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Cover Story
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How responsible political leadership can shape a nation’s future
The only way to do that is for the political class to realize that India’s demographic dividend is our biggest potential advantage in the 21st century, and knowledge is their true catalyst. And therefore, we must ensure that quality world class education reaches the India of tomorrow
Issue Date - 22/12/2011
Honourable union hrd minister, kapil sibal, authors this issue’s cover story on political leadership for business & Economy

When A. Sandeep asked me to write this cover story on political leadership for Business & Economy, I was faced with a predicament of deciding not just what to include, but what not to! Just about a month back or so, speaking at the 36th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO during the general policy debate, it was a similar predicament that I faced. I had strongly affirmed then that the world now stands at a critical juncture in history, where the past is collapsing and the future is uncertain. As the economic crisis in the developed world continues, the aspirations of the marginalised and disempowered are on the rise. It’s quite common knowledge that as established global and financial structures come under challenge, the centre of gravity of economic activity is shifting.

In such a scenario, I believe that there needs to be a clear understanding by our political system that education is the only true empowerment tool. While previously, Western nations and East Asia have reaped the benefits of the demographic dividend, I believe that now the fruits of this dividend are seeded in India, the Middle East and Africa. For the global economy, the youth in these geographies are the engines that will power tomorrow’s growth.

The entire education system has gotten transformed with a change in the very nature of learning. This century already has examples of students who have leveraged their education with the minimum of capital and have incubated their ideas for creating wealth. If tomorrow’s youth are prepared to be at the forefront of the change that we badly need, then responsible political leadership would be one that empowers them. We will fail our future generations if the political structure does not create the necessary environment for the self-realisation of tomorrow’s youth. As I said at the UNESCO meet that day, if we fail our youth, they will fail us.

It is essential for not just Indian, but even international organisations to wake up to the need of recognising and reflecting upon the realities of the contemporary world. The technological advancement seen in the past few years are momentous and on a scale never seen before. Interactions of people within nations and beyond territorial boundaries are taking place at a level that could not have been imagined earlier.

The factors that determined progress yesterday are not those that determine progress now – these have changed in every era. If it was land in the pre-industrial age, and capital formation in the industrial age, then it’s technology going forward. It is however pertinent to note that there is a major paradigm shift in the 21st century. This is the knowledge age, which is further facilitated by flow of information. And importantly, the main factor that would influence prosperity and advancement in this knowledge era will be education (and not capital formation or land). If socio-economic transformations have to occur in this century, then these can happen only through education. An investment in education is not an investment into anything else but the human mind; such an investment has a multiplier effect – be it in increasing the productivity of land, or in generating capital or even in developing future technologies. Educated individuals can not only aspire for their dreams, but can also contribute to developing a more educated society – a society that spreads its learning and knowledge to all others within and around it. If political leadership wants the marginalised and disadvantaged to become a productive arm of the mainstream society, then educating them is the most responsible and strongest way to get it done.

But we have to realize that simply making students join degree granting factories, is not going to ensure the above mentioned transformation. This transformation that I’m referring to goes much beyond and will occur only when we succeed in encouraging the thought processes and imagination of a student to go beyond the classroom.

Yes, the teachers should and must help a student develop and realise his potential within a classroom. At the same time, for students to innovate and explore, they do require quality infrastructure, competent teachers, innovative pedagogy and curriculum. But at the same time, the private sector in India also needs to participate in this transformation. If we’re convinced that India’s future is in expanding the education reach, then investments in the education space must be in the form of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

Less than a month ago, we have approved the setting up of 6,000 model schools across the country, of which 2,500 will be under the private-public partnership pattern. The benchmark schools, which will be the first of their kind in India, will come up during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17). The Union Cabinet has cleared the proposal, through which we are targeting weaker students to teach them subjects like Science, Maths and English and even bridge courses. Currently, the plan is to have classes from VI to XII in thses schools; with an affiliation under the Central Board of Secondary Education. Additionally, the schools would have specialised faculty to handle behavioural and emotional issues of students. Out of the 2,000 seats that each school will have, the Centre will sponsor 980 seats, with the remaining being handled by the private players. The responsibility for purchasing the land and constructing the buildings would remain with the private players.

If political leadership has to be responsible, then it has to understand that the issue is not just about conquering new frontiers of knowledge – it’s also about ensuring that everyday problems of ordinary people are solved. While the advancements due to the ICT era are magnanimous, they will be of no use unless such advancements are both accessible and affordable to the masses. The future of education will not be within isolated silos but will be without borders. International movement of knowledge and information will form the pillar of the education of tomorrow – that is what I would call a collaborative knowledge generation. It is such sharing that will allow us to even resolve global issues. Only through such shared knowledge will we be able to resolve the challenges that confront the global community.

A couple of months back, when I was speaking at the US India Higher Education Summit in Washington, I mentioned that in the future, the global economy will be defined by global, collaborative, knowledge networks where ideas move seamlessly rather than by financial flows and trade – and such collaborative partnering in knowledge creation in the future will develop for what I term the common good. Looking at it this way, one can say that the social networks and resource sharing that you see on the Internet are nothing but early steps in the above mentioned concept of seamless and shared flow of ideas for the common benefit and for resolving future challenges at a global level.


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