Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jeevan Vidya, forced indoctrination

Many institutes of higher education in India are injudiciously forcing (or considering) a semester-long course based on Jeevan Vidya on their students. There was a proposal to have such a compulsory course on value-education at IIT Delhi in the late 90s. Thankfully, the authorities didn't carry through with it.

When I was a student at IIT Delhi, one of our professors was strongly enamored of this philosophy. During an elective course on sustainable technology taught by him, we were bombarded with questionable concepts from this paradigm and one of the questions in our major exams (and a homework assignment) was what we thought of this philosophy. Many of us wanted to complain about this forced indoctrination to the institute authorities, but some of us were cynical about a hearing. I declined to participate in the assignment and despite the pleas of the teachers to write at least something, turned in a blank sheet.

IIIT Hyderabad
is one institute which seems to have gained notoriety by stipulating a compulsory course on Jeevan Vidya. A survey was conducted amongst the students there to ascertain whether they liked this practice. The answer was a resounding no. The survey's findings are documented here. Many other institutes are evaluating this course to become a part of their regular curriculum. IIT Delhi has established a National Resource Center for Value Education in Engineering, with inputs from fringe spiritualists, Gandhians and Jeevan Vidya practitioners from various IITs. It even has a prayer/meditation room!

I think it should be illegal to impart any so-called value education (which is usually cultural and spiritual conditioning and opinions masquerading as factual information) at taxpayer-funded institutes. At most, spiritual retreats and holistic workshops can be made available as optional activities, and ones strictly unaided by the taxpayers' money.

(As an aside, did you know that the government of India, despite having a secular charter, routinely disburses grants of billions of rupees to religious bodies and religion-based educational institutions, provides them land at subsidized rates, shields them from taxes and audits due to their charitable status, etc.?)

The goal of education (insofar it is related to the development of a thinking mind) is not to tell people what to think, it is to enable them to think for themselves.

There are multiple blog posts on this questionable practice:

http://iiitbuzz.blogspot.com/2006/08/kalam-sings-jeevan-vidya-on-i-day-eve.html

http://rahulsarika.blogspot.com/2009/02/one-with-day-care.html

http://sukeshkumar.blogspot.com/2008/12/one-about-iiit-great-institute.html

18 comments:

N Sriram said...

Harman,

Do you think the government's attitude has something to do with defining secularism as 'sarvadharma samabhava' rather than separation of the state's affairs from religion?

As a teacher in a school, I wonder if there might be some merit in discussing 'values' with children, perhaps by way of getting them to think about issues concerning relationships among human beings. Or should we steer clear of any discussion on 'values' completely?

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Sriram:

1. I will have to dig deeper into our constitution, but it seems you have hit the spot. Secularism in India, in practice if not in theory, is not secularism as in "respecting no religion" (as in the US constitution) but "respecting all religions" which is not secularism at all, but a promotion and protection of personal fiefdoms and questionable practices.

2. Open discussion about values, ethical dilemmas, moral foundations, investigations into cultural and family traditions could be a welcome part of any non-vocational curriculum (e.g. school education). The essential difference is that a discussion ABOUT values is different from an INCULCATION of values.

The former is the road to freedom of mind and will help broaden the horizons, the latter is the road to mental slavery and vehement self-righteousness.

But the former requires teachers with relatively free and unprejudiced minds, which is not easy. It is much easier to impart hoary values which are "truthy".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness

sunson said...

"Human values, like trust, respect, love, would have to be inculcated which will form the basis of a just human order. "

Hah. If the west wanted "Intelligent Design" to be taught in school, India had to do something specially indian.

Anonymous said...

It is shocking that the Government would allow such courses to be mandatory at institutions of higher learning. Simple values like honesty,loyalty,friendship,responsibility,citizenship,caring for the environment etc can be taught at primary school when minds can be molded.If one imbibes them in ones character the one has all the jeevan vidya that is required to be a decent human being and live a decent life.
There is no sense complicating matters and values so much, it achieves nothing.JV as promoted in these institutions defeats its own goals of uniting mankind by this forced indoctrination.

dadi ma ke kissey kahani said...

