By Manasi Tata, Executive Director of Kirloskar Systems and Young Business Champion for the SDGs
To most, ‘Education’ simply connotes a process of facilitating learning or the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Often, we do not lay enough emphasis on values, beliefs, wisdom and habits, which are core to a good education. Good, well-rounded education should help to bring lasting positive changes in human life and behavior, so that we can contribute to society in a meaningful and positive way. To create unity and justice for all.
Albert Einstein during his visit to Boston in 1921, while commenting on college education stated, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think.” He argued, that in order to learn facts, a person does not really need a school or college education. The value of a school or college education is to train the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks, it is to create the capacity of integrated understanding and an ability to use the knowledge intelligently. These are fundamental aspects of the ethos of education that we continue to aspire for even today.
Education is the catalyst that can help reduce poverty, improve health, prevent needless deaths & illness, eliminate gender inequality and create a sustainable planet. For societies, education drives long-term economic growth, spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. Education gives people the skills they need to help themselves out of poverty. As per a UN study, there is a 9% increase in hourly earnings for every one extra year of schooling. In many cases expanding access to education is in fact a matter of life and death. A mother who can read is able to better protect her children from chronic illnesses and from dying young. As per UN estimates, in the developing world, a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past age five.
As far as India is concerned, we are proud of the fact that India has youth on her side while the world is aging. By the end of this decade, the average age of the Indian population will be 29. As a result of India’s “demographic dividend”, by 2040, India will account for a quarter of the globe’s incremental increase in working population. Our present workforce (the 15-64 age group) comprises 430 million people. In the next 20 years, India will add another 480 million people to its existing workforce.
Widespread availability of quality education is vital to convert this demographic dividend into a valuable economic resource and to harness the latent potential of our human capital. Education – not only in terms of skill development but more importantly, the development of strong value systems. On the flip side, if we as a society fail to remove the disparities in the availability and quality of educational opportunities, this can easily turn into a nightmarish threat of a disillusioned and frustrated youth, fueling social & political unrest.
While looking at skill development, globally, technical and engineering colleges have a strong linkage with the industry. This is a symbiotic relationship that benefits both the industry and the academia and enhances the commercial application of fundamental research.
I strongly believe that it is crucial to create a more interdisciplinary approach to a technical education. Why not make it mandatory to take electives in sculpture or painting at an engineering college? While traditional engineering courses develop certain skills, the Arts teach you how to think. They develop a unique sense of awareness that stimulates empathy and the desire to be respectful of differing opinions.
It is empathy that drives innovation. It is empathy that drives unity. In a country and a world that is becoming increasingly divisive, it is the value of unity and mutual respect that should take center stage at any educational institution.
We need to reconsider the entire system of education in India. Transitioning from an isolated method of learning to more collaborative and interdisciplinary methods. What I mean by this is that learning subjects such as math, history, geography and language separately at schools, will not develop creative learning processes.
Integrating all disciplines into a classroom together in a way that drives learning through student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking will not only best nurture a deeper understanding of abstracted and factual concepts but it will also instill strong human values of team work and mutual respect. Values that are critical for the moral advancement of the world’s largest youth population.
Transforming the Indian education system and providing such quality equitably could be the answer to free India’s youth from psycho-social and socio-economic stresses. Stresses that find ways of channeling anxiety towards activities that cause much unrest.
India is too great a nation. Its magnificence lies in the accumulation of culture carefully protected over time. The peaceful togetherness of people who practice many different faiths, eat different kinds of food, dress in varied styles of clothing and speak a wondrous number of languages. Our strength lies in our diversity. Innovation will be a result of this diversity. Let us free ourselves from the practice of intolerance and create systems of education that will bring us all together.