What got us here, won't get us there - is India future ready?

Samanwaya Sengupta   New Delhi     Last Updated: December 11, 2017  | 12:26 IST
What got us here, won't get us there - is India future ready?

Moody's has been a boost to both Mr. Modi and the market. However, India must meet greater challenges to find its place in the bench of Global Leadership. As a country, we've struggled to explain our failure in handling some of the rudimentary issues, since Independence. As we fail to explain why, being as heavily populated as of India, in the 2017 GHI (Global Hunger Index - measured on Child Health and Nutrition), China holds 29th position and India turns out to be at 100 out of 119 countries. Such are debates that may continue till cows come home. While it's important to pack the food, we can't really afford to miss the bus. India must be equally poised to fight those battles that are fought by countries in the Leadership League.

Wake Up to Cyber Defence

Referring to both Doklam and the militancy in Kashmir, the Indian Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa recently asserted that the IAF is capable of fighting a two-front war if required. What if China resolves to cyber-attack and indulges in a third front?

Highlighting the scope of cyber capabilities of the Chinese, the former NSA (National Security Agency, United States) director Keith Alexander once quoted "the estimated total value of all American intellectual property is $5 trillion, of which China has been stealing 6 percent each year." (Source: The Industries of the Future- Alec Ross).

India was lucky to escape the possible massive damage by the recent WannaCry ransomware, which had an estimated impact of $5million globally. The timing of the incident was such that it found most offices in India shut. Despite that, as data shared by Kaspersky, a Russian anti-virus company, the initial calculations performed soon after the malware struck on the Friday night showed, around five percent of all computers affected in the attack were in India.

While the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) created the position of a National Cyber Security Co-ordinator in 2014, India has no national security architecture today that can assess the nature of cyber-threats and respond to them effectively. The Indian business houses have their own cyber defence mechanism with no standardization being followed, while the armed forces have their insulated platforms to counter cyber-attacks.

India needs to work on implementation of a regulated cybersecurity framework in both private and public space; else, the signing of cybersecurity agreements with countries like US or Russia might not be of much help.

Think Research

While 'Make in India' may add to India's upward movement (from 60 to 81 in 3 years) in GII (Global Innovation Index), it may eventually take our eyes off certain fundamentals.

  •  India's spending on R&D (Research and Development) remains below 1% of GDP. When calculated per capita, it's one of the lowest in the world
  •  R&D in India is surprisingly skewed towards applied research and development than fundamental or basic research
  •  Rights of intellectual properties - India has way to cover to come any close to the Global Leaders including China
Though, there have been some achievements in the field of Atomic Research and Space Science, when it comes to research in areas like Genomics, AI, Robotics, those expected to be the trillion dollar industries tomorrow, India is yet to scratch the surface. In his recent visit, Nobel Prizewinning biochemist Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan mentioned that countries like China, Singapore have made artificial intelligence and machine-learning a huge priority and India if not careful, might be left significantly behind in the league. Mentioning germline editing, one of the latest lines of development in Genomics, he said, "India has a long way to go before it can consider germline editing. The technology they (India) need to develop will be first used to correct defects in somatic cells. Germline correction is distant future for India."

It is appalling to find indigenous MNCs like TCS, Infosys, not showing any significant leap in developing path-breaking products, the way companies like Apple, Microsoft or Google have been consistently delivering in the United States.

Even in agriculture, despite being one of the oldest agro-based economies, India has hardly taken any advantage of technology-based 'precision farming.' Instead of blanketing a field with fertilizer and pesticides, with the help of big data, precision farming ensures optimal usage of resources leading to significant improvement in the field performance - producing more food and rendering better environment.

In the changing environment, India may continue to re-engineer products at low cost and compete their global makers or choose to take up pioneering initiatives in the field of basic research that change the face of human life - the way countries in West did at the time of Industrial revolution, followed by that of Information Technology.

It all depends on how India builds the culture of 'Research' in its educational framework and combines it with appealing incentives to engage human capital in numbers, the way it has produced engineers and MBAs.

Quest for Quality

Today if you order a coffee in any of the premium coffee shops, you'll find it in a cup with some words of caution, for it being hot. It all started with the famous Stella Liebeck and McDonald's lawsuit. In 1992, Stella Liebeck of New Mexico, was in her grandson's car, when she ordered a coffee at a local McDonalds' drive-through. Liebeck held the cup between her legs and while removing the lid, the coffee spilled on her leg, causing severe injury by burning. To claim the amount that she had to spend towards treatment, she went through a lawsuit that compelled McDonald's to pay her a hefty amount as settlement.

To an Indian this is no more than a bedtime story. You'll hardly come across an Indian who can even imagine going to court for such lapses in the day to day life - train not reaching on time, exam results delayed, cable connection getting disrupted without notice, nursing staff not replacing the saline bottle on time, so on and so forth. Since Independence, we have been 'ok' with things, the way we got them. While globalization has made us brand conscious, our compromising attitude towards quality of service both at the delivery and the receiving end, leaves us in a world of mediocrity.

