Sam Pitroda on India in Globalized World

Sam Pitroda delivered a lecture in Nehru Center Mumbai. Here is a brief exceprt and it is worth reading.

…Today, education is definitely on the national agenda. I believe that this is a great window of opportunity because we have a very large young population. We are prepared to invest on education. Our economy is growing at 8 to 10%. But, at the same time, don’t have big dreams that India will become a superpower. I think that we have a lot of work related to disparity, development and poverty. On the one hand, we have this great need for education. On the other hand, we have 300 million people who are illiterate. Our cities are basically dying. We do not have the right infrastructure. We don’t have enough power, we will have water shortages. There are a whole lot of issues that we need to deal with.

But, at the same time, we do have a unique position in the world because the world is going through a crisis of a different kind. This is mainly because the US model based on consumption is being questioned. We have reached a point where that model is not scalable, sustainable or workable. You cannot go on buying things all the time. When the US data comes from retailers during Christmas or Thanksgiving, we find that the world gets all excited if the US spends a lot of money. So people in Korea, China, Taiwan, India feel good. You cannot have 300 million people driving world economy any more. It was acceptable fifty years ago when the wealth was concentrated only in one part of the world. Today, there are a billion people in China, a billion in India and almost a billion in the former Soviet Union. These three billion have the same aspirations as Americans or Europeans. They also want all of the same goods and services. As a result, the Western model of consumption cannot be sustained and this is especially true after the recession.

India will have to evolve a new model…if India has to have a place in the global world, it will, in turn, look for and ultimately evolve a new model of consumption. India has the diversity, the mass, the momentum that is needed to give a new direction to the world.

We have answers in many areas. For example, in health, we cannot go on building expensive hospitals with fancy equipment and high cost surgery rooms and still meet the needs of this country in terms of health cost. We have to go back at some time to use some of our traditional wisdom mainly because there are 12,000 herbal medicinal plants which are unique to Indian climate. Our great grandfathers and grandmothers knew some of these formulas. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t work. We need to go back and look in our tradition and evolve low-cost models.

…Let’s start with education. Education, as we understand it today, essentially implies duster, blackboard, chalk, teacher, classroom, textbook, examinations, grades, certificates…This is based on the way I learnt 50-60 years ago. Today, to learn, one does not need any of this…Who decided that it should take four years to get a degree? For some reason, the entire world follows that. What does a degree really mean? Do you need a degree to do a job?

…Our systems don’t allow that. Our educational systems are not designed to give that seamless flexibility. We are all wound up in trying to promote higher education. But it is all useless.

…If we focus on innovations, if we focus on new infrastructure, if we focus on young talent, I think we will definitely find our place in the globalized world. We cannot make a dent until we address our own basic challenges of disparity, demography and development with a focus on the people at the bottom of the pyramid and inclusive growth.

He has made several good point and I have emphasised them. It is good to see that while the government has adopted ostritch approach for virtually all problems, there are indeed few smart people who are able to see India’s weaknesses.

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