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Updated: August 17, 2010 15:22 IST

Embrace technology to improve access to education

G. MAHADEVAN
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Good infrastructure will help, but don't forget the learning curve says, Mr. Karpe Photo: S. Mahinsha
Good infrastructure will help, but don't forget the learning curve says, Mr. Karpe Photo: S. Mahinsha

Public-private participation will boost the investment in education manifold in the years to come, says Ninad Karpe, CEO and MD of Aptech.

Ninad Karpe started his career as a consultant advising companies planning to invest in India. He is now the CEO and Managing Director of Aptech which he joined in 2009. A keen follower of the education scenario both in India and around the world, Mr. Karpe maintains a blog—www.reformingeducation.in—where he speaks about issues relating to education. Excerpts from an interview during his recent visit to Thiruvananthapuram:

On problems in the primary education sector

The primary education system is plagued by so many problems. These range from single- teacher schools to institutions where girls cannot attend just because there are no toilet facilities. Broadly the problems are those of access and quality. Seen on a nationwide basis, out of every 100 students who enrol for class one, 80 or so drop out by the time they reach class nine or ten.

The Right to Education Act is a welcome development as it has the potential to ensure access to education. Access, however, should be ensured without compromising on quality. That said, quality in Indian schools may take some time to improve.

Lack of quality teachers is a major stumbling block and this will continue for a while because teaching has not been a sought after profession for a long time. This cannot be changed overnight. Moreover, monetarily too teaching in schools is not that attractive. Then again, getting the odd good teacher is not enough. How do you get a set of good teachers across subjects? How do you retain them?

But, by providing access and reasonable infrastructure and with some help from technology the school system can be improved. It is true that technology cannot replace the teacher completely, but it can substitute a teacher's work by up to 20 per cent or so. In India though the government has experimented with separate education channels and with e-learning schemes, technology has not really kept pace with the requirements, in creating a classroom-like experience for students.

On private investment in education

After Kapil Sibal took over as minister in charge of education a lot of visibility has been generated for the education sector. New schemes and new ideas are doing the rounds. As a result a lot of money, private money included, is going to come to education. That is good. In the days to come we can see huge amounts of money being pumped in by the private sector in tier-II and tier-III cities. These players are going to give much better access and far better infrastructure than the public sector.

The government has also announced a PPP scheme for the education sector. This is a fairly attractive scheme. I can say that when compared to the last five years, investment in education will grow four-fold in next five years. The private players will also start embracing technology in a big way. All this will happen over the next decade. But then schools aren't just about the infrastructure. There is also the more intangible ‘learning experience', the ambience.

On the possible entry of foreign universities/ educational institutions into India

The Foreign Universities Bill is a good initiative. The government has put in filters in the bill which will prevent India from getting inundated by those kinds of institutions which we do not want here. The education industry in India is fairly mature. But I do not honestly think that this would result in a dramatic change in the education sector. Will four institutes coming up in India change the education scene in a radical manner? Yes, it will help some students get quality education. This is radical more as a thought process. There aren't many countries in the world that allow foreign universities to set up shop. As a piece of legislation this Bill is a fairly dramatic step. I had never thought I would see something like this in my lifetime.

But in terms of impact, the role of foreign universities will be limited. The kind of shortages we have in terms of the number of colleges and universities, it is too huge a gap to be filled by foreign institutions.

On fears that top quality institutions may not prefer to come to India.

Why fear? Why can't the second or third rung institutions come to India? Now, are Indian students only going to top notch institutions abroad? I have been to Russia and there are 40,000 Indian students studying there. The question is do we just look at students going to Harvard or do we also look at students who aspire to get educated in a foreign university, even if that is a second-rung institution? If the top two or three colleges don't come, it is okay. Let the second level guys come and become successful and then the top guys will come.

A major point to note about foreign universities is that even if such institutions come here they will not be a substitute to learning in our own country's institutions. As in the case of schools, the university is not just about the campus but it is about a host of learning experiences. The atmosphere of, say, Harvard cannot be recreated here in a campus just like that. So even if a foreign university opens a campus here it will take 10 to 15 years to get its processes going.

We should encourage foreign universities to come and at the same time facilitate partnerships. It should never be one against the other.

On the move to set up Universities of Innovation.

If things are done in the way that the Bill suggests, it would be nothing short of a revolution. Here, there is a lot of scope for private capital to come in. In fact only Indian private capital will come in initially to fund a university of innovation. The foreign players will wait to see how things progress then may come in.

On the role of Aptech in higher education

Education is not a homogenous industry and over the last 25 years we have traversed quite a bit of ground. Our mission now is to become a global career education company. We are into animation, multimedia and gaming, hardware networking, travel, tourism, hospitality and airport management, an English language academy… We have a presence in more than 20 countries. And everywhere the aspiration of a student is the same; to get a better standard of living. We aim to give students skill sets, career tools which are globally valid.

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