(The speech of the Wipro Chairperson Azim Premji in RSS’s NGO Rashtriya Sewa Bharati function held in New Delhi on 2015 April 5 with the presence of RSS Sarsanghchalak Sri. Mohanji Bhagwat, GM Rao (GMR group) and Subhash Chandra (Chairman, Zee Group))
When I speak of a better India, I visualize the India envisioned in our Constitution, an India which is just, equitable, humane and sustainable. Such an India must be not only economically strong to be able to provide to all its citizens with shelter, nutrition, access to basic health and education, but at the same time it must be an India with great heart, which treats all living entities – human beings and nature – with care and compassion. If we are to become a great country, and realize the vision of our constitution, we need to work on many fronts. Let me refer to just some of these issues.
We must improve our governance and battle corruption at every level so we can release our energy for the betterment of our country and the world. We must make our country safe for our citizens and especially for our women, our children and the disadvantaged sections. We must work towards providing shelter to those who live in abject poverty, and ensure that everyone gets a decent meal, access to healthcare and good Education.
We must act on these and many other fronts if we are to fulfill our own aspirations of a good society and as a nation become an important and meaningful member of the global society.
I believe that one of the foremost areas we need to address is Education.
When I first decided to set up a foundation, I considered many areas that needed urgent redressal in our country- livelihoods, health, education and environment amongst others. After much deliberation, I decided upon Education as a priority because I believe that a well educated population will be empowered to take care of its other problems such as livelihood, health, sustainability etc. Since Education is my area of interest, I hope you will not mind my talking a little more about it.
Our Education system needs a great deal of improvement, not only in ensuring that all our children, especially from the deprived section are in school, but much more importantly in the quality of Education. We know that Education is most fundamentally empowering for any human being and thereby for the nation. Unfortunately at this point our Education system is not delivering as it should. Let me briefly touch upon what I think is good Education. In my view, and as reflected in several National Policy documents and curricular goals, good Education is that which enables the growth and development of the child in multiple dimensions, such that she is able to fulfill and expand her potential and become an active, contributing and concerned citizen of our country and the world. These multiple dimensions of development of the child include not just the cognitive, but also the physical, social, emotional and ethical development of each child. And this must happen in an integrated manner.
Good Education is not about rote memorization and getting good grades, it’s about ability to think critically, to question, and to develop the individual’s autonomy. Good Education is about developing good human beings, who are empowered to make informed and ethical decisions, and who grow into responsible and caring citizens. And most importantly, good Education is that which in its totality enables the development of our country, as envisioned in our Constitution.
There is a tremendous need for improvement in both our school and higher Education sectors. We at the Azim Premji Foundation decided to work single mindedly in the area of school Education, in which we have now been engaged for 15 years. Our focus has been totally on helping to improve the quality of education in the government schooling system. We chose this path because the mandate of government schooling, or the public education system as it is called is to serve children from all sections and all sectors of society including the underprivileged without any discrimination, a clear mandate to serve the most disadvantaged sections of our society. Our work, currently in the states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Bihar, which have over 350,000 schools, work is entirely focused on helping improve the States’ schooling systems, especially in the disadvantaged districts of these states.
In 2010, after ten years of experience of working in the field, we realized that a major problem was the great dearth of good Educational professionals in the field, decided to establish the not-for-profit Azim Premji University, for educating professionals, experts in the field Education and other human Development areas, who would be committed to working in the social sector. Based on our work in school education, let me share with you a few points that strike me as pivotal in improving our public school system: First, all of us including the Government, needs to strongly and visibly reaffirm the importance of quality public Education, because public Education is foundational to democracy. It helps break down social and economic inequalities and helps build an egalitarian, inclusive society. We see that even the most economically advanced nations invest and develop a strong public Education system as they realize its critical value to society and democracy.
Our aim should not be to create a parallel system of private schools, but to revamp and enable the vast existing public system which today reaches almost every village in our country. It is imperative that we revitalize this system. Second, the problem is while we have many excellent policies and intentions, our execution on the ground has been very weak. We must focus on execution and implementation on the ground.
