Take a Plunge into the Heart of Arts


Published in EDUVERSE- JNANADEGULA special supplement of DECCAN HERALD on Saturday 26th May 2018

By S. RADHA PRATHI

The air in the higher education scene is certainly undergoing a subtle change, if the recent response to the results of CET is anything to go by. The reaction of the students of second PUC who have taken up the exams has been surprisingly lukewarm, considering the fact that it had been held a sacred ritual for every student of science for almost two decades. Apparently there is more to it than the eye can see at the outset. Though the confusions and pandemonium connected with the examination in the last two years or the reservation policy appear to be the obvious culprits there are other latent factors that are working on the minds of the Indian populace.

Even as early as the last academic year the educational system represented by the colleges followed the unwritten rule of taking students with a high score into the science stream and phasing out to the commerce and arts streams respectively as the total marks of the board examinations tapered down. The parents and students accepted this unwritten dictum and tried very hard to get into the sciences to prove their worth.  The student tribe as a race flinched at the idea of taking up arts as they fear that they may not be respected in their peer group, especially in the urban areas across India. Well they cannot be really blamed for their conviction because an invisible and unlabelled stigma has been attached to the subject.

While the commerce stream invariably took the middle path and played it safe, it has been the arts stream that has been bearing the brunt of it all except in a few rare cases. If a brilliant student chose to study arts in the past he invariably aimed at taking up the civil service examinations. Then there were others who took pride in obtaining and honours in BA in the past, but the mediocre students pursued the same to embellish their names with a degree which could be obtained without much strain.

A study reveals that on an average in India, the arts stream has an astounding number of female students the ratio showing almost eight girl students for every two male students. Most of these graduates in arts have been showing a leaning towards teaching or have reclined back in the glory of just being a graduate. Even those who pursue their higher studies through distance education show an affinity for the arts as it facilitated self study and gave them scope to answer the papers in the vernaculars. Usually, students who choose to take up under graduate and post graduate courses through correspondence courses opt for arts to serve their purpose of completing a degree course.

The mindset of the regular students of the undergraduate courses in the arts stream did not reveal a very different tale. In fact when several lecturers and heads of institutions were asked their opinion on the arts courses they were certainly not ecstatic about it. They unanimously opined that only the dregs of very academically poor students take up arts and this trend has eroded the interest of both the teachers and the students over the years.

Even the best of colleges revealed that barring a handful of sincere students who were passionate about their subjects the rest of them took it for a lark. It appeared that the students who dappled with combinations that highlight the study of literature in several languages, journalism and psychology were considered to be more astute among others who chose the customary combinations like  political science, sociology, History etc.

Of late there has been a noticeable change in the attitude towards studying arts at least in the urban sector. It is important to note that this trend is catching on only among the elite and intellectual urbanites who have had an international exposure. The rest of the brethren are pursuing the course because it is cheaper, easily available, can be pursued with or without guidance and most importantly as everyone consulted on the issue chimed in that one does not have to study the “dreadful subject” called mathematics.

The present craze to pave way for a budding career in the arts stream should not be misinterpreted for lack of opportunities in the past. One glance at the subjects and several combinations offered by the PU Board of Karnataka and various universities in the state reveals that there has been absolutely no dearth of subjects right from day one, but colleges that came under their wings never risked to experiment beyond one or two common combinations.

However of late this trend is undergoing a gradual change as more and more enterprising and gifted students are aiming at becoming Art Historians, Archaeologists, Theologians, Anthropologists, Curators, Copy Writers. The colleges in the state are recognizing the need to cater to the need of these aspiring students as a record number of application forms have been filled out for these courses in almost every college.

At present the serious students of arts are migrating to America, Australia and England to follow their dreams. Some of the students who have dared to tread the “untrodden path” have found that it is not only “Cool” to study Arts and if pursued in right earnest it can woo a lot of “Hot” money too. Go take a plunge if your heart beats for the arts.

