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HE Visva-Bharati (VB) at Santiniketan has been into a controversy for the past few months over the current vice-chancellor’s move to abolish the system of natural progression for its internal students to the UG and PG level.
A large section of the media reported the protests to this move as opposition to the discontinuation of a “quota” that VB’s internal students have been “privileged” to all along. Thus the teachers, students and alumni of VB have been facing questions galore over the issue from all across.
Why Visva-Bharati has quota for its internal students in the undergraduate courses? Is this not a deviation from the Government of India directive against any admission quota other than that for the SC, ST, OBC and the physically handicapped ones in Central government-funded education institutes?
Is it not unjust and unfair to the students from outside VB who aspire to study at Santiniketan and Sriniketan? Is this not patronizing the ordinary over the meritorious?
These questions were repeatedly hammered by the media through the past few months and reverberated in the minds of Bengalis all over. These queries deserve an answer.
But in trying to do so, it will be hard to make people believe that VB has no quota for internal students, in the true sense of the term!
Rather, VB follows an altogether different model of education, which was conceived and introduced by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. This model makes every educational stage from school to the PG level an integral part of developing a complete human being. Every stage in the model is a hallmark of taught-teacher joint effort in knowledge assimilation and its application in a free atmosphere.
Under this model, the only advantage that the students of Patha-Bhavana and Siksha-Satra, the two schools founded by Tagore get for admission to UG courses is, they are not required to sit for the entrance exam that a student coming from outside the varsity has to.
This, however, does not mean that a student who has passed out from Patha-Bhavana or Siksha-Satra will automatically get admitted to the UG course of his / her choice. They will be admitted to UG courses only if they have scored the minimum prescribed marks in the XII standard. This qualifying mark is same as what is prescribed for external students.
Moreover, around 85 per cent seats at the UG level are open to outsiders, for, the number of VB internal students hardly exceeds 15 per cent of total seats.
At Visva-Bharati, right from the school level, students attend prayers every Wednesday morning, take part in every festival and event as part of their experiential learning, and undertake several other co-curricular activities in the lap of nature. They welcome every season through dance and song, and never stop playing sports every afternoon.
In Tagore’s scheme of integral education a student needs to be thoroughly exposed from the childhood to an open atmosphere and free environment, with a little indulgence from the teachers. Their learning is natural: to aspire for greater contribution and easy satisfaction, and to mix easily with the common men and the Prime Minister alike.
Such a learning atmosphere, even in contemporary period of degeneration, makes them stand apart.
Not that every one of them become famous, but they at least stand the chance to go out as good human beings, who can sufficiently eke out their livelihood without harming others.
The need of the hour is that VB should develop and introduce appropriate psychometric tests for external students, who secure admission at the UG and PG levels. This is needed so that their match to the social, cultural and emotional wavelength of VB can be assessed.
This would help them integrate to VB’s atmosphere with much ease and bring down untoward deviations. This way VB can do justice to lateral entries at the UG and PG levels and also stick to its aim of staying a unique university as was conceived by Tagore.
VB is a place where a student or a pilgrim can accumulate treasures of eternal nature. Thus, many pundits from India and abroad have made VB their home. The alumni come back every few months to bathe in its environ.
This is a place where ordinary and merited reside together, mix and match. They cannot think of other in awe or in inferiority, a sure trait of an evolving human. VB teaches its students every moment through the classes, festivals and creative expositions that, merit has no value without emotional attachment to people and the motherland.
Bengal needs to protect VB from deviation and sliding away from what Tagore had aspired for. Otherwise, how would Bengal draw the cultivars of its human capital?
(Biplob LohoChoudhury is a professor of journalism at Visva-Bharati. He lives in Santiniketan, Birbhum)
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