Priyanka Deo is an executive producer and anchor at New India Junction. She holds masters' degrees from the University of Southern California and the London School of Economics and Political Science and Harvard University.
I recently attended a children’s annual day function for students in pre-schools and kindergarten. Besides the dancing and singing, I saw a very intriguing piece put on by four year olds on ‘New India’ that stuck out prominently among the other performances. A group of very well-informed toddlers came onto the stage, all between the ages of 2.5 to four years old. Each one came up and spoke on a different aspect of New India. One spoke about the prime minister. The next one spoke about the economy and included reforms. The third spoke about more technology. And all came together in the end and said ‘This is what makes up New India.’
The performance was a hit. A standing ovation and way more applause than for the singing and popular dance numbers. I spoke to a few audience members on why they were so enthusiastic about that particular piece. They gave a very clear answer:
“It is said that the future of the nation is formulated and developed in its classroom. So, it is increasingly important that our children know the positive attributes of New India.”
This got me researching into the education sector in India. And I discovered that tremendous scale and transformation has been taking place; and very strategically within the past five years.
With an increased focus on ‘Digital India,’ the government has realized that information technology is a fundamental plank when it comes to rapid digitization. 15 IIITs (Indian Institutes of Information Technology) have been added to elite higher education institutions across the country. And although the previous government had plans to build these institutions since 2010, there was zero implementation. In fact, research shows that India has witnessed the maximum number of premier tech academic institutions beginning to function under one prime Minister in his, so far, five-year leadership.
When I was applying to Harvard, my mentor told me that demonstration of leadership was what the school valued in the applicant pool. To be a leader, just being an expert in the field is not enough. For that, a focus on communication and management is integral.
In my opinion, India has always been lagging in this regard. While the focus in the Indian education system has been towards churning out engineers, doctors and lawyers, soft skills took second priority. Until now. The NDA government is successfully in the process of building out multiple of IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) which sharpen not just communication skills, but also leadership and management skills. Not only that, these IIMs have been placed where these skills are needed most: in tier two and tier three regions of India. Places like Nagpur, Amritsar and Jammu have a tremendous number of potential youth waiting to achieve and move ahead in the world, but face obstacles caused by gaps in communication. Now, they have a solid footing to get ahead.
Currently, the doctor: population ratio in India is alarmingly low. Government data suggests that in some areas, the ratio is 1: 11,082 people. The recommended ratio is 1:1000. Yikes! In addition to the lack of doctors, the data also highlights the gaps in geographies of India where the ratios get even more alarming. UP’s ratio of doctors to population is 1:19,962! Other areas are as bad or worse.
The strategic solution to this is a long term one. Sending doctors to the area is a temporary fix and many would leave due to the lack of pay for the work they put in. The Modi government has announced setting up 15 AIIMS which are now at varying stages of development. The locations of these AIIMS is the most strategic part, Like the IIMs, a number of AIIMs institutions are being built in areas where the doctor: population ratio proves problematic. Two lie in Uttar Pradesh in different towns; AIIMS Gorakhpur and AIIMs Rae Bareli is certainly a positive start to bringing this ratio down to acceptable standards.
Why? Though the number of institutions may seem small, the need for elite institutions is fundamental to improve educational infrastructure and motivate youth to get skilled. The government has also realized that these institutions are required in tier two and tier three towns where India’s young demographic is waiting to grab opportunities to advance. Every time I walked past the Harvard buildings or saw the students on its lawns, I imagined myself as being a part of it. And I was motivated to work harder academically. Similarly, with elite institutions in their area, students will strive harder and be more motivated to score higher. Once they do, the accepted cohorts will bring forth creativity, ideas and intellectual debate to tier two and three towns.
Just like Harvard and Stanford are, elite institutions act as significant economic engines that drive innovation in multiple industries. They offer integral services for their respective communities for the long term. They help provide identity to a city. My recent trip to IIT Kanpur is a great example of this. Three cab drivers proudly pointed the school out to me while passing by, even though my destination was unrelated. To add to that, an institution like IIT Kanpur, attracts metro and urban talent to a tier two or three area which is crucial to local development. Elite students are exposed to local societal challenges at a grassroots level and can innovate. With such minds motivated to drive progress in these areas, quality of lives improves for all members of the community.
Furthermore, the geographical placement of the IITs, IIITs, IIMs and AIIMs in areas that need it the most makes it quite clear that the government is pushing for social mobility, employment and increased civic engagement. The small number of prestigious institutions is what makes them elite and gains them brand-value on resumes and CVs. Investing well in a smaller number of prestigious institutions is far more beneficial for boosting societal and economic change, as compared to splitting the budget for a plethora of non-elite schools which constantly require infrastructure and resources. The push for elite, quality and higher-level education is much wiser to improve holistic education and drive infrastructure in lagging regions. In fact, the money and investment garnered from an elite institution can be then used to start more academic institutions and innovation labs in the same area. I applaud the NDA and PM Modi for thoughtfully starting a movement that will transform Indian higher education for the better.
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Last Updated Mar 17, 2019, 12:05 PM IST