- Malcolm Adiseshiah
Malcolm Sathiyanathan Adiseshiah (April 18, 1910 – November 21, 1994), was an Indian development economist and educator. He was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Government of India for his outstanding services to the country in 1976. UNESCO has awarded ‘The Malcolm Adiseshiah International Literacy Prize’ every year from 1998 in recognition of the outstanding contribution he made to education and to literacy in particular.
Early years and education
He was born on April 18, 1910, the second of the five children of Paul Varanasi Adiseshiah and Grace Nesamma Adiseshiah. His father was professor of philosophy and the first Indian principal of Voorhees College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu State, India. His mother, a talented musician, had studied up to the Senior Cambridge (High School) and was the first woman Councilor of the Vellore Municipality. She taught all her children till they were ten years of age. All of them were highly accomplished, and four of her children obtained doctorates: William, the eldest, in philosophy at Cambridge; Malcolm in economics at the London School of Economics, Padmini in education and Noble in medicine.
Adiseshiah studied in Voorhees High School, where he obtained two double promotions. He completed his secondary school education at the age of thirteen to join Voorhees College for his ‘intermediate’ course (equivalent to +2 course now.) Then he shifted to Loyola College, Chennai for his BA (Honours), where Ramaswamy Venkataraman, the former President of India, was his classmate. There was a healthy competition between the two and Adiseshiah snatched the coveted first rank in the University examinations. Venkatraman later remembered that Adiseshiah was extremely punctual even during college days and was someone like a book worm with intense concentration. After a six year teaching interregnum at St. Paul’s College in Calcutta (now Kolkata), he proceeded to King's College, Cambridge for his MA (Banking) and then to the London School of Economics (1937–40) for pursuing his doctoral research with specialization in currency. Late Dr. R.N. Poduval, who served in FAO and then was Chairman of Centre for Research in Economic and Social Development, Chennai was two years his junior in LSE.
In later life, after his retirement from UNESCO, Adiseshiah has fondly recalled his training and research;
“ under the wise guidance of Father Basneck and Professor P.J. Thomas in Madras, Benoy Kumar and Nalini Ranjan Sarkar in Calcutta, Percy Barrat Whale and John Maynard Keynes in London and Cambridge1. ”
He joined as a lecturer in St. Paul’s College, an affiliate of the University of Calcutta in 1930 and continued till 1936. There he worked out plans for rural service programme in the college in cooperation with Sriniketan and Shantiniketan.
He married Helen Paranjothi.
After obtaining his doctorate, in 1940, he joined Madras Christian College, Chennai, when he was only thirty years of age, as its first professor and head of the department of economics. He remained there till 1946. Prof.K.N. Raj, founder of Centre for Developmental Studies, Tiruvananthapuram, and G. Jagathpathy, former Chief Secretary of the government of Madhya Pradesh were his students in the 1941-44 batch of BA Honours course. Raj has recalled about
“ the emphasis he placed on (a) learning economic theory directly from the original contributions of recognized thinkers (rather than from the processed and often over-simplified versions available textbooks on the subject), and (b) independently judging its applicability to the conditions in India through empirical investigations and observations based upon them. … He kept the formal lectures to the minimum given for the course (no more than about twelve a week in the first year, nine or so in the second year and as low as five in the final year), leaving us adequate time for reading widely and reflecting over it.2 ”
At a time when the Madras University was focused on Marshallian economics, Adiseshiah broke new ground by introducing study of imperfect - monopolistic competitions. He pioneered teaching Keynesian economics to South Indian students. As books were not available on these subjects in the library at that time, Adiseshiah lent them from his personal collection. He conducted trial tests when he left students by themselves without any invigilation. He introduced seminar as a pedagogical device in the college. It threw open the challenge, and the responsibility, of thinking, instructing and understanding to the group as a whole including the taught and the teacher. Jagathpathy has recalled that ‘the resulting sense of participation was indeed exhilarating.’ 3
Adiseshiah exhorted his students to visit the neighboring villages to Tambaram, where the college was situated, to study and collect data about the living conditions of the inhabitants including their education, health, size of the family and other particulars. To break the aloofness of the villagers, he found an ingenious solution. He started a Rural Service League in the college, and led the members taking with them first aid kits containing medicines for common ailments such as ointments, eyedrops and laxatives. K.N. Raj has asserted:
“ This unique approach proved, in no time, to be an ‘Open Sesame’. In fact, long after I left MCC (Madras Christian College) and out of curiosity, went back to a village, I got a warm welcome, though it was now their turn - the villagers – to badger me with innumerable questions. Developing such emotional links was clearly two-way-street – which those who now exhort us to integrate with the rural people forget all too often.4 ”
His belief in the necessity for integration between theory and practice of economics remained with him till the end. The last popular lecture which Adiseshiah delivered at Stella Maris College on Sep. 8, 1994, published in the December issue of MIDS Bulletin, exhorted the teachers and students to test their theories and all their learning at the practical field level. He told them that the economics student should identify the people below poverty line in the village and help them to rise above it through various forms of self-employment. He considered that this was part of the learning process for both the teacher and the taught.
