Education as a Mission Challenges to the Building of Educational Institutions That Matter

(Key Note Address given at the Jesuit Zonal Educator’s Meeting on

Global Citizenship Programme: Ecological Promotion in Schools, inIndian Social Institute, New Delhi, April 164 2018)

Dr. John Chathanatt, SJ


In the Christian context,  education is a Mission, not just managing and administering educational institutions. For us in the Jesuit context there is a magis attached to our spirituality. Education here is also not understood as just stuffing the mind with knowledge, but the formation of a group of youngsters for life; not just preparing them individually to face the challenges of life, but to enhance the quality of life together with others in a socio-cultural and politico-economic milieu. Encountering the totality of life with the three realities of God, the human and the Cosmos and their emerging three relationships, having a goal in life together, education is understood as a mission to achieve a goal in the journey of life.

  • It is a drawing out;  and filling up with WISDOM for a LIFE worthy of Being Human, to be lived along the way with others– always living in the presence of the Almighty.
  • Education is about DRAWING OUT. Educare means to draw out; To Draw outwhat and from where?  And for what? is the question.

Education is because of a VISION about Life itself.  And the Goal of education is to attain this vision. First of all Education should affirm LIFE. The Dignity of the person, and, specifically in our Indian context, dignity of a community (eg. Dalits as a group, and tribal as a community) are paramount. We have to look for a blueprint of a social order, having a moral base in terms of the presence of a conglomeration of a value system embracing freedom, fellowship, justice, equality, truth, love, harmony, peace and so on. Besides such a moral understanding there should also be a realization that we should becomeWisdom, Righteousness, Sanctificationand Redemption (Cf 1 Cor 1:30) in our process of living as a disciple of Jesus.Hence, education is understood as an empowerment through righteousness, filled with wisdom for a process of sanctification and redemption.

Understood in this manner, Education not only helps one professionally but also ought to contribute to the society at large.  It ought to contribute to the enhancement of the overall welfare of the society and helps in the creation of a value system that would further enhance the caliber of quality of a society.  Education ought to help in the Creation of humane values, particularly of equality, social justice, and common good as well as help enhance the welfare and economic growth and integral development of the country.  Achievement of a vision of a modern India lies on the education sector. Helping to understand oneself in the universe,education, in turn, helps the nation in the process of the creation of a youth force which will be at the service of the nation and its welfare.

Foundational Basis

A vision always embraces a future.  There is a memory of a future in all our endeavors.  The indication of a new social order entails an imperative of continuously going back to the envisaged vision to the person and message of the Master and any educational endeavor should go back to this order with the underlying moral values enhancing the journey of life.

This journey of life is based on three realities and three relationships. It is from these foundational Realities and their inter-relationships that we derive and draw out a vision of education. Our involvement in socio-economic and political realities should take even a religious and a sacramental significance.

I am not going to delve deep into these foundational assertions from a deeper perspective, but having based on these foundational principles that I move on to the main topic of our discussion, namely,the Challenges  to the Building of Educational Institutions That Matter.

Missing the present and future possibilities

The Father of our Nation gives an inspiring line: “ A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”  I do believe in this. Great achievements and innovations of our human history came as a result of one or a small group passionately pursuing and consequently achieving a great goal. This is where our task is very important.

Education is not stuffing the mind with knowledge and creating a basket of information; it is a process of formation. Drawing out the immanent potential within a child/ an adolescent, education needs to draw out wisdom from the accumulated knowledge of a culture. So the goal of education is not just accumulation of knowledge and stuffing the mind with it, but drawing out wisdom for life worthy of a human living in an interrelated manner.

There has been a spurt both in the generation of new knowledge and its access in the world of our interaction. Steven Kotler in his book on ‘Superhuman Performances’, says that in the last few decades (not centuries) science and its executive engineer, technology, have produced more innovations, appliances and applications for our convenience than in the past 150,000 years of history. India also had contributed in this especially in the past; but unfortunately our present is pushed behind great achievers of other countries. Pankaj Chandra, in his book, Building Universities that Matter, observes: “There has been a growth in academic knowledge at old centres like UK and USA, while there have been tremendous developments at newer centres like Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea, and now China.”  He observes further, “These countries have relied heavily on decentralized models of governance with universities as the locus of control.” (p. xiii). Will we learn from this? Investment in improving quality and size is very essential.

Freedom as an Ingredient of Growth

Today in our country, unfortunately, an overemphasized, and even unnecessary, importance is given to politics and political governance. Like an octopus it is wanting to spread its tentacles of control everywhere. The result: we will not grow as a nation. Freedom is the first ingredient of growth.

