Tag Archives: Youth

Deconstructing the focus of the National Youth Policy

National  Youth Policy of India is supposed to provide guidelines to different ministries and official bodies to initiate a process of inclusion of youth of the country from varied backgrounds to mainstream. Larger question which lies in front of us is if it has been able to do so? But before analysing its implementation we must also analyse the focus of the Policy.

The policy starts with a quote from Swami Vivekanand. The historic quote from one of Swami’s many lectures goes like this,

“Young men, my hope is in you. Will you respond to the call of your nation? Each one of you has a glorious future if you dare believe me. Have a tremendous faith in yourselves, like the faith I had when I was a child, and which I am working out now. Have that faith, each one of you, in yourself—that eternal power is lodged in every soul—and you will revive the whole of the country.”

This quote addresses the ‘men’ of the country, but shouldn’t it also be addressing  the needs of women and the third gender of the country. Swami Vivekanand has his hope in the young men whom he rhetorically asks to respond to the ‘call of nation’. As a matter of fact, he spoke decades back in a different context. Quoting him here is certainly out of context. One cannot start a policy on youth with reference to men alone.

When we look at the undercurrents of the policy, we find the focus area of the policy is concentrated around skill development and sports. It talks about other focus areas too, but is unable to suggest proper policy intervention. For instance in section 7, titled Thrust Areas, it talks about various issues of grave concern. Section 7.9 talks about the evil practices in the society. It goes like this,

7.9 Social justice and action against unhealthy social practices

a) There exist certain unhealthy social practices like dowry child marriage, female infanticide and honour killings and decisions by Khap Panchayats which need to be addressed.

Policy intervention

a)      The task of rooting out long-embedded unhealthy social practices from the community requires concerted local action through a sustained programme of education of the community people and dialogue with leaders and elders. The role of voluntary organisations working in the community and officials of various related departments is also crucial and should be adhered to.

This section talks about serious issues which require proper planning and strong will to ensure implementation. But the policy sums up the intervention in just two sentences. The mention of voluntary organisations working in the community is too broad to give a crucial role to tackle the problem. These are deep-rooted problems that require an analysis to suggest a proper implementation policy for the same. It could have suggested a plan of creating its own body for the purpose or by creating a system which involves other ministries as well. This will certainly require hard work on part of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, but complex problems require solutions that are practical.

India’s youth face numerous problems and education is a major concern. The age bracket of 16 to 30 years comprises of almost all the matriculation students, intermediate students, graduation and higher studies students. The policy does not discuss about the students in a detailed manner. There is a mention about the education scenario in the country, but with no proper planning. Given the dropout rates in school and colleges across the country it was important to have a detailed plan to seek assistance of relevant ministry to minimise the dropout rate of young students. For this proper budgeting is required. Infrastructure of academic institutions is of a major concern as well. NYP needs to have a detailed plan for the same as well.

It is surprising that the policy never discusses budgetary allocation for various plans it mentions. By reading the youth policy one wonders how we can achieve such a humongous task with no discussion of monetary transaction! It needs to give guidelines for budgetary allocation for not only for plans related to the education but also for various youth club it mentions which are required to bring together the youth from diverse background to mainstream. The youth club it mentions has no resources and it is difficult to even imagine how they can take care of tasks related to the youth across the country.

Towards the conclusion of the policy, you see a few mathematical equations being solved only to realise that it is Youth Development Index, YDI, which is based on the model of Human Development Index, HDI, with a few new components in order to cater to the needs of the youth. There is no way one can comment on the YDI as there is still time for it to prove its consequences. It aims at providing data to central government, different state governments and civil societies ‘to ascertain the status of youth vis-à-vis the systemic dimensions which influence their growth and empowerment’. The statistical equations are, it seems, too broad and generic in nature to give a clear picture of the development of youth pan India.

All this help us to analyse that the focus of NYP 2012 is quite defocused and there is an urgent need to rectify it. It becomes important to understand that there is a need of inclusion of civil bodies in the policy making process. By civil bodies I mean people who have worked hard with the youth of the country in different sectors. There can be sub-policies for the three age brackets NYP 2012 suggests. Accordingly different civil bodies need to work with respective age brackets. For instance, the age bracket of 16 to 21 years requires experts from secondary and higher secondary education background. Similarly the age brackets of 21 to 25 years and 26 to 30 years will require experts from University education, skill development sector and other relevant bodies who have been associated with the concerned youth for a long time.

A better system and society for youth of the nation will ensure a better future of the country. It is an urgent need for intervention by people of the country so that we have practical/implementable policies with better implementation strategies.

