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  • I'm here to talk to you about Indian education,

  • higher education in particular.

  • But I'm actually going to start with demography.

  • How many of you here are under 35?

  • OK, that seems pretty representative of the country;

  • 65% of India is under 35.

  • How many of you are under 25?

  • Then you are not representing

  • because half of the Indian population is pretty much under 25.

  • We are an amazingly young country.

  • In fact, if you just take the age group from 10 to 19,

  • there are 226 million Indians, poised, in other words, to enter

  • higher education, going through school and ready for higher education.

  • This is amazing

  • because it's happening at the time when the rest of the world is aging.

  • If you look at the average age in India today, it's 28.

  • Of course, don't ask about the gap - since we heard about gaps -

  • between the average age of the Indian person

  • and of the Indian cabinet.

  • I think we hold the world record for that.

  • But, that's another TED talk, right?

  • But what you've got with the average ages

  • at a time when the rest of the world is changing,

  • is that by 2020, the average age in Japan is going to be 47,

  • in China it's going to be heading well past 40,

  • Europe, 46, the United States, beautiful US, also 40,

  • and India's average age is going to be 29.

  • So we are potentially the people

  • who are youthful, productive, dynamic, young population,

  • ready to work, and transform the world, the kinds of role that, say,

  • China played in the last generation could be ours in the next.

  • In fact, International Labor Organization has worked out that by 2020,

  • we'll have 160 million people in the age group of starting work,

  • - 20 to 24 is what they calculate -

  • and China will only have 94 million, at the same time.

  • So we really are poised to do that.

  • But, and by the way, other countries will have a serious deficit

  • that's estimated that the US will have 17 million short

  • in terms of how many people they need of working age.

  • We, in India, have the people.

  • But do we have the ability to equip the people to take advantage of this,

  • to be the workforce of the work engine for the world?

  • See, if we get it right, we educate and train them, we really transform

  • not just our own economy and our society, but the world.

  • If we get it wrong, the demographic dividend

  • that I'm talking about becomes a demographic disaster.

  • Because, we've already seen in 165 of our 625 districts

  • what happens when unemployed, frustrated, undereducated young man

  • become prey to the blandishments of the Maoists

  • and prey to the gun and the bullet.

  • So education in our country is not just a social or economic issue,

  • it's even a national security issue.

  • We've got equip our people

  • to take advantage of what the 21st century offers them.

  • This is the story in a nutshell:

  • for E's, Expansion with our first priority in education.

  • Why? Because the British

  • - and I wouldn't even ask if any of you are here -

  • left us in 1947, with a 16% literacy rate.

  • there were only 400,000 four-lakh students in the entire country in higher education.

  • We had 26 universities, fewer than 700 colleges.

  • So obviously, expansion was essential;

  • we've gone right from that 16% to 74% literacy today,

  • we've gone from 26 universities to 650 universities,

  • we've gone from those 400,000 students, four-lakh students,

  • to 20 million students in higher education today,

  • and we have 35,000 colleges as well, instead of 700 colleges we had then.

  • So expansion has taken place.

  • We've also had to fight for the second E of Equity.

  • That is, including the excluded from the education,

  • trying to reach out to the unreached,

  • the people who didn't get a fair shake in education

  • for reasons they couldn't help: gender, an obvious reason.

  • When we had had that 16% literacy rate,

  • do you know what the female literacy rate was?

  • 8.9% at the time of the independence.

  • Just one out of 11 Indian women could read and write.

  • Caste, region, religion, all sorts people got left out of system.

  • We had to bring them in.

  • And that became a big challenge and a priority for education.

  • In getting those two things more or less right,

  • I don't know how well we did on the third E,

  • which is the E of Excellence.

  • Obviously, you need quality.

  • And we set about setting up institutions of great quality in our country.

  • The IITs are a good example, in fact, it's part of Jawaharlal Nehru's vision

  • that IIT in Kharagpur was established in 1956, the year I was born,

  • and it was done on the site of a British detention center,

  • the Hijili detention center.

