Indias new HRD minister approached the finance minister asking for grants to create eight new IITs across the country. While the honourable minister was caught in an unfortunate controversy over her educational qualifications, she had an excellent opportunity to show that she understands the countrys most urgent HRD needs and Narendra Modis aspirations for inclusive growth through poverty eradication; by announcing her intent to create educational infrastructure and drastically raise the enrolment ratio in the coming 100 days. Instead, she chose to push for eight more IITs despite being informed by the concerned departments about the problems with the existing IITs.
India has the largest young population in the world which can be turned into a demographic dividend by appropriate measures in education, training and skill development, thus also benefiting the country enormously. Hence, the HRD ministry becomes the most important portfolio today. If they fail to educate and train the hitherto deprived children, the same demographics can turn into a curse going forward with unemployed youth turning into criminals of sorts, putting enhanced burden on other ministries in the future. The nations eyes are set on all the ministers during these 100 days and everyone expects them to fall in sync with each other and with Modis vision of India.
Since many IIT graduates leave India, there is enormous brain-drain happening from these top-notch institutions. Is it then wise to pour the taxpayers money into new IITs at the cost of millions across the nation who are deprived of even basic education facilities? I believe 80% of Indian population doesnt even know what an IIT is. So, in 2019, when Modi faces the electorate again, can he boast of creation of eight more IITs; or the creation of extensive educational infrastructure across the country rendering the children of millions of poor and illiterate employable, thus raising their living standards? Remember, job creation and suitable manpower creation are two wheels of the same chariot that will ride todays poor towards tomorrows prosperity.
India sure needs superior engineers, scientists, doctors, teachers, managers and so on. But focusing on one at the cost of others indicates a misplaced emphasis. So, how about focusing on providing good primary, secondary and even college education to the hitherto deprived rural masses on war footing without wasting the new academic year starting soon? (Junewhat an opportune timing for the new HRD minister!) As maximum efforts for primary education are under way, higher education can be provided across disciplines in phases after assessing the relative needs. So, within 100 days, the following things can be done urgently if the HRD minister puts in the same dedicated hard work that she put in before the elections.
l Repair the broken school buildings across the country;
l Create schools on wheels and take these mobile schools to remote villages where new school-building will take some time and engage good teachers asap;
l Install computers with the help of ITC e-Choupal and keep videos, e-learning and MOOC courses ready to supplement or fill in for teachers. For all this, Shramdaan Shibirs (community service camps) can be organised on the lines of Vinoba Bhaves or Baba Amtes attempts wherein Modi can use all his charisma to appeal to his countrymen and women to come and take a few days to go stay in camps and help repair/maintain schools in villages. Rest assured, thousands of men and women will come forward for this effort. These volunteers will include educated people like doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, managers, officers, and also clerks, accountants and workers. Organisations and companies may be urged to give their select staff a paid leave to attend these Shramdaan Shibirs. Some may come for socialisation and fun and some for a good cause, but all will get involved in Modis development process nationwide and toil together. If successful, the model can be replicated for other sectors such as healthcare. Come 2019, and these volunteers can become Modis armoury.
But where will the money come from? Well, Shramdaan Shibirs dont cost much because the volunteers are obviously not paid, only directed and their stay and food is taken care of. All the existing misdirected and costly subsidies can be removed to provide for the expenses of repairing/maintaining and later constructing new school buildings, and creating mobile schools. Also, tax-free bonds may be issued and people can even donate. A weak government needs the crutches of subsidies and freebies, not a powerful one such as Modis. Nor does Modi wish to keep the underprivileged where they are, dependent on government doles, so as to capture their votes. Even the beneficiaries of subsidies have started understanding the game-plan and are now demanding jobs instead of freebies. They have self-respect and need a dignified living. Modi certainly understands it and has the mandate to fearlessly replace subsidies by education facilities.
If the HRD minister is very keen on doing something for higher education, she would do well to put an end to the notoriously scary ragging in IITs; remove the corrupt regulators in the education sector; free private education sector from counter-productive regulations; reduce caste-based reservations of seats and so on. Meanwhile, if industries adopt all villages in India, education will spread faster. Management institutes can organise such Shramdaan Shibirs, inculcate philanthropy and cater to the need of the hour by joining hands with the government if HRD ministry takes up such laudable initiatives towards nation-building at the bottom of the pyramid.
The author is faculty of Economics in SIMS, Symbiosis International University, Pune, and can be contacted at email@example.com