 

 

The Sublime and the Ridiculous


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/sublime-and-ridiculous-671464.html

The other day, I watched an interesting documentary on the life of nomads who live in the desert region. They were answering several questions regarding their history, demography and relevance of their lifestyle to a keen interviewer. When the next phase of the show began, the group was asked what they thought about random subjects. Their treasury of knowledge oscillated between the absurd and the astute. For instance some of them did not know the name of the region where they had camped; but seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of the natural resources of the land like where to find water and supplies for their caravan. They hardly cared that their kids were not going to school. Yet they seemed to have been made of grey cells all over. They were able to tell the time and weather without any contraption; they reeled off a dozen home remedies ranging from a bad cold to scorpion bites. They seemed to know a repertoire of words from a series of languages including English, useful for their survival. The tribe did not bother about lack of potable water or sanitation facilities, but were perfectly capable of optimizing what came their way without obstructing or polluting their environment. In other words they epitomized the concept of wild wanderers to the core!

Then there was a query on lord Ganesha. The interviewer called upon an elderly woman in the group and asked her why she thought the lord was pot bellied. Pat, came the answer; “Because, he has the earth in his stomach.” Even as the eyes of questioner lolled with disbelief, a slow and deliberate explanation as if to a child followed. The lord protected the world by placing it in his stomach; it was but natural that the round world bulged over his middle. I mulled over the outlandish answer. For a while it appeared as if the lady had reduced sublime to the ridiculous.

Then, I was reminded of Thomas Paine who once said, “The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately, one step above the sublime makes the ridiculous and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.” The words which had seemed like a cryptic code to me until then suddenly came alive.

I was able to appreciate their interpretation of the deity despite appearing different. It was pretty much on the lines of what the devout would say, about the lord protecting the universe. In retrospection I realized that their set of life skills and knowledge albeit different were on par, perhaps even superior to the so called civilized society.

 

Ignorance is Bliss


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/664902/ignorance-bliss.html

The omnipresence of divinity is seldom acknowledged in our day-to-day lives. It could be due to ignorance or simply lack of comprehension. However, our lives tend to become complicated when we do not grasp the lofty universal truths fully.

An anecdote from the repertoire of stories told by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa puts across this point succinctly. Once, a layman was enlightened about the omnipresence of god. The happy man left the Ashram with his newfound knowledge. As he was walking down the street, he saw a rogue elephant. The Mahout shouted instructions to the people on the road to get away from the path of the pachyderm. Everyone slipped away in double quick time except the newly edified man. The elephant handled him roughly with his trunk and flung him afar. The hurt man was taken to the Ashram and rendered first aid. Then he was questioned on his foolishness. The naive  man said, “I thought that the God in the elephant would not harm me.” To which, the philosopher replied, “But, why did you not listen to the God who warned you through the Mahout?”

This incident enumerates the fact that spiritually oriented people need a lot of discernment lest they come to foolhardy conclusions like the protagonist in the tale.

An incident in the Ramayana expounds the facility of being in the dark about matters beyond our ken to help us function normally and genuinely. When the exiled prince Rama came to the banks of river Ganga along with Lakshmana and Sita, the local chieftain Guha extends warm hospitality and assures unflinching support to Rama. He even offers his position to Rama without blinking an eyelid. When all his offers were rejected politely, Guha personally takes the trio across the river. If Guha had the slightest inkling about the divinity of Rama he would have been awestruck by the mere presence of the trio. His gestures would have been punctuated with nervousness or simply decimated into inaction. Conversely, his lack of consciousness on the matter not only made him offer all his earthly possessions to the creator, but made him take the celestial navigator who helps his devotees to cross the sea of life to cross the river!

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“Education ” By Question Banks


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/639810/education-question-banks.html

We are in the middle of the academic year. Students are busy taking periodic tests and midterm examinations based on the portions completed. Their answer scripts are being evaluated and assessed. Parents are being apprised of their ward’s performance.

Teachers’ meetings are being conducted to analyse their inputs and involvement in their responsibilities.

Everything seems to be going on like clockwork — just the way it should. Or, is it just a mirage? Perhaps this is the right time of the year for the parent, student and teacher to do a reality check.

Most schools have revision sessions before tests and examinations. They generate a question bank of sorts. The children are told directly or indirectly to concentrate on the revision sessions.