Post By: Nihal Parashar

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Women Social Entrepreneurs and their Struggle

“Social Entrepreneurs act as agents of change in society, creating interventions for betterment of society and women play a key role in the whole process. While gender differences might come into play where the magnitude and scale of enterprise is concerned, this is by no means an index of the success  of the enterprise. Women entrepreneurs are equally successful and create big impact on society.

‘Skills for Social Enterprise’ is one of the key areas that British Council India is keen to embark upon. The Council has long showcased best of UK innovation and creativity in diverse areas through its programmes. What is now required is to inspire, support and develop next generation of women social entrepreneurs and through their systems and products, deliver wider benefits to the society. This week through Youth ki Awaaz, our partner in this campaign, we will focus on key challenges  that young social entrepreneurs specifically women face in their journey…..”- Dr. G.S. Gujral, Head- Society (India), British Council.

Enterprise gains stage in strange ways. A guy who can’t afford a tea stall sets up a kettle and a dozen cups in the space that is a wall crack. Youngsters who can’t voice their opinions in the mainstream take up blogging, social networking and uploading their own videos. All it takes is courage and conviction, you’d think?

Easier said than done, though. If how you were and what you did were the only determinants to your success, no diligent student would ever sit down and cry with a paltry 85 per cent in his boards, no dancer would ever impair his limbs and no chef would ever burn his best tested recipe. There is a lot more to success that has to do with your destiny, the pressures around you, your lifestyle and circumstances, and the attitudes and mindsets you have to deal with in the race for that red ribbon.

Women social entrepreneurs around us are much lesser in number than one would wish for. Start ups are anyway a risky business idea. And women, most people think, are not meant for adventure. Theirs is the comfortable space, homemade snacks; teaching or embroidery classes are as ambitious as they can get about ‘doing their own thing’. Going beyond those would make men in their lives uncomfortable. It seems they are only well-suited for the parties and wedding, taking care of children and nursing their wounds. It is assumed that other things in her life can wait.

The firm strides women take towards empowering themselves are testimony to an evolving society at the heart of which are strongly unchanging, unwavering prejudices. Most jobs, including corporate ones, have a strong male bias and are structured to eulogise men and their superior status. A woman has to struggle twice as much to make it big in the same space. The frequent long working hours, the workload and the stress that often get to one are not considered a woman’s cup of tea.

As deep as we may search for answers to this, there is pretty much only one underlying reason. Our patriarchal system may give a woman the liberty to follow her dreams, but not the space to chase them. Unfortunately, there is nothing to keep her motivated. Top positions in corporate spaces are reserved for men (or so it seems). She isn’t seen as a leader or a role model. Also, most don’t like working under a woman boss, especially men whose ego would get bruised beyond imagination.

We don’t see too many women entrepreneurs, or at least, too many successful women entrepreneurs because somewhere while chasing their dreams, they’re pulled back and made to fulfil her duties even before she can get her plan to be a successful social entrepreneur in place. Work is always secondary, and when it happens, a woman is made to feel like it’s some rare gift she’s been blessed with. It is not banal, normal or even acceptable. It is not done when she starts to or desires to give it as much time and attention as her home and family.

The fact that apart from men, most women today themselves look down on other women who seem ‘too big for their boots’ is proof enough of the mindsets we grapple with.

Not that women haven’t already done it, but it would take a lot more women with passion and conviction to change this. From education to voting rights, we got it all for ourselves. We’ve always been multitaskers; we just need to fight a little harder to make our place. Remember: it’s never too late.

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Myths about Quality Education in India

Myth 1: A change in teacher-student ratio will increase quality education 

Right to Education Act (RTE) aims for an ideal pupil-teacher ratio of 30:1 for primary level and 35:1 for upper-primary level. But, the current ratio of 49:1 for primary level and 59:1 for upper-primary level statistically shames us and remains a severe problem in Uttar Pradesh schools. The ratio in Chandigarh reaches to a whooping 80:1.

Interestingly, studies show no correlation between teacher-student ratio and quality education. Also, teaching is not regarded as a preferred career option. So, a simple way of generate interest in teaching is to raise the income of teachers to create meaningful economic opportunities.

To improve learning inputs for qualitative education, here are a few cost-efficient strategies:

Increasing teacher’s incentives: 

This remains a government versus teacher propaganda. Consider a system that equates a teacher’s pay to his or her student’s attendance. The method remains fair to both the parties as teachers individually attempt to address each pupil and understand their ability. There isn’t a necessary track-down over individual teaching skills as it remains evident in pupil’s attendance.

