Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate and chancellor of upcoming Nalanda University in Bihar, said here on Friday it was massive investment in education in the select East Asian nations that not only led to their emergence on the international map, but also helped in the formation of their identity as East Asian giants.
Sen, in this regard, cited the case of Japan which, under the Meji Restoration period, saw a huge investment in elementary education under 'Education for All' programme. As a result, Japan, in early 20th century, was "producing more books than Great Britain, and also twice the number of books produced in the US."
He also said Bangladesh, in recent times, had pumped in a huge sum of money for the promotion of elementary education, even as its growth rate in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) was lower than that of India. The all-round progress witnessed in China in Maoist China before 1979 was also propelled by the push given to its education sector, following which reforms brought in by Deng Xiao Ping became possible. According to Sen, the GDP of India is certainly greater than that of Bangladesh, but Bangladesh is the only country in the world where more girls than boys have been going to schools, and it had "definitely overtaken India".
Sen was giving the 12th foundation lecture of Asian Development Research Institute (Adri) at a function otherwise held to mark the inauguration of the three-day international seminar organized by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) headed by former Union minister Dr Karan Singh and supported by ministry of external affairs (MEA). Thematically, the lecture of Sen was synchronized with the theme of the ICCR international seminar - 'Civilizational Dialogue between India and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations)'.
His notes on Asiatic, South Asian, East Asian and South Asian identities and experiences apart, Sen, in tune with the theme of the ICCR international seminar, went back and forth in time, and presented haunting childhood memories of his years, when he was six years old and his father had gone to Mandalay in the then Burma (present-day Myanmar) to work. The locals considered his father a Vaidya (people of the caste dealing in medicine), even as the family had abandoned the caste profession. Sen, juxtaposing his local and national impressions with their images presented in the writings of Rudyard Kipling (poem 'Mandalay') and George Orwell (in his book 'Homage to Catalonia' on Spanish civil war), said that his own personal impressions of Burma were different.
Sen recalled the local flora and fauna, people, rivers (specially the Irawady river), mountains and palaces, and also mentioned how he used to draw their images on the walls of the family house. While the locals were "happy and cheerful people, always showing their smiling faces," the nanny who took his care left an indelible impact on him. "She was very beautiful, among the most beautiful I had seen. I still remember a few Burmese words," Sen said, adding: "These impressions formed a standard of Asian identity within me that helped me in my later research."
He also said the only place outside their mainland to which the Chinese first went was ancient Nalanda University to learn. "There should be no hesitation on our part to learn from any country in Asia," Sen said.