Perhaps, the academics and the governing structure have failed the institution of education.  The potential of India is not developed. Where that potential would have taken us, we have not reached to that level.

The Schools and Colleges should never become a heaven or a “leisure ground” for the mediocre. I am afraid, both in the student body as well as the faculty, this is what is happening. Lowering the minimum standard by the goal of the “massification of education”  in line with what was happening in the political process, instead of stretching the upper limit, brought mediocrity in the whole educational process. Excellence and originality is sacrificed on the anvil of massified mediocrity. The story of Indian education became a process of certification through mass examination in a mandated standardized process of inputs and learning. Again a culture of excellence and an opportunity to invention evaporated in this process. 

Preparedness unto the Present and  Future

Today we need to think out of the box. We need innovation through research and discussions.  We need to do things which others are not thinking about. India has a wonderful group of youngsters, intelligent and innovative, who can do marvels. They need to be meaningfully engaged in the transformative preparations equipping and empowering them with tools of knowledge and analysis that India can avail itself of the opportunities being presented at present and all the more in the future. Do we have the will and the mechanism to equip our youth to face today and all the more a tomorrow?

General changes and challenges

There are lots of changes in our education: students are changing, their styles of learning are changing as well as their demands are changing; the technologies to accommodate their needs are changing. Much more has been expected of institutions in terms of their wider engagement locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Also our education faces a number of challenges like lack of awareness and commitment to an authentic humane vision and values,curriculum design, student retention, new technologies, quality of learning and teaching, quality of research, widening participation, funding, necessity to improve governance and management, strengthening research capacity. Student employability remains high in the area of concern especially in the Indian context. Besides, the crunch of getting committed and quality Educators /teachers, environmental concerns, lack of animation by those in charge of our institutions are also areas of our concern.Specifically in our Indian context of today we have more challenges to face – ideological impositions, non-rational approach to reality and life, intolerance of differences and non-dialogical approach. Religious Fundamentalism is ripping India today; saffronisation of education is another dangerous trend, unless arrested, may even swallow free thinking.

Looking beyond our four walls

The ILO is giving us some statistics that could be useful to us to think out of the box.Our demographic dividend should not become a demographic disaster. When the rest of the world is aging India remains to be youthful and vibrant. The average age of India today is just 28 yrs.  65 per cent of India today is under 35 years. Half of the 1.23 billion of the population is under 25. According to the figures given by ILO, by 2020, the average age of Japan is going to be 47; China 40; USA  around 40 and Europe 46, and India just 29. What does this imply? 226 million of our youth in the age group of 10 to 19 will be ready to enter into higher education.  By 2020,  116 million youth between the age of 20-24 will be looking for jobs in India; China will have only about 94 million, in three to four years. It is mentioned that about 17 million people will be short of work force in USA alone. At the same time 116 million potentially youthful, productive, dynamic young of India would be ready to work and looking for jobs. This world scenario indicates that India will have the opportunity and also will have the responsibility to transform the world.  The challenging question is whether we have the infrastructural ability and the vision to take advantage of the opportunity being placed before us. Are we preparing our youthto face up to the challenges? We have no option. Looking at the demographic figure, education for us is a national security issue, as Shree Shashi Tharoor pointed out in a speech;  not just an economic or social concern. What are our educational institutions doing in this regard?  Do we have the ability, the determination and the vision to equip our students to take advantage of the future opportunities that beckon us.  We have a responsibility to the future generations.  Manmohan Singh, our previous Prime Minister cautioned us once: “We missed the industrial era, we should not miss the communication era.” For the former we were not in control; now we are in control. But the question is whether we will be allowed to be in control by our own power structure!

“It is the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its own government.”  (Though it is attributed to Thomas Paine. It is Edward Abbey in his  “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto), said, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” Edward Abbey: Notes from a Secret Journal (1990) ISBN 0312064888). We can learn something from this political  wisdom, especially at this juncture of Indian history.


Quality and Excellence

In terms of enrolment India’s higher education system is the third largest in the world after China and United States. However, India is the largest higher education system in the world, in terms of the number of institutions, with 26,455 institutions (504 universities and 25,951 colleges). According to a report by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations ( ICRIER), New Delhi, India is home to the world’s largest pool of scientific and knowledge workers and produces 4 lakhs engineers per year while the US produces 60,000. According to the same report, in August 2006 India filed 1312 patent applications second only to the United States. This indicates that on the science and technology side, India has built up the largest number of scientists, engineers and technicians. (These numbers may be a little different today).


Yet, today the average Indian education is not up to the mark of quality and excellence. Barring a few IITs, and IIMs and an XLRI, “floating as it were as islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity”, majority of our educational institutions are second-rate, not equipped to take up the challenges and opportunities offered by the world at large. Most of our college graduates are unemployable today. They have degrees; they may be literate, but not educated to beemployed right away.  Getting a piece of paper, we call degrees, is not a license to be employed and deemed to be employable. If recruited, majority of them need to be trained again to do the job.  Today 64 per cent of the employers are not satisfied with their recruits. They have to re-train them. Here is another herculean task awaiting us. Schools lay the foundations for a higher education structure. Laying a deep foundation is a challenge for us.


Need for research, innovation and training

We need to be  innovative in education. We need to be thinking of things which others are not thinking about. We need to think out of the box as it were. New wine cannot be kept in an old bottle. We need innovations, which require a new way of thinking. In the 1960s and 70s Liberations theologians, much to the irritation of classical approaches to theology, talked of “Liberation of Theology” itself. Today, perhaps, we need to talk about the liberation of our education and educational system.  It is not just walking on paths others are treading, that we find innovations.   That would not bring us to innovative way of doing things. We need to do things which others have not done yet. The way we thought of zero, which brought total innovation in the number system, we need to bring originality in our education and the way of doing things. Education is not just “stuffing” our mind with knowledge. What we need is not well “filled” mind, but well “formed” minds, that can respond innovatively to the new challenges that the future is going to bring. We have 17 per cent of the world’s brain in our country; but only 2.8 per cent of the world’s research outputs.  Challenges are enormous. This is where we need to focus very much.  We need bold and persistent experimentation. For this we need the freedom and the boldness to make mistakes.


Inclusion of the Excluded

Along with the expansion of education, we need equity, inclusion of the excluded especially from the rural areas, from the tribal and from the dalit groups. Roosewelt said once: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” A serious statement of wisdom to reflect about.  Preferential option is a pivotal point in the process of liberative transformation. Two fundamental anthropological questions that India needs to grapple with today are: 1. Who is the other for me? and 2. Who am I to the other? If our faith is telling us that equality and inherent dignity are enshrined in the very act of creation, we need to do a lot more in our culture to realize the same.  Option of the rejected is the only way to bridge this gap. Here curriculum redesign is important. To ensure the quality of learning all institutions need to redesign the curricula to support today’s students to fit globally.


Professional and educational skills

Levels of education and professional and vocational skills are extremely low. Less than 30 per cent of the workforce has completed secondary education or higher, and less than one-tenth have had vocational training, either formal or informal. Although these figures, based on National sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) surveys, do not capture many types of skills that are informally acquired, it still suggests that skill-acquisition is generally very low. Here is another challenge to the sector of education.

(see – accessed on Oct 24, 2017).

Decentralized model of governance and having the ability to create an impact.

There is a serious crisis of governance at all levels within and outside not only of the university, but even as at the school level. Educational institutions should have the ability to create an impact. This requires an environment of freedom. Educational regimes (institutions) are governed today through control rather than through excellence and quality outcomes. This results in low autonomy as well as low trust amongst all its stakeholders.  Low autonomy implies low accountability.  The consequence of low trust is low cooperation.  Both of these would lead to institutions not viewing themselves as strategic entities in society.  As a result they lose any ability to create an impact.  You, being directly involved in the educational field, know better than me of the control structure inour educational institutions.  The challenge then before us is how to extricate oneself from the controls prevalent today and rely on decentralized models of governance. Sarkarekaran is the word used by Chandra.  In the governance process, the “visible hand” (or is it an invisible foot?) of the ruling structure is very clear today.  Such sarkarekaran is not service oriented, but control oriented. Outlandish ideas are made acceptable today.  Rejecting quality, acceptance and embrace of a particular ideology seems to be the criteria of selection.  The end result? Mediocrity and the mass exodus of bright students to foreign universities, even at the undergraduate level. Who is loosing? Is this the way to prepare for a challenging future?

This is a herculean task, I know; all the same, networking with various institutions could give a ray of hope.