  • So a symbol of political oppression became instead a symbol of hope,

  • of technology, of looking to the future.

  • But, for the IITs, the IIMs, a few good institutions,

  • I'm sure you could all pick your few around the country,

  • these have tended to be islands of excellence

  • floating on the sea of mediocrity.

  • The average Indian higher education institution is simply not of the quality

  • that you and I, all of us, in this audience would like to see.

  • And that ties into the fourth E I've added to this catechism: Employability.

  • Talk to employers, talk to CEOs, what would they tell you?

  • That they're simply not satisfied

  • with the quality of the graduates they're getting.

  • Even in the T of TED, the technological area,

  • engineering graduates, half a million engineering graduates a year,

  • but if you talk to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry,

  • they did a survey and 64% of employers are not satisfied

  • with the quality of graduates they're getting.

  • Some companies are running, essentially, re-education places,

  • like the gigantic campus in Mysore.

  • And it's not on the job training which big companies tend to do,

  • it is, in fact, a full-year's education for the people they've already hired,

  • to make up for the deficiencies

  • of what they've learned or not properly learned in the college.

  • Now, that's the scale of the challenge that we face.

  • What are we doing about it? A great deal needs to be done.

  • Of course, we are trying to put in kids into the system at an early age,

  • the RTE, the Right to Education Act,

  • if kids were out of school in the old days,

  • it was their parents' fault;

  • today, if there are out of school it's a state's fault.

  • The government is committed to actually getting them an education.

  • We've got more and more money

  • being pumped in by the system at all levels.

  • For example, many of you may have gone to prestigious universities;

  • lots of people in India don't.

  • They go to state universities which are grossly under-financed.

  • We've come up with a scheme to pump central money into the state universities,

  • so they actually have the resources to do something

  • with the students they have there.

  • Money isn't the whole answer.

  • There is an entire challenge, in terms of addressing things

  • like the gender gap - that's a gap, but despite what mister...

  • or what an earlier speaker said, we don't want to embrace, right? -

  • that we must, must overcome.

  • Right now, women's literacy is 66%, better than the 8.9, but it still means

  • that, you know, one out of every 3 Indian women still can't read and write.

  • We have to overcome that.

  • And we need to catch the ones who've been left out of the net:

  • adult literacy; huge challenge.

  • I went off to a village in Tamil Nadu, not far from Khan Jibran,

  • but I've met women, who in their 50s and 60s,

  • were learning to read and write.

  • And people think sometimes what's the point,

  • some of their own family members, their husbands, think what's the point.

  • The answer is it changes their lives, it empowers them in real ways.

  • I spoke to a woman called Chitra Mani,

  • who proudly wrote her name in Tamil on a piece of paper.

  • I said: "So, what does being able to read and write mean to you?"

  • And she said: "Now I can see the destination of a bus,

  • where it's going;

  • I don't need to ask somebody where that bus is going.

  • I know where I can go.

  • When I get to the big city of Gandhi Puram,

  • I can read the street signs, I can find where I need to go,

  • I don't feel helpless anymore."

  • That kind of empowerment is what literacy gives people

  • in a very fundamental and real way.

  • And we're trying to do that of course, for those who've dropped out early on,

  • in the days before we got to that 74%.

  • Younger kids, we've got them into school now.

  • We've something called a gross enrollment ratio,

  • the percentage of children of a certain age,

  • of the appropriate one for a particular level of education.

  • But at our primary school now, our gross enrollment ratio is 116%.

  • We've actually enrolled more kids than we thought existed at that age group,

  • because some of the older ones are coming in too.

  • Bad news is, as you go up the level, it starts dropping,

  • So by the 8th grade, I'm afraid it's down to 69%,

  • by the 10th grade, 39%,

  • and by college, our gross enrollment ratio is about 18%,

  • against the global average of 29%.