Anon: "It is shocking that the Government would allow such courses to be mandatory at institutions of higher learning."

# Most institutes of education have a certain degree of autonomy ( especially in higher education) to conduct certain non -graded courses and practices which cannot be monitored and are beyond the means of Government. Curb on institutes also mean curbing academic autonomy. Hence, Government, while lays down certain format and regulation but lets the institutes develop on their own. And if visibly, nothing wrong comes to light, Government does not spurn into action.


Anon: 'Simple values like honesty,loyalty,friendship,responsibility,citizenship,caring for the environment etc can be taught at primary school when minds can be molded."

# hmmm...and 'molding' is not indoctrination of a kind? Just that the things you disagree with are replaced by things you agree with. Whose judgment and evaluation , then, should be taken in account? And all the things you are pointing out are definitely "good" for a the young minds, because you think so. right. well, how is this not forced indoctrination of your beliefs/opinions on young minds?

Anon: "If one imbibes them in ones character the one has all the jeevan vidya that is required to be a decent human being and live a decent life.
There is no sense complicating matters and values so much, it achieves nothing.JV as promoted in these institutions defeats its own goals of uniting mankind by this forced indoctrination."

# So, do other techniques like religious indoctrination and social belief systems like caste and region. The situation is more complex and the solutions not as simple. It is be tantamount to replacing one method by another....

dadi ma

Anonymous said...

Pranam dadi maa,

1.There is no question of just me thinking basic values like honesty,responsibility, citizenship etc are good. If you were to start an argument about whether they are good or not you would yourself realize you are just starting an argument for arguments' sake and the whole thing would be a meaningless waste of time.
2.That minds can be molded when they are young is again not arguable, this is why education begins when one is young. One does not usually begin to learn the alphabet when one is an adult, precisely because of this fact.
3.The point put forth by the author was "should value education such as JV be optional at institutions of higher learning" is the question to be discussed. My thinking is there is no question that it should be optional. Making it mandatory is wrong because one cannot allow debatable vague concepts like the "Self" to be taught at institutions when who is to say whose concept of the "Self" is right. If we agree on this there really is nothing to argue about.

dadi ma ke kissey kahani said...

Anon: 1.There is no question of just me thinking basic values like honesty,responsibility, citizenship etc are good. If you were to start an argument about whether they are good or not you would yourself realize you are just starting an argument for arguments' sake and the whole thing would be a meaningless waste of time.

# I am not contesting the values as such, but stating that 'molding' of any kind is questionable. Instead, teaching and developing judgment in mind of correct and incorrect, reasonable and unreasonable and evaluation will be better. Molding will lead to production of clockwork oranges who know 'Honesty is best policy' but will never understand what is honesty and why is it the best policy! ( example is merely illustrative).


2.That minds can be molded when they are young is again not arguable, this is why education begins when one is young. One does not usually begin to learn the alphabet when one is an adult, precisely because of this fact.

# In other words, education is equivalent to literacy and alphabet and the unlettered history and illiterate have received no education. Decide for yourself if what is education. Values only, literacy as well, combination of both or something else. Give it a thought before you hit the reply button!!

teaching whose values: those of society, culture, region, tribe, citizenship. All are at different scales and planes. Society is not citizenship nor culture.


3.The point put forth by the author was "should value education such as JV be optional at institutions of higher learning" is the question to be discussed.

# then the author should have stated just that, why offer such a lengthy intro before the real meat...oh...i guess...the usual essay writing ways taught in value laden schools to beat about the bush before you hit the topic....:-))

" My thinking is there is no question that it should be optional. Making it mandatory is wrong because one cannot allow debatable vague concepts like the "Self" to be taught at institutions when who is to say whose concept of the "Self" is right. If we agree on this there really is nothing to argue about.

# just as forcing students to recite prayers in the assembly lines is meaningless and counterproductive which leads to construction of fuzzy self in students.