Parents and tuition teachers help the children out with the preparation. Most pupils get thorough with the “necessary portions” and score well. The tests and later on examinations are taken and evaluated — well, you know the drill.

While the process seems natural and harmless, it can turn out to be a quite a negative influence. It can uproot the fundamental aim of learning and education. Young students are being led by the nose to take up tests which prove to be a test of memory rather than understanding.

The very schools which claim to give holistic education shrink even the prescribed syllabus so that the students are not strained to look beyond a few questions.

Limited reading

Reading textbooks, ancillary reading material, referring to class notes are all relegated to the backburner because they do not count as “test portions”.

The learning that can be evinced from group study, working out varied problems, reference works are increasingly becoming non-existent because extensive reading or learning need not be displayed in answer papers.

The young learners cannot be blamed for wearing blinders because they are made to wear them by their teachers. When we look at the problem from the tutors’ point of view, it appears that they are shackled by several constraints. They are expected to cater to unwieldy numbers which makes it almost impossible for them to correct notebooks sincerely.

Then they have to live up to the expectations of the management and deliver cent per cent results as far as possible. When their increments and sometimes their employment depend on the results they deliver, they find it convenient to create “question banks”. This way they hope to step up the level of the results.

Multiple choice papers

The parents for their part do not really seem to mind this new infusion into the system right from primary school because their accountability comes down considerably. Sometimes, schools also opt for multiple choice question paper models partially or completely to make it easier for evaluation.

This method not only encourages blind guessing among students, but also conveniently circumvents the need to comprehend, work out or articulate their thoughts. The net result of this phenomenon precipitates as a mockery of education. No one is any wiser at the end of the day though everyone, the students, parents and teachers have gone through the exercise.

Today, we live in a world where education has been systematised. Learners go through the process of education in a set pattern and emerge as ‘educated’ people at various levels.

Where will all this spoon-feeding and holding hands lead them in the long run of life? Will their education stand them in good stead? Will they be in a position to think out of the box and handle unforeseen circumstances in life?

Can they come up with original or creative solutions to deal with problems? Will they employ just means to achieve their ends? How will they compare with their peer group across the globe? Will their accomplishments fill the lacunae that exist in the world?

The concept of “Question banks” was introduced at the university level, to help examinees to focus after browsing through an exhaustive material. To introduce the same, while shaping minds in their formative years in schools, amounts to committing intellectual suicide.

It is time to break this pattern and pay attention to learning for learning’s sake so that we can pave the way to developing inquisitive, fertile minds that are willing to go that extra mile before arriving at answers!

Integrity, Not Marks Key to Education


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/553770/integrity-not-marks-key-education.html

A recent survey showed that the number of people fudging their curriculum vitae is on the increase. Police records reveal that there is a whole industry which methodically works on faking documents and certificates.

The earliest stage happens to be leaking of question papers, interfering in the invigilation and evaluation process. If the people who want to cheat have missed the bus in the first phase of deception, they can always avail the services of the underdog by faking their mark sheets and certificates.

Once a candidate is able to pass off his false papers successfully, he is emboldened to try other tricks up his sleeve. He scouts for ways and means to procure an experience certificate and a few other supporting credentials if he can afford it. It is shocking to learn that every year a series of brokers take up board and entrance examinations on behalf of pupils for a price.

Sometimes they also change their names and other identification details legally, to facilitate the recipient and user of the mark sheet, to fudge facts and indulge in fraudulent deals.

Potent trio

The slush that envelops the education scene seems to be getting murkier as each academic year passes by. However, a little introspection will show that the cancer that is eating away at the scene of education has been let loose by the potent trio of parents, teachers and students.

The formidable triumvirate who consider examination scores to be the “be all and the end all” of life need to be counselled on the true intent of education.

There is really no point in producing an army of engineers or management graduates or any other professionals if there is no use for their skills any longer in the job market.

It is sad to note that many of the students who have covetable degrees in socially approved courses possess the potential in a diametrically different area of expertise.

The fact that they have done very well or even decently well in a course that was not after their heart is proof that the graduate is a fairly good and sincere student.

