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Technology will be a Subservient Tool in Education: Rajendra Singh Pawar, Chairman and Co-founder, NIIT Group

BW Businessworld caught up with him to get an understanding about how the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down, especially for the education sector.

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Rajendra Singh Pawar, Chairman and Co-founder, NIIT Group, is a member of the National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development. The group comprises of NIIT, which is a global leader in skills and talent development, and NIIT Technologies, which is a global IT solutions organisation. The Padma Bhushan awardee is also the head of the Quality Committees of various Industry bodies, including the South African President’s International Advisory Council (PIAC) on Information Society. BW Businessworld caught up with him to get an understanding about how the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down, especially for the education sector. Excerpts:

What has been your learnings as an entrepreneur for the past four decades and how are they relevant today, in the Covid-19 times?
The starting point is curiosity, to search out for unsolved problems. So, it’s an unmet need. Among the unmet needs, you look which one does your heart beats for. These are the essential conditions. He finds the Covid as a fantastic time to be curious. How many unmet needs are being thrown up right now? And which one of them does your heart beats for, that’s the question. He advised entrepreneurs not to outdo themselves in terms of time. “Genuine things take time. So, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be in a hurry to outdo themselves because that’s where the biggest mistakes happen. Be fast, be quick, be rapid but don’t be in a hurry to outstep yourself.

What has kept you busy for the last 120 days, which has been very unusual for most of us? What are the new things that you have been doing?

While we have the huge problem of the Coronavirus, I think it’s once in a lifetime opportunity. So, the word unprecedented is so perfect. Because here is perhaps the largest scale opportunity to try out new things. We can never create such a controlled experiment, when people are forced to work remotely, people are forced to study remotely. So, there is a role for technology and there is a huge set of challenges as well for pedagogy. So, I guess this is an unusual circumstance to comprehend the impact, the constraints and the possibilities, both for education as well as for technology. I see it as a terrific opportunity and a exciting time.

I read a lot so I am reading more. The pre-Covid era had commuting time as all of us know and that is now saved and I am investing a lot of that into my gardening. So, that extra time is going fully into a much closer interaction with nature. These few months have been remarkable for the nature to get healed.

How do you spot the opportunities that the Covid-19 has accelerated?

First and foremost, it’s important to recognise a fundamental reality and that is the reality of luck and the more you learn in life, the more you realise how important factor it is, to be active in this phase of the country’s growth. We have to think about the knowledge and information about the mind. And how little we know about the western world’s human mind. The sanctuary of the mind is all about how we think, feel, emote, interact, collaborate and communicate. The role of education is to educate people about the human mind, and the technology will play an important role as a subservient tool.

While some of the skills that were relevant before the Covid-19, will still stay relevant. There’s a new set of skills that will be needed to survive in the future.

What were your learnings from the setting up of NIIT? 
When the university started in 2009, we had the luxury to think about it. So when NIIT was 10 years old in 1991, we had the fortune to invite two people as advisors — Prof CR Mitra, who just retired from BITS Pilani and Prof Jimmy Isaac, who had retired from IIT Bombay. Prof CR Mitra educated us on innovations in education. Prof Jimmy Isaac understood the information society as a concept. He was the first one, who told me that till now education and skills were two compartments. The skill was for the factory workers and the farmers, and education was for the enlightened. He also mentioned that IT is the first field, where there is a continuum because Bill Gates ‘the programmer’ becomes Bill Gates ‘the entrepreneur’.

So, we had the opportunity in 1991, when we were reworking the NIIT strategy. While NIIT as a profit company was involved in making people employable and creating talent for the IT sector and taking them from college to the job centres, which we continue to do. It’s more than 36 years, more than 36 countries and about 36 million learners. So, we have had the good fortune to try out new things.

This article was first published in the print issue of (26 July - 08 August 2020) BW Businessworld. Click Here to Subscribe to BW Businessworld magazine.

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