Teaching according to a child’s ability:

Grouping students according to their ability and not by class or age have experimentally proven that a student’s learning improves impressively. This implementation needs patience, understanding and tolerance.

Volunteering for educational programs:

Volunteering during non-teaching hours for educational initiatives like field trips, research on curriculum been taught and summer camps are pure sources of effective increase in quality education. Recognition over participation and volunteerism is in abundance within local societies.

Myth 2: Physical structure increases quality education

Recent statistics provided by the Voice of People, an organisation working on RTE which conducted a survey on 255 schools covering 18 districts, shows that:

  • only 9 per cent of the upper primary schools have proper furniture
  • merely 8 per cent schools have a separate room for library
  • more than 50 per cent of the schools have no proper usable toilets. 9 per cent have no toilet facilities.
  • 38 per cent of schools have no boundary fencing while 9 per cent of them have damaged boundary walls.

Many other shocking statistical data denotes poor physical infrastructure of the common patshaala in India. But an improvement in such physical structure too has shown no correlation to the betterment of education output. Here is one strategic method with regard to improvement in physical structure which surely increases not only quality education but is also an efficient way to manage physical infrastructure.

The minimum required classroom area is about 300 square feet but in case of smaller classrooms which still exist in India, here is a technical formula:

PTR (Pupil Tutor Ratio) = (Area of the classroom in square feet-60/8)

This also highlights the futile emphasis on decreasing the PTR, and proves a relative relation between the size of a classroom and PTR. Such an initiative has been adapted by the Gujarat RTE and has done wonders. Technical methods such as these which attack the crucial core of the problem and not the external physical significance are cost-efficient as well as very simple to implement.

Myth 3: How about implementing some more initiatives?

The Midday Meal Scheme is currently implemented in almost 85.6 per cent schools but the scheme remains one of the most corrupt malpractices in India. A simple solution is that the quality of food under the MDM scheme must be checked on the spot and a detailed report regarding the lack of content must be submitted at the earliest.

The MDM scheme is an impressive initiative to widen the educational structure and surely has significant benefits in acting as a ‘supplementary nutrition’ for children. However, another problem within this scheme is that, most of the school activities exist before lunch time. So, MDM may not really feature itself to be ‘nutrition’ for learning students.

Solution:

  • Provide beneficial nutrition in the morning before students engage in their school activities for the day.

IIT Madras on monitoring this scheme has provided a notable quote, “one fruit and one glass of milk for every child every day.”

Implementations of initiatives aren’t necessary, but improvising the existing ones using low-cost and effective methodology will provide a better path towards quality education. Being one of the largest providers for elementary education, RTE fails to deliver quality education. Once the improvements are made, we can move ahead and implement extra-curriculum, ‘going beyond the usual textbook’ debate, vocational training and guidance.

Education is the stem that reaches every part of the nation’s output, be it societal changes or economic growth. As the saying goes, Padega India, tabhi toh badega India! 

 

 

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Need for Better Educational Services and Policies

“But Where Is The Education?” [Part 1]

In today’s India, ‘education delivered’’ continues to remain a national crisis. The curriculum of education is still more theoretical than knowledgeable, thus failing to increase qualitative technical skills for the industrial sector. This inversely proves to be a reason for the lack of investment on human capital in India. Cost-effective methods for student learning have never come into thought and we continue to face extremely poor policies, increased rate in the number of drop outs and leniency in enforcement of Right to Education Act, 2009. The question which arises is, Where have we really gone wrong?”

Quality Education: According to the 2011 census, we may have almost reached the threshold literacy rate of 74.04 per cent due to the implementation of free and compulsory education, but yet, institutes across the nation fail to obey some of the many norms prescribed by the Right to Education Act. Moreover, questions have been raised about implementing ‘Right to Learn’ over ‘Right to Education’ since the RTE norms fail to mention a single point regarding ‘learning’ which is the crux of the entire issue.

A prophecy regarding the so-called ‘quality education’ in India, is that statistically it does no good. Quality education is a socio-economic boon, a justified postulate. Lack of quality education leads to deficiency of skilled labour in the industrial sector and eventually diminishes the economic output. This is purely evident in India as 83 per cent of the total working population for the construction industry remains unskilled. But at the same time, labour in India is low in both quality and capital.

Let us question “What are we really learning?” rather than “How many are we educating?”

At the Indian level, 52 per cent of Class V students are unable to read a Class II textbook whereas 72 per cent of them are unable to do basic arithmetic division. Also, a teacher’s duty today revolves more around ‘punctuality’ and ‘attendance’ of a student rather than his or her achievements. Mere aim to complete the syllabus has now turned into a priority.

