We’ve also had to fight for the second E of Equity. That is, including the excluded from the education, trying to reach out to the unreached, the people who didn’t get a fair shake in education for reasons they couldn’t help: gender, an obvious reason. When we had that 16% literacy rate, do you know what the female literacy rate was? 8.9% at the time of the independence. Just one out of 11 Indian women could read and write. Caste, region, religion, all sorts people got left out of system. We had to bring them in. And that became a big challenge and a priority for education.
In getting those two things more or less right, I don’t know how well we did on the third E, which is the E of Excellence. Obviously, you need quality. And we set about setting up institutions of great quality in our country. The IITs are a good example, in fact, it’s part of Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision that IIT in Kharagpur was established back in 1956, the year I was born, and it was done on the site of a British detention center, the Hijli detention center. So a symbol of political oppression became instead a symbol of hope, of technology, of looking to the future.
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.
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%.