Effective higher and professional education have an increasingly important role in every country, particularly those countries experiencing rapid growth and development. It is crucial that education institutions have the capacity and ability to fulfil this role – for individual students, for their communities and for national development.
Teaching methods, curriculum, and educational infrastructure must take into account local needs and existing levels of educational achievement, and not simply replicate systems that have been successful elsewhere. There must be a careful evaluation of all factors, including:
Over half of India's population of over 1.3 billion is under the age of 25, and India has the largest youth population in the world, even larger than that of China. In addition to the numerical challenge of creating sufficient school and higher education places, there is an overall requirement for updating the curriculum and teaching methods and standards at all levels of education.
India has rapidly become one of the main recruiting grounds for companies with an international presence. They require young men and women of talent, initiative and with excellent education. University and college graduates have to move rapidly from a local education setting to an environment that requires a global perspective and understanding. Many educational institutions are not able to match these requirements.
The variability in the quality and content of education is far greater than in most western countries. There is a very large contrast between education in the cities and in rural areas and between the best institutions and their mediocre counterparts even in cities. This contrast magnifies the challenge. It cannot be solved incrementally in the time available. New solutions must be found.
There is an immediate need for a very large and consistent campaign to improve standards in teacher education, at all levels from pre-school to higher and professional education.
My experience in teaching at Masters' level in India is that there is a very large spread of aptitude and learning ability even amongst intelligent students. There is a dependence on routine learning and memorising, leaving students feeling out of their depth when faced with a learning environment in which they need to think creatively and seek solutions in an innovative way – as they will in their careers.
This problem must be tackled consistently at all levels of education, from the earliest years of primary school, and event at pre-school or kindergarten. Teachers and school administrators should examine and implement methods used internationally to maximise creative thinking and an appetite for gaining knowledge, not simply absorbing facts.
As students progress through their education, it is important to instil a sense of independence of thinking and learning, which will prove an invaluable part of their capabilities in higher education and beyond. They will need this capacity in order to display the levels of critical, analytical and creative thinking and writing they will require in higher education and later on in their professional life.
The question is: how to bring about these changes rapidly and comprehensively enough to make a difference.
One solution is to create international partnerships with high quality institutions at each level of education. Partnerships can include the following ingredients:
The potential for educational excellence in India is enormous. Through strategic and consistent application of modern methods and technology, this potential can be realised.