Customizing education to Indian needs

NEW YORK: The current systems in the US and India do not fit the educational aspirations of prospective collaborators and students of both countries, according to former US Ambassador to India Richard Celeste.
Amb. Celeste, who was a former Ohio Governor and currently President of The Colorado College, in his candid and precise remarks made during the India-US Higher Education Summit held at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Oct 13, said the two countries needed a common language around quality to deal with credit and transferability; and development of two-way internships that would be useful for work opportunities.
Amb. Celeste said that a dramatic reduction in resources in the US and the politicization of education in India over the past several decades has hindered collaborative efforts between the two countries since the 1950s when the IITs were set up in India with help from the US. “A lot has changed,” since then, he said.
Individual, small institutional level educators are rewriting the rules; and students whether Indians coming to America or Americans going to India for education, are doing it on their own initiative and not necessarily because of systems instituted by the governments.
Amb. Celeste further said that there was an increasing demand from present generation American students for opportunities to study and work abroad. “What drives students today is they want to start early; they want service as well as learning; they want to work to build cross-cultural competency.” But what inhibits these informal initiatives in the US is the credentialing and assessment system in its universities, he added.
Speed, innovation and adaptability are traits that will win in future, Amb. Celeste said, adding tongue-in-cheek that both India and the US were allergic to speed and change. “The question is whether the government can become a facilitator or an inhibitor to that change,” he challenged, and in the face of urgent and drastic measures required to tackle the needs of today’s youth, he said, “We haven’t a moment to lose.”
Need for India-specific models
The sense of urgency in Amb. Celeste’s final exhortation was not lost on the distinguished panelists of the Summit some of who felt the scale and scope of immediate requirements of the growing youth population in India was daunting and overwhelming.
Towards the end of meeting those challenging needs, Sam Pitroda, Advisor to Prime Minister of India on Information Infrastructure & Innovations said, “Connectivity is going to be the key for the future; it allows us to think big, in reaching out to the bottom of the pyramid.”
With the possibilities of the Internet, Pitroda even suggested that teachers may soon become redundant in class rooms and might simply play the role of mentors in future.
Talking of the kind of education currently imparted in schools globally, Pitroda said, “The best brains in the world have been solving the problems of the rich; I believe that the best brains should solve problems of the poor.”
The American model of higher education was far too expensive in India, he said, adding that India needs models of learning that work for its people. “There may be a day in future when we may need to provide degrees for $1000 or $2000 a year fees,” Pitroda said. “We need certificates of excellence not for exit but for entry (into institutions). Think of the new kind of students today who are learning differently. It’s time we begin to question the old models.”
With a staggering 550 million Indian youth looking for opportunities, Pitroda said educators need to come up with low cost, affordable, sustainable, scalable models of education. “We have to think big and loud; think massive; and think digitization,” he said.
Calling for a dismantling of boundaries, Pitroda further said that educators need to recognize that technology will play an important role in educating the masses and realize that what they already have is obsolete.
It was felt that western content would neither be accessible nor affordable to Indian students and therefore Indian content needed to be developed. Be it distance learning or the setting up of community colleges in India, Minister Kapil Sibal said they would have to be tailored to the local Indian context. “Any partnership has to be customized to India’s needs,” he averred.
American students in India
While there are over 100,000 Indian students on various American campuses, only about 2,500 American students are enrolled in Indian universities. While part of the reason, it was agreed were perceived stereotypes that India was a poor, unsafe and dirty country, panelists recognized that more needs to be done in terms of marketing India to American students.
Also, while Indian students ostensibly come to the US to get degrees, American students in India are largely there in pursuit of India as a subject.
Throwing light on a different dimension to collaboration, Minister Sibal said that in view of the high cost of higher education in the US, collaborating with India could bring costs down considerably. “We (in India) can give the same quality education to American students with collaborations between institutions of higher learning in the two countries,” he said.
SRIREKHA CHAKRAVARTY
India Post News Service

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