Economic growth and the progressive social thread of a nation are directly proportional to its emphasis on education at all levels. We have seen this demonstrated through history time and again. Spain and Finland had a very similar economic standing at the start of the 20th century. Both nations were underdeveloped, agrarian economies with a less than 40% literacy rate and a similar per capita income. But by 1950, Finland’s income per capita was twice as that of Spain. The Finnish had emphasized on education across all social classes in the country while in Spain, illiteracy was still rampant. Today, 70 years later, Finland’s per capita income and level of education continues to outstrip Spain.
To build stable, sustainable, and progressive communities, economies, and nations, a compelling emphasis on education at the grassroots is imperative. Progression toward building a self-reliant India can happen only when educational programs empower both adults and children and encourage independence and future-focus. As we mark Teacher’s Day in India, a day to appreciate the indelible contribution of educators in shaping our society, I am reminiscent of the teachers and professors who have contributed to making me the person I am today.
While lauding on the contribution of academia, it is also critical to encourage and inspire students who have benefited from successful educational programs to become mentors in their communities and are benefitting the next generation. The story of E Ravali comes to mind. Ravali was a bright young student at a Cyient-adopted school in Hyderabad, where her parents worked. With the help of the Cyient Foundation, she was able to complete her engineering studies. Today, Ravali is a diploma holder in civil engineering and also works as a Vidya Volunteer (voluntary educator) at another Cyient-adopted school. The strong sense of “giving back” to society is critical for collective upliftment.
Inspire the Next Generation of Teachers
The acute paucity of qualified teachers is a severe impediment for running successful education programs and learning outcomes in India. A NITI Ayog study found that India has about 4X more schools than China, but they often lack resources—some have less than 50 students and a maximum of two teachers. Teacher vacancies in rural areas have compounded the problem—India has a shortfall of one million teachers. The report also found that some states have a severe teacher shortage of more than 40%. And it is not uncommon for a single teacher to manage 100 students in rural schools.
Improving incentives, investing in teacher training programs, and addressing the fundamental issues at stake in the teaching-learning process are essential to turn the tide in India’s favor. Every year the United States produces around 15,000 teacher training specialists for a population of 327-odd million; the number in India for a population of 1.3 billion is about 1000. And yet, the budget for teacher education programs in schools has declined consistently from 1.3% in 2009-10 to 1.1% in 2018-19.
Taking a cue from Finland, which has one of the best school systems in the world, it is not just the number of teachers but also the quality of education imparted that makes for an effective school system. And this is perhaps an area where corporate India can make a significant contribution and impact—in ensuring grassroots-level outcome. Take municipal schools, for instance, where education is free, but teachers get paid a fixed pay. How does one build quality standards into such skewed dynamics? With a public-private partnership (PPP), municipal schools supported by private bodies can set an example in everything—from maintaining registers to curriculums and grading standards.
The economic success that Singapore has achieved since its independence from the British in 1965 is a fitting example of what a comprehensive and well-rounded teacher training program can do to uplift society. Recognizing that they have limited resources, the city-nation made concrete investments in improving their education system with exceptional teacher quality and policy focus being the mainstay. Today Singapore boasts of some of the best schools in Asia and has achieved its world-leading performance in STEM education and literacy.
Technology is at the Center of Educating India
While India may not have been a pioneer in leveraging technology in education, the government’s focus on programs like Bharat Broadband and access to high-speed Internet, low-cost computing, and mobile devices in rural areas is set to change this dynamic. A report by KPMG and Google estimated that India’s EdTech sector would be worth nearly $2 billion by 2021 with peer-to-peer learning, gamification, and high-tech platforms gaining traction.
The COVID-19 situation has turned the education system on its head and made it crystal clear that leveraging technology is the only way forward to sustain a progressive education system. Since shutting down in March this year, schools in India are yet to reopen. This has pushed back students by more than six months. Only a marginal number of private institutions could adapt seamlessly to imparting education online, but government-supported schools have been completely shut with no access to e-learning tools and programs. This disruption is a wake-up call for policymakers to focus on moving away from the chalk and blackboard teaching model to adopting a more future-oriented, digital learning format.
Programs like the DIKSHA platform and SWAYAM that offers teachers, students, and parents engaging learning material online, are a step toward reimagining the education sector in India. From mobile-based learning and Massive Open Online Classes or MOOCs to interactive classrooms and the use of AR and VR in learning, technology will chart the way forward for educating India. The key is in leveraging it right.
Corporate India Will Play a Pivotal Role
With more than 250 million students in India across primary, secondary, and higher education institutions, the role of corporate India in embedding interventions cannot be understated if we hope to provide quality education to our children and youth. And Corporate India recognizes this. Since 2014-15, the education and skill development sector has received a lion’s share from social responsibility programs. The focus of philanthropy in the country is shifting from donating to empowering.
The 2030 Skills Scorecard by the Global Business Coalition for Education states that by 2030 India will have the highest number of secondary school graduates in South Asia. But, nearly half of them will lack the requisite skills to enter the job market. What is heartening to note is that several private entities are actively partnering with government bodies to lay the foundations for imparting high-quality education at the grassroots with focus also on skill development. Corporate India interventions are focused on improving infrastructure, enhancing skilled teacher availability, ensuring effective management, and empowering school teachers and administration with ongoing upgrades, while also focusing on enabling students to achieve grade-level competency.
At Cyient, the focus of our social responsibility initiatives is determined by its long-term impact on shaping the new India. To leverage synergies, optimize resources, and deliver impact, our community initiatives are rooted in the philosophy of “Empowering Tomorrow Together.” The Cyient Foundation today supports primary to high school education across several schools in four states and provides access to digital classrooms, libraries, and laboratories at all these schools. Over the past decade, more than 100,000 children have got access to quality education at Cyient-adopted schools.
And yet, much remains to be done. Reimagining education and empowering the next-generation is a long term play that will undoubtedly lead to lasting change in the years to come. In the end, I am reminded of the quote by French poet and journalist, Anatole France, “Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” I take a moment to thank those who encouraged me and hope to provide encouragement and endurance to the next India.