With the rise in number of private schools and institutes, education has turned into a thriving business. Students of the elite and middle class families successfully avail seats, leaving behind students from poor sections of the society who fail to meet the needs for quality education at local schools. Now the myth revolving around quality education is that it is only to be found in private institutions. This continues to remain a hoax since private institutions deliver a mere gain with respect to quality. The truth enlightens us when studies reveal that on comparison of test scores between public and private institutes; only a marginal difference exists.

Yet, lack of quality education has raised another deeper subject. Parents today enforce children to join coaching institutes and private tuition’s which eventually turn to be ‘supplements’ for quality education. However, educationalists fear that private tutoring has turned into an alternative to institutional schools. This was clearly evident in Bengal recently where nearly 73 per cent of the students took recourse to tuitions instead of schools. The RTE Act prohibits teachers from conducting private tuitions but no initiatives have been undertaken to track down these teachers who abide against the law. RTE also fails to meet the norms required for minimum’ quality education for any school. The need for norms over such a grave issue which serves as the main source for entire educational output is a must.

In the upcoming articles of this series, we will discuss the myths revolving around quality education in India.

Post By :

Achilles Rasquinha

 

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Crying Out For Help: Need For Education Reforms At The Local Level

They say the future of a country is in the hands of the youth and it stands true as it is their skills, thinking and motivation which eventually decide a nation’s fate. But how well have we been ensuring that they get the best opportunities? Looking around us, can we say that the education system we are so comfortable with has resulted in pure growth and innovative leaders?

Let the statistics speak.

Even though India has invested a lot in the education sector, 25  per cent of the masses are still illiterate. Only 15 per cent of students reach high school, whilst only 7 per cent graduate. Such abysmal figures show a high dropout rate. One wonders why it is so. Do they realise that education is not their need? Or are the reasons financial? One needs to dive deep into the issues which plague our education sector.

Since times immemorial teaching has been considered a revered profession. One could cite the example of Dronacharya, a knowledgeable guru who was deeply respected by kings and Gods. However, shifting focus to the present, circumstances have highly deteriorated. Quality and quantity of teachers is on an all-time low. Nationwide, 36 per cent of teaching positions are vacant. Student-teacher ratios are above (1:46 in primary schools and 1:59 in upper primary schools) the ideal ratio (1:30 and 1:35 respectively). Difficulties arise in students getting proper individual attention. Out of the positions that are actually filled, 13 per cent choose to stay absent. The obvious solution is strict rules to be maintained by the institutions. But sadly, hardly any of them ever dismiss a teacher for such unprofessionalism.  Also, many of our private schools have untrained, incompetent teachers and some with false certificates too. At the college level, 57 per cent of college professors lack either a master’s or a PhD. The situation is definitely getting worse as 99 per cent aspirants failed to clear TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) in 2012, compared to 90 per cent in 2010. This is even below the “chalta hai” attitude we are so dearly attached to.

The quality of education doesn’t stand far from teaching on the rating scale. 80 per cent of our schools are government funded, making the government a major provider of our education. Even so, the poorest of families prefer their children to attend (relatively) expensive public schools rather than go to government schools where education is for free.

The centre of our education has always been rote learning. We teach our students to be moral, ideal, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect in our education methods. Students hardly develop a deep understanding of what they are studying. Any attempts to clarify doubts or raise questions are met with prompt rejections. Encouraging free thinking is not focused upon and stands reflected in our culture as well. The curriculum is outdated. Students are shown two roads: engineering and doctor, none of which might be the passion for many. They end up getting frustrated with the rat race, but that’s another topic altogether.

Students cram terms and lessons, to be forgotten as soon as the exams end. What’s the point of wasting money, just to rote learn without understanding them? Doesn’t this squash the critical thinking in due course? To get a job- which is enough, some might say. And this statement just proves how much reform our schooling system is in a dire need of. Studies showed that over half of 10-year-old rural children could not read at a basic level; over 60 per cent were unable to do division, and 50 per cent dropped out by the age of 14.

On a positive note, the numbers of educational institutions are on an increasing slope, but still 95 per cent of them don’t compete with RTE standards for infrastructure. To spend 8 hours or more in a certain place, proper facilities are required such as a separate toilet for girls and boys, a playground, a library with enough reading material, electricity, ramp access for disabled children and computers.

