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
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."
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
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.
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
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
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.