Big Ideas for India Contest: Winners – 6

Anshuman Goenka’s second response to Question 10   “How Can We Change the Functioning of the Education Sector?”:

Start with an imaginative vision for the sector.  This could be, for illustration,

  • Accelerated universal literacy: Currently India’s literacy is 74%, up from 65% in 2001. Functional literacy is lower. At the current rate, we would be fully literate by 2035, functionally literate perhaps a decade later. Instead, India should target 100% by 2020. Simultaneously, we should raise the bar of literacy reach completed universal primary education by 2025 (~40% of the 360m school-aged children out of school).
  • Skill train 300 million non-farm professionals by 2020: Organized sector employs about 6% of India’s 450 million labor force, to which 12 million are added every year. To be globally competitive, we need to increase organized sector employment to 50-60% of the labor force, and therefore, train about 300 million people in the next decade across blue- and white-collar jobs which will be absorbed in manufacturing & services (paying $5-50,000 pa at entry). This will need a 10x increase in the capacity of higher educational system (current intake about 3m) and de novo creation of a defunct vocational education system. Sector-level targets across sectors (eg construction, textiles, IT etc) should be developed – but these should be guidelines, and have adequate buy-in at the industry level.
  • Develop India as global knowledge hub: Target to develop new 25 world-class, research-intensive universities in the next decade (one in each state, and one in each major academic domain) and 500 in the following decade (one in each district). Simultaneously, this should be linked to a measurable output, eg increase India’s share of world publications and global patents from the current 4% and 2% respectively to about 15% (our share of world population is about 16%; this is also a possible goal as China does 9x our patents)

Implement policy and organizational changes to reach this vision.  I would focus on three areas, and develop a detailed plan around each area.  These would be:

  • Role of the state: Instead of the provider of capital and services, the state should create this vision and catalyze its achievement. This would entail ensuring equitable access (eg universal voucher-based access till the secondary-school level, merit-based access using loans & scholarships thereafter), playing the role of a regulator (eg homogenization across state educational boards, accreditation of universities) and enabler (eg a student loan guarantee program). Selectively, the state should continue to be a provider too – the IITs and IIMs have been great success and the state could lead the creation of the first two world-class universities.
  • Role of the private sector: Private enterprise and capital, including foreign participation, should be welcomed at every stage – from primary school to higher education. Specific areas where private capital may not initially flow but which have positive externalities (eg schools in upcountry India, training of blue-collar professionals and long-gestation capital intensive projects such as research-oriented universities) need to specifically stewarded through a combination of fiscal incentives, output-based rewards and JVs between the state and the private enterprise. Simultaneously, there needs to be a comprehensive regulation of private participation; the regulator should be independent with representation from the state, industry bodies and topic experts; the scope of the regulator should cover entry certification, quality monitoring & accreditation, and economics.
  • Role of citizens: Individual, family and community support towards the larger educational vision could be ensured with public education & civil society initiatives (eg induct public figures from film & cricket in a Teach for India program), individual and family-level support (eg enhanced tax breaks)

Monitor and steward the implementation

  • Simultaneous central and delegated responsibility: As a symbol of political commitment, the senior-most minister in the Union Cabinet should be the Education Minister (and not be diluted into the wider HRD) – this would bring political capital behind this change. The Central Education Task Force should draw upon private talent (like the PM’s EAC or UIDAI) and have the ability to steward the change. At the same time, this Task Force should be linked with state and village-level citizens’, students’ and teachers’ associations to collect feedback and monitor change.
  • Think independently of but work together with the existing educational system: We need not be fettered by the bad habits of our legacy systems and think independently of the system to create something new. However, in doing so we cannot disregard what exists – and need to carefully, selectively use the legacy systems as a tool of change. For example, we could recruit selectively from the current system, draw entrepreneurs from it, overhaul legacy infrastructure for new uses.
  • Intermediate targets: Each aspect vision should have an intermediate target, eg, to move from 74% to 100% literacy in a decade, set a 5 year national target of 90%. Also, break it down at the level of each state & district – so for Bihar to move from 63% to 100% it needs to achieve a 4% improvement every year.
  • Transplant best practices: In 2011, literacy in Kerala was 94% as opposed to 63% in Bihar. By creating a professional task-force familiar with the two states, we should try to identify 8-10 key state level policy tools from the high achiever regions that can be used elsewhere. Further, within Bihar, select districts and blocks that need most intensive effort. For another example, draw upon the success of ISB to develop a model university in areas such as infrastructure, curriculum & faculty.

Continued tomorrow.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.