One can only progress when one properly utilises resources available to him/her. But what do you do when they don’t exist? India however doesn’t face a lack of resources (have a look at the staggering population statistics). If only we could render them useful. Educational policies can’t be effective if the base they are building it up on is weak. RTE has been a huge relief but no substantial benefits have resulted yet.

Our two primary challenges are to revise our outdated curriculum and sync it with the industry’s needs; to train our faculty, so that they have knowledge to teach skills and are continuously motivated to innovate. Schools need to stop being so reticent and start taking initiatives. Parents (especially in rural areas) need to be motivated to send their children to school, which can be done if government schools give positive results. Guidelines should be strictly followed, ensuring stringent punishment for those who don’t. Well-read adults could work part time in NGOs providing schooling. Unqualified teachers shouldn’t be hired just to fill vacant seats.

More than anything else, the citizens need to stop acting blind to this chaos of an education and participate actively in ensuring that our young stars get a chance to truly shine.

Post By : Riya Rana

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Misplaced Priorities of Our Society

I have a bleak memory of what happened with a friend of mine seven years back. It was 2006 when we gave our 10th boards. Being in a city like Patna we did not enjoy the liberty of choosing streams in 11th. We do as we are told.I had a friend who was excellent in calligraphy and painting and was interested in arts and aesthetics. I took Commerce, but he was ‘advised’ to opt for Science. Two years later, before our 12th boards results were out, my friend bought the entrance form of NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) with his savings. Although I was sure that he would crack the entrance, but his father was totally appalled by the very idea. His final verdict for my friend was that he must become an ‘engineer’.

In Bihar, if you fail an exam, the world ends for you and at a time when one needs family the most, it discards you. Fortunately for me, based on my result, I got through the Delhi University and opted for Literature, but my friend had flunked in his Physics exam.I quite remember that a year later the same friend appeared for AIEEE and IIT entrance exams but could not crack either, and his father called me and asked about the best private engineering colleges.”  Now even though my friend got through one of the colleges in Jaipur, he is still trying to clear his last semester exams. A talent wasted.

The bigger question: Why is our society obsessed with dictating a teenager’s career choice? At an age when you are eligible to choose the leader of your country, you are not allowed to choose your own career. Dual standards, surely.

I have immense respect for my friend’s father and also know that he wanted the best for his son, but what I don’t understand is the obsession with ‘engineering’? This is a complex question and cannot have a simple answer. They belonged to a middle class family and we live in an era where financial pulls are so strong that they decide everything. The obsession with financial security increases competition and our society produces a generation of young people who are part of a rat race throughout their productive years.

I see myself in contrast to my friend. I was never questioned by my family about my choices. I chose commerce at intermediate level, Literature during graduation, Journalism and International Politics for my Post Graduation, and finally landed up doing theatre. I belonged to the same society, same middle class family. However, today I may not have achieved what I wanted to achieve in the long run, but I am responsible for my own decisions and blunders. My family supported every decision of mine. As a result I have my share of learnings and a broader perspective. This experience has enabled me to accept failures and encourages me to remain optimistic, whatever the turn of events.

The act of deciding for ‘your children’ is not new and is a distinct feature of middle class families in almost all the developing nations and also in a few developed societies. It is high time we realise that this results not only in creating a disoriented lot of people that has no understanding what direction they are moving in, but in the process also creates a dissatisfied society with unsatiated desires.

People may debate my take on the issue. But I think of my friend who still paints beautifully, but has lost the touch of innocence in his brush. His soul is wandering to fight the forces which stopped his dreams from being realised, but alas, he cannot see his enemy. It will be wrong to consider his father an enemy because he was also a product of the same society- a society with misplaced priorities.

Post by : Nihal Parashar 

 

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Insecurity or Unconscious Impact: How and Why does Peer Pressure affect us?

People tend to create their own definitions these days, definitions that go beyond the meanings made available in conventional dictionaries; definitions of what needs to be done, what ought to be done and what is the ‘cool’ thing to do. Especially as a student in formative years in schools and colleges, we come to be greatly affected by and in turn, influence those in our seemingly large worlds, often unconsciously. Society and the process of socialisation instil in us from the very beginning the need to be accepted, especially by those around us, to follow certain dos and don’ts. In this regard, peer pressure is a very important part of socialisation.

I’m not saying peer pressure is necessarily bad. It’s just that when we, out of either compulsion or choice, spend a lot of our time with certain people, they often end up impacting us more than they should be. It is in fact often unconscious. There is no harm in learning good stuff from our school and college mates, as long as it’s about discipline, drive or focus. Peer pressure begins to harm when it overshadows the ‘I’ in you. You begin to speak the language that you’ve been told is cool. You stop thinking for/about yourself. Just like alcohol, or drugs, it is a matter of being a part of the ‘hep’ gang in school or college. The primary motive behind this is, not being one of those annoying spoilsports and often most of us fall prey to the ‘herd mentality’.

