It started with a call for more public expenditure. It ended with a plea to build toilets. In between came everything from flipped classrooms to entrepreneurship.
By the time it ended, President Pranab Mukherjee’s roundtable on Friday evening with technology entrepreneurs and some old-world businessmen, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai making the star turn, may have offered one solution too many to the problems plaguing education in India. But then, such is the nature of the problem.
Manipal Global Education Chairman TV Mohandas Pai, who spoke first, threw several statistics in the air. The most depressing of them was that enrolment plummets from 99% in primary schools to 37% in colleges.
One could not have put together a better set of people to take on the challenge. In a Rashtrapati Bhawan conference hall large enough to fit two tennis courts end to end, four chandeliers, four mirrors with ornate golden frames, and several large paintings looked down at the marquee names from the world of technology start-ups.
“Had there been no Stanford, there would have been no Google,” said Sharad Sharma of iSpirt, which promotes products start-ups, to underline the role of public goods in the US. Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the son of a school teacher from a small town near Aligarh, corroborated the point by saying he could make it only because he needed to pay only Rs 37 a semester at the Delhi College of Engineering.
BVR Mohan Reddy of Nasscom suggested flipped classrooms, in which students view video lectures at home before coming to the classroom for exercises, projects, and discussions. There is no homework.
Shashank, founder and CEO of Practo, which brings doctors and patients together, suggested a healthcare approach to education, since both were big problems and could be linked.
DIPP secretary Amitabh Kant said entrepreneurship should be a recognised discipline to encourage risk taking and creativity. Snapdeal’s Bahl however said the country needed to recognise that education created better human beings, and should not be tied down to bookish knowledge.
Kalaari’s Vani Kola brought the discussion down to the earth by pointing out that the panchayat school where she lives, about 35 km outside Bangalore, has no girl students because it has no toilets.
President Mukherjee, who spoke last, said he would draw on the discussions of the evening to advise his government. Given the wide range of ideas, he will have a task at hand framing that advice.