Kerala: Seeking Academic Leadership (I)


Prem Khatry

Can far-off territories with different cultural settings and different historic backgrounds have things in common and can also have closer links? In the case of Kerala and Nepal, the answer is very much positive – In fact, Kerala of the Indian union and Nepal, an independent nation with her own history, culture and location in the Himalaya indeed had very close historical relations if one digs into the past.
A word or two about Nepal-Kerala connections may be relevant here. The noted sociologist Dr. Gopal Singh Nepali in his monumental text – The Newars (United Asia Pub, Bombay,1964) postulated a theory that the Nayars of the Malabar Coast could have been the ancestors of the Newars of Nepal. But no further effort has been made to take up serious research to find the genetic and/or cultural link between the two people now residing in far-flung areas. History shows in the late 11th century, the Karnatas had reached north India and southern plains of Nepal, the Mithila region including today’s Bara, Parsa and other areas as powerful rulers.

Cultural link
The Karnatas set up their rule and lived in the fortified city of Simraungarh as the capital. But not long after, they fell to a Muslim invader. Devaldevi, the queen of the last ruler Karnat Harisinghadeva, entered Kathmandu with an exodus of her followers. She was able to capture power in the then politically fluid Nepal Valley. She is said to have taken Taleju, other deities and material as well as nonmaterial culture to her natal home, Nepal. Special bread called ‘bada’ made of black lentil flour is a delicacy in Newar culture of Kathmandu. It is a favored delicacy in Kerala till date. How come such items survive through ages? Can this small but strong cultural thread help a little in establishing link between Nepal and Kerala? Only ethno-cultural and linguistic research could reveal more information.
Kerala these days is much in media. With relatively stable state politics at the moment, Kerala looks forward to achieve its goal in health, education and social development sectors with special focus on the use of science and technology in the field of education. This is to note that Kerala had universities and colleges more than hundred years ago. Many academic institutions were there prior to the advent of the British. This shows Keralans’ love for sophisticated culture and productive education. This attitude and the strong sense of commitment have put Kerala on the top of the academic map of the country.
Just the other day the national media of India reported that Kerala enjoys top position in health management system. What is the mystery behind Kerala’s continuous success? It is the commitment of those who see Kerala’s progress day and night and use education, especially modern technology based education. The writer strongly feels every visit he makes and every single seminar he attends is a proof of this commitment and preparedness.
Kerala for sure is seeking academic leadership in the country as a whole. Take example of Council for Teacher Education – CTE and its activities in the State. This non-government and non-profit organisation is working day and night to bring qualitative change in the education of the country as whole. At present it is the lead association of teachers, teacher educators and researchers. It has branches all over India and efforts are on to make its presence felt in all states, zones and cities across the nation and beyond. The effort continues to bring effective change in the traditional classroom situation. This is happening.
During his second visit in less than three months, the writer visited Thiruvanthapuram (Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala, with Prof Jiba Raj Pokharel, the Vice Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology – NAST- who played Chief Guest at an international seminar entitled - Innovative and Neuroscience Perspectives for Science and Technology Education. This international seminar was CTE Kerala’s new feather in the hat. Noted Research scholars associated with the Department of Education, University of Kerala, invited guest scholars and participants attended the three day academic event and made it live as well as creative. Prof Pokharel’s presentation on the application of science and technology in modern day education captured the attention of the participants. He took time to highlight on the innovative concepts and technology applied by NAST in recent times. These innovations included earthquake resistant constructions and current research in the field of Neuroscience, among others.
While inaugurating the seminar, this writer used his time slot to present a summary of his theme paper under the title of Science-Culture Interface: An Evolutionary Perspective. The focus of the paper was to develop science as the main vehicle of education from the school level itself in a developing country like Nepal. At a time when affluent Nepali parents seem highly but mistakenly motivated to send their children abroad, it is time to rethink about such permanent migrating tendencies in favour of higher education available in our own country and in our neighbourhood.
Kerala could be one favoured destination for our youngsters in their pursuit for higher education if there is no ulterior motive to ‘earning while learning’ and alienating the younger gen from their culture. There is always room for bilateral relations with neighbouring countries in the field of higher and technological education. However, we need to have exhaustive plans to change the current ‘brain-drain’ scenario and stop the practice of mass migration of talent to the West.

In the new ‘federal’ structure, the Pradesh education needs to be revamped also. Pradesh governments can learn lessons from our neighbouring nations in terms of short and long term plans for higher and technical education. If this happens on gradual basis and not in a haste, our academic institutions will have extra responsibilities to improve their quality and accommodate best young brains. Future will show which course the new federal government will plan our education.
Finally, from several counts, education in Kerala is changing the face of the State and the nation. We in Nepal can learn and share this experience and make most of this. Properly planned education can bring the dream of social justice, equality and prosperity envisioned in our constitution to reality. (To be continued)

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