Science is the way to go. Doesn’t matter if you can’t tell sodium from sodomy, but it is the only track life has to offer or Chartered Accountancy, at best. That is as experimental as you can get after all, everyone around you keeps telling you of the various exams you could take. You will crack some of them and then there are interviews and the bait of great perks. It doesn’t matter whether you have the aptitude or not, or does it?
There is a lot we imbibe from our friends; career and education are among a few choices, but definitely the more important ones. A writer, a blogger, an actor, a dancer would inevitably find himself lost, if not outcast in a group. There is plenty of appreciation in school and college for creative talent and I’m not saying friends are not supportive, but everyone after school wants to know how fat the pay check is.

Peer pressure often stems from insecurity. If we feel that people of our age know their mind, and since we don’t seem to, the easiest thing would be to follow them. After all, we’d be starting at the same points as them. So why not take the same road? And when you are a part of close knit units such as educational institutions or departments or even social circles, it’s normal to get swayed. What we as peers need to develop is sensitivity and the ability to encourage our friends to dream, to think for themselves. We always talk of getting influenced; maybe it is time we introspect about how much impact we make and in what ways.

I don’t think it is right to condemn or look down upon those who succumb to peer pressure in terms of education or career choices. It is a fairly easy way of dealing with stress in life. And it is better than substance abuse, for sure. The only problem is you feel as sick with the results, probably more, and for much longer.

Post by : Lata Jha

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Reflections

Contributor: Rachit Sai Barak, participant at the Re-Imagine Edinburgh Youth Summit

A month and a half ago when I was informed that I was selected for Re-Imagine Edinburgh Youth Summit, I was elated that I would be visiting the city at the time of Fringe and Edinburgh International Book Festival. Yes, I had thoughts about my contribution in the summit and if it was possible for a group of 12 young people to define a vision for UK-India Cultural Relationship in just 4 days.  But, mostly, I was excited about attending the festival. Over the course of the summit my expectations completely changed.

On the first day when I met the other 11 participants (Well, I met 2 of them on my way to Edinburgh), I was a little bit skeptical, because of the sheer fact that we came from 12 different backgrounds. Of Course we had similar interest and some of them were part of changemakers, but we all had different agendas or so to say issues that we were supporting. We were told that over the next three days we would try and envision UK-India Relationship and highlight the areas of possible partnership. On Day 4 we had to present these outcomes to various stakeholders.

By the end of day 1 my expectations had changed, I started absorbing a lot more about our shared cultural history. In the next four days I learnt a lot of things both consciously and sub-consciously.

One of the first exercises we did was to visually depict what we were proud about our country. A question that I hadn’t answered before, call it arrogance, ignorance or insecurity. I am proud of certain individuals and emerging sub-cultures but I am not a patriot. The summit actually motivated me to see beyond my experience and discover things that I love about my nation.

On the first day, we visited National Museum of Scotland. One of the most interestingly curated museums I have ever been to. The idea was not to segregate it by period/era but by themes. The museum is not just easy to navigate through, but it also creates an image that you can remember. They have used personal stories to highlight history, one that I particularly remember is that of Jean Jenkins (1922-1990), a renowned broadcaster and museum curator whose passion was capturing and sharing music traditions from across the world. The gallery allows you to learn more about Jenkins’ travels, listen to recordings, and even mix your own global music track using our World Music Composer.

In India we don’t have any academic course on art curation, it’s not a mainstream subject that we consider important. But clearly it’s something that needs attention. Museums are accessible but are not interesting for us as students, because what we are taught in our history books is remotely close to our day-to-day lives. One of the major points of discussions was that India and the UK share a diverse cultural history and the fact that British ruled India hardly holds any relevance in current times. Our education system doesn’t highlight how India’s culture has influenced the UK and vice-versa.

Museums play a vital role in providing information about the same. We all felt that it was important for us to strengthen documentation and curation in Indian museums as well as promote exchange of exhibitions between the two countries. In the past, curators from the both the countries have collaborated; but I believe that it is important, particularly in India to engage young people in that process to foster interest in cultural relationship.

As part of our presentation, me and another participant from India, Arpita Das decided to make a short video about what people from both the countries think about UK-India Cultural relationship, we went around in Edinburgh asking people what were they proud about their country, what they liked about the other country and if they thought UK-India cultural relationship was important to them.

