The fertile land of India has been known for its rich history of learning and teaching. Knowledge has long been known as one of the intangible treasures of our country, attracting many a warrior, scholar and even a fair share of conquerors. With a number of brilliant minds who shaped our Vedic times, as well as a tradition of indulging in scholarly pursuits, India has been a knowledge superpower for eons. While the Vedas date back to 2,000 years with the Rig Veda being the oldest tome with knowledge on practically every sphere and science of life; mathematics can be traced back to 4,000 years in the history of our subcontinent. Astronomy and global universities that attracted scholars from all over the world; artisans who devised products with advanced engineering – be it in toys or handlooms – and musicians who could literally produce the right symphony of pitches to summon rain: these are just a few of our favourite things!
So, it would be fitting to say that India is looking to go back to its roots with new systems and frameworks in place, rather than finding its place in this niche for the first time. India has always been a knowledge superpower even before the Internet of Things unleashed big data and knowledge commerce upon us. On his birth anniversary, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India, shows us how he had envisioned India as a knowledge superpower for the year 2020.
Thought Leadership in Education
Words are all that count, but before words, we have thoughts that form and swirl in our minds, and then come out as words. A good leader knows the flow and the connection as well. Dr Kalam was not just a missile man, but also an educationist who believed in the power of knowledge and the power of seamless knowledge distribution through a superior and well evolved education system. For him, being a knowledge superpower was all about matching step with the techniques and best practices of dispensing education, igniting minds long and deep enough for innovation to become mainstream, and to capture a trend of equal knowledge distribution in a country filled with the dilemma of disparity every step of the way.
More than anything, Dr Kalam truly believed that thought leaders come from knowledge based education, and knowledge based education or a knowledge economy is born from the minds of superior thought leaders. In a way, he was looking to create a system where the two completed each other’s sentences to create a superpower filled with bright minds.
National Education Policy: Thought Leadership in Progress?
Thought leaders are people who mindfully disrupt and change the inner workings of an industry with philosophies that bring in the new and improved systems that are more evolved than we could have imagined. One of the pioneers in education currently is Chetan Sharma, Edupreneur and Senior Media Personality who is dedicated to the cause of education in India. In fact, it was during the Covid 19 lock down that he announced and successfully grew a number of education portals including the now popular Edumate.tv. On his portal, apart from daily news in the field of education, students and teachers can also find best practices that would help them further evolve in their field.
He has not only taken the highly revolutionary National Education Policy and created a reportage of insightful pieces and online webinars, but he has also gone a step ahead to usher in his own structure called the National Education Pledge, where he routinely calls upon senior educationists to pledge what they will contribute to the success of this new policy. His commitment as a thought leader in this sphere comes through when he rightly says of Dr Kalam’s vision, “Dr Kalam said and I quote, ‘All of us to do not have the same talents. But all of us should have the same opportunity to develop our talents.’ Seems logical and fair. Not so in a very complex and unequal democracy like India. Kalam’s deep insight enunciated this concern through the above motivational quote. The NEP attempts to address it through a corrective, collective and creative approach.”
The NEP has been in the eye of the storm as it has been written off by critics as being too far ahead of its times given the state of the lock down and the Indian economy during this crisis. Yet, policy makers, educationists and students alike know that it is a path breaking policy that aims at making India a knowledge superpower. Yes, it will require lots of work and a complete overhaul which will push people out of their comfort zones. Yes, it must be done.
With his views on the NEP, Chetan Sharma of Edumate also echoes the exact thoughts of all these hopefuls who have placed their trust in the policy that seeks to do away with the old and bring in the new. Not only have structures of assessment been changed, but entire curriculums have seen an overhaul in terms of the skills, languages and the subjects that would be taught to students at various stages of learning and development. In fact, there is a strong focus on development now more than ever.
In doing so, our policy makers and the education ministry have shown a leaning towards methods that have been successfully implemented by schooling systems in countries like Finland, which are known for the same. The NEP shows stellar thought leadership modelled along the lines of Dr Kalam’s deep insights when he set forth his vision for India as a knowledge superpower in 2020. Not only are we creating a basis for higher evolution across industries in the future with the birth of leaders and innovators in our schooling system, but we are also inviting people from all over the globe to sit up, take notice and possibly ask for a place within our classrooms. In a recent development, there has been news of Yale and Oxford holding talks with PM Modi regarding opening chapters of their illustrious institutions here in India!
Skills for Knowledge Thought Leadership
How many times have we tried to memorize a set pattern of questions and answers for our exams, hoping to get a top score based on rote learning? How many times have we struggled to remember what we learnt in those years? How many times have we reached the university or college of our dreams to find ourselves at bay within the classrooms and with skills that simply do not match up? The new thought leadership around education and knowledge seeks to eliminate that by building skills, helping students understand their interests, providing them with the infrastructure to pursue the same, and finally, building an assessment system that is unique to every child.
Skills and life skills have a very important place in any education system. Today, in India, we are seeing a rise of subjects like entrepreneurship, financial literacy and coding for students as young as 7 or 8. Aishani Chauhan of Grade 6 has been learning coding since Grade 4 and she says she looks forward to those classes. “I feel like I have very varied interests right now – I like football, and I also like coding. So, it is a matter of pursuing both skills to see which one lasts and helps me make a successful career where I will also be happy.” That is a future citizen of a knowledge superpower talking!
Many life skills have to be taught to children along with history, geography, physics and chemistry. Financial literacy or knowing how to handle money and knowing what fiscal tools you can use to build a life where the urban poor are not on the rise, like current times, is what the economy really needs. Starting from saving money to opening bank accounts and even renting a home, there are a number of things we do not know when we leave college.