People in India see the ability to tolerate undesired service lapses as a virtue of character. This would have been all right, had we not welcomed 'digital intelligence.' With robotics and machine-learning creeping in, services associated with the objects of our use will have a critical role in determining our quality of life. Leave aside a driverless car or a robot-led surgery, just recall how disastrous your day becomes, when connectivity gets disrupted time and again in the middle of some call or the browser keeps rotating and you're unable to download a report before entering into a meeting. Even thinking such instances to be flawless today, is a bad joke.
It's imperative for every Indian to take responsibility with due administrative backup and determine 'what' standard to accept and 'what not' in every piece of life.

Teach the Teachers

What is the need for sending your child to school when every single subject at every level can be taught online at home? We think school is essential for a child to open up and mix with people. While this is true to some extent, however, despite schooling, we find more of nuclear families and isolated, self-centred individuals wrapping up the society, which often reasonably or not, questions their upbringing. Do our kids take home more vices than virtues from their environment in school?

Today, the kids we're dealing in are species much evolved than our general understanding of Homo sapiens. Are we equipped enough to deal with them at levels of their understanding? Our designing of curriculum, the methodology of teaching and the process of evaluation become secondary if we're fundamentally not in alignment with the generation we are dealing with. What happens otherwise, we start teaching them, being clueless about their individual learning curves, and evaluate them on a model designed basis our understanding of merit that we've been following for decades.

Eminent educationalist and ex-director of NCERT Prof Krishna Kumar in his book 'What is worth Teaching?' argues - "The basic character of our examination system has not changed to this day. Examinations continue to focus on the capacities to memorize and reproduce Pressure to learn faster and to outshine others kills all intrinsic motivation to learn."

The world is moving towards cloud-based education. Can India take a bold step in advocating open learning environment where non-institutional learning gets equal acceptance both in education an employment, public and private alike?

While we don't really value college drop-outs in India (but like to showcase Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerbergs' as role models), in the Google age, it's pertinent to assess the value the teachers in classrooms are bringing to the table. A smart argument, to this, would be - 'while Google may have answers to your questions, it doesn't teach, what to ask.' Do we have those teachers with high CQ (Creative Quotient) in our classrooms who can teach 'Questioning?'

We need to have EXTENSIVE (in bold letters) Teachers' training and upgrade programs at regular intervals as a mandate in our education system. The bigger question remains, 'Who'll train?' Or should we hire foreign coaches for that, the way we do in sports?  Dear teachers, please DIY (Do it yourself). Over the last two decades, plenty of books and videos got published with fresh perspective to the understanding of 'Human Mind.' All such resources have brought in much of a change to the way we look at our kids. It's important for a teacher to keep upgrading herself in terms of knowledge, like a doctor does. It's your child who's suffering otherwise. On the backdrop of 'Make in India,' let the teachers take up the mission of 'Making Indians.'

The Power of 500 Million

By 2020 India will have a population averaging around 29, the youngest in the world. Is India caring enough the gold mine of possibilities it's sitting on?

With fellowships and newly launched schemes like VAJRA (Visiting Advanced Joint Research) Faculty, India is trying to pull back it's moved out talents, transforming 'brain-drain' to 'brain-gain.' While nearly 1 million of young Indians have been working in the United States, there are close to half a billion in our homeland, a potential we need to recognize and address well to reap the 'demographic dividend' we proudly talk about.

The narrowing of profit margin clubbed with radical advancements in technology have started showing 'pink slips' round the corner in some of the notable corporate houses. However, for an average Indian, today the dearth is more of 'Quality Life,' than of economic independence. It's no wonder that India ranked 122 among 155 countries in the World Happiness Report 2017. Even The Global Rights Index 2016, published by the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) ranked India as one of the 10 worst countries for working people.

While an average prime-age worker in the United States works about 35 to 40 hours a week, in India, an average individual of same age works round about double the hour. For a working Indian, this leaves hardly any time to nurture any entrepreneurial activity or having meaningful engagement with family. The irony is, India produces around 1.5 million engineers every year, which is more than five times that of the United States and one of the largest in the world, but when it comes to remuneration, an average Indian engineer earns less than a tenth of an engineer in the U.S. The scenario is not much different, when it comes to banking, retail, automobile or any other industry.

The anomaly between the dream that one carries, while joining a company and the task he or she finally finds out while in, drives most of the young campus recruits crazy in the initial years of their job. In its 2017 Global Talent Trends Study, Mercer, a leading global consulting firm, states, "more than 50% of young Indians plan to quit their current jobs in the next 12 months. Even employees not planning to leave their current roles feel less energized in terms of being themselves at work." To mitigate stress, young Indians are indulging in aberrant lifestyles, which according to medical experts are leading to heart-related disorders awfully common in the age just after 30. According to the latest data from Optum - a top provider of EAP (Employee Assistance Program) solutions, as high as 46% of the workforce in organizations in India, suffer from stress.

Most of the private sector companies, irrespective of their size, put profit as the fundamental driver for business, hence putting unstructured pressure on employees to meet irrational targets over a steep timeline. For an average employee, this leaves no room for experimentation, eating out the excitement around learning new things. The mundane work-culture added to stress is leading a large number of agile young minds to 'deep frustration.'

It's time to come up heavily on imposing a healthy work-environment across companies and open doors with organized possibilities, not only in science and technology, but in every field of work, including that of sports, entertainment, and other creative endeavours. If we really dream that India takes the driver's seat and steer the world economy in near future, we cannot afford to have an ocean of talent fenced off under-utilized, doomed to travel a road leading nowhere.

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