In countries like India that are interspersed with diversity in the socio-political and economic front, education has to take a micro-view while adopting a macro-focus. While it is necessary to align states and regions with the larger national vision, it is equally important to understand the special needs, unique strengths and discrepancies of each region.Academicians, policy-makers and industry experts agree that the Indian education sector has taken significant steps particularly in the last 15 years. While India is setting sights on internationalising its education system, it is still struggling with problems of inclusion and quality even at the primary school level.
This is where innovation can play a major role and help produce customised solutions to the wide and varied challenges in the education sector. "Innovation can be instrumental in ironing out the discrepancies and ushering in a level ground in the education sector. And this level ground is imperative if India as a nation wants to realise the goal of a knowledge economy," said RP Agrawal, chairman of board of governors, IIT, Delhi. Agrawal was speaking at a forum 'Innovation in Education', recently organised by Education Times. The event was presented by the 'Institute of Management Technology' in association with 'images bazaar'.
The forum saw the participation of academics, industry leaders, policy-makers, corporations and research and funding organisations. Some of the pertinent issues that were addressed in the course of the day-long forum included speeding up cutting-edge research and development initiatives, vocationalisation of education,
bridging the digital divide and internationalisation of higher education.
One of the most visible aspects of a knowledge economy is its research. "Not just the volume, but the quality and relevance," observed Sanjay Kallapur, senior associate dean, Indian School of Business. Quality research has to be undertaken in the area of fundamental and basic research as well as incremental and advanced research. "There is urgency towards establishing world-class innovation universities that have a pronounced mandate on large-scale research initiatives. This is especially because at present sophisticated and high-end research facilities are mainly confined to the IITs, IIMs and AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences)," stressed M Balakrishnan, deputy director (faculty), IIT Delhi. "Our innovation universities, among other things, should help in nurturing people who can develop intellectual properties like patents," he added. Besides, as far as research is concerned, the industry-academia connect has to be strengthened. "Industry should throw challenges encountered in the actual work space as research assignments for university and college students. In fact, the government can also play a role in this respect by identifying research opportunities of national interest and by orienting the industry and academic fraternity to these challenges," shared Deepak Pental, vice-chancellor, Delhi University.
Another critical area where industryacademia relations have to be strengthened is the area of entrepreneurship. "Our country needs entrepreneurs and visionaries who can propose sustainable and innovative solutions. And for this to happen, our education system has to be geared in a manner so that students can identify real-world opportunities and understand the nuances of real time business environments. This is clearly one area where the industry can guide academia," said Manish Gupta, director, IBM Research India and chief technologist IBM India /South Asia.
Academicians and industry leaders are in broad consensus that while India explores innovation, it is important to understand that innovation cannot be predetermined."The attempt should be to encourage freshness in ideas and concepts that have scalability and can contribute significantly in generating quality, innovation, expansion, excellence and inclusion within the education system. Hence, it is necessary to remove regulatory roadblocks and psychological reservations that are impediments towards fostering a climate of innovation," opined RP Agrawal.
Roy Newey, group board director, A4E India, pointed out that vocational education could be one of the solutions. "In countries like UK, vocational education is regarded at par with mainstream education. Every country requires skilled manpower not just in the tier one segment of industry but in the tier two and tier three segments as well—a need that can be actualised through the vocational system of education. For vocational education to become a success, the parameters of entry, assessment and employability have to be clearly ascertained," shared Newey.
Shabnam Sinha, senior education specialist, The World Bank, stressed on the role of technology in terms of augmenting quality in education. "Technology, particularly the use of multimedia, can play a pivotal role in facilitating personalised learning," she stated. However, it is not sufficient to make available only the infrastructure to schools and colleges. Inservice training programmes have to be regularly conducted for upgrading the skills of teachers, she stressed.
Talking about the subject of internationalisation of higher education—a subject that is being mulled widely in academic and policy-making circles, Dilip K Bandopadhyay, vice-chancellor, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, said, "Internationalisation is not a question of strategic choice for India. It is an obvious choice, given the fact that in today's globalised world, compartmentalisation of education is an unreal concept. Entry of foreign universities is welcome on Indian soil because while on one hand they will infuse innovative teaching methodologies and educational concepts, on the other hand they will automatically unleash a spirit of healthy competition among Indian universities," he stated.