The Need for Contemporary Liberal Education

No. PR- 249

March 9, 2021

New Delhi

The Need for Contemporary Liberal Education

The 2nd Dr. Bansi Dhar Science, Technology and Innovation Lecture was delivered as a webinar by Padma Vibhushan Prof. K. Kasturirangan on the topic: “The Need for a Contemporary Liberal Education”.

Dr. Manju Sharma, Chairperson Board of Governors, Shriram Institute, who presided and moderated the event, opened the program by welcoming the honourable speaker, the panellists and the participants. In her opening remarks she recollected the life and contributions of Dr. Bansi Dhar who gave leadership to Shriram Institute for over 3 decades, as well as to many other institutions in education and research. She commented on the appropriateness of today’s speaker Prof. Kasturirangan for today’s lecture that is in tribute to the memory of Dr. Bansi Dhar.

Shri Alok Shriram, Vice Chairman, Board of Governors, Shriram Institute, in his introductory speech elaborated on Dr. Bansi Dhar, on who’s memory the current lecture series has been instituted. This 2nd lecture in the series was coinciding with the 91st birth anniversary of Dr. Bansi Dhar, and was an apt tribute to his memory. His contributions and leadership to various institutions were remembered.

In his welcome address Dr. Mukul Das, Director Shriram Institute, introduced the speaker Dr. K. Kasturirangan and the topic of his lecture. He recounted the long and multifaceted credentials and contributions of Dr. Kasturirangan to the Indian Scientific scenario, be it Space Technology, higher education, and now lately to the National Education Policy.

In his lecture Prof. Kasturirangan paid his tributes to Dr. Bansi Dhar, and thanked the organizers for the lecture. He also acknowledged several of his co-members in the committee that articulated and drafted the National Education Policy on which he had expounded in detail.

He went into detail that the recent National Education Policy, NEP 2020, which identified the need to move towards a more imaginative and broad-based liberal education as a foundation for holistic development of all students. This approach, specifically focussed on undergraduate level, envisages overhauling of the undergraduate education towards bringing in liberal education through holistic and multidisciplinary orientation in teaching and learning, as a prelude to a more rigorous specialisation in chosen fields and disciplines.

The premise for such a step is that all branches of creative human endeavour (including mathematics and science) should be considered as arts, more appropriately liberal arts which in turn means a liberal notion of the arts. These have distinct Indian origins, dating back to over 2000 years, including Bana Bhatta’s Kadambari, written nearly 1400 years ago, and considered as one of the world’s first ever novels. This narration described what is called as 64 Kalas or Arts, where a truly educated person is described as one who mastered all the 64 kalas. The holistic nature of such knowledge encompassing 64 kalas can be appreciated by the fact that it included music, dance, painting, sculpture, languages and literature in addition to subjects such as engineering and mathematics as well as vocational subjects such as carpentry – very close to what we today refer to as liberal arts. The Ancient Indian Universities like Takshasheela and Nalanda imparted the highest quality of education and emphasized the liberal arts and education tradition. Well known scholars and eminent graduates of Takshasheela and Nalanda included philosopher and economist Chanakya, Sanskrit Grammarian and mathematician Panini and Leader and Statesman Chandragupta Maurya, besides Mathematician and Astronomer Aryabhata.

In recent times, this concept of liberal education has become a critical factor in the modern-day employment landscape of the 21st century, especially in the Western world. NEP 2020 has clearly underscored the need to bring back this great Indian tradition into India’s educational system keeping in mind duly the modern context. A comprehensive liberal arts education develops all capacities of human beings – intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional and moral in an integrated manner. It enables the development of fundamental capacities of individuals in all aspects of being human with the objective of developing good and complete human beings.

The talk discussed the best way to deliver a liberal arts education, the need for multidisciplinary environments and institutions, breaking silos within universities, creation of imaginative curriculum and pedagogy and serving as the foundational base for rigorous specialisation in chosen disciplines and fields, in order to develop deeper expertise in one or more subjects. The role of liberal education in enhancing the outcomes of the graduate programs and research, are also relevant to be examined. This approach is expected to transform undergraduate education into a new era, enabling the acquisition of 21st century skills on one side, and creating a culture of collaboration across subjects to tackle local, state, national and global level issues.

Shri K. N. Rao, member of Board of Governors of Shriram Institute, proposed a vote of thanks at the close of the Webinar.

The entire program was organized by Shriram Institute in association with PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Media Division

PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry