Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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The Emerging World’s Education Imperative

NEW DELHI – Official delegations from the world’s nine most populous developing countries just met in New Delhi to discuss a subject vital for their countries’ futures: education. The meeting of ministers and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, known as the E-9, is the latest in a series of encounters held every two years to fulfill the pledge of “education for all” by 2015.

The E-9 account for 54% of the world’s population, 42.3% of children not in school, 58% of young illiterates (aged 15-24), and 67% of adult illiterates (two-thirds of whom are women). So the challenges are enormous: children, from families too poor to think about education, beyond the reach of schooling and too malnourished to study; and too few schools, classrooms, teaching resources, and adequately trained teachers. Rampant illiteracy underpins other problems, including exploding populations, gender imbalances, and widespread poverty.

India provides a good example of how these problems should be addressed. A decade ago, 30 million Indian children were not in school; today, the figure is three million. A far-reaching Right to Education Act, obliging the state and central governments to provide (as a constitutional right) eight years of free and compulsory education to all children between six and 14, has had a large impact. And free mid-day meals at school are a powerful incentive to children from poor families to attend school and stay there.

This does not mean that all enrolled students will emerge prepared for the information age; but getting children into school is a start. India also needs a relevant curriculum and skilled teachers who can motivate students to learn it – in short, an overdue emphasis on quality, in addition to officals’ understandable focus on access and inclusion.

There are 540 million Indians under the age of 25. The labor force is expected to increase by 32% over the next 20 years, whereas it will decline by 4% in industrialized countries and by nearly 5% in China. India’s favorable demographic profile can add significantly to its economic-growth potential for the next three decades, provided that its young people are educated and trained properly.

Otherwise, the same young people will swell the ranks of the frustrated and unemployed, with unimaginable consequences in terms of social unrest and the risk of organized violence. Maoist groups already target such people for recruitment. If India is to avoid an apocalyptic fate, it must give them a better chance of gainful employment through more and improved educational opportunities.

India has one of the largest higher-education systems in the world, and ranks second in terms of student enrollment. But, while the country now has 621 universities and 33,500 colleges, only a few are world-class institutions, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) whose graduates have flourished in America’s Silicon Valley. But such institutions are still islands in a sea of mediocrity.

India is entering the global employment marketplace with a self-imposed handicap of which we are just beginning to become aware. For far too long, we were complacent, having produced, since the 1960’s, the world’s second largest pool of trained scientists and engineers. They were more than our then-protected economy could absorb, so many tens of thousands of them left to make their fortunes elsewhere, founding companies in Silicon Valley, inventing the Pentium chip, and even winning a couple of Nobel Prizes.

Their success meant that IIT was soon mentioned alongside MIT. But it also masked another reality – that there just are not as many of them as there should be. Senior Indian executives whose businesses require them to recruit competent scientists or engineers complain that demand for such talent vastly exceeds the supply. Once the elite institutions are accounted for, what remains is decidedly uneven in quality.

A World Bank Survey in 2009 highlighted that 64% of employers are “only somewhat satisfied,” or worse, with the new engineering graduates they hire. I have spoken to many CEOs who tell me that many, if not most, of their new employees require remedial training before they can begin work, in order to compensate for the shortcomings of their university education. Indeed, companies like Tata and Infosys are hiring people whom they do not consider to be up to par – and spending 6-9 months, sometimes longer, to educate them properly for their jobs.

The need for education reform has never been clearer, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has recognized it. Still, India’s spends only 1.2% of its GDP on higher education, compared to 3.1% in the US or, closer to home, 2.4% in South Korea. The figure should be higher. So, too, is India’s 3.3% share of global output of academic research far too low for a country with 17% of the world’s brains.

Education is now recognized as a national priority. More resources are being committed, the corporate sector is being encouraged to get involved, and there is a welcome emphasis on innovation. International cooperation, exemplified by the mutual learning implicit in the E-9 exercise, is also being tapped.

The next ten years could witness a dramatic transformation of education in India. But it will not happen without a huge national effort. The rest of the E-9, engaged in similar endeavors, will be watching.

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  1. CommentedVipasha Chakraborty

    A decade ago, 30 million Indian children were not in school; today, the figure is three million.

    I'm not sure about this part. The three million seems to be unrealistically low.

  2. CommentedHari parambil

    Mr vivek. ....U know? ?India has 1.3 Million schools (87%in rural )
    190million kids in school and 6 million elementary school teachers. Please try to understand about d limits n situations

      CommentedV S

      Yes, I know. What does that have to do with my previous comment. What's your point?

