Minister-writer Shashi Tharoor moots “innovation education” ecology for young India
By Madhusree Chatterjee
The face of education in India is redefining itself to suit the emerging demographic profile of a young India and the manic need for innovations to keep pace with the multinational industrial and economic scenario which makes the market for job and research & development competitive.
The Indian government has laid out a blueprint for the future that aims to “create innovation-specific knowledge hubs with more emphasis on vocational skill” to meet the employment demands in a country of 1.2 billion people and keep the market for growth buoyant.
According to minister of state of human resource development Shashi Tharoor, one of the reasons why education is so important to the country is the fact that 65 per cent if India’s population is still under 35”. Nearly 560 million people are still under 25.
Even in terms of the number of people of working age, India will overtake China by 2020. He predicts that India will have a workforce otf 160 million while the workforce in China will go down to 120 million. Only a knowledge society can address the employment and intellectual needs of the exploding tribe of young Indians.
Speaking at a session, “Great Expectations”- a brainstorming round on the changing trends in society, technology and demographic profile in India organized by the Young FICCI Ladies Organisation (YFLO), the writer-politician and the former United Nations under secretary said the solution to creating a new knowledge ecology lay in greater interface between academia and industry. “We need to have more research in teaching universities because currently our universities focus more on education than on research.”
A Bill for Innovation Universities for Innovation and Research is still pending in Parliament, the minister said. Divulging the core of the education draft to be taken up by the government, Tharoor said the bill envisaged creation of 14 universities under private, public and private-public models devoted solely to research. “The universities will be autonomous in their style of functioning and can decide on the nature of research,” Shashi Tharoor said.
It is perhaps the single most important challenge facing the government – given the fickle fortunes of the electoral politics in the country. The minister expressed a tinge of apprehension about the fate of 11 education bills pending in the House.
The necessity of innovation and skill oriented knowledge centres is spurred by the declining level of excellence and poor alacrity among young graduates to respond to the prevailing employment scenario and its requirements. Nearly 64 per cent of the employers in India are not satisfied with the “quality of graduates who come to them for jobs”, the minister rued. Once they “get beyond the elite institutions of education,” they find that the quality of education does not match expectations. “It is one of the reasons why Infosys has created a big education campus,” he said.
“We need to improve our excellence and employability with more interface between world of employment (your world) and the academic world,” Tharoor said, stressing the importance of technology like video-conferencing and broad-banding of education to help teachers in big cities like Delhi and Chennai to reach the odd student in Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh.
The minister pointed that “India has outstanding institutions of education like the IITs, IIMs and his alma mater St Stephens, but these were the islands of excellence”. Beyond it was a sea of mediocrity.
A casual but discerning survey of the education scenario suggests a curious imbalance in the growth of institutions of excellence in India. Most of the “islands of academic excellence have flourished in cosmopolitan centres- tier 1 and two cities – with representation from the elite communities both in the faculty and on the campus”.
Experts and education analysts say while bulk of these institutions have been supported by the central government, the vast legions of regional institutes of education managed by the states have languished because of “poor monitoring by the centre, poor management of fiscal aids, corruption in the process of recruitment, tardy screening of quality and a certain amount of inertia to excel”. A handful of private institutes of higher education that has been clubbed into the “elite circle” has remained beyond the purview of common students of merit because of their pricey tags.
The minister regrets that centre has not been able to crack the whip on schools under the pale of state governments to comply with excellence norms under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 which imposes obligation on the state that schools comply with norms.
Citing discords, the minister said India still has one of the highest dropout rates in India with 39 per cent drop out at the high school level and 18 per cent at the college level (a relief against the global average of 29 per cent).
The number of educated, however, has increased exponentially. The number in higher education in 1947 stood at 400,000 – it stands at 20 million today. The 30 universities at Independence have made way for 670 universities and the 700 colleges now touches a tally 35,000. It is massive expansion, the minister said. Education is the single most important issue in the country, “if we get it right, it will transform the country,” Tharoor observed.
A packed house of young and veteran women at the YFLO conclave gave the minister’s assertions “thumbs up” with a demand that “more needs to be done to educate women”.
Garima Jain, the current chairperson of YFLO pointed out that “youth brigade of India was the building block to a better and developed nation” . The organization, an offshoot of the trade forum FIICI intends to “get inspired by eminent leaders through out the year”.