Yet, it is but natural that their performance will amount to being mediocre in the big picture. Finding a dream job or working shoulder to shoulder with people who have the same qualification, acquired with a passion for the subject, will show them in bad light.
The underperformance will undermine the confidence of such workers. Eventually, it will have a bearing on the functioning of the organisation and the county at large.

Contradictory picture
The education scene in India is certainly caught in a series of contradictions. On the one hand, we as a nation lay a very high premium on education. Even the poorest among us dream about educating our children in the hope of seeing them lead a comfortable life sometime in future. Parents are willing to stake their time, energy and money entirely to be able to translate their dreams into reality.

On the other hand, when we find that the academic results of our wards are unsatisfactory or do not rise up to the expectations, we slip into a state of depression. The conundrums that connive to capture us in a web of deceit and dishonesty are the direct result of these doldrums.

Over a period of time, the education sector has been churning out a popular section of pedestrian populace who do not really seem to have delved into the depths of their chosen subject. Lack of expertise in any given field can lead to a dangerous deterioration which can prove to be detrimental to our country’s progress.

It is time to address the canker ensconcing the educational scene. We live in times when even parents of children who are in kindergarten or primary school feel the need to validate their children’s performance to their known circles.

As the child grows up, the pressure increases proportionately. The school, teachers and parents seem to forget the student who is literally at the receiving end of their expectations and egos.

Imagine a scene where everyone will be declared a topper, and where everyone will stand on a level playing field. Consequently, cut throat competition will become more savage, defeating the very purpose of learning.

It is time we accept that abilities and aptitudes vary. It is only when learners are sensitised to the values of integrity and discipline we can progress individually, and as a nation.

Evolution of Hospitality Industry


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/546292/evolution-hospitality-industry.html

When the conservative Indians promoted the concept of eating outside their homes by patronising the exceptional culinary skills of the Udupi cooks, little did they realise that they were paving the way for a mighty food and hospitality industry in the coming decades.

Though the industry began as an amateur, it slowly developed into a state-of-the-art restaurant over a period of time, giving it a professional touch.

Soon, high profile hospitality industry like the star-rated hotels, swanky resorts, restaurants and VIP guest houses felt the need for trained professionals who could carry out their duties with a flair of international sensibilities.

The Government of India realised these needs and encouraged various universities to include a course in Hotel Management in the 1980s.

Now, most colleges offer good infrastructure and they complement classroom academics with practical lessons to enrich the knowledge of the students. However, the results have not been exactly spectacular, thus far.

While some colleges are affiliated to the Indian universities, many have tied up with foreign universities for short term diploma courses and certificate courses, which boost the profile of the student in the international scene.

Initially a 4-year undergraduate course called BHM (Bachelor of Hotel Management) was introduced with relevant subjects touching on areas like language, accounts, housekeeping and related skills necessary for the job. The teaching faculty at hotel management colleges said that though the course content matched international standards, unfortunately, the takers of the courses were the students who were much below the average mark. A survey reveals that the situation has not altered much, even to this day.

The reasons are obvious – students with low marks or candidates who may have discontinued education are the usual takers. Naturally, they do not do well in academics because of lack of basic knowledge coupled with a sense of low self-esteem.

They are also perhaps acutely aware of the fact that the society at large is not really well-known for honouring jobs as hoteliers, waiters or housekeepers even in star-rated hotels. This is also one of the main reasons why there was a glaring absence of girl students in these classes in the initial years. The scene has changed a little over the years. Now there is a steady trickle of young women who are ready to give it a shot.

Despite the low popularity level, it is a fact that, the course has landed several diligent students in enviable positions in many star-rated hotels.

Success stories

These success stories have also encouraged the partially-educated staff working in private and ordinary eateries to take up the course to upgrade themselves as professionally qualified personnel who can move on to greener pastures.

Then there are enterprising hoteliers who introduce grooming classes and train their staff in communication and soft skills to enhance the quality of the services in the hotel. Such trained workers are indirectly motivated to clear their intermediate examinations privately and take up a hotel management course.

The reason for such careful cushioning lies in the realms of detrimental attrition which leaves the industry almost always in a state of uncertainty.

