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Thursday, July 18, 2024

India can achieve 100 percent literacy with proper use of ed-tech: Author Rajesh Talwar

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With the thought-provoking, ‘Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge: The Past, Present, and Future of Excellence in Education’, authored by Rajesh Talwar, former UN official current consultant, lawyer, and best-selling author, readers can delve into ideas of education reform, wherein the book supports the government’s aim of high-quality education, and offers guidance for policy-makers to enhance India’s global education standard.

Drawing from his extensive experience, Talwar compares educational standards worldwide, particularly in Asia, and proposes innovative solutions to elevate learning. He highlights how technology like Ed-Tech and AI can achieve full literacy, focusing on India’s critical educational challenges and offering practical improvement solutions.

With Talwar’s new release, embark on a fascinating educational and cultural tour of three famed universities of the world: Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard.  Compare and contrast the quality of education delivered in the West, with that imparted in other parts of the world, particularly Asia.

The book suggests ways in which Ed-Tech and artificial intelligence (AI) can radically transform education and bring about 100 percent literacy. It discusses how India can attract foreign students and makes the case for the entry of foreign universities. It makes far-reaching recommendations that address the issues of expansion, equity, employability, and excellence within the Indian educational system.

The book provides answers to questions that have perplexed intellectuals. What is so special about Indians that so many of them have become CEOs of the biggest companies in the world? How is it that India can land a spacecraft on the moon, but many of its roads, buildings and homes are in a constant state of disrepair? If, and only if, India is able to address the formidable challenges its educational system faces, it will be India, not China, that in time to come is the global leader in education.

With increasing affluence and influence, Asia is now changing and rising. Donning the hat of a futurist, Rajesh Talwar makes a compelling case for why global leadership and excellence in higher education will eventually shift to Asia in the coming decades. The author makes brilliant, unorthodox, out-of-the-box suggestions on how to improve and fast-track the quality of education in India in an informal, relatable and inimitable style.

Rajesh Talwar has written on a variety of themes ranging from social justice to law and culture for international and national magazines, newspapers, and websites including The Guardian, The Economic Times, the Pioneer, and Sunday Observer.

His non-fiction works range from books on legal literacy and human rights, to those on the sacred feminine and world culture. His most notable book on judicial reform, ‘The Judiciary on Trial,’ (Cosmos Publications, Delhi; 2002) was reviewed and applauded by no less than the Late Khushwant Singh, veteran journalist, and commentator. A book on hijras titled, ‘The Third Sex and Human Rights’ was extracted and used as the lead story in The Asian Age’s Sunday Supplement.

More recently, Rajesh Talwar wrote the best-selling ‘Courting Injustice: The Nirbhaya Case and Its Aftermath’ (Hay House; 2013) in the aftermath of the terrible rape in December, 2013, which made international headlines around the world.

Talwar is also a playwright who has focussed on social themes. He is the author of a 2002 satire on the law criminalising homosexuality (Inside Gayland), a play on dowry deaths (The Bride Who Would Not Burn), and a play on AIDS (High Fidelity Transmission). In 2016 he wrote, ‘Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Four-Legged Scorpion’, a historical play on Gandhi and Ambedkar in the context of their differing attitudes towards the evil of untouchability. His play ‘Kaash Kashmir’ (2017) examines the conflict in the valley.

His books for children include The Boy Who Wrote a Constitution, The Three Greens, The Bearded Prince, The Sleepless Beauty, Fabulous Four Battle Zoozoo, the Wizard and Playwrights- A One-Act Play for Children on Human Rights.

Rajesh Talwar has served the United Nations for over two decades across three continents including in senior-level positions. He has worked as an Executive Officer heading the Human Rights Advisory Panel with the UN in Kosovo, as a Legal Adviser to the Police Commissioner for the UN in East Timor, and as a Deputy Legal Adviser with the UN in Afghanistan. He continues to work as an international consultant on justice, human rights, and policymaking.

Nominated for the Alumni Award 2024 by the University of Nottingham, Talwar’s expertise promises to shape the future of education.

In order to get a deeper insight into Talwar’s new release, and the important facets of education reform it touches upon, Sonakshi Datta of GoaChronicle posed a few questions to him.

What shortcomings do you reckon India’s education system has been fighting with? What do you think are the reasons behind the same?