He has recorded that his own views were shaped
“ in the villages of Bengal and South India with their rural service centres where we worked out the economics of hand pound rice, hand-made paper, hand-loomed textiles, crop rotation and rural credit, rural medicine and sanitation, adult literacy and curriculum reform. It was there that I found the testing ground for the many ideas and plans that I carried with me to UNESCO in Paris and from there to the four corners of the earth.5 ”
His publications in 1940s included books on banking, rural development and agricultural transformation. He was engaged, with his fellow economists in the Madras University, in work on planning the future industrialization of India and Madras State. Then he realized the curious dichotomy prevailing between thought and action, between theory and practice in the leadership of Indian Economic Association. As a measure to rectify the hiatus, he got himself elected to its executive board. However his teaching career at Madras Christian College came to an abrupt end due to private position he took in relation to that of the authorities regarding his marriage.
Helen Paranjothi bore him a son and a daughter. In 1946 his marriage fell apart. Adiseshiah fell in love with Elizabeth Pothen, who was then professor of history at the Madras Women’s Christian College. The separation between Adiseshiah and Helen Paranjothi was bitter and prolonged. He turned a renegade. The annulment of the marriage came only in 1956. Meanwhile Adiseshiah married Elizabeth Pothen.
UNESCO and UN service
Adiseshiah served as Associate General Secretary of the World University Service, Geneva during 1946-48. This association helped him later to support steps for the construction of World University Service Centre in Chennai and women’s hostels in Delhi and Rajasthan. In that period, he was also connected with the World Student Christian Federation and Student Volunteer Service.
A United Nations Conference for the establishment of an educational and cultural organization (ECO/CONF) was convened in London from 1 to 16 November 1945 which decided to create a new organization to establish the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” and, in so doing, prevent the outbreak of another world war. Thirty-seven countries founded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its Constitution to promote collaboration between member states in the fields of education, science and culture was signed on 16 November 1945 and came into force on 4 November 1946. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, former President of India, was an old student of Adiseshiah’s father and knew the sterling qualities of Adiseshiah well. He made a referral to Sir Julian Huxley, then Director-General of UNESCO, who invited Adiseshiah to the organization in 1948. He was posted as Deputy Director of the department of exchange of persons. In that capacity Adiseshiah signed the UNESCO Fellowship letter in 1949 to M. S. Swaminathan, eminent scientist and administrator, to pursue research at the Agricultural University in Wageningen, the Netherlands which turned out to be the starting point of his illustrious career.
In the early stages, UNESCO was acting as an international clearing house in the areas of education and science, arranging exchange of educational and scientific documentation between countries and specialists and organizing seminars and conferences. It helped to rebuild war-damaged educational institutions and libraries in Allied countries. It acted as an effective medium in the training and exchange of scientists of Europe and the USA. The first International Adult Education Conference was held under UNESCO auspices at Elsinore, Denmark forging an international programme for continuing education to workers.
On 14 August 1949, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) adopted Resolution 222 (IX) establishing the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance for economic development of underdeveloped countries. This resolution could be read as a spelling out of ‘the common welfare of mankind’ proclaimed by the charter of the UN. It was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in Nov. 1949. Economic development was recognized to be the key to national progress and was implicitly linked to the creation of national capabilities through education, training and scientific advance. All UN agencies, including UNESCO, were to implement this resolution.
This marked the beginning of the second stage in the evolution of UNESCO. This was the period when many Asian countries became independent and joined UNESCO. The organization planned and began execution of an operational programme. It consisted roughly of four parts:
(a) continuation of the earlier clearing house activities;
(b) operation of demonstration centres such as the Fundamental Social Education Training Centres in India;
(c) major projects in specific countries such as the project for universal primary education in Latin America;
(d) programme of Technical Aid from UNESCO’s budget. Three fourths of UNESCO activities in the fifties consisted of the fourth part.
Adiseshiah’s exceptional abilities were quickly recognized in UNESCO and were rewarded by promotion to the post of Director of technical assistance department in Mar. 1950, when he was aged forty, thus turning out to be one of its six top executives. He was authorized to represent the Director-General at the technical assistance board set up by the UN.
Adiseshiah was compelled to jump into uncharted territory, with no compass or guide. Transfer of knowledge, skill and technology from the developed to developing countries, which varied significantly in their size, variety, cultures and capacity to absorb was a very complicated task. He realized from the outset that education was the key instrument to achieve such a massive transfer. The number of member countries increased from less than sixty at the time when he joined UNESCO to one hundred and twenty seven when he left it.
Adiseshiah’s key contribution to UNESCO was to direct international and national funds to education as a crucial component for the promotion of socio-economic development of the developing countries. He played a prominent role in converting the organization from a cloistered club of developed nations into a global association concerned with science, culture, education and development of all nations. Most of the new entrants had gained their independence only then. They were most in need of the transfer but had the least capacity to attract, absorb and make full use of the resources, information, data and expertise. Adiseshiah and his team had to devise methods, techniques and means for transfer knowledge, skills, technology and science to suit each individual member country, and in many instances, each individual purpose within a country. They also had to scout for resources for these massive transfers.
About this period, Rene Ochs, a fellow member of staff, who later rose to be a Director at UNESCO, writes:
“ The stage was set for the beginning of a new era. Everything was possible; yet everything remained to be done with non-existent resources. It was done, though in a surprisingly short time, by very few people, among whom Malcolm Adiseshiah held a prominent, if not a unique place. Those who had the privilege of working with him from the early years of technical assistance, and the following years of growing success and achievements, witnessed the outstanding performance of man whose extraordinary vision immediately recognized the opportunity offered, projected its potentialities into the future and made the dream come true. This required no less than the towering quality of his intelligence, his rare organizational ability and resourcefulness, his uncommon physical stamina, his unrelenting pace of work and unflinching dedication to the task at hand and a faith coupled with realism which carried mountains. 6 ”
UNESCO's tentative proposals were submitted for Technical Assistance for Economic Development in 1950-51. Adiseshiah organized the new department, established area desks corresponding to UN geographical regions, instituted the procedures and methods of operation and set-up a ‘report and information unit’ which produced periodically a technical assistance bulletin.
