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Sunday, October 3, 2010

‘what is wrong with design education in India’

This question of ‘what is wrong with design education in India’ has been my last 25 years of re search (research). That is from 1985, from the third month of my stay at NID I have embarked on a journey that has led me to several aspects of learning, aesthetic sense, cognition, biology of knowing and children, indigenous wisdom knowledge etc. 
What bothered me at NID was that the design sensibility that was being imbibed was very western and industrial (this was a later revelation)  that it was producing designers with western aesthetic sensibilities and were also being conditioned for a standardized design process (which is probably ok in Industry). A kind of a mass production of sorts. The same process is being applied whether the designer is working in the craft sector or with children!
 The outer manifestations of any culture- architecture, craft, food, music, dance and ritual are imbued with the aesthetic sense of the people who belong to that culture. When year after year students are subjected to a western design process and learn design through western history and western sense of aesthetics, is it any wonder that generation after generation gets estranged from their own history, culture, individual sense of beauty and their very being. This is true of all educational institutions in this country. All aspects of our being are subjected to this false conditioning. At the level of information all we learn is about the west. At emotional level we feel inferior to the west and become imitators and our aesthetic sense is also transformed as we learn the western aesthetic sense. At the same time all true qualities of a learner is also destroyed by the schooling process. One learns to compete, lie, to cheat, to project one self etc.
Humility is replaced by arrogance and false pride.
 Before I go on I would like to state my admiration for various thinkers and doers who were part of the design movement in the west. They were being very honest to their situation and were responding authentically nor am I blaming the people who brought design education to India. Probably the political climate of those times did not allow this kind of search and obviously we were imitating (aping is a better term) the west in every other aspect of our lives too.
There no villains, only victims of their conditioning.
At two levels the design education was creating problems. One at the aesthetic level and the other at the process level. The second may be ok with in the industry frame work but it was surely creating havoc when that process and sensibilities were being applied at the craft sector. Designers working with artisan communities are already doing lots of damage and from the past few years the NIFTians and IICD ans (NIFT National Institute of fashin technology, IICD- Indian instiute of Craft and design) are also systematically taking part in this. Students can’t be blamed as they are being ‘taught’ that they need to ‘help/ save’ the artisans with their ‘design skills’. Power corrupts perception. And added to this if greed is also present then it completely distorts they way we see things (want to see things). 

Now that I have been going to IICD, it has clearly given me a picture of what is wrong with design education preparing students meant to work with artisans.  Machine aesthetics is being imposed on students as they are being taught the same courses that are being used at NID. The design process also makes students to think in terms of the logic of industrial production. Mass production, scaling up, standardized design solutions, moulds, mechanization etc. One is taught to forget the strengths of the craft system. That they can produce variations with no extra effort, artisans are very skilled already or have the potential to become one (see the link and the strength of the craft is that it is very location specific with diverse aesthetic sensibilities etc. But since we are only taught how to impose and not the sensitivity, respect nor the eye for seeing their strengths we, along with other professionals takes away the self respect and self initiative of the rural artisans. So in that sense the designers will soon homogenize and standardize the diverse crafts in India unless serious re thinking is initiated. 

Since the introduction of design education in schools has not yet happened we do have the possibility of re think. My research has also gone deeply in to the biology of learning. Till now the focus has been on the psychology of learning. It is very clear that our educational system is producing mindless and insensitive professionals with no sensitivity and creativity. The recent increase in suicides among school children points to the big crisis. Again and again the real culprit is not identified and instead the students, the parents and to some extent the teachers are being blamed.  The very idea of ‘schooling’ or in other words ‘cloning’ goes against the very nature of how human being learns. So we need to take this as a design problem and find out what is wrong with schooling. A deeper study is called for.

 I would like to end this with looking at what has gone wrong with modern Indian architecture as they also had followed a similar path. Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, is the only city in India that has a distinct architectural character. Because in Srinagar architects have not had opportunity to practice architecture.  Even though the designer has to function in local contexts the design education is non contextual. Every generation needs to relive, recreate and reinvent certain aspects of its cultural sensibilities by engaging with the reality around them. The student needs to be PRESENT to the local contexts totally-psychologically, emotionally and sensually and the teachers should play an effective role to ensure all. Contextually rooted aesthetic sense is what once created the diverse cultures around the globe. The present architecture of Srinagar also points to the fact that ‘un trained’ people have the ability to respond to modern needs with in their cultural frame work, most often unconsciously. May the conscious and sensitive designers role is to step out and allow this to happen. Laurie Baker, a British man by birth seems to be a good example to emulate. He learned architecture in England but practiced in India, creating culturally rooted architecture. He responded honestly to the local needs without being driven by the market forces. So what did he bring from his education from England and what did he drop? How do we produce more such people through education? Authentic aesthetic sense is one of the key factors that lead to cultural diversity.

I have researched on indigenous design process and education since 1989 among non literate artisans and children. Traditional artisan’s learning is experientially rooted, learner driven. It has the quality of re-creating, re-inventing and re-living knowledge. The cognitive space ensures the first handedness in these learnings and helps the learner to situate oneself in the cultural conditions of ones life. Can there be an education that is sensitive to these vital issues that retains diversity and authenticity?  Do look at some of the links below to see some examples of the work/ research being carried out. 
By the by what fundamental RESEARCH are our institutions doing or supporting?
Links to my work with children.  Following the principles of non interference (Other word is ‘teaching’) children began to create absolutely beautiful stuff. 

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