Third, improving the entire Education system is only possible if we carry all stakeholders with us. This means that not only must all the states be committed and its institutions involved, but most importantly that our millions of Teachers be motivated to change.
We must recognize the critical role of Teachers and make them partners in the change. This will only happen if we value our Teachers, give them adequate voice, empower them and acknowledge the importance of their role. Like any other area of work, some of our existing Teachers are highly capable and committed, while some are disengaged. However most teachers are like the average human being, like you and me, who, with the right education, adequate support and an empowering environment, can become the back bone of our efforts to improve education.
Fourth, improving the Teacher Education system, including the B. Ed., D.Ed. colleges is crucial if we want to develop good teachers. Unfortunately many of our 16000 odd Teacher colleges are more of commercial institutes with no real interest in Education. These are often owned by powerful people who resist attempts at change. So, reforming the system will be a daunting challenge which will take political will, commitment and courage. But unless we do this, our school Education will not improve for a long long time. Fifth, we must make sustained and systematic efforts to develop the capacity of existing teachers by providing comprehensive on the ground support in multiple ways, including opportunities and mechanisms for peer learning. This will require revamping our Cluster and Block Resource Centers as well as our 600 odd existing District Institutes of Educational Training (DIETs) which can
then take the lead in addressing the multiple needs of school Education, including capacity development of Teachers.
Sixth, it is also most important to improve early childhood care for our preschool children to ensure they receive proper nutrition and early Education, as this foundation is crucial for the healthy, all round development of the child.
At present we have a 13 lakh strong network of Anganwadis which we must invest in and improve to ensure a sound foundation. Lastly, to make all this happen we will have to significantly increase public investment in Education which at present is woefully inadequate. Illustratively, our public expenditure for school Education is only 2.8% of our GDP, while that of other developing countries is over 3.5% and developed countries which have good Education systems 5% to 6% of GDP. This calls for political will and prioritization.
The issues I have raised are not the only ones in Education, but I do think they are some of the most important ones. If we want our Education to fundamentally improve, we will have to seriously take up the above challenges. If we really want to fulfill this huge agenda we will all have to work together, as such an agenda will require not only very strong political will but an enormous amount of commitment – “tann, mann and dhan”. Dedicated workers like you will need to take on ownership for those aspects of the agenda which find resonance in your own work, and also influence public discourse on these issues. Given the importance of good Education to every individual and to the overall society, I am sure that many of you must be already engaged in working in many of these areas. I want to reiterate that we as a Foundation, are deeply committed to improving the public school system. I think that all players in the Education arena need to work together towards developing a robust, vibrant, high quality and inclusive Public Education System.
As I come to a close, let me leave you with a few thoughts. One, for me Values are very important. I have learnt that this is true for small actions as well as big ones, for what we are, is revealed not in big things but in the little things we do. I believe there is nothing more important than Integrity. Building a culture of integrity in an organization is about trying to be consistently straightforward in all actions and words with all people, including in our own daily interactions and commitments. Two, the test of our social commitment and humanity is how we treat the most powerless of our fellow citizens, the respect we accord to our fellow human beings. That is what reveals our true culture. Three, as a great pluralistic nation we must accept our differences. It is vital that we accept them and find a common ground to work together. Negative people only focus on differences. How empowering it would be for us as a nation if we focus on common causes. Instead of dissipating our energy on dissonance and discord, imagine all 125 crore Indians working together to battle our greatest common challenges – poverty, inequality, ignorance, disease – what a great country we could be!
I would like to thank you once again and to reiterate what an honour it has been for me to be able to address so many good people doing so much good work with such great social purpose. You indeed form a part of vibrant civil society of India, so essential in any great nation. Let us hope that our country awakens, and that we all together bring to reality the great India envisioned in our constitution.
Thank you and Jai Hind..!!!