In 1955, he was promoted as one among the three Assistant Directors General of UNESCO and put in charge of development.
The third stage of UNESCO’s activities dated from the early sixties when many African countries became independent and joined it. In 1962, he was promoted to the post of Deputy Director General of UNESCO. Then he was the sole incumbent to that office. The UNESCO began organizing important regional conferences of ministers of education or ministers of sciences along with ministries of economic development. The first Asian Ministers of Education Conference was held in Karachi in 1959 and the first conference for Africa in Addis Ababa in 1960.
Sylvain Lourie, Assistant Director General of UNESCO, writing in 1991, has commented that
“ Radical changes which had affected educational demand and supply are forcing a reconsideration of the very foundations of educational planning such as they prevailed in their heyday some 30 years ago, when Dr. Adiseshiah played a historical role, guiding UNESCO in setting regional targets for public spending on education throughout the world and in establishing UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.7 ”
Adiseshiah was responsible for the development of the Karachi Plan for Universal Primary Education for Asia, the Addis Ababa and Santiago plans for the African and Latin American educational development and the corresponding science plans for Asia, Africa and Latin America. He worked in tandem with David Owen, Executive Chairman of the Technical Assistance Board to convince donor countries, since the financing of the expanded programme rested on voluntary contributions made by them at pledging conferences. He soon recognised the need for looking to additional sources and established relations with the International Development Association (IDA), Inter-American Development Bank and other regional development banks. UNESCO approached the World Bank, also known as International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) for medium trade credit for funding a project in Tunisia in 1962. The IBRD till then was concentrating on investments in physical capital. It needed the persuasive skills of Adiseshiah to shift IBRD’s focus exclusively from expansion of physical capital towards the development of human capital as well, especially extension of education. He was chiefly instrumental in negotiating the memorandum of understanding between International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and UNESCO in 1964. He introduced flexibility in utilizing multilateral aid. For instance, he used a substantial part of USSR contribution for technical assistance for establishing IIT, Mumbai. The expanded technical assistance programme was merged with the United Nations Special Fund to form the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which was launched in 1966. He was able to formulate in each country a programme of technical and financial assistance, which he started with a global outlay of $ 3 million per annum in 1950. When he retired from the organization, the outlay had increased to $ 300 million!
In his own words,
“ UNESCO has had a double responsibility. First it has had to coordinate the entire educational programmes of the United Nations family and give each part of the programme the expertise and help it needed. Secondly, for the UN system, it has had to act as the focal point and leader in all matters of education and science… there has been a continuing process by UNESCO of clarifying, refining and consolidating its own educational and scientific mandate. … education and science also have wider connotations in their application to peace and understanding...”8 ”
A resourceful, imaginative, creative and quick-witted person was required to master the multifarious activities and to co-ordinate them. Adiseshiah filled the bill in all respects.
Adiseshiah kindled efficiency by arousing team spirit. He had mastered the art of training a team to fulfil the aspirations of the mission. He made two rounds of round the world trips each year which took him to as many as twenty five countries in succession, and yet he did not get tired out. He organized more than 120 projects in the various countries of the world for their economic and social development through education, science and culture. His amazing resilience surprised even his closest colleagues.
He had visited all the hundred and twenty seven member states of the UN several times and had used all forms of transport. He visited each one of the Third World countries that was becoming member of the UNESCO, studied its economic situation first hand, assessed its need for literacy and education and made recommendations as to how those needs could be met in his ‘Mission Reports.’ He never wrote a Mission Report about any country before familiarizing himself with the features of each situation. Each of his ‘Mission Reports’ were reported to be pioneering contributions about the specific regions on which the reports focused to the emerging discipline of development economics.
The then Director-General, Rene Maheu, was reluctant to let him retire in 1970, when he was 60. But Adiseshiah insisted on leaving. So Rene Maheu obtained the sanction of the Executive Board of UNESCO to replace Adiseshiah with two Deputy Director-Generals!
There are in the UNESCO archives 118 Adiseshiah files covering, even by a rough estimate, 48000 pages.
As UNESCO official, he had rendered lots of assistance to Indian projects. The publication of UNESCO Art Album on Ajantha was mainly due to his yeomen efforts and was due to his vision that the heritage sites of humankind must be preserved for all posterity.
UNESCO assisted in the setting up of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi: the establishment of first TV broadcasts in India; the reorganization of Films Division of India; the provision of twenty renowned Professors of engineering and science; the supply of $ 12 million worth of equipment to IITs of Bombay and Kharagpur; the expansion of aeronautical engineering in Madras Institute of Technology; and the provision of experts and equipment to Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering and Technology in Madras (now Chennai), Tamil Nadu.
This is a modest catalogue of what he did to India. He was instrumental in rendering such assistance to all member nations of UNESCO with special emphasis to Asian, African and South American nations.
Even after his retirement from UNESCO, till 1991, he had visited countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia at their invitation three times a year to advise them on their development plans.
