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Education is meant to prepare us for the future. Fantastic idea, prima facie. A student graduating out of school in 2021 at the age of sixteen would complete his normal working life in 2069 around the age of 60. Perhaps even later. Does anybody know what will happen even five years hence? Or even two months down the line? If COVID 19 is any indication, nobody has a clue.

We can at best extrapolate our past into the future with guesstimates based on our rather inadequate education and predictive models. Is has however been proved over and over again that ‘The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.’ Wall Street crashes, tsunamis, 26/11 type events, nuclear disasters and pandemics have invariably taken us by total surprise. No amount of education has helped us predict these events and no amount of education has been able to limit the damages they caused.

It is known that most modern and formal education systems worldwide were designed around the time of the Industrial Revolution. They were designed to get people jobs in manufacturing – primarily to support war efforts. Importance was given to science, technology and factory skills to produce equipment in large numbers. Since languages carried the other disciplines on their shoulders, languages received primacy in the education system along with mathematics and the sciences. Then came the social sciences and the arts in that sequence; and within these too, there was a strict hierarchy of subjects. This system continues though some countries are making efforts at breaking stereotypes and infusing fresh thought in education. In India too, we must make this change since humanities and the arts are as important today as science, mathematics and languages. We are still far too enamoured by Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) programmes. While this is perfectly fine, other disciplines too need more respect than they currently command.

Laudable though high-tech may be, realities of the modern world and the current pandemic has shown that it is not necessarily aligned to the well-being of humanity. Is it not strange that we had lost the capacity of making masks and ventilators but had enough weapons to destroy the world many times over? Is it not alarming that innovative fields such as bio-technology are wilfully indulging in genetic meddling and research in covert bio -weapons rather than eradicating illnesses worldwide. Is it not absurd that millions of dollars are spent on spy satellites and creating space debris while a tenth of the world’s population still grapples with hunger and poverty? Is it not shameful that rivers are dying and ice-caps are melting while we are investing in exotic ideas like space travel and tourism. The trajectory of development is completely devoid of humanism. This dehumanised application of education, science and technology is taking us down the path of certain misfortune.

We need to make education and development synchronous with the well being of humankind. In today’s world, while we desperately need science, we need humanities as much. There is a crying need to broad- base education in order to identify and nurture individual talents and creativity. The ‘one size fits all’ model of education is obsolete. While science can tell us the ‘how’ of doing something, it is humanities that will tell us the ‘what’ and ‘why’. Science and engineering are matters far too serious to be left to scientists and engineers alone. More so, because new technologies and developments have unimaginable destructive and disruptive potential. While cutting-edge technologies must continue to be developed, national and world leaders will have to ensure that they are used for the well- being of humankind and not for its destruction. We need sanity in place of greed and global one-upmanship. There lies the value of science being in complete complementarity with humanities.

Now is the time to humanise science and technology. Now is the time to humanise education.

And now is the time to display humanity as never before.

03 Apr 20

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