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Transforming India

Indian society is becoming modern. Yet in a nation where about 60% of the population lives in rural areas, traditional value system still prevails in most of the social practices. India has become a nation of many contradictions, a nation that sends satellites into space, a nation where electronic voting machines are carried by bullock carts in remote areas at the time of general elections. It is still a nation in which experience is valued more than knowledge in rural areas. Will this conundrum help India sail through the economic challenges it will face in the future?

Until Independence, the nation’s economy was typically agricultural, an economy that did not demand university education. Nor could the country afford it as it was being ruthlessly exploited by British imperialists. If the country had planned for 100% literacy through school education in all villages and towns from 1947, close to 290 million people would not be illiterate today. And there would not be any need in rural areas to equate common sense gained through decades of experience in life with knowledge.

While India is legitimately proud of possessing some of the finest educational institutions in the world such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management, can India hold its head high when a foreigner points a finger at the rate of illiteracy in India? Even if the years 1947 to 1991 are kept aside for the sake of argument that they were the years when private enterprise was not allowed to penetrate all the sectors of the economy, including education, what has been happening since 1991 is the question that torments the nation now. Since a whole new generation was raised, illiteracy could have been wiped out. There would be no need to justify illiteracy saying experience in life is more valuable than knowledge.

Knowledge does not necessarily mean expertise in information technology or knowledge imparted in higher level education through universities. Knowledge is the base from which an individual can proceed to construct his or her life and live in the way he or she wants in the future. Germany and Japan were devastated in the Second World War but within a generation they rebuilt their nations and became advanced, industrialised economies. How did they succeed? Knowledge was the key.

India is a country that is rightfully proud of its civilisation and culture. It is a country where people are willing to learn, are committed to working diligently and honestly. If India opted for proper utilisation of its manpower and natural resources from the 1950s, would the country be having so many millions of illiterate and poor people today? Cuba, an island nation with a population of little more than 11 million, bags 15 medals in Tokyo Olympics 2021, of which seven are gold. India with an adult population of a billion got one gold medal in Olympics 2021. How do these figures reflect on India’s commitment to human resource development? Should we blame the government or the people for lagging behind in HRD or both or neither?

For a country like India, its precious culture and rich traditions, if not interpreted imaginatively, could become liabilities instead of being assets. If the country does not learn to embrace what the twenty-first century demands the world over, it has to justify its failures like unacceptable level of illiteracy and other related deprivations. A poor villager can rationalise his poor knowledge and other deficiencies, blaming his fate; his country cannot. For his country, advanced industrial democracies provide the model of development.

From North America to South Asia, from Europe to South East Asia, cultures differ; what men and women need by way of education, housing and healthcare do not differ. In the immediate context, India does not have to seek excellence in all the essential fields, like sending a man to the moon; it has to aim at the average and above average for all the people. Otherwise history will not forgive India.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 4:50:18 AM |

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