.41,000 crore in the Five Year plan, and some Central Universities get as much as Rs. 200 crores as government grants.
The question to be asked now is : how has this benefited the Indian masses? With due respect, it seems to me that the huge funds being ploughed into higher education in India are for the benefit of foreign countries, rather than to benefit the Indian people. Forgive me for asking : are you really justifying your salt ?
Most of the money spent on education in India goes to the institutes of higher education like Universities, I.I.T.s etc and very little money is spent on primary and middle schools, particularly in rural areas, where the foundation of education is laid. There are very few facilities such as proper teachers,seats, electricity, books, classrooms, etc in these primary or middle schools, whereas the institutes of higher education are given huge funds and have very good facilities, state-of-the-art campuses, air-conditioning, splendid libraries, etc and their teachers are given high salaries ( by Indian standards). I would like to give a few examples to prove what I am saying :
1. I once went to a village about 40 km from Allahabad (my native city) to meet a farmer friend of mine, with whom I had studied at Allahabad University ( I was in the University from 1963 to 1967 ).
At his home I met one of his sons who had passed class seven and promoted to class eight in his high school in the village. I asked him to bring his class 7 mathematics book and solve a few simple problems in one of the lessons. He could not do so. I wondered how he had been promoted to class 8, when he could not solve simple class 7 problems. I then solved some simple problems in that lesson, and asked him to attempt the other problems there. He was obviously an intelligent boy, because having learnt how to solve the simple problems, he proceeded to solve the rest.
At this I asked him, “Did your teacher not teach you all this?” He replied, “Master Sahib thekedari karne lage hain, aur doosre master sahib class lene aate naheen hain " (the teacher has become a contractor, and the next teacher does not come to take classes”).
2. I went to a reputed Intermediate College in Allahabad and was told that in a section in Class 11 there are 250 students. I was shocked. Under the rules there should not be more than 40 students in a class. What teaching can possibly be done in a class of 250 students? I also learnt that in some of the sections at Allahabad University there are over 300 students, and there is not even place for a student to sit.
In view of this, much of the real education takes place in private coaching institutes, or at the residence of teachers who make much more money there than in their institutions. As a result, these teachers take little interest in teaching in their institutions, and a student who does not join the coaching (paying high fees) finds it difficult to pass.
3. In many of the staff rooms of our educational institutions, teachers, instead of discussing academic matters, often discuss petty politics, often of a casteist nature or matters pertaining to their service conditions. Senior Professors often try to promote lecturers of their own caste or community, whether they have merit or not.
4. Teachers are often appointed not on merit but on extraneous considerations, like political connection, caste, community etc. They are often appointed on contract basis. In some States, “shikshamitras” who have been appointed on a salary of Rs.1,500 a month have no degree or teachers’ training qualification.
5. The level of intellect of many teachers is often low, because many of them have not been appointed on merit but on extraneous considerations. To give an example, when I was a judge of Allahabad High Court I had a case relating to a service matter of a mathematics lecturer in a university in Uttar Pradesh. Since the teacher was present in court I asked him how much one divided by zero is equal to. He replied, “Infinity.” I told him that his answer was incorrect, and it was evident that he was not even fit to be a teacher in an intermediate college. I wondered how had he become a university lecturer.
Allow me to explain this. In mathematics it is impermissible to divide by zero. Suppose 1/0=x. Then x multiplied by 0 should be 1. But we know that anything multiplied by 0 becomes 0. Hence in mathematics it is impermissible to divide by 0, and anything divided by zero is known as an indeterminate number, not infinity. Infinity is not a number at all. It can be expressed as follows :
Limit of 1/x, x tending to zero, is infinity. In other words, as x becomes smaller and smaller, 1/x becomes larger and larger limitlessly. That is all that infinity means. It is not a number at all.
I explained all this in Court to that University lecturer, who had obviously never heard or thought of it.
I can give many more such examples of the low standards prevalent in our institutions of higher learning. Huge amounts of money of the Indian taxpayer is spent on the IITs, Universities and other institutes of higher education, but the graduates of these institutes usually take up jobs in foreign countries. This results in brain drain. Thus, while Indians pay taxes which go towards educating our bright students, the benefit of their education goes to foreign countries and not to the Indian people. These foreign countries benefit because higher education in their own countries is very expensive, so they have to spend only a fraction of what they would otherwise have to spend to get our bright young students.
I pose another question: the test of every system is one simple question. Does it raise the standard of living of the masses or not? The truth is that the huge amount of money being spent on higher education in India is not raising the standard of living of the Indian masses because over 75 per cent of Indians still live in dire poverty. There is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, 50% of our children suffering from malnutrition, farmers suicides, huge problems of health care, housing, etc.
Apart from that, how many Nobel laureates in science have our Universities and other institutes of higher education produced ? Hardly any. Only one citizen of India, C.V. Raman, has won a Nobel Prize in Science ( in Physics ), and three other scientists of Indian origin, though U.S. citizens, won such Prizes, Hargobind Khurana in Medicine, S. Chandrashekhar in Physics, and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan in Chemistry.
On the other hand, in many American Universities one will find half a dozen Nobel laureates. American scientists have won 88 Nobel Prizes in Physics, 67 in Chemistry, and 98 in Medicine. Australia, which has a population of about 25 million, has about 180 academicians who are an F.R.S. (Fellow of the Royal Society), while India, with a population of 1,250 million, has only about 18. So what are the achievements of our scientists and other intellectuals? It is only when they go to the United States or Canada or Europe that they achieve anything.
Institutes of higher learning should spend much of their time in research to unravel the mysteries of nature. But what is the quality of research work done by our academicians in institutes of higher learning? Unfortunately it is abysmally low and does not benefit the Indian people. Their publications, some of which are plagiarism, are mostly poor, and often done only to improve their CVs in order to get jobs.
The purpose of education is to help raise the standard of living of the masses. But in India it seems that its purpose is to raise the standard of living of a handful of people who get jobs as Professors, teachers, etc particularly in institutions of higher education. I am not saying that our Univesities IiTs, etc should be closed own, but is it not time to re-evaluate and restructure our institutions of our higher education so as to really benefit the Indian people ?
I again request you not to misunderstand me, and I apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone. I am not running any of you down, but the time has surely come in our country' history for you all to ponder over what I have said, and think out ways how to alter the entire system of higher education in our country so as to benefit the Indian masses. Today India is facing huge challenges, and people like you, if you genuinely have a patriotic spirit, are sorely needed by our country, and can make an outstanding contribution to the upliftment of our nation from its present dire straights.