India tackling multiple challenges in education, says Dr Tharoor


Education in India has made monumental progress since the early days of independence, but it continues to face daunting challenges at multiple levels – particularly in terms of quality, infrastructure and dropout rates, Hon’ble Minister for Human Resources Development Dr Shashi Tharoor said here yesterday.

He was interacting with a group of students and faculty members from USA’s Kansas University (KU) who are in Kerala on an 18-day visit as part of their exchange programme with the Asian School of Business (ASB).

Dr Tharoor spoke of the four ‘E’s that described the educational challenge in India since independence. The country has managed to adequately address ‘expansion’ by setting up schools, colleges and other higher education institutions; and ‘equity’ through policy changes that extended educational opportunities to people who were left out. However, there has been little focus on ‘excellence’ and ‘employability’ which have been to India’s detriment, he said.

“We have islands of excellence floating in a sea of mediocrity,” Dr Tharoor said. And institutions here do not adequately prepare students for the jobs market which is why many industries often have to spend time and effort on supplementary training for people they recruit, he added.

India is now encouraging private sector participation in higher education, especially in the setting up of universities, some of which are easily on a par with the best in the world, he said.

Vocational training is another area where the country has to bridge the gap in supply and demand; as well ensure quality, the Minister noted. “We have been trying to get rid of outmoded teaching methods in our polytechnics and make sure that these institutions are connected to the industry for hands on skills training and up-to-date practices.”

Dr Tharoor said that before futuristic technology, such as video conferencing and e-books are assimilated into the Indian education system, there are multiple issues to be resolved including linguistic challenges and crippling infrastructure problems such as electricity and broadband connectivity.

“I’m not a techno-determinist. I believe we need to improve our existing human resources; technology can only be a complement,” he said.

To a question from one of the visiting KU students on the lessons US could learn from Kerala’s growth model, Dr Tharoor said the state has been able to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to achieve highly successful levels of social development indicators without concurrent material gains.

Kerala has rates comparable to the US in terms of literacy, life expectancy, healthcare indicators, higher education and female empowerment; all of which it has achieved despite having just one-seventieth of the US’s per capita income.

Dr Tharoor also cited the diversity of Kerala since antiquity as one of its key strengths. “The US is a melting pot where people from different place come and become homogenised, but we are more like a ‘thali’, where all dishes stay separate but blend together on the palette.”

Asked about the problem of brain drain, the Minister said the trend was now reversing with many Indians educated abroad coming back to work in their home country.

“There was a time when bright people had few prospects for higher education and good jobs here. But that is changing; India is no longer seen as an undesirable place to work or pursue research,” he said.

The KU students also interacted with Mr. G. Vijaya Raghavan , Member, Kerala State Planning Board and Member Secretary, Board of Governors, Asian School of Business.

The team was led by Prof Kissan Joseph from the KU School of Business and Prof Michael Detamore  from the Kansas University School of Engineering and was accompanied by senior ASB faculty including Director Prof S Rajeev and Dean, Administration, Prof G Venugopal.

The students have already visited several key establishments in around the state capital including the R&D Centre at the Sree Chithra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences, Toonz Animation at Technopark, the facilities of medical equipment manufacturer Terumo Penpol and HLL Lifecare Limited and the Attingal Municipality.

The KU students have also been attending special lecture sessions at ASB on a variety of subjects including emerging markets &  consumers; finding great ideas and building  brands in emerging markets ; emerging market recovery; historical innovation in India; innovation challenges  faced by  the Indian software industry; skill development; supply chain management; theory of competitive  advantage and India as an investment destination.