The so called "demographic dividend" of India, with its burgeoning population, can only be achieved when a significant percentage of the citizens are able to participate in the process of nation building and at an individual level are capable of handling themselves rather than expect the government to bail them out with "goodies". As long as the government continues the "goodies" policy of doling out free stuff to the rural and poor, it leaves them with no capacity building skills. If the 8% growth rates are to continue beyond the next few years, we can ill afford not to focus on this aspect.
Just as a venture capitalist would not want to fund just the operational needs of a startup, but would probably be interested in capacity building of an organization - the government should focus more on how the freebies they give out can actually improve the capacity of individuals to earn a living and eventually contribute to nation building, not just meet their current needs of survival.
In the wake of technology led revolution in devising new learning models, most excuses for not accomplishing universal literacy and "people skilling" fall by the wayside. Now that we have figured out the potential of e-learning and how to deliver it to larger audiences, how do we make it more accessible and useful for the millions of kids in the rural and tribal areas who do not have access to quality education? What do we need to make this happen? In my opinion, the following four -
1. Good quality e-learning material
2. Reliable delivery mechanism
3. Curious minds and opportunity to employ them for learning
4. Above all, a focused initiative to make it happen
We can make nice e-learning content that will more than do the job. There is plenty of it on the net already for reuse. Khan academy is one such offering from the private sector that stands out for its simplicity and quality of content for the primary schools. Indian Government initiative, NPTEL, is another great initiative that levels the playing ground for all students of higher education. e-learning to some extent can solve the problem of lack of quality faculty to meet the demands of the nation. The few good faculty and the current state of e-learning technologies can be effectively leveraged to take good quality classrooms to every nook and corner of the country.
Let us look at the delivery mechanism. In India, we already have a good telecommunication network to support such activity. Another piece of infrastructure that completes the delivery mechanism is the end instrument that enables the interactive e-learning activity. These instruments are cheaper by the day, and come with increased capabilities every month. I am sure a good PPP initiative can actually enable most kids to have an instrument for free, very quickly.
Curious minds - well they are a given for every child in any part of the world. We do not need to be concerned about this aspect. But yes, we should be concerned about giving these curious minds an opportunity to explore. Child labour, despite being banned by legal systems, is still prevalent and robs the children of their opportunity to learn in a structured learning environment. But again, nothing that cannot be surmounted with a focused effort by roping in NGOs and the existing government resources.
So what is stopping us today? The fourth piece - a focused initiative by the government to make this happen. There have been many initiatives by the well intentioned government, but they have all fallen ill of times for various reasons. Governments come and go, policies change and initiatives are forgotten. But this is an initiative that can define the way India progresses over the next 30 to 50 years. Call it inclusive growth, or by any other political and management jargon - we can ill afford to lose this big picture.