Hon’ble President of India, Shri. Pranab Mukherjee took some decisions recently which can have far-reaching consequences. During the meeting of the Vice Chancellors of the Central Universities, he proposed several initiatives which could perhaps help in transforming the environment for higher education and connection between academia, innovators and rest of the society. As per the press release, Feb 7, 2013, [http://presidentofindia.nic.in/pr070213.html] he would interact with inspired teachers separately during his visits to various universities. For long, the agenda for policy and institutional reforms has not been influenced enough by the community of inspired teachers. This is a significant gap at national as well as state level, because of which we have seen decline in the standards as well as contributions from many institutions. The teachers who are inspired from within and thus are able to bring out the best in the students have also the better understanding of their respective discipline. If such teachers lead the design and delivery of pedagogy and content, policy and institutions and influence the culture of society, then nothing can come in the way of national transformation. The paradox is that while President has decided to bring about this change, the Minister of HRD and the secretary at national and state levels are yet to take the cue to pursue similar dialogue across the country. No society can really come out of the morass of mediocrity unless it learns to respect merit and be guided by meritocracy.
The President also decided to interact with the innovators who would be invited to the university to have an exhibition of their innovations. When he starts interaction, the rest of the academia cannot remain indifferent and insensitive to the need for closer partnership with the creative people of the country. I hope that the connection between the academic world and individual innovators and inventors will get strengthened beyond what Honey Bee Network has been able to achieve so far. He also advised the Vice Chancellors to set up chapters of National Innovation Club to be coordinated by National Innovation Foundation [NIF], Ahmedabad. These Clubs will have primarily four functions: Search, spread, sense and celebrate. They will search innovations in the hinterland in various sectors, document them and try to add value to them. They will spread the innovations from other regions in the local areas as a voluntary activity. They will sense or benchmark the current conditions of inertia in various sectors and regions and try to trigger change in them. They will also celebrate the contributions of local achievers including social entrepreneurs from the region. Once the experience of such social change agents in public and private system and local communities start being referred in the classroom and laboratories, the mood of the youth will start changing. They might be inspired and spurred to bring about socially inclusive innovations in the region.
Another idea proposed to the President was the celebration of local cultural excellence and uniqueness by providing space like a wall to showcase the traditions. It was hoped that private sector will also be involved in creating opportunities for such folk artists. Imagine if one wall in every building is dedicated to display of such local traditions with contact information, a market may be created for creative minds and incentives for conserving cultural creativity may thus be generated. Creation of open source content for education was another idea that has been appreciated by the President. While it may be difficult for the states to provide good quality teachers in primary and secondary schools or motivate the existing good quality teachers, by providing open source content, children may get opportunity to learn on their own. Through 1.5 lacs post offices, reaching 6.5 lacs villages with high quality multimedia, multi language content is not an impossible task. With the support of various well-wishers, overcoming the asymmetry on this account is not only possible but also imperative for an inclusive India.
Many institutions of higher learning are trapped in trivia. There is no large-scale engagement of elite institutions with the enormously complex challenges that society is facing. A social, cultural and institutional connect is waiting to be forged. A new social contract is on the anvil. The question is whether it will come about peacefully or large-scale social protest by the impatient youth will have to force it on us. The time will tell.