In January 1981, Adiseshiah was elected Chairman of the Governing Board of the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) for a five year period. He was re-elected for a second term for five years from 1986. He was the Chairman of the jury for the selection of the international literacy prize winners in 1987, 1991 and 1992. He delivered the Presidential Address at the World Literacy Day function in Paris in 1989.
With a lively interest in environmental science, he was a member of the UN International Committee of Consultants on Environment. He was the co-coordinator of the UNESCO Working Group on the New International Economic Order. He reviewed India’s experience with the UN during the first forty years of its existence in a frank assessment of the role of the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the powerful interests working behind the scenes in shaping their policies in a book which he edited.9
He had planned his life after retirement well in advance. Just before his return to Madras (as Chennai was then named), in Sep. 1970, he and his wife Elizabeth registered in Paris a trust fund for starting Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS hereafter). MIDS was conceived to undertake studies and research on developmental issues on the economy, polity and society with special reference to Tamil Nadu state. MIDS started functioning from Jan. 1971 in one of their properties in Gandhinagar, Adyar, a Chennai suburb, with Adiseshiah as its first Director. From its inception, Adiseshiah totally identified himself with the Institute and immersed himself completely with its activities. He started publication of ‘Bulletin – Madras Development Seminar Series’ from Feb. 1971 and wrote every month its editorials without a break for nearly a quarter century covering international, national and Tamil Nadu issues till it ceased publication after his demise in Dec. 1995. ‘This surely’ wrote, Prof.S. Subramanian, in the prolegomena of the special issue of the Bulletin bought out after his demise, ‘is the stuff of which archives are made’10
Soon the Institute became a beehive of academic activities. Annual inter-disciplinary research methodology workshops were conducted for the Ph.D. scholars and guides; by an arrangement with Indian Council of Social Science Research, (ICSSR) annual meeting of the scientists of southern universities was conducted; and annual compilation of the census of social science research in the four southern states was undertaken. A monthly seminar series conducted in the Institute created a link between scholars and the general public. He was keen on bringing out quality research publications. Under his stewardship, the Institute’s research activities, documentation and publications established its creditable reputation in the country and abroad. He took a keen interest in the growth of MIDS library. The Adiseshiahs’ contributed liberally to it, and had the satisfaction of hearing scholars declare that it was one of the best source of reference on social sciences in Tamil Nadu State.
It was at the Sixtieth Anniversary Commemoration lecture of the economics department of the Madras University, delivered by K.N. Raj on Nov. 16, 1976 with Adiseshiah as Vice Chancellor presiding, that Raj recalled Prof. Gilbert Slater, the first Professor, initiating village studies in the department in 1916 itself. Adiseshiah kept it in his memory. Soon this led to the resurvey of ‘Slater villages’ in MIDS and in other places. Because of the resurveys at different points of time, now we have a continuous record of changes in villages in South India over a period nearly ninety years!
J.P. Naik, then Secretary of Indian Council of Social Science Research, proposed in 1975 that MIDS should be reorganized as a national research centre within the framework of ICSSR. After negotiations, Adiseshiah accepted the proposal and in Mar. 1977, MIDS was reconstituted as a national institute under the joint sponsorship of ICSSR and the government of Tamil Nadu. The Adiseshiahs’ gifted the new national institute land, a building, a library, furniture, equipment and also a generous endowment. Adiseshiah relinquished Directorship of the institute in 1978 and handed it over to Prof. C.T. Kurien.
In that year, he was appointed Chairman of its Governing Council and continued in that position till his death. He devoted considerable time and effort to discharge his duties as Honorary Fellow and Chairman of MIDS. He made outstanding contribution in material, organizational and intellectual terms to its expansion and progress. He was immensely fulfilled by his association with MIDS as evidenced by his ‘biographical notes’ which began by avowing that he was Honorary Fellow and Chairman of MIDS. When he was in station in Chennai, he would never fail to visit his office in MIDS unless some other official duty (of which he had several) demanded his presence elsewhere. His presence in the monthly seminars was equally certain.
As Chairman, he evinced keen interest in all activities of the Institute. The way he conducted the meetings of the Governing Council, the meticulous care with which he handled the agenda items, the intense attention he paid to every detail, the insistence that the minutes of the meetings should be made available to the members within three days and the concern he had to attract highly qualified faculty to the Institute from all regions of India were all reflections of his exceptional caliber as an institution builder. At the same time, he never interfered in the day to day activities of the institute which were within the administrative province of the Director. The faculty and staff had easy access to him. But they had to finish their business with him as quickly as possible since he would signal his craving to return to his unfinished work the very next moment after their business was heard or resolved!
As Dr. Barbara Harris-White of IDC, Oxford University writes,
“ It is more accurate to say that he enabled MIDS to be built. He created a place where motivated scholars could work at their projects with a minimum of direction or regulation. This kind of scholarly environment is now extremely rare anywhere in the world.11 ”
In early 1990s he apprehended that the Central and State governments might not fulfil their financial commitments to the Institute to the fullest extent necessary. It made him sad. With his wide contacts, he, who had succeeded in finding resources for UNESCO’s huge technical assistance programme, could have easily raised additional resources for the Institute had he solicited for it. But he was reluctant to ask. He who insisted that all departments of Madras University should combine both teaching and research programmes failed to introduce a teaching programme in his own institute. Nor was he successful in construction of accommodation for the doctoral scholars of his institute.
