Home Contact us Search Sitemap

Kumar Mangalam Birla
Chairman, Aditya Birla Group

In his voluminous work, The Outline of History, H.G. Wells, the renowned historian (early 20th century) writes, "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."

Much later, Prof. Amartya Sen at the Commonwealth Education Conference in Edinburgh, continued the refrain. He said, "If we continue to leave vast sections of the people of the world outside the orbit of education, we make the world not only less just but also less secure."

India produces 2.5 million graduates every year, many of whom occupy responsible positions in the best of corporations and research centres the world overWhen one asks the question — what is it that can empower our nation, today reckoned as one of the intellectual capitals of the world? The most obvious answer is education.

As both Wells and Prof. Sen remark, though distanced by over a century in time, education truly is the stairway to progress and to a stable world. This means education in its widest sense. Education that enhances livelihoods but also education that is value-based. Education that imparts roots and also gives wings.

As one reflects on the state of education in our country, glaring disparities come to the fore. There is a clear divide. Even as India's higher education system has won the admiration of the world, the state of primary education in our country remains a deep concern.

Of the 100 million children worldwide who rightfully should be at primary schools, but are out of it, 20 million belong to India. These children are in the age group of 6 to 14 and 60 per cent are girls. There are socio-economic reasons, disheartening as they are, such as poverty.

The only way to transform this scenario is to educate them. It is the key to the attainment of sustainable development on all fronts.

There is a need to re-examine our educational system in a holistic way. My focus here is on firstly the need for a research orientation in our universities and secondly — a redefining of the system. I am not an educationist per se. Still education is a subject which is close to my heart.

India's production of professionals is awesome. I believe we have over 300 universities, nearly 20,000 colleges which produce 2.5 million graduates every year.

Our IITians and MBAs from the IIMs and select management institutes occupy responsible positions in the best of corporates and research centres world over. But our universities are not at the forefront of cutting edge research. In Russia, Israel and even Japan and now China, research is encouraged. Universities have adopted the "star system". This, I believe, ensures that salaries and research funding for star academics is on par with the best in industry.

I dream of an education system for India that would help each student reach her maximum potentialEven though it is believed that pay is hardly a major consideration for the academically oriented, in my view it would attract a lot more high-calibre intellectuals. To create centres of excellence and enable our academic institutions to rise above mediocrity, is a felt-need. The one-size fits all approach hitherto followed should give way to an innovative system. One of the stumbling blocks apparently is financial resources. To overcome this hurdle, the best corporates could inject funds into universities, with the authorities smoothening the passage and spawn a dynamic knowledge sector that is vibrant, exciting and a portal of true knowledge. To reach this state, the basics have to be changed. This calls for a paradigm shift, nothing short of revamping our educational system.

Today, our education system puts our students on a process-line that churns out the same kind of model day in and day out. It makes no distinction between learners, which itself is not ideal. I dream of an education system for India that would help each student reach her maximum potential. Implying that each individual is running a race with himself or herself, to be the best she or he possibly can, to hone the talents she or he has, such that they are empowered with a strong sense of self, and to acquire new skills that will help build as all-rounded a personality, as possible. This is contrarian to the trend today. The system puts so much of stress on both parents and students as they strive to secure over 90 per cent to enter the portals of the most competitive academic institutes.

We need an attitudinal shift. We need to differentiate, to create an educational system that has options to cater to the different aptitudes and capabilities of students. The current system, quite honestly, does not equip students with real and contemporary skills that can make her a winner.

Many countries in the West and in Europe have evolved models that give students an option as early as their secondary education days. Students therefore enjoy what they learn and are hardly stressed. The outcome is more productive and a happy workforce that can contribute its mite to the task of nation building.

I believe even parents need to break out of the mould of desiring more conventional career paths for their children.

The sooner our education system is revamped, to take cognisance of this fact and the quicker parents accept this, the better it would be for a country that needs every productive mind to rise to its creative best. The setting up of the Vocational Education Mission in our country is a step forward.

Going forward, I envisage the setting up of hundreds of vocational training centres across the nation. Coupled with the IITs, such institutes would give our youngsters a bouquet of options from which they can pick and choose, depending on their aptitudes and capabilities. Additionally, a panel of experts need to put their heads together to contemporarise our education system.

We owe this to ourselves and to the future generations of India. For in the years ahead it will be the investment in our education process and our nurturing of our intellectual capital that will gain primacy for our nation. It will provide the leading edge. But most importantly, it will bring in the social equity that we ardently dream of for our country.

top of the page

More info on the scholarship
Our academic partners
About our founder
Speeches by our founder
Our panel of judges