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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Challenges of our knowledge economy

Challenges of our knowledge economy


THE 21 st Century has been referred to as a knowledge century. So, what are the challenges facing India's knowledge economy? For starters, the education system is in a complete mess, as Sam Pitroda, chairman, National Knowledge Commission (NKC), puts it. 

   He said: “Bringing about generational changes is the need of the hour to meet the deepening crisis of expansion, excellence and access in the Indian education system. It has become imperative to scale up the pace of development, both in education as well as vocational training.” 


   NKC was constituted on June 13, 2005, by Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh, as a think-tank charged with considering possible policy that might sharpen India's comparative advantage in the knowledge-intensive service sectors. The commission also advises the PM's Office on policy related to education, research institutes and reforms needed to make India competitive in the knowledge economy. It has seven members at present. Elaborating on NKC's aim, Pitroda said: “We aim to build excellence in the educational system to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21 st Century, besides enabling the development of a vibrant knowledge-based society.” 


   The focus areas of the commission include literacy, language, libraries, portals, school, vocational and higher education, innovation, entrepreneurship and e-governance, to name a few. According to Pitroda, the major challenges that are being focussed upon include disparity, demography and development. Elaborating on development of educational institutions, he sated: “It includes both expansion and excellence. There is a huge crisis in educational institutions (higher education) today, as both autonomy and flexibility is lacking. Moreover, they are not in tune with the needs of the industry and society." He adds: "It was disheartening to see, in one of the surveys, that none of the Indian universities figure in even 500 top universities of the world. And we talk of having world-class colleges.” 


  Addressing a recent seminar on Building India's Knowledge Economy organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the NKC, he said that the 11 th Plan outlay on education was a generous $65 billion but the sector was still plagued with stifling controls and lacks public private partnership (PPP) initiatives to set up a large number of universities of excellence. Thus, he called for extremely radical steps and generational changes in the system, saying, “Else, we will end up building more of the same.” According to 
Pitroda, this allocation of resources has perhaps been the biggest achievement of the commission so far. 


   On the issue of deregulation, he questioned: “Why should vice-chancellors be appointed by ministers of the prime minister, why can't vice-chancellors appoint vice-chancellors? There are just too many controls and there is no leadership, leading to a faulty system.” 


  Talking on the need of PPP, he said that the government was not capable of solving all the academic challenges. He reasoned: “The access is limited, there is shortage of teachers and the existing ones use obsolete methods of teaching wherein they are just creating and delivering knowledge.” Therefore, the role of teachers has to change. He said: “We need to meet the shortage of teachers and transform them from being mere deliverers of content to being mentors.” He also pointed out that the profession was still not looked upon as a noble one by the society and the only way of motivating teachers was through monetary means. 


   Children today don't learn the way they learned 50 years back, said Pitroda, adding that learning models have changed tremendously. He stated: “Teaching remains confined to blackboard, chalk, teacher, exams, marks and the like. The IT revolution has arrived and the internet, today, enables loads of packets of information to be accessed and explored. So, herein lies the need for generational changes.” 


   Skill development is another area that remains a challenge. He said: “The vocational programmes offered belong to the 19 th Century and are totally unfit in today's time.” He also added that the commission was now focussing on strengthening maths and science, PhD, research and knowledge creation.



Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group

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