India can most certainly achieve the twin objectives of ensuring access to and quality in education, going ahead. It will be a challenge, but one that can be overcome.
In the reports of the National Knowledge Commission we have specifically talked about how India needs to tackle both increasing access to education and improving the quality of education it provides its students.
To succeed, India needs to use technology more effectively than it is at present. The strategy needs to be for institutions to share resources — their infrastructure, teachers and knowledge.
If we set up new schools or colleges, but face a shortage of quality teachers, technology and innovation can come to our aid.
We can use video-conferencing facilities to ensure that students in the schools do not suffer from the absence of quality teachers.
The best teacher in Chennai can teach thousands of students using technology, instead of just the 50 in her classroom.
What is, however, true is that we in India have not yet recognised adequately the full potential of technology in helping us achieve these twin goals — of not just providing educational opportunities to all, but ensuring that they receive quality education.
Each university vice chancellor will have to study his or her university's needs and infrastructure, and evolve a blueprint to best utilise technology to ensure that students get the most and the best out of the teachers, libraries and other infrastructure available.
Universities that have infrastructure that other universities want to share, or teachers they can learn from, must not think in narrow parochial terms about what they will gain in the short term by sharing.
Vice chancellors and universities will have to look not just at their university, but think from the perspective of India and all her students.
India is setting up a number of world-class institutions, particularly the Innovation Universities proposed by the Prime Minister. One of the challenges in establishing world-class institutions will be to attract quality faculty.
To bring back to Indian institutions some of the finest minds from our country who are teaching and pursuing research abroad, we need to pay them well.
Good pay will be the single biggest factor that will help us attract the best teachers and researchers to Indian institutions.
Top quality facilities and good research grants are the other areas we need to focus on and offer to the best brains in the world, if we want them to teach and pursue research at our institutions.
The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, which was introduced in Parliament earlier this year, will also play a role in opening up our education sector to globally renowned institutes. Foreign universities and research centres will be able to partner Indian institutions like never before.
Concerns that foreign universities coming to India — as a consequence of this legislation — will take away students and, most importantly, good teachers from Indian institutions are similar to the concerns voiced two decades ago that foreign companies coming to India would hurt domestic companies.
If India has to achieve its full potential in education, it needs to deregulate the sector. That is a must.
To those who criticise this approach or oppose the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, I would say — look at the change in the Indian economy because of the reforms introduced over the past two decades.
Our economy was growing at 3 per cent before we liberalised. Today, we are on the cusp of 9 per cent growth. We need to do to education what we did to our economy.
As we work towards reforming our education sector, it is not just advisable but — I would say — mandatory that we look at other countries, including China and in the developed world, and study their success stories.
We must evaluate what they did to achieve the kind of growth they have witnessed in education — in such a short time. It would not make sense to try and reform the education system without studying successful models adopted by other countries.
— as told to Charu Sudan Kasturi
(Sam Pitroda is the Prime Minister's adviser on public information, infrastructure and innovations)