Is it advantage India in higher education?

An excerpt from Rajesh Talwar’s new book addressing the issues of India’s educational system – its expansion, equity, and excellence

GN Bureau | May 10, 2024


#Education   #reforms  


Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge: The Past, Present and Future of Excellence in Education
By Rajesh Talwar
Bridging Borders, 264 pages

Here is a thought-provoking book that delves into education reform, supporting the government's aim of high-quality education and offering guidance for policymakers to enhance India's global education standards.

Rajesh Talwar, former UN official and currently consultant, draws from his extensive experience, and compares educational standards worldwide, particularly in Asia, and proposes innovative solutions to elevate learning. He highlights how technology like Ed-Tech and AI can achieve full literacy, focusing on India's critical educational challenges and offering practical improvement solutions.
 
The book discusses how India can attract foreign students and makes the case for the entry of foreign universities. It makes far-reaching recommendations that address the issues of expansion, equity, employability, and excellence within the Indian educational system.
 
The book provides answers to questions that have perplexed intellectuals. What is so special about Indians that so many of them have become CEOs of the biggest companies in the world? How is it that India can land a spacecraft on the moon, but many of its roads, buildings and homes are in a constant state of disrepair? If, and only if, India is able to address the formidable challenges its educational system faces, it will be India, not China, that in time to come is the global leader in education.
 
With increasing affluence and influence, Asia is now changing and rising. Donning the hat of a futurist, Rajesh Talwar makes a compelling case for why global leadership and excellence in higher education will eventually shift to Asia in the coming decades. The author makes brilliant, unorthodox, out-of-the-box suggestions on how to improve and fast-track the quality of education in India in an informal, relatable and inimitable style.

Here is an excerpt from the book:
 
Is it advantage India in higher education?

India, China and the US: Edtech across different subjects and nations

In the previous chapter we spoke of the potential of using EdTech to transform school education at the primary and secondary level in India. Even the children of relatively poor families can be recipients of virtual education. I provided the example of our maid, Karuna, who asked me for a smartphone for her young son to enable him to access EdTech applications.

I spoke also of how even roadside vegetable vendors these days possess a smartphone and how hundreds of thousands of school children studied using smartphones during the coronavirus pandemic. It is not, however, only a matter of possessing a smartphone. EdTech apps can be quite expensive and way beyond the reach of poor families. This is why it is important for the government to come to an understanding with EdTech companies for providing free or low-cost access to poor families. In return, the government may consider providing tax rebates, granting land at concessional rates, etc.

Leaving aside the cost of accessing EdTech apps, it must be accepted that millions of Indians are simply too poor to afford a smartphone for the head of the family, let alone for a school-going child. All is not lost, however. Simpler, even rudimentary forms of EdTech can be used to transform the education landscape. I gave the example of the ‘large screen’ model, education through television and forms of ‘home schooling’ enabled through new technologies.

If we succeed in transforming primary and secondary school education, this will positively impact higher education in the country. India has, in any case, very many advantages when it comes to EdTech in higher education, not only for its own citizens but also potentially for students from around the world.

As far as global EdTech is concerned, there are very many subjects in which India could use the distance mode more effectively than other nations. India would be able to offer virtual education in many subjects taught in schools and even universities at a much cheaper price than the US, other western nations or China could. It might not be a lecture in philosophy delivered by a professor, but one in civil engineering by a professor at the IIT or a class in management from an IIM.

The way things are going, the world’s biggest and most lucrative student clientele in virtual education right now and in the future will be Asia. It’s simple maths. Asia, which includes the most populous nations in the world, namely India and China, currently makes up close to 60 per cent of the world’s population.81 Thousands of Asian students, including from China and India, travel to the West each year for real-time education, but this could soon start to change once India and China improve the quality of higher education provided domestically.

When such changes start to happen it will first be in virtual higher education, and students from other Asian nations may prefer to study with Indian universities and institutions.

For one thing, the recruitment of excellent teachers can be accomplished by India at a lower cost. The cost of the professor will be only part of the expense involved, but the logistics entailed in teaching tens of thousands of students will be much better handled by Indian institutions.

Similar logistics are involved with BPO work, in which India is the world leader. India is among the top three nations in the world in software development and information technology, which will be hugely important in delivering education through EdTech and its numerous apps. Such expertise will also be important in designing and developing new apps. In the past the western stereotype of India was that it was a land of snake charmers; the new stereotype is that every person in India is an IT expert.

India also has other advantages. For Asian students, the time difference may be less. Even more significantly, in the case of many subjects adapting the lecture for local requirements for students from across the world may be more easily accomplished in India.

Let me explain what I mean here by ‘adapting’ a lecture.

A Harvard lecture being beamed to students across the world is a model that will work for certain subjects, but not for others. Take the subject of geography, for instance. Now, the geography syllabus in schools and colleges in India may not be the same as the geography syllabus in the United States or in Korea or Japan or China. Why? Although there will be themes in common, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, for instance, will be studied more extensively in India, just as the South China Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the neighbouring countries of China and Japan will be studied in greater depth in South Korea. You cannot have a one-size-fits-all geography lesson for different nationalities in the way that it is possible to have a class on the theme of ‘justice’ beamed all across the world from Harvard, as was actually done by Professor Michael Sandel. It may be necessary to qualify that last statement too, because when justice is being taught in China, Confucius views will be given greater prominence. In the same way, when astronomy and astrophysics are taught in India, it is possible that there may be a little more emphasis on the contribution of ancient Indian scholars such as Aryabhata.

There will, in other words, be regional variation in syllabi, and the creation of online lectures tailored for or catering to a particular country or region can be more easily accomplished by India than by the US or other western nations.

Schools across the world teach subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics. An argument can be raised that on such subjects the syllabi should be roughly the same. Do we then envisage a global merging of syllabi here?

[The excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers]

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