In Conversation With Mr. Suresh Prabhu

Suresh Prabhu with Arvind Passey

We cannot possibly progress without become sensitized human beings first

Implementation of real learning cannot happen in ministries alone. So we are to go to the campus and make sure that every policy envisioned in NEP 2020 is implemented in every campus all over the country, Suresh Prabhu outlines in a conversation with Arvind Passey, Editor-Education Post.

Walking through the imposing corridors of the Ministry of External Affairs to meet the person who has been hailed as the PM’s Sherpa to G7 was a daunting task as it is not easy to talk to someone who has touched the heights of success in the country. Mr. Suresh Prabhu, a Chartered Accountant by profession is one who has led Railways, Commerce & Industry, and Aviation among other prime portfolios and has always brought in a new way of thinking, new insights, and a dynamic leadership style.

Mr. Prabhu is that person who once remarked during his address at the Higher Education Summit in 2018 that the country needs ‘to increase the share of the sector in the economy, and education is an important sector in this, and we will promote it.’ He then emphasized that the government was working with different universities and institutions in this regard. Mr. Prabhu also said that the educational institutes have to keep in mind the emerging challenges being faced by industries and introduce modern technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and big data and that there was a need for increase integration and collaboration between industry and universities. He has been quoted by the media as having remarked that a viable strategy would rest on three pillars of Nav Arjan, Nav Manak and Nav Sanrachna (new revenue, new norm and new structure)’.

Meeting such a dynamic personality needs an interviewer to be prepared with the right sort of questions and, more importantly, have the right degree of poise while conversing on sensitive topics like the way forward in higher education today. The conversation below will give readers an exclusive insight into the way people at the top think and go about making success possible for the country. Mr. Prabhu, by the way, joined BJP in 2014 after having spent time in Shiv Sena. He has been hailed as the PM’s Sherpa to G7 on 24 June 2014.

Arvind Passey Sir, I’ve always been a fan of Mr. Suresh Prabhu primarily because I believe that you have gone from one form of education to another. Between then and now you have joined ministries you went from Lok Sabha about Raja Sabha, shifted your attention from one political alignment to another and finally shifted from politics to education, that is, now becoming the Chancellor of a University besides still being the PM’s Sherpa to the G7. So how would you fit this journey from being a Chartered Accountant to this stage? From educating your own self to making sure that the right education reaches others?

Suresh PrabhuEducation PostA well-known professor once said that you are a student all your life, and I believe that besides your teachers in school and college, teaching also begins at home and by your mother. Your first teacher is your mother and then others follow. This form of early education teaches you to use your conscience and it is then that others come into the picture. Moreover, as a student if you want to close your eyes to experiences to want to feel alive you have ceased to be an absolute student and the probability is that you become the biggest loser in life. This is because life teaches the best and most lasting lessons. It is equally important that every teacher who comes in your life also becomes your teacher for adopting one or the other way of life. Education is thus a constant journey. from one point to another point. So what you’re asking is how important it is to remain a worthy student all your life. Anything else is simply unacceptable. It is all about the choices that you make. Or again, real education depends on if you continue to choose to be a learner… and this continues to be a lifelong process. Thus you keep getting what is called the knowledge experience.

Q. So being a learner all your life is by far the best alternative than not being one?

Suresh PrabhuAbsolutely right. Being a learner is better than being a loser. For example, even my child can be the teacher to me… even a grandchild. The truth is that even your pet has a lot to teach you all the time. Worldly trappings like what you wear or how much you are able to spend to impress are not things that matter to your pet. All that matters to a pet dog, for instance, is selflessly going about teaching you nuances of love and loyalty… and the way you see or perceive this and learn from it all is what turns you into a perceptive student. Frankly, a pet dog may not have any identification with a person as a producer, but yet teaches everything connected to attitude.

Teachers are all around us. If we want to and are willing even nature has a lot to teach us. You see, we have come a long way from being mere hunter-gatherers to becoming a civilization that gives huge benefits but yet we go on inflicting so much harm to biodiversity. Remember, that nature has a lot to teach us in more than just one way and we must never stop listening to what nature has to tell us. It is not mere survival but all about living in harmony and as one.

Education PostIn the same way, the day we stop listening to nature, we stop the learning process. When you stop listening, you cease to be student, when you stop being the learner and the student because every student must also be a learner first, we start to be a loser. That’s what has happened in the world. That whole problem of climate change, for instance,is because we have stopped listening to nature.

Q. This is very perfectly put but tell me one thing, these are very impressive concepts. How does one transpose all this to what goes on in our universities today? In higher education, in particular? Will teaching these concepts help the student learn the practical aspects of doing work productively, be market-ready, be in demand by the industry? Will this help their employability quotient?

