Professor Amar Nath Maheshwari

Chairperson, National Council for Teacher Education, New Delhi 





Your Excellency, the Chancellor, Justice Ms. Fathima Beevi, Pro-Chancellor, Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy, Vice-Chancellor, Dr. P.V. Vaidyanathan, Distinguished members of the Syndicate and other Academic Bodies of the University, Deans of Faculties, Teachers and Staff members, my dear students, ladies and gentlemen:

It is indeed a rare privilege and an honour to deliver the Convocation Address of this prestigious University that has earned its place in the hall of fame of the outstanding universities of the world and is the Alma Mater of a galaxy of illustrious alumni. I am beholden to Her Excellency, the Chancellor of the University, for giving me this honour. I have accepted this privilege with humility, for I know that my predecessors, who have addressed the convocations of this University earlier, were luminaries well known as persons of distinction who had excelled in life and were ideal role models for the students who received degrees of this University.

Her Excellency the Chancellor is an outstanding example of a person who by dint of hard work and lifelong pursuit of excellence achieved eminence in the field of law and adorned the bench of the Supreme Court of our country.

This University owes its existence to the vision and foresight of Dr. Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar. In its forward march spanning over 71 years, it grew and developed rapidly under the guidance of its distinguished Vice-Chancellors, dedicated teachers, staff and students. The institution is most fortunate that its noble traditions were continued by the Second Founder - Pro-Chancellor Dr. Rajah Sir M.A. Muthiah Chettiar and maintained and nurtured to this day by the present Founder - Pro-Chancellor Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy.

To me this convocation is the most appropriate medium to highlight that as the world has entered the Information Age, there is an urgency of introducing a paradigm shift in the content and process of education. The content and process of education that the universities in the country have by and large been following were relevant as long as changes in the society due to developments in science and technology were slow. Because then an individual with professional and general skills which were acquired through university education could manage to contribute to the world of work for the entire span of adult life, more often without undergoing continuing education even once during the working career. But now the changes in the nature of occupations are so rapid that with the one- time learnt skills it may not be possible to cope with the new skills that will be essential for remaining effective because of the rapid pace of developments in science and technology.

Another perspective that brings out that education now has to be tailor-made to the requirements of learners is the recognition of the hard reality that presently the majority of employment opportunities are in the private sector and this sector is very choosy, to say the least. The State is no longer the principal employer of the educated youth in the country. The private sector employs only such persons as possess skills and competencies required by it, which are constantly changing because this sector has to keep pace with its global competitors.

Yet, another perspective that brings out the need for bringing in change in the content and process of education is the recognition that unlike in the industrial age when production of goods was the accepted means for generating wealth, in the information age it is the knowledge-based work that generates wealth. Instead of large capital investment of funds that was required for starting an industry for production of goods at a competitive cost, a knowledge-based enterprise requires human capital of knowledge workers only. Already the information age is transforming the way we work. In a short span of time the Infosys and Wipro have become richer than many of the century-old industrial houses of the country and the Silicon Valley has the distinction of having it in the highest density of software engineers of Indian origin.

An equally important perspective that brings out the need for introducing change in the content and process of education is the appreciation that now at near zero cost information can be stored electronically in forms such as CD-ROM and the Internet that allow easy retrieval. Now for less than 40 rupees 500,000 pages of text can be stored on a CD-ROM.

Like the brains of the other species that have evolved on the Earth, the human brain can also store information. But the human brain has the privileged faculties of thinking, imagination and creativity. The computer can store a vast amount of information but it cannot think. It can process information as per the direction given to it by its user. The directions are the outcome of thinking by the human brain. Lord Rutherford, the great pioneer of nuclear physics once said, when he was told that America was going ahead in nuclear physics because they had a lot of money," Americans have money. We do not have it, and so we have got to think." There is no substitute for hard and serious thinking; and with sustained and serious effort we should be able to go long way even with our meagre resource and capital. It will, therefore, be an anachronism to continue to use the human brain for memorising information when it should be used for solving problems, creative thinking - the skill attributes of knowledge workers. Therefore, any system of education unless it is learner centred, is flexible, is around developing thinking skills and is able to help learners in acquiring the ability of learning how to learn will gradually lose its relevance. We should not be surprised that now the good students rarely select the conventional courses offered by the colleges as their first choice for higher studies. Therefore, there is now an urgent need to reorient teaching-learning in the universities to meet the requirements of the youth for living and contributing effectively in the 21st century.