I agree with the author that the forceful indoctrination is incorrect and should be discontinued. My aim was to examine if the tendency of forceful indoctrination is deeper that JV or another program. My point is that the indoctrination runs very deep and is done in several forms. JV is just one technique. The solutions are not easy either. You may denounce JV, I may denounce religious indoctrination to any God or even nation ( like singing of national anthem). These are point of views. All and not just one is questionable. Young minds or even slightly older are never taught, they are indoctrinated: in ideologies, methods and techniques that the teachers 'believe ' in or follow.

dadi ma

dadi ma ke kissey kahani said...

....and sometimes molding(verb: to shape up) makes a mold( soft earth) of mind.

Anonymous said...

Harmanjitji,

you said .. "But the former requires teachers with relatively free and unprejudiced minds, which is not easy. It is much easier to impart hoary values which are "truthy"." ....


1) Lets assume that the current teachers are prejudiced ... does that mean the institutes should not have discussions on values ?

2) "Who" will certify that they are unprejudiced ? Are you ready to?

3) Have you ever verified if they are prejudiced before commenting ? Is it not your responsibility to check it before commenting and declaring to the world?

4) You have very smartly picked up the non-positive part of the survey to boost your post. Is that fair? Are you not deceiving people? And what are you achieving in doing so!
Here is the conclusion of the survey in case you have not bothered to read till the end

"Finally, in the words of a classmate of mine,like we need technical knowledge to work, we need some guidance and exposure to grow up in life. Jeevan Vidya exposes us to ideas that are already within us, and just need to be analyzed carefully. So friends, shed all prejudices, and try to discover your self through Jeevan Vidya, even if it's not "trendy"."


Instead of appreciating efforts that are made by an institution to make its students discuss and pay attention to values, which is one of the core issues of the world today, you are trying to become a negative force! Don't you feel uncomfortable doing it ?

If you are justifying your actions thinking are giving a word of caution to the institutions not to PREACH Values, I am sorry, that tone is different.

I suggest, you should help the institution with you suggestions on how "Open discussion about values, ethical dilemmas, moral foundations, investigations into cultural and family traditions" can happen, that will be a more constructive work. And you will like yourself doing that better than this!

Harmanjit Singh said...

"Lets assume that the current teachers are prejudiced ... does that mean the institutes should not have discussions on values ?"

# Discussions on values is not, as per me, the job of a technical training institution. However, I am not against humanities courses (or even extra-curricular discussion) ABOUT values (as contrasted with efforts to INCULCATE values).

You may like to read another blog article of mine: http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2009/02/debate-on-moral-education.html

""Who" will certify that they are unprejudiced ? Are you ready to?"

# Being prejudiced is not a matter of certification, but of being intelligent. Students can judge pretty easily if the teacher has a certain bias as regards a matter of opinion or value. An intelligent person can and must put aside his own beliefs and values while teaching others. Otherwise he is not a teacher, but an ideologue.

"Have you ever verified if they are prejudiced before commenting ?"

# I speak from my own experience. And in my response to Mr Sriram, i was commenting on the difficulty of finding capable teachers who can moderate a discussion on moral values without letting their own biases direct the flow.

"Is it not your responsibility to check it before commenting and declaring to the world?"

# I speak from my experience with teachers in my school, college and the universities where I have been. You are free to reject my conclusion and offer yours on your blog.

"You have very smartly picked up the non-positive part of the survey to boost your post. Is that fair?"

# The survey contains data which supports my post. Should I ignore it?

"Are you not deceiving people?"

# Of course not. I provide a link to the survey, so that people can check on their own.

"And what are you achieving in doing so!"

# I am offering my thoughts and experiences to others, so that they may think about these issues as well.

"Here is the conclusion of the survey in case you have not bothered to read till the end

"Finally, in the words of a classmate of mine,like we need technical knowledge to work, we need some guidance and exposure to grow up in life. Jeevan Vidya exposes us to ideas that are already within us, and just need to be analyzed carefully. So friends, shed all prejudices, and try to discover your self through Jeevan Vidya, even if it's not "trendy"."

# Ha, "discovering one's self" and "growing up in life" is not what a taxpayer/student is paying the teachers in an institute to teach his/her students. Is this an IIT, or an ashram? By all means "discover your self", but on your own time and money.

"Instead of appreciating efforts that are made by an institution to make its students discuss and pay attention to values, which is one of the core issues of the world today, you are trying to become a negative force! Don't you feel uncomfortable doing it ?"

# You assume that the core issue of the world will be solved by inculcating values, and that too in a course based on the Jeevan Vidya paradigm. And no, I am not at all uncomfortable doing it. I am in fact quite pleased that my article can reach anybody over the internet.

"If you are justifying your actions thinking are giving a word of caution to the institutions not to PREACH Values, I am sorry, that tone is different."

# I am saying that value education, and that too based on questionable paradigms (e.g. JV, religions) is not the job of technical or higher education institutions, or of any educational institutions for that matter.

You may like to read http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2009/02/child-education-without-belief.html and http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2009/01/education-humanity-knowledge.html

"I suggest, you should help the institution with you suggestions on how "Open discussion about values, ethical dilemmas, moral foundations, investigations into cultural and family traditions" can happen, that will be a more constructive work. And you will like yourself doing that better than this!"

# I like to share my experiences and thoughts via the internet. If ever I have the opportunity to discuss these issues with someone who has decision making power, I will be sure to put across my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding to my comment.

You seem to have a very narrow definition of an university. I am glad my institute IIIT-Hyderabad did not restrict itself that way. I am very happy and feel fortunate that my institute has given an opportunity to think and discuss about values.

Anyway, I am not with your idea that technical institutes should not put in efforts on human values front. If there was some other place/time which was addressing this issue I would have empathised with you, but in the current educational system where there is hardly an time when these are addressed, I feel it is VERY IMPORTANT to have it at least along with technical education.

Anonymous said...

You can find a related post over herehttp://prasantgopal.com/blog/?p=376

Anonymous said...

http://rmshark.blogspot.com/2010/01/al-qaeda-of-jeevan-vidya.html
http://rmshark.blogspot.com/2010/01/prof-sangals-reply-to-al-qaeda-of.html
http://gaganpreet.wordpress.com/

Comments of first two posts make an interesting read. There is also a need to debate on "Whether educational institutions should be given autonomy?"

Ketan said...

Harmanjit,

This sounds totally like indoctrination, something on which tax-payers' money must never be spent.

One thing about government funding of education that has intrigued me is that medicos are expected to do rural service stint (by imposing bonds), and one of the grounds offered is that in their post graduation/graduation course, the government spends approximately Rs. 1.3 lakhs/annum/student. So it becomes obligatory on part of medicos to return the "favor" by doing rural service.

I wanted to know, to what degree is the education at IITs subsidized through tax-payers' money?

Personally, I am more in favor of government not subsidizing education at all, or at least, if such "conditional" (rural service) favors are to be extended, then students must also be provided with option to opt out of such conditions by paying through their pockets (say, by taking bank loans).

Of course, this was digression from the main issue, which was whether to allow indoctrination in non-core technical subjects or not. I am not in favor of such indoctrination, for all the reasons that you provided (in the comments).

One thing that could be done is to offer such courses as part of "paid electives", meaning students could pay from their own pockets if they want to study such courses.

I had read a blog post by former biology professor and current professor of philosophy, where he has discussed a proposal to introduce American high school students to formal philosophy, here - From the APA: philosophy for children? (click). I had found the idea very appealing, considering how little are school students exposed to the idea of critical thinking. So many people grow up with flawed idea that eloquence can be used to supplant plain logic.

I was also curious, if IIT-Hyderabad is particularly notorious in experimenting with its faculty?

You might like to read this article on my blog, which concerns a professor of liberal arts at IIT-H, who had supported pedophilia through, what I thought, exceedingly irrational arguments in an article In the Indian Express:

Is Man-Boy Love a Beautiful Thing? (click).

Harmanjit Singh said...

@Ketan: IITs remain highly subsidized, though I don't have the numbers.

