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BW Businessworld

Education Crucial To A Talent Pipeline

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Education is the key driver of economic progress and social well-being. Education is the empowerment to make choices. It is also the bedrock of a lasting democracy. The very purpose of education is to enable the learner to be holistically productive and a contributing member of society. Therefore, an excellent education at affordable cost is non-negotiable for India to march forward on the global stage. Even poor parents want the best education for their children, and their aspirations cannot be ignored.

There is a rising chorus from the millions of India’s youth — 65 per cent of the 1.25 billion Indians are under 35 years of age — for an education that will open for them the doors of opportunity. Therefore, as an educationist I strongly feel that India needs both quantitative and qualitative expansions of its school, college and university systems.

Excellence in education will foster excellence in every sphere of human endeavour. Hence, India must pursue excellence in education at all levels — individual, institutional and systemic. This calls for creating an environment that will motivate students to put in their best effort and excel. One that will give the faculty the freedom to flourish and impart the highest standards of education, whilst also being at the cutting edge of research. It is important to embed a culture of excellence whereby everyone is committed to institutional core values and behaviours. Because, excellence is not a competence, it is an attitude to give one’s best and provide an environment for others also to do so.

My experience of establishing Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Mumbai tells me that we can build centres of excellence in our country in a short time. Our centres of learning should refresh, renew and strengthen our culture and tradition, while welcoming the best practices from all over the world. That is why we call our school an international school with an Indian mind, an Indian heart and an Indian soul. Outstanding schools create the foundation for excellence in higher education.

Infrastructure is crucial to foster excellence and we should build ours, benchmarked against the best in the world. The hundreds of world-class university campuses in the US and the superb infrastructure China is building for its educational institutions are truly eye-openers for India, and undoubtedly we must follow suit.

But my larger point here is regarding ‘beyond the infrastructure’ — or rather, ‘in spite of the infrastructure’. It is about the ‘soft’ aspects of teaching, learning and research. It is about the intellectual intensity and holistic empowerment of students with knowledge, skills and values, by faculty who are qualified and committed and who develop themselves continuously through institutional support and self-learning.

It is about endowing our libraries and laboratories with the best teaching and learning resources and ensuring their optimum utilisation by all. It is about using our physical and technology infrastructure effectively. It is about institutionalising the right policies and robust processes. With a ‘mindset renaissance’ we surely can achieve this.

Sharing best practices and talents are other dimensions of the ‘soft’ attributes of achieving excellence. There is a huge repository of expertise and best practices that we can draw on, by collaborating with institutions both in India and around the world. The distinguishing hallmark of any institution of higher learning is its capacity to build on the existing knowledge base in multiple domains and create new knowledge and disseminate them to take the world to the next level.

Similarly, we have the best minds from India, working in the world’s leading universities and research centres. We need to attract these talents back to India and enable them to ‘serve in India’.

Reliance Foundation has a strong commitment to education and has plans to set up a world-class university. It will leverage the fabled tradition of India’s pride of yesteryear — Nalanda and Takshila — as well as top universities around the world, and offer education and research opportunities comparable to the best in the world. It will be a multi-disciplinary university where liberal arts will be given equal importance — similar to a Bharatnatyam scholar being treated on par with an engineer.

For India, the next decade is crucial to building a huge talent pipeline. We have a good idea of what we need to do, but what we need more is strong action-orientation. We really need to work in mission mode, and with a sense of urgency. A conducive policy environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship and connectivity at affordable cost to access online knowledge resources 24x7 will be the new game-changer.

Let us widely broadcast education’s transformative and expansive power to positively impact the individual, the nation and the world. Let excellence in education be our foremost mission. The world’s largest democracy deserves nothing less  — bold and agile advances to democratise education, to build a ‘new India’, to make the 21st century an ‘India century’.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-12-2014)