Innovations for inclusive growth: CONNECTING SOIL AND SOUL
It is well recognized world over that growth impulses by themselves will not take care of the needs of socially disadvantaged. But growth can generate resources which can be invested for the purpose. Sankranti festival is a good time to reflect how that two time periods, one where things happen very fast and the other where things happen very slowly can meet. I will list initiatives which may not take too much of money, though money is important, but will require attention of the top level policy makers to bring about desirable results. Let me begin with water. I mentioned last week how considerable success has been achieved in providing access to water in Gujarat. But, the concern remains about the quality of water. It requires a massive programme of sanitation / toilets and awareness about the problem. If we provide a microscope in every school and encourage students to evaluate the quality of water in terms of microbial load, they will start demanding better quality. Morally as well as institutionally, it may become impossible for the policy makers to show inertia in that regard. Shri.K.M.Munshi, in his lecture on “Gospel of Dirty Hands” ( 1952) had advised an integrated perspective linking hydrological, nutrient and community cycles. We need to pay attention to that again. Our children and mothers deserve better.
Education: A great deal has been achieved in terms of enrolment and retention of children in the school. But achievement, i.e., the competence to observe, analyse, abstract, assimilate and evolve new concept remains to be improved. I asked a question to a former education secretary who spent 15 years in this field more than a decade ago when Gujarat government had sought our help in strengthening the primary education. The question I asked was whether he knew names of 25 teachers who had achieved outstanding results without any input from the state. And he could not name. We agreed to meet in the office of Primary Schools Teachers Federation in Gandhinagar to learn from such inspired teachers scouted by the Federation. Inspiring stories followed. My colleague, Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand had beautifully put together these in several volumes from many states. The question still remains. Do we have a list of inspired teachers in different disciplines, classes, levels today? And can we not empower them to infect others with the virus of their optimism and dedication? No educational reform can ever succeed without making inspired teachers the centre of the reform process. Every state in the country has such teachers at all the levels from primary education to college level. If only the secretary and Chief Minister meet such teachers once in three months and start acting upon their advice, the education system can be transformed within a year. When Ph.D students in basic sciences discontinue Ph.D education and join as teaching assistants in the school, there is something fundamentally flawed in the way we look at the sector. When for 40 vacancies for physics teachers, we just get a few applicants, we know we are not doing something right. If education does not become the hub of our entire investment and growth policy, how will we rebuild the foundation of inclusive growth and compassionate society? Let me mention one more factor waiting for urgent reforms. The agriculture has shown buoyant growth, thanks to the minor irrigation, technological change and remunerative prices. But micro-nutrient imbalances are known to affect the productivity of macro-nutrients. Some studies are already available which indicate a cause of concern. These deficiencies will eventually figure in the food chain and affect human health. Soil and soul are intricately linked, said Munshi. May be we need to rebuild this connection in our inner self as well as in public policy institutions.
Anil K Gupta