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Mainstream, VOL L, No 10, February 25, 2012

Church and Education in Kerala

Monday 27 February 2012, by V Mathew Kurian


I. Introduction

Education is critically important to social development. According to Amartya Sen, it helps in building up human capabilities. Educational attainment is one of the main criteria in indexing human development. Among Indian States, Kerala stands at the top in the Human Develop-ment Index. From a historical perspective, the unique contributions of Churches towards this, particularly in the domains of education and health, are indisputable.

Though education as a ‘merit good’ played a remarkable role in the constitution of the so-called ‘Kerala Model of Development’, the present educational scenario of the State is confronted with a number of problems. Many educationists and social activists doubt whether the present educational system and its practices are fulfilling its noble objectives. It is quite unfortunate that the Church-driven educational institutions are also not free from this critique. In this predica-ment, it is high time to peruse the educational situation of Kerala and get it transformed to serve the society in a better way. In this brief note, firstly we propose to acknowledge the contributions of Churches to the educational development of the State. Secondly, we plan to make a critical exami-nation of the current educational situation. Finally, we also want to make some suggestions, from a visionary perspective, to restructure the educational functioning of Kerala.

II. The Contributions of Kerala Churches to Education

IT is an acknowledged fact that the Churches of Kerala contributed substantially to the educa-tional development of the State. Even prior to the European influence, the enlightened members of the Church in Kerala served the educational needs of the then traditional society. There were enlightened Christian teachers running ‘Kalaris’ to impart the ‘three Rs’ as well as the martial arts. The learned priests (malpans) provided the scriptural lessons and knowledge in some secular subjects.
Nevertheless, the most acknowledged contri-bution of Churches to the Kerala society is in the promotion of modern education. It was first brought into this territory by the Protestant missionaries in the eighteenth century. Kerala was privileged to enjoy the educational and other services of various Protestant missions from the extreme north to the south. The Basel Mission in the northern region, the Church Missionary Society in the central part of Kerala, the London Missionary Society in the Thiruva-nanthapuram region, and Lutherans in Kanya-kumari. The Roman Catholic Mission, especially along the coast of Kerala, has also to be acclaimed.

The European Missions inspired the indigenous Kerala Churches also to extend their services in the advancement of education in the State. In due course of time a number of educational institutions—ranging from the primary, secondary to the higher and technical—arose in different parts of the State. Other communities also joined in this mission. The native rulers of Kerala too were in favour of popularising modern education. After independence, the democratic governments also took a keen interest in extending education to the entire masses of the State. However, the outliers in Kerala are still in the periphery of the educational system.

III. The Present Educational Scenario: A Critique

KERALA’S education is now confronted with a number of problems. The following is an overview of those.

1. Commercialisation of Education

Education in the States sprouted in the ‘public sphere’ and was considered a ‘merit good’. But now one can discern various degrees of ‘commo-ditisation’ in this sphere, from ‘self-financing’ to outright profiting. When education is adminis-tered as a business, then the various participants in it become business stakeholders. It leads to individualisation and creation of selfish creatures. In this milieu, educational agencies are perceived as capitalists, teachers as workers, and students as inputs to be transformed into outputs or finished commodities. Much of the social and human element of education is eroded in this process.

2. Forceful Capitation and its Social Costs

Most of our private educational institutions forcefully collect capitation at the time of appointment and admission. This gives birth to a number of unhealthy practices. Once money becomes a privileged criterion, ‘merit’ will definitely be pushed back. The mass failure of students in most of the engineering colleges in the State in recent times is definitely an eye-opener of this phenomenon. In order to favour the resourceful clients, the managements would be forced to resort to unethical practices. This is definitely against the spirit of Christianity.

3. Eroding Standards in Education

This problem is particularly vexing in the case of higher education, including various types of professional courses. Kerala students in general are beaten back in almost all national level com-petitive examinations. Such desirable educa-tional activities like reading and discoursing are widely missing not only among students but among teachers as well.

4. Deprivation of Academic Freedom

In the present educational system there is little space for students and teachers to express their innovation and creativity. In most cases the parents choose the courses for their children. The talents and potentials of the children are not taken into account. All the stake-holders are entrapped in a static framework.

5. Exclusion and Extinction

Everywhere we hear the slogan of inclusive growth and development. But equity and justice are evaporating from education. India has been following a policy of neo-liberalism from 1991 onwards. Its impact is exclusively in all social fronts including education. However, in order to extend inclusion, educational loans are granted. But this is emerging as a big problem for the inability of a large number of loanees to repay the loan due to the dimming employment opportunities. So one fears that the suicide among farmers would spread to the educational loanees.

IV. Way Out

THE above description definitely legitimises the urgent need to rescue our education from this multidimensional crisis. There is no easy solution to it. However, we point to some suggestions as a way out.

1. Alternative Educational Financing

Educational organisers have to pool a fund to facilitate wealth by resorting to moral persuasion. If the integrity is ensured, people will definitely contribute to it.

2. Justice and Equity

If education is to be discharged as a mission, ‘justice’ and ‘equity’ should be the core principles. If we fail in it, it is better that the Church should not be engaged in education. A number of schemes targeting the poor and vulnerable have to be chalked out like scholarships, education grants etc.

3. Vocationalisation of Education

In starting new educational institutions and courses, ‘vocationalisation’ should be given priority.

4. Geographic priority

Instead of starting new educational institu-tions in the already educated terrains, the Church should give priority to the undeveloped regions.

5. Incentives and Punishments

Proper monitoring of any system requires both incentives and punishments. Though there are many limitations in the exercise of those in the present system, still Christian managements through active involvement can bring about a qualitative change.

V. Conclusion

IN this article, we tried to highlight the contributions of the Indian Churches in the promotion of modern education in Kerala. This enabled the State to rank first among the Indian States in the Human Development Index. The article also examined the present educational scenario and exposed some of the negative aspects like growing inequality in educational oppor-tunities and deteriorating standards, especially in higher education. We also proposed certain suggestions to improve the educational system of Kerala. Unless Kerala’s education is revamped, the entire edifice of ‘social development’ by the State will falter. It is a great challenge for Kerala’s Churches to carry out this onerous task.

Dr V. Mathew Kurian is a Visiting Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam (Kerala).

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