Sunday, March 23, 2014

Education and Alienation

MK and I recently had an interesting conversation about education being an alienating factor in India. We were thinking back about our time together in Thanjavur.

Due to the presence of a cluster of social initiatives, Thanjavur attracted a lot of researchers who wanted to be part of the action. There was the post doc from Harvard, the nurse practitioner from Penn state, interns from MIT, researchers from highly rated social work schools. Higher education seemed to have had a liberating effect on all of them. They seemed to be global citizens who would be well adjusted in any part of the world. I remember a New England girl, educated at Harvard, who called Kaushambi her second home (and she wasn’t just trying to be cute while saying this).

I was then wondering why it is almost always the opposite for Indians. There were city educated Indians who came to work in Thanjavur, and with few exceptions, they were maladjusted to living there. The more educated you were the more unsuitable you became to rural India. The more well-traveled I am the bigger a misfit I become in my country.

Now I don’t mean to be judgmental about people who seek brighter pastures and don’t look back at their origins. Every human has a right to the pursuit of happiness. There are also legitimate reasons that make Indians overtly or covertly disown their homeland. Lack of safety (especially for women), ethical compromises forced by a corrupt environment, limits to earning potential imposed by an undeveloped economy are all valid ones, but that can’t be all. I believe there is an alienation forced by education in India. It seems disconnected from real life. To take an illustrative example, there’s no kid from a farmer family who learns to become a kickass farmer, who optimizes his yield with scientific approaches, and uses his academic education to overcome knowledge asymmetries that traditionally work against farmers. Doesn’t happen often enough! You get a degree and you become unfit for your village. If you get a higher degree, chances are you will be a misfit everywhere in your country.