Democratising education: spreading excellence


Majority of institutions of excellence in our country contribute towards spreading excellence in wider society through various means. Some develop open source teaching content, as IISc Bangalore and  IIT Madras did through NPTL pooling engineering courses. Some do summer school to spread social entrepreneurial skills, or develop open source lessons for school education through student volunteers as  IIMA does. But what I learned about IITR Gandhinagar recently takes the cake. While travelling with Dr Sudhir Jain, director, IITGn, I learned that anybody can take any course offered by IITgn in any term, get a letter from IIT about the grade they get in that course. Any homemaker, student, worker or retired person can attend course of any engineering or social science course without ant prerequisite for a nominal fee. The students of GTU and other engineering institutions should have jumped over such an opportunity, but for some reasons,  they have not, unfortunately. Why would students who can get permission to attend such courses not do it?  One  of the UG students who attended the dozens of course later got admission in PhD at IITGn.


Why would not other IITs and IIMS follow such a model. May be they have some limits on number of students, may be they can have some pre-requisite learning level, but opening educational opportunity to students from various institutions for a few courses might bring greater diversity and inclusion.

What else can institutions of excellence do? They can provide lab and workshop access to deserving start-ups and grassroots innovators; they can also organise special courses during summer for community learning in which any one can come. I had taught for several years an evening course on Ways of Knowing, Feeling and Doing (see youtube for many lectures) at IIMA in which any student, their parents, or any one at all could come and attend and contribute, learn and share. No certificate was given.

Some of the institutions/individuals have started webcasting their classes for letting anyone attend these virtually. I have done it for Institutions Building course so that doctoral or other students from around the world can participate and contribute. Once I found a German student who later worked for several years with us.

Democratization of knowledge is the need of the hour and I don’t see any downside at all. It is possible that not all can benefit from it equally but that can be said about any social policy.

Let me reiterate one of my most serious concerns that is about appalling download to upload ration. Unfortunately, no academic institution or even HRD ministry is monitoring this ration, A change not monitored is a change not desired, I learned in 1984. If we don’t monitor this, then we have to admit that we don’t care whether India remains the world largest consumer of global ideas and content  but most stingy provider of ideas and creative content  to the world.

Why should not every assignment, project report or summary thereof, creative expressions of students be uploaded for the world to comment, critique or even ignore if the case maybe. I have made many new friends, learned so much, got critical feedback, sometimes nasty comments but all that is part of the life. Today one commentator said on my social media post, “I thought you were very intelligent”. I had to reply back, well now you are wiser. But that is part of life. In democracy and open society, people have a right to criticise and use whatever idiom they wish. I am very sorry to hear that some the leaders  take offense at critical or harsh comments and initiate police action against such commentators. I obviously don’t approve of that. But I doubt of many leaders will do so. I think there is ‘still, quite sufficient social space for sharing ones ideas regardless of the feedback it may generate.

We should maximise feedback and that is the way an open society a  become great society.

I hope that educational institutions will encourage faculty and students to share their ideas as openly as possible and reinforce reciprocal cross-fertilization (not make  India just as a consumer of global-read-western, ideas). Same applies to policy makers, public administrators and others. Let us position India as a major contributor of open source ideas, innovations and institutions.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place