Private Notes: Rethinking Education

I am currently working on structuring the Leadership training initiative I spoke about before. The more I look at the possibility, I feel more passionately about it. The more people I speak to, I become aware of the need for a catalytic change that we need in India, and the desperate need for a generation of rainmakers who will bring this about.

For all the myths about mechanical industrial progress, the leadership that England attained in the Nineteenth century, or what United States achieved in the Twentieth, did not come about purely through the tweaks of the government policy. It was not even pure greed of the entrepreneurs, coupled with an advantageous Geo-political condition and military muscle, that brought about a sustained change in the society. The transformation needed intellectual leadership, experimentation and a commitment to better the lives of all countrymen by a few. India, while it is making great strides in creating wealth for those in the city, still lacks those leaders in its public life.

Most of all, Indian education needs to be transformed. This is a most urgent need, but so far the efforts are mostly misplaced. All the progress in education that has taken place in India over last two decades was about the government abdicating its responsibilities altogether, and the private sector, governed by pure profit motive, expanding the supply of education at all levels, using tried and tested money-spinning formula. The 'big' thing that the government may have done in education recently is to make tentative attempts to open doors for the foreign universities, which by itself is nothing and point to the collective dementia we are suffering from. 'Reforming Education' is not about getting foreign universities, which will end up being mostly middle tier colleges, open India campuses: This should be about rethinking about our future as a country and restarting our education system.

This is needed because our education system have not moved forward significantly since Macaulay's days, and we are still peddling the same, prescriptive, narrow formula of school education more than sixty years we have become independent. We have built a narrow tertiary education system and an education mindset garnered to get people a 'Job'. The whole system of thinking is very narrow, very colonial and completely out of sync with the modern world, which is all about creating all-round individual competencies and thriving as a free agent nation.

Besides, this leads to such terrible waste of our abilities as a nation. While the rest of the world has moved on, our policy-makers and education entrepreneurs somehow decided that most Indians are a somewhat inferior breed and all they can think about is a 'Job'. Hence, they are variably creating a narrow prescription about what can get them a degree/diploma through the shortest possible route, and the businessmen are skimming the market with various job-linked education offers. This leads to too many people pursuing studies on areas they neither love nor have a future in, ending up as a clerk/administrator of some sort. Besides, because investment in these kind of education businesses is so attractive, it takes away all the money and leaves little for any kind of education provision outside the obvious.

For example, one would expect a great deal of demand of environment related studies in India, given that we are a developing country and we must put an even greater premium on our fragile environment in order to keep the development momentum. However, education provisions in this area remains few and far between. Similarly, in education - don't we need a great number of teachers if we have to move forward - or in health care, the options are limited and often low quality. While every entrepreneur worth his salt opening management and engineering schools, all the other areas, including the lucrative ones like media studies, design and law have taken a backseat.

Indeed, the government regulation has a role to play. For a private school, the government decides the number of seats and how much one can charge - effectively limiting the revenue potential through a bureaucratic and cumbersome process. All the entrepreneur has to make do with is 25% of the allotted seats, which he can auction at any price. The system defies common sense and has permanently created a black market for education in India, often drawing black money, corruption and various other kinds of compromises. The system allows no way of making money straight - and only encourages men of property, who needs to find a respectable use of their property rather than leaving it fallow at times like this, to enter into the business of education. However, the government, as in any other country, is terrible bad at letting things go, and education is one area where they are messing up big time.

This is indeed not an environment where you can educate and bring up public intellectuals. In fact, it is a challenge to find a small slot in the schedule of an engineering and management school to be dedicated to community thinking. One of my ideas was to offer an International Internship to these students, the only twist being that I take them away to work in impoverished countries as volunteers. From the initial conversations I had with a few business schools, it does not seem to fly - everyone wants to come to Europe and work for big name brands.

I am still hopeful that I can create a leadership school, as a not-for-profit entity, with the objective of creating public leaders. I am at a stage when I need to think about how to structure this initiative and how to find money to set this up, but I am also worried whether there will be any takers for a programme of this kind. Because, leadership surely sounds great, but one may tend to equate the end of course outcome with becoming a CEO, at least a manager, and not with spending an year unpaid teaching small kids in Cambodia. This is indeed the challenge, but, as I said, more I think of it, I feel this is what I should spend time doing. This is a bit foolhardy and way out of line, but I have come to realize that I quite enjoy doing these foolish things.


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