Suresh PrabhuThere has been, sadly, a divorce between learning and enlightened learning and education in a formal sense has not been an ideal teacher. Yes, nature is not a teacher in a conventional classroom, the trees are not a teacher in a college, but we do have the power to create teachers through continuous learning and by making them nature sensitive. We must turn our institutes of learning into providers of enlightened knowledge. Suresh Prabhu with Education PostThus, if teachers are that knowledge bridge in schools, colleges, and universities, we must ensure that they first have or get the right state of mind. And once we start doing this, every problem can be defined and solutions sought because the important thing to remember is that we have created an evolved environment around us over centuries and have taken care not to disturb this critical balance. Once this awareness sets in, the path to becoming able humans, creative students, and humanity-loving citizen will be much easier. We cannot possibly progress without become sensitized human beings first. Preserving creation should be a major concern at our places of learning and though there are other theories like the big bang one, we need to accept that respect for biodiversity is what leads us on to enlightenment… and this is how we can evolve into being responsible creators. Of jobs, yes. But also of human relationships, which is equally vital. Also of co-existing with nature and marching ahead into the future triumphantly. For me, God is a creator, but God has created discretion. Sothis enlightenment factor must begin with starting to listen to the voices of nature.

Q. Right, so enlightenment, of course, is going to totally different levels. But coming back to the level of students and teachers and places of learning, we have been gifted now wonderfully insightful NEP 2020. Do you think that education policies, despite all their bombastic physiology, are geared up for this kind of education challenge?

Suresh PrabhuThere are a number of key elements in NEP which actually makes it break away from the previously accepted dogmas. Like, for example, it says that I can learn two or three things at the same time. I can learn medicine and music at the same time. That’s a very good departure because that’s how the nature of mind is, you know, in the morning, I want to fight with you but in the afternoon, I want to have lunch with you and by evening I may want to say that I want to be your life partner. So interdisciplinary is going to be about the way human mind changes often and this is why we must welcome the possibilities of learning two or three things together. Why cannot an engineer know something about the economy? And the second good part of NEP is that it accepts the reality that you are to learn to earn. So, therefore, skill-based education is the need of the times. Thirdly, it also accepts the importance of visual thinking that is possible if teaching comes in your mother tongue.Sherpa

If someone were to ask me why teaching in one’s mother tongue is important, I’d tell them that this is how I got all my real education. My mother taught me all about being a good human being and also why the right focus helps… and this stayed with me throughout my schooling and college and I finally became a chartered accountant. I have been to 244 countries and delivered lectures in as many countries on a lot of education-related topics. This learning goes on even today and I cannot ever claim to be an expert. I still love conversing even about complex issues in my mother tongue and think in that language before I speak or write. The point is that learning is far more powerful when done in one’s mother tongue.

Q. Sir, you are also the Chancellor of Rishihood University. How do think this place of learning is different from others?

Suresh PrabhuAll the concepts that I have talked about are actually being implemented in the university campus. It is obviously my responsibility to make sure that learning is not limited to just text-books and that a deeper awareness of nature and how we interact with it and the way our actions affect this relationship balance are a part of the learning here. I have even suggested at the ChancellorsSummit that implementation of real learning cannot happen in ministries alone. So we are to go to the campus and make sure that every policy envisioned in NEP 2020 is implemented in every campus all over the country.

Q. What are the steps you have taken so far to bring the policies mentioned in NEP 2020 closer to every university in the country?

Suresh PrabhuI make it a point to discuss every nuance related to education issues with my dear friend, the Education Minister. I told him that for implementation, we must all come up with the best suggestions for the correct way of communicating and making these policies happen at the ground level. And I did bring in all the factors when I was speaking at the education summit.

See, I was talking to a few university professors and there were two concerns that they had expressed. One of them was about creative initiative needed for a wholesome focus on vocational education. Vocational studies are vital as they mean making latent talent in a student rise to the challenge. This is what is ultimately going to make the country atmanirbhar. The other equally important concern was about places of higher learning being able to harness the research capabilities within the campus to also add to the funding available there. Both these issues have a lot to do with nurturing the spirit of not just learning but also the ability to turn learning into financial sustenance.

Arvind PasseySir, this has been a great conversation and I thank you for sharing your thoughts on a few vital issues surrounding higher education today. Hope to be able to talk to again some day to know your views on other issues that are just as connected to education.

The conversation with Mr. Prabhu was long enough and yet not so long as to include a host of other questions that I had in mind. However, I must admit that meeting him was rather revealing even though he once said: ‘It’s better to hide your feelings and emotions. Expressing them is not always the best route to go forward…‘ The Sherpa to G7 is a man who speaks out his mind and every word that he utters makes a lot of practical sense.



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