The dimensions of the Information Revolution and its limitless possibilities are widely accepted and generally understood, even by lay people. Nevertheless, to make the most of it, we must also acknowledge that there are challenges before the education system particularly the higher education system, and we must make important choices. We can extend opportunity to all or leave many behind. We can accelerate the most powerful engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known, or allow the engine to stall. History has taught us that choices cannot be deferred; action or inaction makes them. There is no such thing as virtual opportunity. We cannot point and click our way to a better future. The tools of information and communication technologies that are available today offer themselves for introducing the paradigm shift that the higher education system needs for making it relevant to the needs of the 21st century. Before too long, each student has to be enabled to stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever written, every information that is being generated and is available in the public domain.

For the first time in our history, it is now possible, in principle, for a student in India to have access to the same world of knowledge at the same instant as the student in the most affluent country of the world has. Imagine the revolutionary democratising potential this can bring. Imagine the enormous benefits to our economy, our society, if not just a fraction, but all young people can master this set of 21st century skills.

We know from hard experience that unequal education hardens into unequal prospects. We know the Information Age may perhaps accelerate this trend. The fastest growing career presently is in computer related fields, offering far more than average pay scales of other professions. History teaches us that even as new technologies create growth and new opportunity, they can heighten economic inequalities and sharpen social divisions. As we move into the Information Age, we have it within our power to avoid these developments. We can reap the growth that comes from revolutionary technologies and use them to eliminate, not to widen, the disparities that exist. But until every student has a computer in the classroom and a teacher well-trained to help, until every student has the skills to tap the enormous resources of the Internet, until every high-tech company can find skilled workers to fill its high-wage jobs, India will miss the full promise of the Information Age. We cannot allow this age of opportunity to be missed. Everyday, we wake up and know that we have a challenge; now we must decide how to meet it. Every student deserves the chance to participate in the information revolution.

At the back of all the intellectual developments is the quality of thinking mind with the capacity to dive into unfathomable depths of knowledge exploration. And in this context understanding perspectives of liberal education becomes no less important than the fruits of technological developments. An agile young mind has the facility to solve a complex set of mathematical equations. But that mind must be broadened if it is to make effective use of that solution to meet human needs. There is little doubt of the relationship between our ability to think creatively and our capacity to be productive as individual members of society. The roots and nature of how the human mind innovates, however, have always been subject to controversy. Yet, even without indisputable evidence, there has been a remarkable and pervasive assumption that the ability to think about abstractions in knowledge is fostered through exposure to philosophy, literature, music, art, and languages. A liberal education was presumed in years past to produce a greater understanding of all aspects of living--an essential ingredient for broadening one's worldview. I believe it still does. Viewing a great painting or listening to a profoundly moving piece of music produces a sense of intellectual joy. But, arguably, it also enhances and reinforces the conceptual processes so essential to innovation. Specifically, the broadening of one's worldview that is acquired through a liberal education almost surely contributes to an understanding of the interrelationships of different fields of endeavour. Important new knowledge is very often the result of such interdisciplinary observation. The broader the context that an inquiring mind brings to a problem, the greater will be the potential for creative insights that, in the end, contribute to a more productive economy.

Time has perhaps come for the universities to redesign curricular concerns in higher education and bring in innovations in developing interdisciplinary programmes of study appropriate to the concerns of the 21st century. This may necessitate exploring generation of resources both physical and financial. Almost all universities are struggling to find funds as the State funding is shrinking to alarmingly low levels because of financial stringency and increasing cost of quality higher education. This University has remained financially self-reliant from its inception and has the potential for playing a trailblazing role on how a university can continue to offer world class education through its innovative new programmes and efforts of its teachers. For raising its resources what this University should do is to make its courses attractive to students both from within the country and abroad by making them of world class standards and by taking up consultancy assignments.

To illustrate my point I share my experience when I was the Vice-Chancellor of the Cochin University of Science and Technology. As a Vice-Chancellor, I faced crisis of finding funds for running my university and upgrading facilities for a competitive and quality-wise relevant research. To upgrade our laboratories by equipping them with modern equipment I needed funds, which were limited, and the challenge was what I should do for my university to compete in the field of higher education. In August 1993 India's High Commissioner to UK, who was a well-wisher of my University, arranged my visit to a university in UK that also offered programmes of ship technology and naval architecture and environmental sciences, which I wanted to strengthen in my university. I found to my surprise that the Department of Ship Technology in that university had only eight teachers, yet the Department had employed 30 professionals for supporting its teachers in execution of their consultancy tasks. The 30 engineers who worked with the eight faculty members were on the payroll of the Department and not of the University. This was an eye-opener for me. I could appreciate that the teachers of that University contributed to the standards of knowledge in their discipline and at the same time by making their activities relevant to the end users had helped their University in becoming financially self-reliant. The same was true of the Department of Environmental Sciences of that University. The Vice-Chancellor introduced me to the two teachers who were co-ordinating programmes of study of about 40 students. I was informed that in addition to the two teachers in the Department it had adjunct faculty drawn from the other Departments such as Biotechnology, Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Economics etc. Different courses of study to match the requirements of students were arranged under the broad discipline of environmental science. This was an inspiring experience, and has relevance in evolving directions of new thinking for the future of our higher education as well as technical and professional education.

But learning and knowledge--and even wisdom--are not enough. National well-being, including material prosperity, rests to a substantial extent on the personal qualities of the people who constitute a nation. The success of our country is going to depend on the integrity and other qualities of character that students will continue to develop and demonstrate over the years ahead. It may be that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and manipulating associates both in their professional and in their personal lives. But material success is possible in this world and far more satisfying when it comes without exploiting others. The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavours without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake. Human relations--be they personal or professional--should not be zero sum games, and higher education must only thrive on ethical principles and right value orientation so vital for ensuring quality in all our educational endeavours.

The Annamalai University which was founded in 1929 on the nucleus of the Meenakshi College, the Sanskrit, Tamil and the Oriental Colleges and the Music College is a unique institution that has blended programmes in liberal arts education with science and technology education and professional education in medicine and agriculture. A galaxy of Vice-Chancellors developed this institution by introducing a rich variety of courses to be offered as campus programmes and as distance education programmes. This institution now has to meet the challenge of reorienting its programmes for making them relevant to the 21st century learners. Some ideas that might be helpful in meeting this challenge I wish to share on this auspicious occasion. These are


What I have suggested in my Address might be found of some relevance by the higher education system in making its choice of direction as presently it is at crossroads specially when the world has entered the Information Age and has de facto become a global village. The challenge is to use the instruments of education for empowering our youth with skills and values that will provide them the cutting edge for taking the fullest advantage of the global opportunities that have now become available and in making our country into a knowledge society. The use of information and communication technologies in teaching-learning is the paradigm shift in education that is now the need of the hour. With this shift in the content and process of education the boundaries between the Distance / Open Education and the conventional formal face-to-face mode of learning will also get diffused.

I congratulate all the students who have successfully completed their courses of study and are receiving their degrees at this Convocation. I conclude my address with the expectation that the graduating class will use the good quality of education that they have received in this University in fulfilling their life's mission and that they will dedicate themselves to the development of our country.

Thank you.