Dr. John Alexander SDB, Director, Sacred Heart College, Tirupattur, T. N gave the opening speech and set the agenda for the section on education. He addressed the audience from the perspective of his experience working with young people for over 30 years in various settings and what it is young people in the country need and aspire towards. His presentation titled ‘The road less travelled – An education for all manifesto’ discussed his preamble towards the young people of India beginning with respect and dignity. His aspirations to achieve this are through inclusive, affordable education. Dr. Alexander brought forward 5 areas or challenges within the educational space towards achieving this manifesto:
1. Blended learning – he elaborates on how ‘the pandemic that pushed forward what was considered a luxury in the form of technological learning is now a necessity and has accelerated the use of blended learning. Yet, this is still a challenge to children in rural and low income families’. He expands that ‘the digital divide reinforces the already existing economic and social inequality.’ Children had no access to technology and the blended learning era brought forward intelligent students with arrears because of the paucity of technology with 69% of rural India yet to have access to the internet. He urges us not to live in a fool’s paradise that India is living in a blended learning era.
2. College and Universities should orient students to become visionary leaders and entrepreneurs, not merely degree holders – He urges colleges and universities to place the values of hard work, motivation and discipline be imbibed and supported in children who don’t have the means to achieving their dreams and aspirations. To this he calls for partners and government assistance towards achieving the same.
Youth should also acquire the ability to discern critical knowledge. Where students today surf knowledge at a superficial level they need the ability to discriminate their actual needs and delve into information.
A vast number of students in India have engineering degrees but lack practical knowledge which is a need that has to be bridged. He pointed out that India is still a county with abysmally low statistics for patents, industrial design, trademark applications and patents in force as compared to the USA or other countries that requires students to apply their minds to their work.
Young leaders in India need encouragement. 90% of young Indians are missing in today’s Parliament. The current Lok Sabha constitutes only 49 young Indians of 543 members. While we desire youth to lead our country, we do not allow or have the proper education to facilitate this.
3. Stewardship – The goal of education should be to create good human beings not merely competent workers. He describes stewardship as the ability and willingness to take care of others and the environment. He elicited Don Bosco’s philosophy, ‘Give me Souls’, as the intrinsic aim of education which is to go after the heart of the youngster and make them good human beings so as to build character with career.
4. Creativity – the ability to find solutions to social and environmental problems to enhance the quality of life. He quotes Paulo Freire the author of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed” who says – ‘Students are to be treated as co-creators of knowledge’, and we need to encourage students to be more than passive digital consumers.
5. Openness – Colleges and universities cannot be islands. They need to open and willing to network with other educational institutes, private partners and the government.
He concluded emphasizing the reality of the digital divide and how we have to come together to bridge this gap and to orient young people towards becoming good human beings.
The Don Bosco Network in India comprises of 11 Planning and Development Organisations (PDOs), each dedicated to the development of the Salesian provinces they serve. The Don Bosco network is spread across 29 states and 354 NGOs, reaching more than 10 lakh people.
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