Tamil Nadu and Indian planning commissions
Adiseshshiah was among the group of economists who developed a Ten Year Plan for the industrial investment in India before Independence. His attraction to planning continued throughout his UNESCO days since he had a hand in devising many plans for UN technical assistance. After his return from UNESCO to Chennai, Adiseshiah was appointed member of the Tamil Nadu Planning Commission from 1972 to 76. He was instrumental in the preparation of many perspective plans including the one on education. He was also a member of the Steering Committee to the Union Planning Commission in this period. From then on, he was associated with the planning process in various capacities both in Tamil Nadu and Centre. This stimulated him to present every year, the then much anticipated, renowned series of ‘mid-year reviews of economy’ in the seminar at India International Centre in New Delhi from 1976 to 1993. They provided grist to the mills of academics, bureaucrats and news commentators about the prevailing state of the health of the economy and the prescription for remedies. Truly, they were gigantic single man initiatives. The India International Centre still carries on the practice of the seminar on the Mid-Year Review of the Indian Economy, the proceedings of which are published.
Similarly, he provided a probing critique of the publication ‘Tamilnadu – An Economic Appraisal’ every year at MIDS making it imperative for the state to collect and present accurate and timely data about the economy of the state He used those occasions to highlight the achievements as well as the deficiencies in the planning process both in the Centre and in the Tamil Nadu State. He, as its convener, was responsible for making the ‘Economic Affairs Group’ of the India International Centre an animated, rousing body which conducted panel discussions and seminars regularly on pressing economic issues which contributed enormously to refine the planning process.
Vice-chancellor of Madras University
On August 1, 1975 Adiseshiah assumed the duties of Vice Chancellor of the Madras University for one term. He was a man in a hurry to rejuvenate the then fast degenerating institution. He announced immediately after assuming office what he wanted to accomplish during his term. He did not forget to review what he had accomplished in the three years when he relinquished office in 1978.
He prepared a fifteen year perspective plan for the University. He decentralised its functions. He divested the university’s responsibility of preparing the syllabi for matriculation course and conduct of the matriculation examinations. He was categorical that university should confine itself to higher education and that school education should not be part of its responsibilities. He centralised admission to PG courses in the university with instruction that the selections should be processed with merit as the chief criterion subject to the provisions for reservations for the under-privileged. He fashioned schools of science, arts and languages. The conveners of these schools were requested to give him weekly feed back of academic progress and the needs of the departments. He started new departments such as econometrics, education, adult education, area studies, molecular biology, polymer sciences and defense studies. The Institute of Basic Medical Sciences got its own building and the necessary laboratory facilities in his period.
Before he took over, most University departments were manned by a Professor and a Reader, and were exclusively concentrating on research. Till then most departments avoided undertaking teaching responsibility. He insisted that all university departments should combine both teaching and research programmes. His new policy meant more courses, more staff and more students in the University. The state government was reluctant to extend financial support. But he persuaded the UGC to grant additional funds to meet the immediate requirements. He initiated the system of rotation of the headship of departments once in every three years. He was keenly aware of the need for inter-disciplinary research. He set up an inter-departmental council consisting of all the heads of departments and senior professors. A committee of conveners of schools of cognate disciplines also was constituted. These bodies met regularly under the chairmanship of the VC. The minutes were circulated within 24 hours urging follow up action.
He gave autonomy to the two post-graduate centres of the university at Tiruchirappalli and Coimbatore and appointed directors to head them so that they need not have to depend on Chennai for every decision. This paved the way for their smooth transition into new universities at a later date. On the basis of the recommendation of the Kothari Commission, he gave autonomy to a few select colleges which had achieved reputation for their excellence.
He encouraged thorough updating of the courses. He regularly sent notes to Boards of Studies drawing attention to current relevancies and applied possibilities of the subjects concerned. He introduced the semester system in all the institutions falling within the jurisdiction of the University. Alongside, he introduced examination reform. He designed a system in which 40 percent of the marks allotted to a student in a subject were based on continuous assessment by the teacher concerned (through assignments, seminars, internal tests and the like) and 60 percent on external examinations. He constituted a monitoring cell to oversee the working of the system. A new format was adopted for the question papers. Three categories of questions – short ‘objective’, medium ‘concept’ and long ‘essay’ types were judiciously mixed to test the comprehension of the students at different levels. He arranged reorientation courses to the college teachers for adaptation of the new system. He introduced a rural reconstruction and community service scheme and made it part of the curriculum. It allowed its smooth substitution as the National Service Scheme.
He launched the central valuation system to expedite publication of university examination results. He computerized the processes for conduct of the examinations and the publication of results. He permitted the revaluation of answer scripts on payment of prescribed fees to bring transparency in the procedure of examinations.
He initiated the steps for the construction of houses for the non-teaching staff of the University at the housing colony in Palavakkam, Chennai.
He was accused with toeing the line of Ms. Indira Gandhi during ‘the Emergency’ by inconsiderately suspending a few University faculties on instructions from the central government. However, Prof. C.T. Kurien has recalled an instance which shows quite the reverse. Kurien had then been invited by Adiseshiah to be the Director of MIDS which was being actively considered to be a constituent of ICSSR national institutes. Kurien informed Adiseshiah that he had a confrontation with the police in the second half of 1976 because he had taken a stand against the ‘emergency regime’. So he told Adiseshiah that he was free to withdraw his offer of directorship. Adiseshiah was reported to have replied:
“One of trustees of MIDS (M.S. Appa Rao) has been arrested and the director-to-be has been warned. If they want to withhold (national) recognition to the Institute, let them. But there will be no change in my decisions. And you do what you think is right.”12
He asserted the autonomy of the university by implementing the scales of pay recommended by University Grants Commission to the University faculty even though the Tamil Nadu government had not taken a decision about it till then!