  • So, clearly, we still need to do more. Our expansion hasn't gone enough.

  • We haven't managed to get everyone to stay in the system.

  • Some of them actually need vocational training.

  • They're not all going to become white collar clerks,

  • or officials, or IAS officers, right?

  • We need to try and catch them, and get them into vocational training.

  • But how do you do that in the culture where, for 3,000 years,

  • if you wanted to become a cobbler or a carpenter,

  • you'd better have an uncle or father who's a cobbler or a carpenter,

  • because nobody else is going to teach you.

  • The transmission of knowledge, of trade craft in our country,

  • has always been through the gene pool,

  • the reason why the sons of politicians tend to be politicians also, you know.

  • And with the Bollywood movies stars, same story. (Laughter)

  • So we need to get master craftsmen.

  • Why is it with a country of 1.2 billion that we should have a nationwide shortage

  • of masons, of plumbers, of certified electricians?

  • We need to get more vocational training into the system,

  • we're doing that, we're now rolling out the whole concept of community colleges

  • so that kids can go in, have some academic learning,

  • lots of vocational training,

  • and at the end of 2 years, if they show tremendous academic promise

  • they can go back to a university, if not,

  • they leave with a 2-year certificate, and they go off and do a useful trade

  • in a society that is clamoring for these skills.

  • So these are the kinds of changes

  • that we're trying to bring about, and move along.

  • But there's a change that the government alone can't do.

  • You know, if you look at the need for research and innovation,

  • - you've heard a lot of that, I'm sure in the course of the TED talks -

  • research is something which...

  • The government wants to double the amount of money

  • they are spending on research for 1% of GDP to 2%;

  • we haven't had the money to pump into it yet,

  • but, innovation requires new ways of thinking.

  • I heard you had a talk about hyper-thinking; I've missed it.

  • But new ways of thinking means learning to think out of the box,

  • learning to create, I know we're famous forjugaad”, right?

  • If you Google the word 'frugal innovation, '

  • and top 20 hits will all relate to Indian inventions.

  • We invented the world's cheapest electrocardiogram,

  • the simplest and cheapest EKG, the cheapest insulin injection,

  • the world's cheapest small car, the TATA Nano,

  • but all these've been things invented elsewhere

  • that we have stripped down, made more affordable, more replicable,

  • more relevant to our conditions.

  • We need to do things that others haven't done before,

  • which we used to do in our culture where Nalanda invented the zero.

  • Remember how the Romans used to write their numerals in long strings of letters,

  • till an Indian thought of the idea of zero emerging from the notion of "śūnyatā"

  • in Hindu and Buddhist thinking?

  • That came into the zero "śūnya" which transformed global mathematics.

  • We need to think like that again; we need to come up with ideas.

  • With 17% of the world's brains, why do we only have 2.8%

  • of the world's research output coming out of our country?

  • Well, perhaps we need to start in the classroom.

  • Get our kids, not just to have their heads filled full of facts,

  • and textbook materials, and teachers' lectures.

  • Because frankly, that gives you a well-filled mind,

  • but in the era of the Internet, you don't need a well-filled mind,

  • you've got Google, right?

  • Find everything you want with 2 clicks of the mouse.

  • What you need is a well-formed mind.

  • A mind that reacts to unfamiliar facts and details

  • that can actually synthesize information that it hasn't studied before.

  • A mind, in other words, that can react to the bigger examination called 'life, '

  • which doesn't actually only give you the things you're prepared for.

  • And for that you need a mind that's shaped by original thinking,

  • a mind that doesn't just ask the teacher, "Why?", but "Why not?"

  • I've actually had a little experience of out of the box thinking myself.

  • I wear glasses, I don't need them to read or to see you folks on the front,

  • but if I want to catch somebody in the back row,

  • there I have to look though glasses.

  • But because I hardly ever wear them, I keep losing or breaking them.