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South Asia

Global truths in Sanskrit

Knowledge spurs Indian success around the world

For Indians, education has had high praise and value almost from the beginning of the Indian civilization. Its value has been mentioned in the oldest Hindu scriptures (Vedas) and is talked about on an ongoing basis in social and political circles.

These virtues of education have survived several thousand years in spite of India being ruled by foreign powers for close to 700 years.

With time, India has become a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multilingual country with diversity in every aspect of her fabric.

The diversity also continues into the reasons why Indians have left India to live in many parts of the world -- Pacific, Oceania, East Africa, South Africa, Middle East, Europe, North America, South America.

Some left to preach religion (Buddhism), others because of political conflicts, economic opportunities, the search for better life and, lately, for education.

Indians have always believed in the value of education.

While growing up on a small, mixed farm in Northern India, I first learned from my grandfather the virtues of education as described in old scriptures using Sanskrit slokas (poetry stanzas).

To understand the virtues of education, let us look at the translation of two slokas.

One says that fools are praised only in their homes, chiefs are praised in their villages, kings are praised in their kingdoms but knowledgeable people are praised everywhere.

The second one highlights the value of education on a personal level. Knowledge (education), it says, cannot be stolen by thieves, cannot be taken away by kings (government), cannot be divided by siblings, is not heavy to carry around, and increases when spent (shared with others). Thus it is the greatest wealth a person can have.

The virtues of education were further emphasized in the primary, junior and high-school systems.

With such strong grounding in the virtues of education, Indians feel that it is the key to their personal development, to maintaining a high standard of living and making them better citizens to serve their nation.

They see education as a foundation for the social, cultural and economic development of themselves and their country.

In India, high-quality education from top engineering and management institutions is seen as the guaranteed gateway to prosperity.

The importance of higher education can also be noted from the fact that each year more than 400,000 Indian students take the engineering entrance examination for 8,000 odd seats (less than two per cent succeed) at the Indian Institutes of Technology.

The success stories of the rising middle class in India is no secret today and most of the emerging middle class consists of highly educated professionals working in banking, health, insurance, manufacturing, and information technology.

Many immigrants from India have education beyond high school and have gone through board examinations during their school years and competitions for admission to post-secondary programs.

Those who do not have higher education are aware of what it takes to succeed at the university level. This drives them to encourage their children to attain as high an education as is possible without worrying about financial costs. It instills in them good study habits, which sometimes are seen by Canadian-born Indian children as being too high-pressure.

Indo-Canadians also tend to encourage their children more towards professional programs instead of liberal arts programs and more to university level programs than college level programs.

Most Indian parents go out of their way to support their children financially while they are taking one or more programs at the university level. They invest in the future earning potential of their children, appreciating fully the differentially higher income earned with university degrees than with college or high school educations.

In India, where social programs are lacking, parents expect that their wealthier kids will be able to take care of them. (This might be hoped for by Indian parents in Canada but does not happen as often.)

It is unlikely that the past appreciation of the virtues of education will continue beyond a third or fourth generation of Indo-Canadians.

I hope it does, as it is critical not only for Indo-Canadians but also for Canada because for Canada to continue to have a high standard of living, it must have an economy based on knowledge, innovation and highly qualified people.


Digvir S. Jayas is vice-president, research and international, and distinguished professor, University of Manitoba

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 J6

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