While most of them were deeply interested in knowing about the other country and felt that it was important for the governments to invest in cultural initiatives, there were bunch of citizens from both the countries who weren’t really interested in cultural relationship. One of them even felt that we knew enough about each other’s culture and it might be irrelevant to invest further.

Embedded media — click here to see it.

Going out and interviewing people was a reality check for us. We might feel passionately about investing in cultural relations but does it hold any importance for people who live in smaller cities and rural areas, who have bigger struggles and concerns? How can we become more curious about each other’s cultures? Currently, we don’t have answers to these questions and it might be impossible to find an absolute answer. Therefore, it’s important for us to start from somewhere. As one of the participants, Heather Kitt mentioned that we shouldn’t take UK and India’s cultural relationship for granted and that we should invest in innovative programmmes that creates an open environment for people from India and the UK to communicate and learn for each other. These are the values that we feel are important to create a quality relationship between the two countries.

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Rethinking Re-Imagine: The Edinburgh Youth Summit

Contributor: Maherunesa Khandaker, participant at the Edinburgh Youth Summit Re-Imagine: India-UK Cultural Relations in the 21st Century  

Before the ReImagine Edinburgh Youth Summit, I admittedly was not entirely sure about the project’s aims. After listening to the keynote address on the India-UK relationship given by speakers from the British Council and Edinburgh University however, I started to comprehend why we do need to think about the relationship, my understanding of which grew over the time of the summit.

With a history spanning over 400 years, the relationship between India and the UK is full of intricacies; there have been many victories and failings along their journey together. The relationship has seen many shifts of power, from being partners in trade to the deeply troubled Colonial relationship; from the long awaited independence to the eventual emergence of India as a power, with Britain slowly becoming a supplement. One cannot deny that the UK-India relationship has seen periods of reinvention and rethinking.

Now the question remains – where is their shared journey taking them through the 21st Century? When rethinking the future, one must celebrate what has been achieved. This is what the British Council’s ReImagine Project is all about – it’s looking at the relationship between the UK and India in the past, and where it is in the present, to inform where it is going in the future. The project involves research, publications and debates, with input from 12 participants at the Edinburgh Youth Summit providing the youth perspective to the project, after all it is our generation that will be living the future relationship between the UK and India.

Looking at the present relationship, it cannot be doubted that so much of India is ingrained in British culture, and so much of the UK’s culture is intertwined with Indian culture – from food (after all chicken tikka is the UK’s national dish), to language (hands up if you put shampoo in your hair this morning) or to sport (cricket anyone?) and so many other countless areas of life. The relationship has produced some crucial elements of who we are in both cultures.

Nonetheless there remains potential for both cultures to continue benefitting from a relationship – perhaps the most straightforward reasons for a stronger collaboration in an increasingly globalized world include that it is vital to have strong relationships between countries for economic growth and working jointly towards advances in science and technology. Though perhaps one of the most overlooked and important reasons to consider UK-India cultural relations and their future is because there are plenty of people from an Indian heritage living in the UK and vice versa. Although we have a wonderfully diverse and multicultural society, the truth is that prejudices, apathy and hate do still exist in some parts of society and therefore must be challenged. Once these obstacles are fully broken down, the relationship between India and the UK will bring countless more benefits to all aspects of society and culture.

The ideal relationship would be a mutually beneficial one, essentially a diverse, informed, integrated, open society that cooperates for the overall betterment of both countries’ societies.

We explored a variety of different routes into achieving the vision we aspire to – the key routes including history, education and soft power. I’ll dedicate a section to each of these areas in which I will combine a summary of our discussions with some of my own points of view.

ReImagine Education: “Education, education, education changes mindsets”

(For our world café discussions on education, click here)

Whilst speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival, A.C. Grayling highlighted that education is about relationships with other people. In a way, the more we learn, the more we want to learn, the more you learn, the more you think – this sums up why education can play a key role in rethinking India-UK relations – after all to fight prejudice and nurture openness we must be direct in the way we teach India-UK relations, how else can people rethink India-UK cultural relations if they are taught nothing about it, if they have little to no awareness of how the two cultures interweave and share a long history together?

There is no doubt that education changes mindsets, and indeed mindsets do need changing. For instance, the amount of people that asked me whereabouts in India I come from the moment they met me troubled me, then in response to informing them I’m from the UK, the usual response is “No really where do you come from?” I was born here, I’ve lived here my entire life and want to grow old here – how can someone think its acceptable to tell me directly I’m “really from” somewhere else? This is a mild example, but it shows that preconceptions do exist in people’s mindsets. Preconceptions and prejudices are enemies to a successful relationship.  By reminding each other about either the UK or India’s influence and importance in the other’s culture in an honest and unbiased way we can celebrate how far relationship has travelled, our diversity and accept openness.

