Monday, January 27, 2014

Modi's ideas on education sector: How India can harness its demographic dividend

Modi's ideas on education sector: How India can harness its demographic dividend

Jan 26, 2014, 04.00AM IST

(We must end the adverse selection…)
By Manish Sabharwal
Einstein once asked his students to take an exam when one of them asked: "The questions in this year's exam are exactly the same as last year's?" Einstein says: "Don't worry; the answers are different this year." This story is relevant to Indian education because the questions faced are not different from those addressed by the Radhakrishnan Committee of 1948 or the Kothari Committee of 1968. But the answers are different now because India's demographic dividend means that 10 lakh children will join the labour force every month for the next 20 years.
India is hungry for a vision that gets us to Gokhale's 1914 demand of Gandhi: "Make India proud of herself again." The speech by Narendra Modi that rightly put talent at the heart of greatness has got tangled with his proposal to create 13 new IITs, 15 IIMs and 21 AIIMS. People opposing say this is unfeasible because 13 new IITs won't find the 1,300 new faculty while old IITs have 41% of their teaching posts vacant. People welcoming say this will improve youth access to the signalling value - the old age of IITs and IIMs being good places to be at but better places to be from — and the new IIT Hyderabad has managed to fill 102 of the 105 faculty positions. The AIIMS expansion is less controversial - most people agree with the insanity in producing only 37,000 doctors every year relative to 15 lakh engineers.India needs 2 lakh doctors every year and must reverse the high southern concentration of medical colleges.
But the expansion of elite higher education institutions is only one agenda item in tackling our wicked trinity of quantity, quality and cost. We need vocational universities offering two-year associate degrees that create mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees.
We must end the adverse selection in education entrepreneurs by legitimizing corporate investment structures. We must increase apprentices from 4 lakh to 1 crore. We need to allow domestic national offerings of online college education. And we need to focus the Right to Education Act that fights yesterday's war of school enrolment on learning outcomes because you can't teach things that take 12 years in 3 years or 3 months.
Increasing IIMs, IITs and AIIMS is a risk but I believe this is a good idea consistent with the access objective of public funding in higher education. Unlike in the US where subjective college admission criteria mean that they are often a wealth test, IITs and IIMs are the ultimate meritocracy because their entrance test ensures that hardly any kids with rich parents get in but head overseas. Since these institutions have mostly resisted demands for them to become multi- and inter-disciplinary research universities, their narrow focus is mostly about producing superbly employable talent. This mission has a lower speed limit of expansion.
Decades of education neglect means that India needs a more adventurous and decisive state that takes more risks. Every risk has challenges. But taking risks is the only way to harness our demographic dividend.
The writer is chairman, Teamlease Services

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