Another widely prevalent view among Tamil teachers of those days was that Adiseshiah was trying to lessen the importance of Tamil by allowing the Board of Studies in Commerce to take away the hours allotted to Tamil teaching in B.Com course and transfer them to the teaching of commerce subjects. Adiseshiah’s inputs to the cause of Tamil language are given separately in a subsequent section. In reality Adiseshiah would not interfere in the decisions of the Boards of Studies.
His early teaching career, his Vice Chancellorship of the Madras University and his various activities in his entire life had their focal point in education. A major part of his UNESCO service was spent in formulating educational programmes for the developing world.
The General Conference of UNESCO in its fifteenth session authorized the publication of a work designed to clarify the basic concepts concerning the contribution of education, science and culture to development. In the course of the discussions about the resolution, reference was made to the many speeches of Adiseshiah on related themes delivered in Oxford, United Kingdom in 1961; Cambridge, UK and Tananarive, Madagascar in 1962; Madras, India in 1963; Toronto, Canada in 1964; Washington, DC, USA in 1968 and many others. He was requested to write a book based on the facts and ideas presented in those speeches About that book, U Thant, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his ‘Foreword’ writes:
“ In his humanistic approach to the role of education, science and culture in the development process, Dr. Malcolm Adiseshiah has reviewed the past in order to seek improvement in the future. The philosophy of development set forth in this volume is a bright beacon which should help guide UNESCO successfully into the Second Development Decade.13 ”
That was the respect which he commanded in UN as an educationalist of eminence.
He undertook a survey of the school education in Tamil Nadu in the late 1970s and published an influential report. His contributions to the growth dynamics of education are numerous. These include the devising of the curricula for primary and secondary education, vocationalisation, preparation of teaching material, introduction of science and technology at appropriate levels, preparation of syllabi for collegiate education, examination reform, giving a new thrust to the quality, content, direction and methodology of social science research, compilation and analysis of educational data and financing of education.
He was instrumental in the setting up of the Asian Social Science Research Council, New Delhi and was its first President. He was a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education, the Indian National Commission for Co-operation with UNESCO, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the National Council of Teacher Education. The ICSSR requested him to undertake a review of its work and to suggest the lines along which it should develop. His meticulously compiled two volume report, one on retrospect and the other on prospect, which had been an influential guide in the development of social science of research in India at that period.
He was the Chairman of the panel which reviewed the functioning of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Andhra University entrusted to him the review of the working of the social science departments at Waltair. He chaired the committee set up to recommend the establishment of Mother Teresa Women's University in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu.
Non-formal education to cover the vast multitudes that were denied a chance to join formal educational institutions was attempted in various forms in India. The Farmers Functional Literacy Project of 1967 was among the earliest attempts in India. Adiseshiah founded the Tamil Nadu Board of Continuing Education in 1976 and took all steps to sustain and advance its activities. He was its President for four terms. He chaired the Non-Formal Education Curriculum Preparation Committee in 1976. When the National Adult Education Programme (NAEP) was launched on October 2, 1978, Adiseshiah, then Vice-Chancellor of Madras University was appointed President of the Indian Adult Education Association. Soon he became a member of the Rajya Sabha and used the opportunity to expand the adult education programme to cover all parts of the country.
He was president of the Viswayuvak Kendra. He was a member of the UGC Standing Committee on Adult Education. When the country launched the National Literacy Mission on November 5, 1988, Adiseshiah was the natural choice for its leadership. The Mission searched for an alternative agency and a strategy to create a country wide churning for literacy and created the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi (BGVS) in August 1989 and invited Adiseshiah to be its President. BGVS facilitated the shift of the adult education from a government controlled, government sponsored programme to acquire a status of a mass movement. Adiseshiah had the satisfaction of witnessing the declaration of Ernakulam district in Kerala as having achieved the status of total literacy on February 4, 1990. The new premises of the State Resources Centre of the Tamil Nadu Board of Continuing Education was named after him and was declared open on his 83rd birthday on April 18, 1992.
Offer of Governorship
Late V. R. Nedunchezhiyan, who was for long a cabinet minister in the DMK and AIADMK ministries in Tamil Nadu, recalled in the memorial meeting held in the Centenary Hall of the Madras University in December 1995 that Adiseshiah refused to accept the offer of a Governorship of a state in 1977. He said that a central cabinet minister asked Adiseshiah’s consent for appointment as Governor of Goa. Adiseshiah immediately refused the offer stating that he was not willing to accept any task which would cause his long separation from his beloved MIDS. The central Cabinet minister, after consulting with the then Prime Minister of India, offered Adiseshiah the Governorship of Tamil Nadu, knowing full well that it was against the prevailing convention that no person born in any state would be appointed Governor of that state.