For this, the effort and awareness has to begin at a young age. When we look around, we see millennials who are prone to becoming the urban poor of our economy; the misguided who are exposed to global trends thanks to a super fast WiFi and 4G connection on their phones, but do not know how to break out of the cycle of “finish your engineering first and then become a musician.” These professionals are the ones who most needed tools like financial planning and even entrepreneurship so as to understand how they could take the reins for a start up based on their interests, or simply run their lives in a more financially smart way. To be fair, this is also the first generation that has grown up with the effects of liberalization including a McDonald’s in every corner and the ready availability of Amazon shopping and global brands. These are children of parents who have not fully trusted how these trends will influence their bank balances, so they have very little in terms of points of reference when it comes to guiding their children. So, financial literacy is a growing need.
We spoke with thought leader strategist and financial literacy expert Amit Raje, who has taken decades of experience in banking and the finvest sector to create a Financial Literacy Foundation called The Neoliterate Foundation that seeks to educate children and people from minority groups, about their rights and privileges as well as optimum use of financial tools. Commenting on the recent focus on skills like financial literacy and Dr Kalam’s grand vision of seeing India as a knowledge superpower by 2020, he said, “Financial Literacy is the first step towards financial well being. For India to become a knowledge super power we need to empower citizens with all kinds of information not limiting it to just STEM. So to achieve our dreams we need to educate and inculcate health financial habits for a self reliant and developed India.”
Many experts and educationists have now sprung up in various corners of the country and from various industries to share their skills in this manner, across a number of spheres and realities. What Amit Raje and many of his growing ilk show us, is that thought leadership is a key skill when it comes to building evolution and innovation in any and every niche. And within each niche, there are a number of skills that a person has to inherently have so as to draw a boundary of what is realistically possible and how these goals may be met.
This is where knowledge commerce begins and opportunities are created for success in the economy. It is very much like coming full circle. An economy that grows with knowledge will always have the know how when it comes to creating innovations for more and more opportunities. Whether it is engineers or doctors, artists or musicians, everyone will benefit from such a system of learning and experience within an economy that welcomes talent and opportunities created on the basis of unique thinking prowess. Needless to say, this would be based on foolproof knowledge and skills.
2020: The Great Gap Year?
When we speak of 2020, the words ‘gap year’ cannot be far behind. A talk with recent high school graduate, Ananya Sarin revealed what is ailing her generation of college hopefuls during the Covid 19 situation. “I am treating this like a gap year. I did get through a number of great colleges – and most of them were on my dream list. But I deliberately let go because I was not sure how the Internet infrastructure would support learning. I would rather concentrate on garnering on ground skills with an internship or a job.” She is currently interning as an editorial assistant, and had put her college enrollment on hold until the next academic year.
When the Covid 19 situation and its consequent lock down erupted, there were a number of statements and theories around it. While some states in India deliberately chose to call this a gap year, many students took a gap year of their own accord. Many young college graduates who were about to become doctors and engineers are still grappling with the new reality and waiting for the right platform. In a way, this demand would successfully contribute to the furthering of Dr Kalam’s vision of seeing India as a knowledge superpower. When skilled graduates demand better opportunities and choose to put their lives on hold instead of going out and amassing things for which they would need a salary to pay the monthly installment or credit card bill, that is saying a lot.
At the same time, it has also cast the limelight on the state of our infrastructure. With the setting up of smart classrooms and classrooms on smart phones, we have seen the good, bad and the ugly of it. Child labour numbers were up by a huge margin during the lock down period since children who were in school during the day and were being fed free meals by the government, were suddenly an extra stomach to feed at home. Internet, like electricity, has not reached many remote quarters in our country and the digital gap continues to exist. Yet, the government is making giant strides like partnerships with Facebook and Google for better connectivity and broadcast values.
Further, this has also brought about a question mark as far as digital hygiene goes. Are we ready to address the giant elephant called advertising revenue and inappropriate websites and popups due to inadequate monitoring and emphasis on digital broadcast laws in our country? This is a question that was put forth by agitated parents in Bengaluru who demanded a complete shutdown of online classes following the discovery of websites that had nothing to do with learning.
Letting Go of the Old to Embrace the New
While India has traditionally had a knowledge based outlook in its education system, a skill based outlook is now becoming more mainstream. No more are physically labourious jobs called menial, and no more are certain streams like commerce and arts shunned as second best when it comes to science. Also, the rote system of learning is being replaced by asking, doing, and learning. For this, a change in the mindset of parents and teachers has to come about.
We have to stop focussing so much on marks and focus instead on how the child has found and applied his or her interests. At the same time, there has to be a list of skill building techniques to help the child turn interests and ideas into successful stories and further opportunities within a growing economy.
That would be the hallmark of a knowledge superpower. How well we do it will decide how efficiently we earn the knowledge superpower status.
The Knowledge Superpower Dream Continues
In the face of all these challenges, there is good news. Chetan Sharma and other thought leaders in this space have come to recognize their role in fuelling better practices through their portals. Recently on Edumate, a mindfulness workshop was conducted to help teachers and students understand how they can take to invoked learning mechanisms even with a digital and distance based interface. Amit Raje and his foundation are one of many that are looking to provide students with skills that can create thought leaders for tomorrow. At the same time, these thought leaders and stakeholders here have shown us that public and private participation in the process is key.
Despite the pandemic and the fact that we have forced into a digital scheme of education that was not ready for full fledged learning; there is hope in the fact that the NEP was launched during the pandemic to change things and to steer India towards a superpower status! The dream of Dr Kalam may well have actually started in the year 2020, as he prophesied in his book, India 2020.