“A nation needs social sciences to understand itself and sciences to understand the physical world. Without understanding oneself no nation can last long. Social science is the cake, rest is all icing,” said Prof Shyam Sunder of Yale University in an interview to Careers360. But the nation has not taken it seriously. While universities do boast of Social Sciences departments dominated mostly by Economics, the research scenario is quite bleak. As Prof S K Thorat says, for a nation of 1.1 billion the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) had a paltry budget of Rs. 36 crores. Despite the lack of funding, India is home to some fine social science institutions in the public domain. This is one segment of education, wherein the public sector has a substantially large quantitative presence outside the university system. The 27 ICSSR-funded social sciences institutions do provide an academic space for serious research and reflection. Institutes like Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Studies & Research, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Gujrath Institute of Development Studies, Centre for Economic and Social Change, Bangalore offer structured MPhil and PhD programmes, and all admitted scholars are provided with nominal stipends throughout the programme. Others like Centre for Study of Developing Societies, Institutes for Studies in Industrial Development, Council for Social Development, act as pivotal points for research and offer structured PhD programmes with or without fellowships. Outside the ICSSR, three institutes do seminal work in this discipline and all three of them are in the public sector. In the domain of population studies, Indian Institute of Population Studies (IIPS) offers one of the best training grounds for scholars and is only one of its kind throughout Asia. The National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) is yet another one of a kind institution in India. Parents and institutes encourage students to take subjects which score high and clamour for top notch institutes offering great placements. In this mad rush, what we really miss out is holistic development. “We have become individualised, commercialised and consumption-oriented,” opines Dr S Galeb, Director, CESS.
Research themes of ICSSR institutes ICSSR focuses on a diverse range of research problems. Some of the macro issues include developmental models, theories of growth and development, non-conventional energy, labour markets, social security, poverty, unemployment, urban area studies, industrial development, regional growth processes and intellectual property rights. Some institutes critically look at political participation and the shifting domains of dominance and citizen engagement; electoral processes, voting patterns, user associations, usage of new forms of media, changing mores of higher education and participatory learning processes. At the micro level some issues that are focussed are micro-analyses of economic livelihood support to rural poor communities, tribal development, village industries and agrarian studies.
On the challenges faced by the system The greatest problem is assimilating first generation literates into the mainstream. Unlike mainstream knowledge, the first generation lot have a different kind of knowledge. When they enter college, the kind of pedagogy used in teaching is not suitable for them. The educational institutes have not geared up to take into consideration the challenges faced by them. As Prof Galeb says, the fundamental need is to make education more inclusive in nature.
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