As for the expectation and obligation of working "for the country", the issue is complex. But I agree that a student should be allowed to be non-subsidized (that is generally done for the (now extinct at IIT) NRI quota). However, human beings what they are, most will choose both the subsidy and lucrative offers later. If a legal contract/bond is signed at the time of admission, it may help to some extent (for example that the degree will be complete only after working for 3 years in a PSU/rural-setup), but then one has to ask if there are enough challenges which can be meaningfully met by an IIT graduate in a PSU/rural-setup?

IITians are trained to be at the cutting edge, whereas the rest of India mostly needs execution of simple technology via procedural and bureaucratic means.

As for Mr Tellis, I find him silly and rude, but IITH seems to be a different institution from IIIT (three-Is). I don't think one need be scared that his silly ideas may perniciously influence the younger generation studying under him.

Ketan said...

Harmanjit,

Sorry, missed that extra "I" in IIIT (guess, need some practice at narcissism!).

When I said, option of different mode of payment, I did not mean that there should be a quota. I meant every student should have an option. Like, you could buy something with one time cash or on a loan. Of course, that might make it a bit difficult for the institute/government to estimate how much funds to allot each year towards the tuition fee for those opting for government sponsorship. So, once one opts for the sponsorship option, it would be with the signing of the bond, which nowadays is compulsory, rather than being optinal in the manner I am suggesting.

I would not be able to comment upon whether there are enough roles to be fulfilled by IITians in India, but if there are not, then it indicates some deficiency in the kind of R&D/innovation going on in the government sector as compared to where the IITians eventually end up working.

Actually, in the medical field, too, the situation is comparable. Most of the district/civil hospitals and more so primary health centers (PHCs) do not have facilities that they should have. This leads to blunting of some skills over time.

At some places, surgeries cannot be carried out because of erratic power supply!

And the doctors who specialize in nonclinical subjects like pathology or radiodiagnosis have it even worse, because very few rural setups would have MRI and CT scan facilities, or other lab equipments.

But what I feel is that the basic compensation offered by the government to doctors (other professionals) has not been sufficient. Otherwise, many people would have voluntarily joined these services rather than requiring this sort of virtual coercion....

Ketan said...

...And well, the whole thing is not about "for the country". The way politicians treat the whole thing, it is about "returning the monetary favor". And in that regard, what concerns me is that I do not really feel that the government is spending Rs. 1.3 lakh per annum. I mean, I do not understand how this figure is arrived at.

Because, in a typical MBBS course, most of the facilities required are not significantly greater than that provided at BSc microbiology or BSc with chemistry, etc. And their fee is hardly greater than Rs. 15,000. Also, apart from the 25% nonpracticing allowance given to teachers, their respective pays are also comparable. Yes, the number of subjects taught in MBBS are a bit more, so the teacher:student ratio turns out proportionately greater. However, all this should at the most make the expenditure double, and not 8 times!!

One of the explanations I have come across is that the capital the government invests in things like medical equipment used in the hospitals attached to medical colleges (and NOT the labs) is extremely costly and that money is to be recovered from the students.

But the thing is public health falls largely in the state list (as against the Union list - not that it makes a difference), and to provide the same facilities, the government anyway collects taxes!

Meaning, the government should be clear about this: whether it invests in the hospitals attached to medical colleges to provide health care to the poor patients or to educate the students.

If they say it is the former, then the same hospital would anyway have been run without students needing to go and learn there. If they say it is the latter, then they are saying that the patients incidentally brought into these hospitals are for the students to "experiment" upon. And I really do not think that the government could say that it is "both"! :)

And with regard to professor Tellis, of course, having known IITs personally, you would know better whether it is a risk or not, but I personally feel that without the ability/inclination (considering the students would be largely into technology related subjects) to independently corroborate his assertions with scientific facts, believing him owing to pseudo-reasons he provides is a real risk.

What do you think of introduction of philosophy as one of the subjects in school in India?

And may I ask, if you are interested in teaching (this is just out of curiosity; not that I can do anything about it)?

Anonymous said...

https://hollowjeevanvidya.wordpress.com/