November 25, 2009

Psenti Article

This was the last article that I wrote for the "Fine Print" as a member of the English Press Club.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." This quote truly sums up my state of mind these days. It's quite difficult to believe that it is already time to bid adieu to the place that I called home for the last three and a half years. Though it's hard to digest, the sooner we come into terms with the fact that change is the only thing that is permanent in life, the better it is for us. These years spent at Pilani have immensely contributed in shaping who I am and have helped me understand what I stand for. College days truly stand out from the rest of our years as it is here where we are high on adrenalin as well as idealism, a combination which can work wonders if honed properly. It's in college where you identify your call and start working in that direction. I am happy to have made full use of most of the opportunities that came my way in college. One thing that truly makes BITS stand out is the kind of exposure we get not just from our very well structured pedagogy but also from the gamut of extra curricular activities that go on side by side where we get to explore our creative sides. It goes without saying that I'll miss this campus a lot and leaving Pilani would create a void, quite difficult to fill. What I would certainly miss the most would be my friends, people who have truly made every moment of my stay at college memorable. Not being able to see a lot of them for a long time to come is something that makes me feel sad. Clinging on these wonderful memories, I look forward to making use of all this wonderful place has endowed me with, to live up to the name of this esteemed institution

March 10, 2009

Education: The foundation for innovation

This was my entry for National Knowledge Commission’s online essay contest on the topic “ How can India unleash its innovation and entrepreneurship potential?” It’s a build up on one of my previous posts on the prevalent education system.

We keep on bloating about the fact that Indian students are among the brightest in the world. But have we ever thought how little our country benefits from that? India’s contribution to the world in terms of innovations & discoveries is miniscule. The sole reason for the above is that we are simply not creative enough. This is not innate in Indians, but the age-old education system here ensures that our creative abilities are put largely to rest. We see that many of our NRI’s are flourishing as leading scientists & entrepreneurs in universities abroad. How is it that the same person achieves great heights abroad while in India, he gets nowhere?

All this can be attributed largely to prevalent education system in our country today. Creativity and innovation are regarded today as the most valuable asset that a nation can possess. Despite this, we are still stuck in the world of cramming and coaching classes. Our education system stifles all our creativity through rote learning. Right from the junior classes, questioning facts is not encouraged. Children who ask questions are often scoffed at and labeled with derogatory tags rather than being called inquisitive. Gradually, children also become averse to questioning and start accepting facts. When you start accepting things as they are, you can never be very innovative. With this present system, what we are churning out is just a huge workforce and not creative minds. Our education system was modeled on the British system but the British have moved on by introducing huge reforms and we are still where we were decades ago.

Introducing reforms in our present education system is one of the most critical steps we need to take to inculcate innovation in the younger generation. The system of rote learning should be done away with and should be replaced by a system which tests one’s intelligence and not his/her memorizing ability. The whole system of our examinations should be changed to give way to one which focuses on understanding the basics rather than learning the formulas. Conventional methods of teaching should be replaced with something which is more interactive and interesting. Only when learning is made more interesting does it really arouse one’s quest to know more about it.

If India has to really progress fast, it needs innovation, be it in the sphere of infrastructure, nutrition, education, administration or for that matter any other sector. So if we don’t want to be called a “Call centre Giant” perpetually, we will have to totally overhaul the education sector. Research will have to be promoted because without it no country can progress. Not only does research lead to innovations, but also (though indirectly) to huge investments. Companies pay exorbitant sums as royalties for using patents. Our government has always neglected research. The number of Ph.D.s in our country is insignificant when we compare it the number of engineering graduates. Research is not given much value in institutes across the country. Even premier research labs in the country get paltry sums as research grants. There is no autonomy in the education sector. A college cannot decide what courses to teach, what fees to charge, and what salaries to pay to its teachers, thanks to the various UGC and AICTE norms. Even opening a new college or a technical institution can take more than a few years.

Another important step towards attaining our entrepreneurial potential would be a change in our mindset. Indians are generally considered as people who are risk averse. We need to change this and start taking risks. Its not like we are born to be risk averse but our society moulds us this way. The Indian style of parenting is to be partially blamed for this. Most parents want their children to take the oft-treaded path while making career choices. Hence most of us grow up to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and other steady 9-to-5 office goers rather than becoming entrepreneurs. The importance of entrepreneurship is still not understood totally in the country. Unless one makes it big in business, entrepreneurs still do not get the respect they deserve from the society in general. Entrepreneurship is still not considered a viable career option. Those who directly delve into this field are considered as people who couldn’t make their mark in the jobs that are considered “normal.” If enterprises have to flourish on our land, this mentality has to go. We need to educate people on the importance of entrepreneurship be it through seminars, organizations or publications. New enterprises not only contribute rising income levels but also increase employment opportunities for people. It is generally seen that there is a direct correlation between the entrepreneurial activity level and the standard of living of a nation hence it assumes greater importance for a developing country like ours.

Any step in the direction of encouraging entrepreneurship would not change much unless it is actively supported by the government. The government has to provide a conducive environment for businesses and enterprises to flourish. Today the situation is quite the opposite where it takes months if not longer for a firm to get the necessary approvals. In developed nations, a venture can get through the whole process in a matter of days. The government should see to it that red tapism doesn’t interfere in this process. A single window system of clearance of proposals would help quite a bit. Entrepreneurial ventures should also be given advantages such as tax breaks or relaxed taxation rates in their initial phases to give further boost to people who want to dive into it. This would promote a spirit of innovation and enterprise in our people and would lead to prosperity in our nation. Only when the government and our people realize these invaluable facts will our nation really unleash its innovation and entrepreneurial potential.