Adiseshiah was in a tight corner. He requested for a day’s time to make up his mind. Next day, during the morning constitutional along the Marina beach, he asked Nedunchezhian, who was his walk companion for many years, for his opinion about the offer. Nedunchezhian replied that Adiseshiah was always a man of action and that the Governor of a state was more a ceremonial post which would only put fetters around his multi-pronged activities. Later in the day, Adiseshiah conveyed to the central cabinet minister that he was not accepting the offer of the Governorship of Tamil Nadu. Nedunchezhian also recalled that it was the only occasion when Adiseshiah consulted him about a ‘political’ decision in his more than two decades of friendship! Surprisingly, Adiseshiah had sought the opinion of his personal staff, including his car drivers, whether he should accept the governorship or not!!14
Adiseshiah was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in April 1978 for a six year term as one of the twelve persons under the category of those having special knowledge and practical experience in literature, science, art and social service. There were rapid changes in the composition of the central government during his term. He eschewed party politics. His erudition and experience was appreciated and his speeches, mainly on economics and education, were listened to with respect. They were interspersed with homely proverbs and quotations. He urged quick redistribution of land. He recommended imposition of income tax on rich peasants. He pleaded for a level playing field and opposed special concessions to non-resident Indians, when they invested in India. He longed for larger two-way traffic between the Central and State Planning Commissions. He advocated a national energy policy. He opposed the nationalization of sick mills in the private sector. In education, he was opposed to haphazard expansion and steadfastly stood for consolidation. He provided a strong voice for teachers. As a humanist, he was deeply concerned with reduction of poverty, especially in the rural areas. He showed his courage to dissent when the occasion demanded. He provided a distinguished example of, a role model for, what a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha should be.
Adiseshiah wrote elegant prose, lucid and precise. He was a prolific writer. He edited MIDS Bulletin for twenty four years. Predictably a very major portion of his writings was on education in all its dimensions – literacy, school and higher education, adult education, women's education, non-formal education, continuing education, technical education, science education, university education, research methods, and the like. Social sciences commanded a great deal of his attention. But he had a much wider perspective. He had written extensively on the environment and edited a book on that theme. He was very concerned about nuclear energy. Globalisation and new international economic order drew a lot of his notice. Rural poverty and inequality was another of his core topics. Next to education, these occupied his prime attention. Price policy, foreign trade, economic planning, statistics, panchayat raj and waste land development are among the many areas on which he had written. His writings were marked by analytical rigour.
He employed all printed media such as books, reports, journals, magazines and newspapers to carry his message. The final issue of MIDS Bulletin (Vol.XXV No.1, Nov. 1995) contains an incomplete list of his written material, classified into editorials, books, edited books, presidential addresses, convocation addresses, keynote addresses, inaugural addresses, valedictory addresses, journals/magazines, newspaper articles, papers for souvenirs/commemoration volumes /essays /surveys /books and miscellaneous papers /lectures. They cover a full 23 pages! They do not include his many volumes in the UNESCO archives, the numerous reports of committees and commissions in which he was a member, his writings in the period 1930-48 and most of his writings as Vice Chancellor of Madras University.
In the cause of Tamil and Tamil Nadu
Adiseshiah loved Tamil, but was no chauvinist. He was instrumental in obtaining UNESCO assistance to the programmes of translation of Tamil classics. The Ayodhya canto of the Ramayana as told by Kamban translated from the Tamil by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was published in 1961 under UNESCO-sponsored programmes and publications. The Interior landscape: love poems from a classical Tamil anthology translated by A.K.Ramanujan was published in 1967 under the same programme.
He encouraged publication of research articles in Tamil. MIDS brought out, and still brings out, Tamil translations and Tamil books.
He lent a helping hand for the launching of the World University Centre in Spur Tank Road in Chennai.
He desired the heritage sites to be well preserved. So he arranged for UNESCO funding for renovation of Sri Rangam Ranganatha, Madurai Meenakshi, Thanjavur Brahadeeswara and seven other temples. He initiated a pioneering research work by a French scholar tracing the history and traditions of Sri Rangam temple in Tamil Nadu.
He lent a helping hand in obtaining assistance from UNESCO and French government for organizing the Third World Tamil Conference in Paris in 1969. As Acting Director-General of UNESCO, he inaugurated it, delivering his address in three languages, Tamil, English and French.
The speed with which he acted could be gauzed from the fact that the General Conference of UNESCO at its session in November 1968 accepted the recommendation of the Second International Conference on Tamil Studies held at Madras on 3-10, January 1968 and authorized the Director General of UNESCO to assist in the creation of an International Institute of Tamil Studies at Madras. In 1970, his last year in UNESCO, he had the satisfaction of witnessing the setting up of the Institute at Madras, Tamil Nadu.
Though it was personally inconvenient for him because he had lost touch with the language during his long sojourn in Europe, he still would write articles in Tamil whenever requested to do so. At a function to commemorate his 83rd birthday on April 18, 1992 when the new office premises of the Tamil Nadu Board of Continuing Education was named after him, he gave a stirring speech in chaste Tamil which was well appreciated.
He strove hard to reply in Tamil all letters addressed to him in Tamil.
Adiseshiah was President of Indian Economic Association in 1973-74 and presided over the Waltair session of its Annual Conference of in 1974. Subsequently, as a past President he evinced keen interest in putting the association’s finances in sound order. He took steps to advance its publishing record.
He was also a member of the Royal Economic Society.
He was a member of the Governing Body of Centre for Development Studies (CDS) since 1980 and was its Chairman for six years 1986-92. It was under his chairmanship that the Centre entered into an agreement with the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the Government of India for conducting an international training programme in population and development.