The day is not far when the growing demand of the industry will attract more and more and even meritorious students to consider hotel management courses as a career option.

Hotel management colleges can consider this situation to be a cue and gear up to cater to the needs of the industry and give it the much needed facelift. Globalisation and enhanced spending capacity of Indians has paved the way for a boom in the hospitality industry in a big way. Campus recruitments are becoming the order of the day.

Big names in the industry across the globe are ready to absorb and pay fancy salaries and positions construing to the talents and qualifications of the candidates. In fact the market has expanded over the past couple of years. Developing marine businesses like cruise liners and ships are recruiting personnel by the dozens. Event management teams and trip organisers are always looking for trained staff.

Certainly, the situation cannot get any better. Earnest students of hotel management can be rest assured that they can land themselves on the velvet if they work diligently towards their goal.

Ethics Of Knowledge Sharing


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/487826/ethics-knowledge-sharing.html

S Radha Prathi, July 07, 2015, DHNS:

A glimpse at world history and its contributions to mankind will reveal that man has also been constantly evolving mentally in search of a better way of life. While one section of explorers worked hard to step up the “standard of living” by using science and technology, there were others who tried hard to understand the “truth of life.”

Yet, none of these personalities who broke new ground for mankind felt the need to consolidate the information on a universal platform so that mankind can progress further from the point of what they already knew about.

As a result, we have been constantly engaged in the oft repeated activity of “re-inventing the wheel”. A glance through all the recorded material on various subjects which is available at the click of a button is proof enough to show that many subjects have been discussed and analysed threadbare and have reached refined heights long long ago, even as we are fumbling with the hems of the subject only now.

For instance, the heliocentric theory or the presence of atomic energy was known to ancient Indians thousands of years ago but the world consolidated the same as scientific knowledge only about 400 years ago. This is but just one example among thousands of such discoveries that were made by ancient civilisations across the globe.

Today, the scenario has changed. We live in a technologically advanced world, and all the information we need on just about any subject under the sun is available in both “hard” and “soft” forms for a price. But apparently, there are very few genuine takers who utilise this information for the benefit of mankind or self improvement.

A survey among the student community shows that while the younger children prefer to be spoon-fed by their teachers and their guardians, older students use the internet specifically for playing games, chatting with online friends and occasionally looking up for information about their role models in the sports and cine field in that order. Students pursuing higher education use information relevant to their subject only when they are pressurised to look up for some information on their own.

Many a project work, seminar and thesis submitted by students happen to be plagiarised from a source which they do not even bother to mention or acknowledge much to the consternation of the authors, who sometimes accidentally stumble upon their work verbatim in another person’s name.

Plagiarised research
According to them, “If you steal from one author, it is plagiarism; if you steal from many, then it is research.” It is indeed a sorry state of affairs. Experienced faculty from reputed institutions can vouch for the fact about how many times the earnest research work of an entirely unique nature has been snitched in the most unethical manner by people in authority.

While some original works do get compensated monetarily, many a creative work like a poem or a script or a formula are changed minimally and used unscrupulously. It is shameful and disheartening to note that even the teaching community cannot be spared of this accusation.

Novices in the field sometimes help themselves to the notes and the ideas of their seniors without acknowledgement or even a pang of conscience. Perhaps it was because of this reason artists, artistes, scholars and experts in different subjects held on to the keys of their knowledge to their bosoms in the past, are doing so in the present and will do so in future.

The scenario will not change as long as people reject their moral scruples and refuse to follow code of ethics. Till such time the portals of knowledge at the experimental and research level will close their doors for the fear of being robbed of their ideas which cannot be compensated with anything that is tangible. This will result in waste of time as scholars will feel queasy about sharing their opinions and findings for the fear of losing them and end up going in circles for a longer time.

The time has come when information has to be processed into knowledge through experience so that the end product can be used for the betterment of mankind.
To do so, we have no choice but to stick to the old fashioned way of holding on to our integrity and honour and acknowledging the hard work and the earnest efforts of people who may have arrived at some results in their respective fields.

Teaching and learning, which are nothing but the two faces of sharing, will become
meaningful and joyful exercises when the originator (devil?) is given its due.