Language is also an effective way of understanding another culture. In the UK,  few places teach the Sanskrit languages. Though English is one of many Indian official languages, surely we can have greater access and understanding of the great Indian philosophers if we could speak some Hindi for instance.

The importance of study exchange programmes was also highlighted – whilst many Indian students come to the UK to study, very few British students will travel to India to study, and this is something we felt needs to be explored.

It is important that cultural education starts with the youngest in society, but it cannot end with the youth either. The importance of celebrating our shared culture and history needs to be reinforced throughout education, and needs to reach the greater society.

Reimagine history: “You have to look back to look forward”

(For our world café discussions on history, click here)

The problem with the way history is taught in both countries, and most likely all over the world, is that it is biased – essentially the educator will teach their version of events (or at take the stance they have been told to teach). The Indian delegates at the summit said there is too much focus on Gandhi for instance, though there were many other vital figures that played a strong part in India’s independence and that there are political motives underlying the current curriculum. In the UK, it is important to have an education about the UK’s relationship with India, yes it may be uncomfortable, but after all that history was made by the actions of different people of a different time, there needs to be open discussion of it to it so there is a mutual respect and understanding between cultures. For instance, few school children in the UK learn about the soldiers of the Commonwealth nations who died fighting for the Crown, and this is something that must be highlighted.

Reimagine Soft power: “To watch us dance is to hear our heart speak”

(For our world café discussions on culture and sport, click here)

One cannot deny the importance of soft power when it comes to working on relations – this describes a nation’s power to attract people through a variety of mediums including through culture, political values and foreign policy for example.

Soft power primarily through traditional cultural mediums, is something we considered very carefully after our visits to the Scottish National Museums and to the Edinburgh Book Festival. Museums indeed provide a distilled snapshot into the culture of a country, and we felt UK-India cultural relations could indeed benefit if there was an exchange of museum exhibitions from the UK to India to which the wider public should have access, arguably it is difficult to accurately portray culture in a confined space.  The director of the Edinburgh Book Festival suggested that, “each book, like a small mirror, reflects a small facet of the world” and we felt that British school children should be encouraged to read the literature that Indian schoolchildren read, and vice versa. The director also highlighted that most Indian literature that is widely available and popular in the UK tends to be written by authors with privileged backgrounds, so suggested encouraging a greater diversity of Indian authors should be introduced to the wider market. Being in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festivals demonstrated the importance of drama, music and literature festivals in offering the opportunity to express often unspoken issues.

It was suggested there should be an exchange of museum exhibitions from the UK to India – to which school children and teachers, as well as the wider public should be provided.

Sporting culture is a key area that was discussed at the summit as now, more than ever, is the perfect time for sport to be used as a medium to place the focus on UK-India relationships. Between now and the next Olympic games, the Commonwealth Games will be coming to Glasgow and it is in these games that India have traditionally excelled. The group discussed the possibility of “sports exchange” programmes, similar to study exchange programmes, as well as increasing access to opportunities to participate in culture specific sport, for instance Bollywood dancing in the UK, and perhaps Gaelic football in India.

Whilst we discussed many innovative ways of rethinking and strengthening the relationship between India and the UK, one cannot deny that there are major obstacles to be faced. Some of our biggest challenges include the practical issue of funding and the more complex problem of apathy.

Though there are obstacles, even where we can’t face them head on, there’s nothing to stop us trying to, or moving around them and finding alternatives. For instance, when it comes to Study Exchange programmes, in our connected world there should be nothing stopping us from participating in study programmes using the Internet.  When tackling apathy however, there is a need for a paradigm shift, with education (particularly of history) playing a key part in this. Additionally, this may be where soft culture can come into play, by highlighting the aspects of each other’s culture in every day life and increasing opportunities to access sport, art or food in each other’s every day culture, perhaps we can start turning the wheels of appreciation for culture in society. For our discussions on apathy, do have a readhere for more in depth details.

This is a mere summary (albeit, still a long one) of what we touched upon during the Edinburgh Youth Summit 2012, however whilst reading this you might have come up with your own thoughts, which you’re invited to share and inform the ReImagine project. So come join the dialogue at http://reimagineyouth.posterous.com/ or by emailing reimagineyouth@posterous.com.

Something to remember from the summit -

“We start with ourselves, we move together, learn from each other and form a dialogue”

 

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