There are many shortcomings, too many to list. There is corruption in the education sector for one thing. Paper leaks cannot be accepted anymore. In my book, I have spoken about how there is technology available now to make sure that there is no cheating, but it appears that it is not being deployed. Of course, when the teachers are themselves in cahoots with students, it becomes difficult.

Another important issue I discuss in my book is how the higher education system in any country in the world gets impacted by the primary education system. Our schools need to be equipped with better infrastructure and a better quality of teachers. We need to improve our primary education system, including literacy levels in the country. There is not sufficient high-quality research being carried out in our universities, including in the sciences.

There is no requirement for teachers to publish a certain number of articles every year in reputed journals. There is also the important issue of lack of proper investment by the government, and so on and forth.

How do you think these challenges can be alleviated by the education sector of India?

As I explain in my book, it is perfectly possible for India to attain one hundred percent literacy, if we use ed-tech properly. Various alternative models for doing so are discussed. I have also suggested ways by which the gap in the quality of education being rendered in private schools and government schools can be greatly narrowed down with the aid of technology.

Technical solutions are available, but what is needed, is political will and determination. There should be proper cooperation and collaboration between private ed-tech companies and the government. The government should provide these companies with a reduced GST rate for their products, or even land at a discounted rate and in exchange, the companies must undertake to provide ed-tech services to the underprivileged and government schools at a low cost.

We need a Nitin Gadkari clone as minister or as a top bureaucrat to handle the education sector.

What role do you think the students will play in the same?

The students have a hugely important role to play. With a vastly expanded middle class, students, their parents and civil society in general are not willing to tolerate paper leaks and unfairness in admissions within the education sector.

On the negative side, these things (corruption, nepotism, unfairness in general) are still happening, but on the positive side, there is enormous and increasing public anger on the issue. Students now take out protest marches with equal participation by female students. Young people now form an important political constituency and if they insist on better quality education the politicians will be forced to listen.

As you have compared educational standards worldwide, what was the most impactful educational strategy by any country you came across?

The US and the UK are acknowledged to be world leaders in education and there is much we can learn from them. However, I am completely against copycat solutions. For instance, it was a good idea to have a separate ministry for Skill Development but we also need proper investment. If India invests properly in primary education, higher education and vocational training, we can ensure that within Asia, we will be the leaders.

In his book ‘India is Broken: A People Betrayed,’ Ashoka Mody, an economic historian from Princeton University writes on how across the political spectrum over the decades following independence, there has been insufficient investment in education. Of course, together with investment, there are many other things that need to be done. There must be a focus on research and updating of teaching skills. There must also be academic freedom.

Even though China is much richer than India, it can never do research in history and political science that is outstanding, because it is a closed society. We must organize instruction in universities using the seminar model that encourages critical thinking. It should not be only an instruction model with the teacher speaking and the students listening, although that too has its own use.

What country do you think India can learn a lot from, overall? Why is it so?

From universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, we can learn to improve our research standards. From Harvard, we should learn that while research is hugely important, teaching skills are also equally important. A teacher needs to be able to hold the attention of students. In India, we need to give importance to both research as well as teaching skills. Sadly, we lack in both areas.

There are universities where the professors have not published anything in years. Not only have they not published, there are professors who do not even read the latest in their field. This must stop. Perhaps we do not have to go so far as to adopt the policy of ‘publish or perish’, common in certain western universities, but at the same time, we cannot allow our teachers to become lethargic and not keep in touch with developments in their area of expertise.

How different is the quality of education of the West from Asia or India in particular?

Our A level institutions are often on par with top universities in the West. I am talking here, about the IITs, the IIMs and so on and forth. The problem is that just below these A level institutions, we also have universities with terrible standards. In the West, there is not so much difference in quality between, say the University of Oxford and the University of Nottingham. In fact, the University of Nottingham may be better in certain subjects. At the time I studied in Nottingham, it was ranked higher in human rights and law than both Cambridge and Oxford.

Introducing subject-wise ranking encourages institutions, including universities to compete and perform better. We should enforce quality control on our universities to ensure that the private universities do not just become money making machines. Even at the primary school level, we should make changes to the B.Ed. system and to the recruitment of teachers in general, to ensure a better quality of teachers.

Teaching should be a passion, not merely a job. Way back in 1966, the Kothari Commission had suggested that India invest 6 percent of its GDP in education. If Brazil can spend 6 percent, and South Africa, 6.6 percent, then why can’t India? We need to get our priorities right.

Sonakshi Datta
Sonakshi Datta
Journalist who wants to cover the truth which others look the other way from.

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