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‘Demographic dividend hinges on quality elementary education’

01 May 2016 | Source: Hindu
TheHindu

Almost 50 per cent in Std V cannot recognise numbers beyond 99, and read simple English

The success of the Government’s ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ programmes hinges on improving elementary education in the country through an inclusive approach, according to Vineet Nayar, Founder Chairman of Sampark Foundation.

Mr. Nayar, a former CEO of HCL Technologies, said that numerical literacy, or the ability to use and understand mathematics, and language literacy will be crucial to the future prospects of the country’s children.

Almost half the students in Standard V in the country’s public-funded schools, where about 144 million children study, are unable to recognise numbers beyond 99 or read simple English text, according to Mr. Nayar.

“A large pool of this will come into the job market. Is this a demographic dividend or a disaster?” he asked. Sampark Foundation, founded by Mr. Nayar and his wife Anupama in 2004, is a not-for-profit organisation that has committed Rs. 650 crore to promote the cause of transformative learning in government schools in India. The onus, according to him, is on the industry to fix the problems in elementary education. “Writing a cheque won’t solve the problem,” he said, pointing to the inverse relationship between the money spent and learning outcomes.

“We need big business houses and corporate leaders to fix elementary education programmes by bringing in innovation to improve learning outcomes by working within the existing political system,” Mr. Nayar said. This can be done using innovative methods at low costs with existing teachers and systems, he said.

“The change, however, has to be done now and at a very large scale,” he added. A lesson could be learnt from the way the IT (information technology) industry addressed the skill shortage issue.

“They (the IT industry) proactively fixed the issue by their back-to-school programme,” he pointed out. ‘Innovation-led large-scale social change’ is the central theme of the Foundation, which has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the States of Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Chhattisgarh.

“Our foundation is impacting the lives of three million children studying in 50,000 schools in these States,” Mr.Nayar claimed.