Dr. Shashi Tharoor on A Well Educated Mind Vs a Well Formed Mind (Full Transcript)

But, for the IITs, the IIMs, a few good institutions, I’m sure you could all pick your few around the country, these have tended to be islands of excellence floating on the sea of mediocrity. The average Indian higher education institution is simply not of the quality that you and I, all of us, in this audience would like to see.

And that ties into the fourth E that I’ve added to this catechism: Employability. Talk to employers, talk to CEOs, what would they tell you? That they’re simply not satisfied with the quality of the graduates they’re getting. Even in the T of TED, the technological area, engineering graduates, half a million engineering graduates a year, but if you talk, for example, to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, they did a survey, 64% of employers are not satisfied with the quality of graduates they’re getting.

Some companies are running, essentially, re-education places, Infosys’, the gigantic campus in Mysore. And it’s not on the job training which big companies tend to do, it is, in fact, really a full-year’s education for the people they’ve already hired, to make up for the deficiencies of what they’ve learned or not properly learned in the college.

Now, that’s the scale of the challenge that we face. What are we doing about it? A great deal needs to be done. Of course, we are trying to put in kids into the system at an early age, the RTE, the Right to Education Act, if kids were out of school in the old days, it was their parents’ fault; today, if there are out of school it’s a state’s fault. The government is committed to actually getting them an education.

We’ve got more and more money being pumped in by the system at all levels. For example, many of you may have gone to prestigious universities; lots of people in India don’t. They go to state universities which are grossly under-financed. We’ve come up with a scheme to pump central money into the state universities, so they actually have the resources to do something with the students they have there.

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Money isn’t the whole answer. There is an entire challenge, in terms of addressing things like the gender gap – that’s a gap, but despite what mister — or what an earlier speaker said, we don’t want to embrace, right? – it’s a gap we must, must overcome. Right now, women’s literacy is 66%, better than the 8.9%, but it still means that, one out of every 3 Indian women still can’t read and write. We have to overcome that.

And we need to catch the ones who’ve been left out of the net: adult literacy; huge challenge. I went off to a village in Tamil Nadu, not far from Kanchipuram, and I’ve met women, who in their 50s and 60s, were learning to read and write. And people think sometimes what’s the point, some of their own family members, their husbands, think what’s the point. The answer is it changes their lives, it empowers them in real ways. I spoke to a woman called Chitra Mani, who proudly wrote her name in Tamil on a piece of paper. And I said: “So, what does being able to read and write mean to you?”

And she said: “Now I can see the destination of a bus, where it’s going; I don’t need to ask somebody where that bus is going. I know where I can go. When I get to the big city of Kanchipuram, I can read the street signs, I can find where I need to go, I don’t feel helpless anymore.”

That kind of empowerment is what literacy gives people in a very fundamental and real way. And we’re trying to do that of course, for those who’ve dropped out early on, in the days before we got to that 74%.

The younger kids, we’ve got them into school now. We’ve something called a gross enrollment ratio, the percentage of children of a certain age, of the age appropriate for a particular level of education. Well at primary school now, our gross enrollment ratio is 116%. We’ve actually enrolled more kids than we thought existed at that age group, because some of the older ones are coming in too. Bad news is, as you go up the level, it starts dropping. So by the 8th grade, I’m afraid it’s down to 69%, by the 10th grade, 39%, and by college, our gross enrollment ratio is about 18%, against the global average of 29%.

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So, clearly, we still need to do more. Our expansion hasn’t gone enough. We haven’t managed to get everyone to stay in the system. Some of them actually need vocational training. They’re not all going to become white collar clerks, or officials, or IAS officers, right? So we need to try and catch them, and get them into vocational training.

But how do you do that in a culture where, for 3,000 years, if you wanted to become a cobbler or a carpenter, you’d better have an uncle or father who’s a cobbler or a carpenter, because nobody else is going to teach you. The transmission of knowledge, of trade craft in our country, has always been through the gene pool, the one reason why the sons of politicians tend to be politicians also, you know. And with the Bollywood movies stars, same story.

So we need to get master craftsmen. Why is it with a country of 1.2 billion people that we should have a nationwide shortage of masons, of plumbers, of certified electricians? We need to get more vocational training into the system, we’re doing that, we’re now rolling out the whole concept of community colleges so that kids can go in, have some academic learning, lots of vocational training, and at the end of 2 years, if they show tremendous academic promise they can go back to a university, if not, they leave with a 2-year certificate, and they go off and do a useful trade in a society that is clamoring for these skills. So these are the kinds of changes that we’re trying to bring about, and move along.

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