Pushing Education in India

Pace University's Surendra Kaushik responds to reader comments on his previous column on caste, education, and success

My "Do Not Reinforce Two Indias" column of Nov. 2, 2006, overwhelmingly brought appreciative comments on the main themes of the article that (i) educational resources should be expanded by government at all levels; (ii) caste- and religion-based quotas are divisive, inefficient, and unnecessary to expand educational opportunities to all; (iii) admissions to colleges and universities should be based on interest, aptitude, preparation, and performance of the student, i.e., merit; and (iv) education is the source of growth, so far mostly in private sector.

India's long-term success in software, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, engineering, textiles, art, literature, music, movies, domestic and international trade, and indeed a better running of the government and the public sector, is based on knowledge-based production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

There is a direct link between education and standard of living in modern times for all countries with per-capita income both above and below India's. In general, the higher the percentage of college-educated people in the total population, the higher the gross domestic product (as well as per-capita income).

Upping the Education

Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Austria, and Japan, for example, are on top of the economic game because a quarter or more of their populations have college-level education. The other end of the spectrum is represented by the poorest countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where less than 1% of the population boasts a higher education. In India, the proportion is 4%.

So if India has set a goal of becoming a "developed country" by 2020, at least 10% of its population must have a college education—the minimum for any European Union country. That is a tall order for a country that still suffers near 30% illiteracy and where about one-fourth of primary-school-age children are not in the classroom. I agree with readers who want the government to achieve universal education for all of India's children. That is also the U.N.'s Millennium Goal for education, but it doesn't look like India will achieve it by the 2015 deadline.

The Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen spoke about this situation recently: "We have a social responsibility in the field of primary education which has to be performed with clarity and commitment with stress on due honor to the teaching community," said Sen, while calling for serious efforts to bring all children within the purview of primary education, as reported in HindustanTimes.com on Feb. 13, 2007.

The renowned economist was speaking on the occasion of the launch of a 15-point program for the improvement of primary-school education in West Bengal. Amartya Sen's Pratichi Trust and UNICEF are advising the effort.

A New Way to Success

A few readers have such a high degree of empathy for the poor in India that they consider quotas based on caste and religion a "necessary evil." It is precisely this sentiment that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in India exploited to enshrine the quota system (and thus the caste system) in India's constitution in 2006. India's budget, presented to Parliament in the first week of March, 2007, contemplates a sizable increase in education spending but also reinforces the caste and class system by allocating sums for people in different groups.

It is interesting that the more than 10 million educated Indians around the globe represent a wide range of education they received in different conditions in India. It is their education, and not their caste, that made them successful in the world.

The main point is that the government should continue to invest more and more into education for all, as well as providing incentives for the private education system, until India achieves the 10% college-educated benchmark—after which the system can be self-sustaining.

By that time, political and business leadership in India should have enough courage to undo the caste- and religion-based quota system.

Real Action

One reader wondered when the Indian farmer would benefit from education. The answer is that the India farmer already benefited from what is called the Green Revolution and has continued to benefit. The farmer will benefit even more as access to educational facilities in agriculture, food processing, business, manufacturing, and marketing are increased to all rural and farming areas of India in a nondiscriminatory, nondivisive, and nonredistributive way.

Another reader lamented, "Do something or shut up." It is too bad the reader missed the link to a women's college Web site (www.helenakaushik.org) at the bottom of my article. I invite him and all others to visit the women's college I established in a small village in 1999; the college has already graduated 239 students with BA, MA, and MS degrees from the University of Rajasthan.

We have invested more than $2 million in creating opportunity for women of all castes, economic and social status, and religions in the area—without any quota system—where none existed before. I wish more Indians abroad would get involved and get their friends in India involved in their ancestral places or any place they wish to be helpful.

Other Voices

Regarding the importance of education for Americans, especially black Americans, let me close by quoting New York Times columnist Bob Herbert: "There is no way, in my opinion, for blacks to focus too much or too obsessively on education. It's the fuel that powers not just the race for success but the quest for a happy life. It represents the flip side of failure….For anyone deluded enough to question whether education is the ticket to a better life for black boys and men, consider that a black male who drops out of high school is 60 times more likely to find himself in prison than one with a bachelor's degree" (The New York Times, Mar. 5, 2007).

Likewise, Nicholas Kristof, in his Mar. 6, 2007, New York Times column, relates a recent conversation he had with Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-Ill.): "So how would an Obama administration differ from the Bill Clinton presidency in foreign policy? One way, [Obama] said, would be a much greater emphasis on promoting education, health care and development in Africa and other poor regions—not just for humanitarian reasons, but also with an eye to national security."

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