July 06, 2004
Star of Mysore

My friend and I were comfortably seated in the Park Hotel, after an hour's brisk walk, sipping hot coffee.

Suddenly there appeared on the scene another old friend of mine, who had recently undertaken a tour of the Western countries to study the working conditions there.Yankee spirit

When he was coming towards us, I shouted, 'Hello! My good friend! come on here. Long time no see!,' in the Yankee style. 'The way things are going on in Iraq, it is time we all adopted the Yankee spirit, to save our skins. The Yankees are going to be the virtual rulers of the world,' I said.

'Aha!' exclaimed my friend, with a grin. 'Virtual rulers! So you have not forgotten what I told you sometime ago, after my study tour of the Western world. I am glad to find you converted to the virtual way of life.'

Now it was my turn to grin. 'Yes! Yes! I remember. I think it was about two months back; in the first week of May, I suppose (SOM, May 11). I remember your telling me how it is becoming common in the United States for office workers to stay at home and earn their salaries or remuneration without as much as taking the trouble of driving all the way to their respective offices.'

At this stage, the other friend of mine, who was seated with me across the table, intervened and said, "Do you mean to say that, like us in India, they are clever enough to put their signatures in the attendance register and stealthily slip out of office and enjoy domestic peace at government's cost?"

Virtual work

To which my other friend responded, saying, 'No! No! office or home makes no difference there. They have to work, anyway, wherever they are. The electronic gadgets, their on-line system, fax and others have enabled them to work wherever they are and everything is automatically recorded at the office. This saves a lot of cost for the firm or office. It is a great revolution.' 'Oh! virtual work you mean! I understand it,' said my friend No. 1.

'I am glad you know it,' said my friend No. 2. 'Had you been to the United States recently? Or, are you an NRI?'

'No,' said No. 1. 'My daughter is there, married to an NRI. She has become an NRI herself, and a us citizen.'

'Oh I see! Do her citizenship rights include her right to get elected to the highest post of the President of USA? Let her make sure about it.'

'No fear! She has no such ambition. Neither does her husband have it. They want to make money and come back to India. But what I wanted to say is, my daughter virtually works at home, for her office. When she was with child recently and wanted maternity leave, the office permitted her to stay at home, work at her leisure and earn money. It is all a miracle.'

Virtual work culture

My friend No. 2 listened to what No. 1 said and added, 'Now the virtuosity of virtual work — or virtual work culture, if I may say so — is extended to the educational field also.'

Now it was my turn to speak. I said, 'virtual education, virtual class rooms and hot spots — I remember to have read about it is some newspaper.'

No. 1 suddenly blurted out with great enthusiasm, 'The marvels of Science and Technology are opening out new vistas in all spheres of human activity. I read in the papers sometime ago that a day would come when our teacher need not speak at all in the class room. If they simply sit before the students without so much as opening their mouths, the students can read the minds of their teachers from where they are sitting. No shouting, no writing on the blackboard. It is boon!'

'Not a boon, but a curse. Our professors can now masquerade as masters without any difficulty. What they say is not understood by the pupils and they think that the knowledge is above their heads. The professors also do not know what they say. The examinees and examiners do not know what is the correct answer. The whole situation is a fool's paradise. Nobody knows what is in the head of the professor. If the advances in Science and Technology can make it possible to read the minds of their professors, what the students see would be a vacuum! The ignorance of professors is exposed! What a calamity!' said friend No. 2.

'I do not agree with you in full. There are exceptions. There are still many teachers who are earnest and who take their profession seriously,' I said.

Foreign Universities

'Of course, there are great educational institutions in our country, my friend No. 2 conceded. What I said about the virtuosity of virtual work is now spreading to the educational field. If our Institutes and Universities do not update their system as well as content, foreign Universities and Institutions such as Harvard and Yale may come to India without anybody's permission and compete with our institutions and have virtual classrooms and virtual imparting of knowledge without as much as entering the country in flesh and blood or in concrete form. Globalisation of trade in services has made it possible. If Indian doctors can conduct surgical operations, watched by foreign doctors from their places, giving instructions to the Indian doctors, education also can be imparted in the same way.'

My friend No. 2 was in a mood to convert the Park Hotel into a classroom and deliver, not a virtual lecture, but a real lecture! But under the influence of virtual technology, the difference between virtual classroom and real classroom disappears. So, I told him to explain to us briefly how this is done, before our talk attracts the attention of others in the Hotel.

Virtual situation

My friend No. 2 continued, 'Our Manipal Group of Institutions have woken up to the reality of the virtual situation. They have pioneered in this field. They have expanded their activities beyond Karnataka and have their institutions in Nepal and Sikkim. They have planned now to have a good satellite linked tele and video conferencing facilities where teachers and students can see each other. One classroom is real and the other virtual (you know real image and virtual image). Education becomes cheap and quality-oriented.'

Virtual image

'Amen!' I said. It was getting late. I had to hurry to the office. No virtuosity or virtual work for me!