Along with control, standardization is another negative element in governance. Originality and innovations are destroyed through standardization. Differentiation not standardization is the secret of success, innovations and discovery. Are the brightest taught by mediocre today? India is blessed with wonderful body of students today.  There is a crisis of credibility in our institutions and this is deepened by control and mediocrity. Who makes choices in our institutions today? There is an assumption today, wrongly though, that quality can be assured only by control and standardization.  This will kill originality. One needs to dare to dream in freedom to nurture creativity.We need bold and persistent experimentation.  For this we need freedom and the boldness to make mistakes. Also a Fund crunch along with a flood of regulations have taken our education to a sick bed. Excellence is expensive; and an education with equity is more expensive.

Binary dichotomy outlook

This needs to be overcome.  We need to overcomea binary operational way of looking at reality. Students vs teachers; teachers vs administration;  everybody vs the Vice-chancellor in a university set up. The ruled vs the ruler; not with me is against me;  me vsthe other!   Can’t we think of an inclusive approach?

Multilinguality and national integration

What is education in a multi-lingual society is something that we should reflect on. An educational institution ought to be a site of equal opportunity. A large mass of students are not capable of handling together a few languages, including say, English. What is the alternative in the education process in this context is something thatought to be seriously reflecting upon. Education brings not only economic and cultural development of the country, but it also should help in the national integration and social change. Learning a new language is something like adding another personality onto us. Students ought to be introduced to the multi-faceted culture of our country. Innovative ways of achieving this need to be thought of at the school level.

Research and Experiential Approach

Research is another area that needs special attention. Excellence in learning and teaching must be based on research and direct experience.At the end, it is authentic experience that transforms. In a country like India, diverse as it is, exposure to the local and national context of the society in socio-cultural and religious diversities should be made available to the experiential horizons of the student learner.  Inter-cultural exposure and sensibilities need to be built into the educational curricula especially at the higher secondary level. It is here that the horizons and cultures of the two entities, science and humanities, must transcend their disciplinary particularities enabling the students to search and research into the phenomenon that is India. Yes, India is a phenomenon. We should not be trying to understand and judge it too fast.  This would enable the students to have an education that would deliver values of learning in their very process of learning. The insight that the Father of our nation gave, namely, “the means creates its own end”- the creation of a goal is through the method embraced –this need to be embraced and ought to be a way of procedure.  (eg. Acquisition of land for New Raipur, particularly for an agricultural university – the farmers with their years of wisdom are chased out and thousands of acres of land is acquired, and a part of that is given for an agricultural university. Couldn’t the farmers become part of the “teaching Staff” of the new university?  In the search for knowledge, wisdom is sacrificed). This is our problem and reason for mediocrity. We do not have that scientific temper of building on the knowledge and wisdom accumulated over time. Our cultural individualistic temper always searches from the scratch! We fail to build on the foundations and edifices already built by others. True education is having the capacity to turn knowledge into wisdom. In the final analysis it is wisdom and insights that transforms and innovates.

 Another area would be the entry of the global into the local. Do our academic leaders and those at the helm of decision making carry a global vision of education for the students?  Drawing on global knowledge we can optimally solve local problems. The idea of the Global in the local and local in the global need to be accepted in a globalized world of our interactions.  The hard and soul searching question for us to fathom is:  whether our education system today help in the building of the nation, or whether it is hanging on a fragile frame!

We need to break forth from the shells of our fear to think freely and innovatively. Otherwise I am afraid, we will miss the future.

All these challenges vary from socio-political, cultural, spiritual, technological and professional, ecological and ideological. However, they give us ample opportunity to be creative, innovative and think differently to make our education more integral, critical, innovative and meaningful in India. Authentic education is a search for truth.

I will end with three questions:

  • 1. What is the specificity about Christian / Jesuit education? i.e. What is Christian about Christian education? What is Jesuitical about Jesuit Education?
  • 2. Why are we in  education mission?
  • 3. How are we equipping the students to face the challenges that we face today and are going to face tomorrow?



We are not in a hopeless situation. Tagore once said: "Every child that is born into the universe is a manifestation that God is not frustrated with us." If this is true, definitely, God is not frustratedwith us. Twenty-three million times a year God is telling us Indians that there is hope (Twenty-three million births in a year in India)! The World Bank in a report on "Wealth of nations" has pointed out, after studying 160 countries, that 16% of the wealth worldwide comes from physical capital (buildings, roads, machineries), and 20% from natural capital (minerals, forests and other resources). A full 64% of the wealth of nations is human capital.This is our strength and our hope.

Let Rabindranath Tagore, our Amar Kavi, give the concluding statement:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore

I end here; thank you for your patience.

(PS: This is a modified version of a talk given at AIACHE National Seminar on “New Trends in Governance and Leadership in Higher Education in India” AIACHE Secretariat, New Delhi, November 16, 2017)

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