Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Sustained India Shining- Skills and Human Capital development is THE Lever

Sitting in Delhi at the India WEF summit, currently listening to our finance minister, P.Chidambaram, who is amongst the most sophisticated speakers i have heard, i am struck by the broad fundamentals that mean that 7+ GDP growth rates in India are definitely certain- 1)fundamentals of India continue to be really strong; 2)India has been mostly unaffected by the rot in asset classes; and finally, 3)the resultant deflationary pressure- reducing price of oil, energy and commodities , reducing input pricing.

However, one point that the minister made really struck- the US in his opinion (that i completely endorse), will continue to be the most dominant economic engine mainly because it is a talent magnet- the best brains of the world want to and will continue to go there. Hence, a provocative question- as the first world continues to implode, and the government's worries about inflation wither away, but growth still continues to be at 7%, is it time for India to shift gears on human capital development, and move into a much more aggressive drive to create deep pools of talent?

India is already an extremely entrepreneurial and capitalist culture. Whilst financial capital is a challenge, i don't think India lacks money. However, what India desperately needs is technology and skills, both of which are directly linked to human capital. Also, given the entrepreneurship and innovation in India, i am pretty sure that the only help the education and skills sector needs is an unfettered environment- Deregulation, no governmental interference and stay out of the way.

Now is the time, in my opinion, to change the paradigm of education in India, to deregulate, to bring innovation and help create skills that create the 10 Million jobs we desperately need.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Nandan’s Book: Imagining India captivates imagination!

I am at the WEF India summit in Delhi, listening to Nandan talking about his book- of course, Nandan is a brilliant speaker, and it is always a pleasure listening to explore his ideas, but his conversation started to get me thinking- and in particular two of his safety net of 18 ideas that i am trying to do something with ( but i have mentioned the others he spoke about):

Idea 1: the importance of English- India has gone thro multiple convolutions on how it looks at English- our founding fathers liked the notion of hanging onto English because many of them had those backgrounds, from England etc. Later on the southern states, particularly tamil nadu vehemently opposed imposition of Hindi and gave English newer leases of life. Currently the outsourcing revolution ha s put English on a pedestral, making it the language of aspiration. In the 1970, we stopped teaching English in Bengal, Gujarat and UP- and they feel they have lost out- and things are reverting back to English - pressure from the bottom- change. English is a caste solvent, it eliminates caste.

Idea 2: education/ primary education- steadily education has to grow and will grow- because of the subterranean changes that are happening in society, including the aspirations of young people. We have a situation in rural India, where many students go to private schools, with parents paying a significant proportion of their wages to get their children educated, because the public education system is so dysfunctional. Typically, change works in 3 phases, 1 we need to recognise it is a challenge, 2- we put money/resources into it, 3) we tend to then focus on outcomes-the risk is evolution is slower than the pace of change, hence we have to accelerate it.

The way his book is structured is that he divides his 18 ideas into-

  • Ideas that arrived- are primarily Responsible for 6-8% growth
  • Ideas that need to be implemented- will sustain the growth rate
  • Contested ideas- are about accelerating this growth (bigger middle class/ accelerate)
  • Anticipated ideas- are about identifying the problems of prosperity- managing prosperity

2nd set of ideas: Ideas that are accepted but yet to be implemented:

  • Urbanisation
  • No concept of national market: Services- national markets, products- state level markets- and agriculture produce- only for local markets: thats the reason for different growth rates.

3rd Set of Ideas: Contested ideas:

  • Caste/ political system- ones left out of markets are going to use the political system to enter.
  • Higher education- no foreign university/ nfp/ regulated who they hire, how much they pay, what they teach etc- how do we fix this
  • Labour- 93% in the unorganised sector- leading to slow growth in the organised sector

4th Set of ideas: Anticipated ideas- look at what's gone wrong with prosperous nations and try and solve for them:

  • How technology can be used for transformation=- power, energy, poverty,. Etc
  • Health (from hunger to heart disease)- anticipate the health issue and go thro the problems of healthcare
  • Social insurance and entitlements- aging populations/ Medicare/ unfunded liabilities- 40 years from now, if we repeat the same problem- we shouldn't create a burden
  • Environment- destroy get rich and fix, vs harmony with the environment
  • Energy- to continue to grow at 8%- we need to fix per-capita income will growth 16 times, but per capita carbon consumption can only grow twice- break the paradigm between income growth and carbon emission

Newer models of Democratising Education

India has a problem-not enough people are getting the skills that allow them to learn, do more, and be more employable. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of the educational world as we know it is structured as a top down process, where the model is that the "teachers" push "learning" to students in traditional contexts, such as the classrooms.

However, , there are two challenges- teaching , even 50 at a time, cannot solve problems that have learning deficits that run into millions of people- so this is not scalable? The second challenge is that not all teachers are created equal, and the best teachers have an ability to get learning across much better than average teachers- so the challenge is that our "rock star" teachers must be able to reach the widest audience, and impart learning.

So how do we go about solving this? I think the answer lies in giving more power to the young, and in democratising education, because they will naturally leverage technology, and are already leading the behaviour change that is being driven by that technology permeation.

I lead an organisation that imparts employability skills, thro the medium of e-learning, to college students and graduates that are looking for a job or have already found one. There is an example that illustrate the point above , which relates to the usage of social networks in their urge to beat the system- we track user behaviour not just in our platforms, but also in the social networks- and their ability to come up with solutions to beat the system are uncanny-we have an entire group that is dedicated to keeping our tabs on how they leverage social networks and other web2.0 mechanisms to spread their understanding of how to beat the assessment systems.

Finally looking outside, there are some examples that have done a brilliant job of trying to solve the problem- one example is the Korean company "Megastudy" that makes rock-stars out of their best tutors, who are monetised on their popularity with the online audience.