Adisehsiah succeeded Prof. Lakdawala as Chairman of Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) and last presided over the Governing Body meeting on November 11, 1994. It was in the inaugural address to the seminar on Panchayati Raj in Karnataka in October 1985 at ISS that Adiseshiah made the following often quoted comment:
“ Tamil Nadu, for instance, has had no panchayat elections for the last 15 years since 1971. In these fifteen years, the Tamil Nadu Government has put forward 20 reasons for the postponement of local elections. It announced election 20 times and postponed it as many times. The reasons given were: drought, flood, cyclone, villagers being busy with agricultural operations, revision of electoral rolls, delay in printing electoral rolls, lowering the age limit, reservations, court stay on reservations, appeals against those reservations in the Supreme Court, school examinations, student unrest, by-elections, mid-term elections, general elections, delimitation of wards, issue of identity cards to voters and Census operations. In addition to these 18 reasons, we have now had four postponements.15 ”
Adiseshiah was ceaselessly working for the incorporation of elections to Panchayat institutions in the Constitution. He took the initiative to activate studies on the working of panchayat institutions both in MIDS and CDS.
He was Chairman of the Council for Social Development, Delhi; Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, (Now Mumbai); Tata- McGraw Hill Publishing Company, Bombay (Now Mumbai).
When he was in UNESCO, he played a prime role in 1961 in getting affiliation to the India International Centre (IIC) to that body and to grant recognition to it as one of the three major centres in the world for the appreciation of Eastern and Western structures. In 1976 he became a member of IIC. Soon after he became a member of its Council for Cultural Studies and was elevated to its Executive Committee. In 1978 he was elected a Life Trustee of IIC and Chairman of the Standing Finance Committee. In 1980 he chaired the committee which reviewed its functioning of it from its inception and made recommendations for its future. IIC was his hub when he was in Delhi. Till the end, he played a very major role in all its activities. He edited the proceedings of the seminars there on current economic problems for publication.
He was President of the Tamil Nadu Council for Science and Technology from 1984 till his death.
He was Chairman of the Board of Directors of ‘Reader's Digest’ from 1978 to 1993.
He succeeded G. Ramanujam, the labour leader, as the President of the National Centre for Industrial Harmony, Chennai.
Elizabeth Adiseshiah died in 1986 leaving all her property to her husband. In Dr. Adiseshiah’s will, he had bequeathed his valuable residential property to MIDS, and his remaining wealth for setting up of Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust (MEAT) for conducting programmes in the broad area of economics – teaching and research, both fundamental and applied.
In 1993 and 1994, UNESCO PROSPECTS: Quarterly review of comparative education published a series of profiles of 100 famous educators from around of the world. In the company of illustrious intellectuals like Aristotle, Confucius, Freud, Gramsci, Locke, Plato, and Rousseu, the list includes seven Indians. They are: Malcolm Adiseshiah; Sri Aurobindo; Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi; Jiddu Krishnamurti; J.P. Naik; Rabindranath Tagore and Vivekananda. These articles have subsequently been collected and published under the title “Thinkers on Education” in three volumes, edited by Tedesco, Juan Carlos and Morsy, Zaghloul, [Paris, UNESCO; New Delhi, Oxford & IBH Publishing, 1997].
In his honour
Adiseshiah is remembered by a few significant awards, prizes scholarships and endowed chairs. The annual Malcolm Adiseshiah International Literacy Prize, (value US $15,000) is awarded by UNESCO from 1998. The prize rewards organizations or individuals displaying outstanding merit and achieving particularly effective results in contributing to the fight for literacy in among the member countries of UNESCO.
A ‘Founder’s Day Lecture’ by a distinguished social scientist is arranged annually in MIDS, Chennai. To commemorate Professor Adiseshiah's cosmopolitanism, a Visiting Professorial Chair has been instituted there whereby a scholar of distinction is invited to that position. The Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Ph.D. Merit Scholarship is created there to provide training and facilities for talented researchers to pursue high-quality academic research dedicated to development issues in Tamil Nadu. An award for the best teacher in economics in Tamil Nadu and prizes to winners of an essay-writing competition held for PG students of Chennai colleges are given annually at MIDS.
The Malcolm Adiseshiah Award carries a cash grant of 200,000 Rupees and a citation and is given every year to a mid career scholar who has made outstanding contributions to the field of Development Studies. It is instituted by MEAT and presented in a special ceremony at Chennai.
The "Emerald Jubilee Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Award" consisting of a gold medallion, a certificate and a shield, is given by the State Resource Centre, Chennai, every year to a district Collector who had made significant contribution for the rehabilitation of child labour and for imparting vocational education to improve their lot. Adiseshiah was the first president of the centre (an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Human Resource) at its inception in 1973, and held the post for a decade. Dr. Malcolm Adiseshiah Award by the Tamil Nadu Board of Continuing Education and State Resource Centre for Non-Formal Education is given to a person in recognition of his contribution to Adult Education at a function in commemoration of the World Science Day. Dr. Malcolm Adiseshiah Award of Honour is also given by them for outstanding community service.
Voorhees College, Vellore has instituted annual awards of Dr.Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Prize for Proficiency in History to the best III year student of the B.A.(History) Class; Dr. Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Prize for Proficiency in Chemistry to the best III Year Student of the B.Sc., (Chemistry) Class and The Adiseshiah Memorial Gold Medal for Proficiency in English to the best student of the III Year B.A./B.Sc., class. It is not clear whether the last mentioned prize is awarded in his honour or in honour of his illustrious father who was principal of that college.
Adiseshiah was truly a many splendid personality who toiled tirelessly till his last breath to build a modern India within a new international order.
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