Education, Global Problems, India

Could a Liberal Arts Education be the Solution to India’s Problems?

With a wave of political and societal changes engulfing India, a combination of factors could usher in a golden era of growth in the country. India’s demographic advantage and growing enterprise culture favor its rise. However, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of the Center for Policy Research in India, argues that “whether India takes full advantage of these propitious conditions will depend upon the policy choices it makes.” In describing the Indian electorate, P. Mehta aptly points out that “the impact of policies on well-being is judged less by aggregate future expectations of the impact.” Could this narrow focus on the present spell the very doom for India despite favorable conditions? Could a growth in liberal arts education enable India to look beyond the present and save the country from the perils of climate change and job displacement due to automation?

While climate change and automation are not problems unique to India, they will disproportionately impact India. If this massive population is to save itself, it must become liberally educated.

David Wallace-Well’s book The Uninhabitable Earth notes that climate change will hit India the hardest. India’s equatorial position and large river system schedule the country to receive ~29% of the economic suffering. Not only will people be dying due to heat stroke, but they will also lose their farming jobs as sea levels rise. India is still largely an agricultural society; lacking the technological skills needed to survive in the modern economy, farmers will be entering poverty in drones.

As the exuberance around the startup India campaign launched by Prime Minister Modi wanes, numbers reveal that funding for startups is still lacking. 90% of Indian startups fail in the first 5 years due to lack of creativity beyond emulating business models from the United States. Moreover, ~30% of the country’s population is employed in low-skilled IT services jobs which mostly serve companies in the United States. Now, with cost pressure faced by U.S. firms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) replacing mundane call-center duties, Indian IT workers are no longer in high demand. As of 2017, the World Bank estimated that ~69% of India’s workforce is threatened by automation.

Is India’s population destined to fail? How can education provide workers with the creativity and high skills needed to help the country flourish? India’s current education system focuses on rote learning and memorization, but with these challenges at its doorstep, Indian students need to learn critical thinking skills and develop knowledge in the social sciences. Author Yuval Harrari argues that in the age of AI, creative jobs will be impacted last. India should develop its non-existent creative services fields.

A liberal arts education equips students with reasoning capabilities. It is imperative that future leaders have a good grasp of history, politics and social sciences and develop empathy and judgement to combat the issues plaguing India. Universities such as Ashoka and Flame are pioneers in bringing this education to India’s masses and more such institutions could not only save India from destruction but could also help it achieve dominance in global affairs.

With the proliferation of the Internet and the rise in over-the-top (OTT) in India, the country needs to pick up Neil Postman’s book The End of Education to be aware of the benefits of reading and critical thinking. The burgeoning middle class needs to channel its money towards a liberal arts education for their children.

The sole focus on technical skills will “shackle it (Indian mind) to the technicalities with which it has become so familiar, and disable it from taking enlarged and comprehensive views even of topics falling within its compass.” (George Sharswood)

Recommended Book: The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School by Neil Postman

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