  3. Commentedsai leela swaminathan

    Sai Leela
    Education is like a bank on which a country emits cheque every time it needs strong and reliable workers.The peace and prosperity in a country depends on its educative system.Unity in work and in intention is its driving force; if everyone were to work in unison for the good of the country how many marvelous things could we do!The interdependence of each of us upon the other is the characteristic of all societies, collective work leads to individual progress.If, in the present day scenario we were to underline the concept of schooling, I think in mutual cooperation and reciprocal respect with autonomous institutions that have gained success and competence in developing a comprehensive system of secular, and value based education, we can make a foray in the field of sustainable model. It is important to us Indians to ruminate on the lines of which model and how the system will suit our needs which is multi layered.
    Strategy, policy and planning are inextricably related management activities.But I believe if we can get the expectations, goals, evaluation, time frames and resources , appropriate people in place in a collaborative manner, we can achieve much.
    The need to generate quality teaching community should be the top priority in the coming education policy.
    Addressing their needs, make teaching job attractive will lead the youth taking up teaching jobs. We should be taking advantage of the demographic profile of our country. Also its very important to understand and address the root cause of why youth gets frustrated, issues related to drop outs and focus on employable courses for all kinds of learners. My view is to have a strategic planning keeping long term perspective into a value driven approach that is founded on consent and consensus. Good intentions don't move mountains; bulldozers do. The mission and the plan.. are the good intentions and strategies are the bulldozers.
    Mr.Tharoor its high time govt brings in creativity and objectives resulting in performance and getting the best minds in making education most enjoyable, inspiring and uplifting and make education a national focus. And the nature's law is the flow is always from the top.. and so it should begin with you. I believe that you can take it forward.If you get convinced that you can address it, rest will follow.The big boulders -policies should fit in the jar first; the pebbles-resources and incentives and the sand-motivated learners will fill the rest of the jar.

  4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    Education is indeed crucial, but as the article and some of the comments mention some kids do not even have a chance of reaching the schools due to lacking basic necessities.
    So the problem is multi-layered, that needs a complex solution, first of providing people with their basic necessities and then providing basic education.
    In terms of education we enter a new set of problems.
    As the global crisis is showing with increasing clarity, our present lifestyle, socio-economic system is based on the illusion, the "Matrix" of excessive overproduction/over consumption, maintained by a brainwashing marketing industry and society pressure. Over 90% of today's production is unnecessary and most of the time harmful.
    As humanity exists in a natural environment with its own set of absolute rules, this unnatural and unsustainable socio-economic model started declining, self destructing and despite our stubborn attempts to revive it it will fully collapse as it is impossible to maintain something totally unnatural in a natural system we are part of.
    As a result most of the industry, professions, jobs that are serving the unnecessary production will disappear too.
    Unemployment will rise to unprecedented levels as most of today's job become obsolete which means that even if someone managed to get into a good educational institute they will not find any employment opportunities by the time they finish.
    This is not a prophecy, it is already happening all over the world, most notably in Spain but in almost every developed country youth unemployed hovers around and above the 20% mark and it is rising.
    Thus today's education system is obsolete, anyway it has been unchanged since the industrial revolution, being only concerned about producing good workers, and good consumers.
    A totally new education system and program is necessary for the new, more natural world, where we understand the that we have to live based on natural necessity and available resources, and we understand that humanity has evolved into a single, interconnected and fully interdependent network.
    Based on such education the following generations will be able to work out how to adapt to the world around us instead of only caring about how to exploit it, and how mankind using a mutually responsible and considerate social system can rise to a higher level of existence.
    Instead of today's sick, cancerous human organism a healthy, prosperous human organism will rise based on the new education.

  5. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    To witness the state of education in the backward areas in India, one has to visit the schools in the tribal areas of Western Odisha, the state with a per capita gross domestic product less than Somalia. In a school for girls, where the girls stay in the school, there are no toilets. Each class room has no benches as the girls have to sit on the floor to study; the space of 15 feet by 15 feet must accommodate 60 students on the floor. There is no light in the class room, they study as long as natural light permits. Teacher absenteeism is rampant, but what makes the wishful thinking linger, is that the girls are seen sharing text books, very diligently trying to read, from the torn books where the prints are missing due to long use of the same book from term to term.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  6. CommentedHari parambil

    Mr vivek u must study about d educational situation of India. ...Enter text here

      CommentedV S

      And, you must learn to spell and punctuate properly.

  7. Commentedsri ram

    Right to Education Act hardly entered into force in 2012. In fact, the most dragged law in recent times was the RTE. Constitution was amended in 2002 and the law kicks in in 2012. Education in India leaves a lot to be desired. Quality is very low. Remember PISA rankings that our kids were reduced to.

  8. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

    Early education is key. The expensive university model is falling out of favour in the west. IT will change education profoundly. Catching up with a dead model is not clever. Overtaking makes sense and is an option.

      CommentedVivek S

      Tharoor, first of all please explain why your government has refused to participate in the PISA survey from this year onwards? Is it because India ranked last in the previous survey (despite selecting the best states in which to perform the survey)? Given this situation, please don't disrespect people by saying that they should learn from India.

      And, the fact that IITians flourish in Silicon Valley is something for you to be ashamed of, as an Indian policy maker. Why don't the ones who stay back flourish to the same extent? How tremendously, breathtakingly bad is your governance? Your government destroys talent and lives across the board.

      How breathtakingly bad is it that out of 621 universities not one of them ranks even average in the world. Clearly, the students can't be bad as human beings have the same inherent potential in India as in any other place. So, why is your government so stupendously bad?

      Is it the poor education in India that makes you intellectually dishonest by aggregating statistics among E9 to hide that most of the bad numbers come from India?

      "The need for education reform has never been clearer, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has recognized it." It has, has it? I don't seem to read in this article what they have done to reform the sector. Last I checked there's still a despicable license permit system to establish an education institute and most of the credible people are turned away because they threaten the money making educational institutes run by politicians in India. How about some stats on those, Sir?

      As for the Right to Education, all it does is destroy better quality private schools. Unfortunately, scammers like Tharoor won't be around in 10 years to witness the harm caused by RTE, or be accountable for it.

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