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1,500 varsities, more pvt participation

The National Knowledge Commission pushes for big reforms to make India a superpower, writes Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2006 03:26 IST

In order to make India a knowledge superpower, there has to be major reforms in the education system first. To this effect, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) will soon submit a set of 10 recommendations to the Prime Minister’s Office, including one on reforms in higher education.

According to NKC chairman Sam Pitroda, the Commission touched on issues like people-friendly portals; reforms in primary, secondary and higher education; protecting traditional knowledge base; and incentives to youngsters for innovations and entrepreneurship. "The recommendations will be finalised in 60 to 90 days and are at an advanced stage of discussion," he said at an interactive session organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry here on Wednesday.

Among the recommendations are GIS mapping of the country on a website; and setting up portals on water, energy, environment, knowledge network, higher education, intellectual property rights, traditional knowledge and health issues. "This will enhance our knowledge base and bring more transparency in government," Pitroda explained.

The chairman, however, said the recommendations on higher education may prove controversial. "When we spoke on reservations, there were all types of allegations against us. I anticipate a similar storm when we submit our recommendations. But we are not afraid to break barriers," he said.

The NKC is likely to suggest starting English lessons from an early stage, increasing the number of universities to over 1,500, more private participation in education, more regulatory mechanisms to improve the quality of education, and structural reforms in educational institutions. "Degrees issued in Bihar and Chhattisgarh are of no value whereas IIM and IIT graduates are considered the best in the world. Such anomalies need to be removed to realise India's true knowledge powerhouse," Pitroda said.

Pointing out that only seven per cent of children in the country go for higher education, Pitroda said: "We need to increase enrollment to 18 per cent in the next five years." He sought a target access to knowledge through eight main areas — "literacy, reservations, affirmatory programmes, libraries, languages, translation, networks and portals are the key areas". He said he felt India could create half a million translation jobs in three to four years if the government took the initiative.

Pitroda identified agriculture, health, small and medium industries, and traditional knowledge as areas for application of knowledge. Referring to the Foundation for Revitalization, set up in Bangalore to document 12,000 indigenous medical plants, he said: "More such independent efforts are required. We cannot leave everything to the government."

The Commission has five focus points — access to knowledge, concepts, knowledge creation, services and applications. "We intend to modernise these as per the needs of the 21st century, education being one little subset with the main focus on knowledge as a broader prospect."

India's foreign exchange reserves have risen to $ 150 billion from $ 2 billion in just two decades because it is seen as a knowledge powerhouse.