When any society grows, the need for self-critical discourse becomes even more obvious. While sharing my suggestions for fostering an inclusive innovation ecosystem in Kerala at the multi-party launch of Kerala development and innovation strategic council, I was struck by the forthrightness of the colleagues. They were honest in admitting that because of heavy reliance on inward remittances, their state economy had not paid sufficient attention to triggering local industrial manufacturing. There were many other weaknesses which had crept in the socio-economic system. Every state faces similar dilemma in development which requires a forthright analysis of barriers to social, ecological and institutional development. Former co-founder of Infosys, shri Shibulal regretted on the occasion that nobody paid attention to what Infosys went through during 1981-1990s. People know the story of only last twenty years. When so called innovation ecosystem was completely absent, growing a small company into a global company was not easy. If that is true, then has the current ecosystem helped in making Indian start-ups grow global. When Me-Too dominates Indian start-up scene, how do we promote originality, social relevance and excellence.
New generation problems of waste including e-waste, declining water table, reduced flow rate in rivers, rising unemployment, increasing income inequality, and reduced respect for social and public goods are not easy to address. They require crafting a new social contract among society, state and private market institutions. How will this contract be negotiated?
One of the most important requirement for a such a contract to emerge is the humility, self-criticism and willingness to trigger renewal of various social institutions.
Let us begin with education. If politicians will keep posting and transferring teachers according to their political interest and not location specific educational gaps, then should one expect significant improvement. Despite much better salaries in government school than in private schools, why most people who can afford send their children to private schools? Most leaders, ministers, bureaucrats and most intellectuals have withdrawn their children from government schools. Why would then their quality improve. Should not it be obligatory for public servants to send their children to government schools and colleges?
Authenticity in public life requires greater reliance on frank and forthright dialogue on important social and policy issues. Take the case of higher education. Unlike in school education, where governments schools at are bottom of ranking, in higher education, the public institutions are at the top in almost all disciplines. Does it say something about our priorities? We are creating two classes of citizens, One who are supposed to serve and they study in government schools. Those who are supposed to rule, come from private schools, attend coaching institutions, can afford best tuitions.
Let the debate take place on the plea here for radical change in the tenor of public discourse. Can we discuss why education minister spend so much time improving infrastructure and resources for public institutions and for good reasons. But school education continues to get neglected. Parents of those children who can afford will send their children to tuitions in summer for improving their prospects in higher classes. The rest will try to find some work to earn and save some money for clothes and bags for the next year of indifferent education. There are of course, thousands of innovative teachers in government schools (see inshodh.org) but very few of their pedagogical innovations are scaled up. Ministers in various states have limited time to sit with such motivated teachers and achievers to re-design policy improvements. But I hope society will demand greater accountability from them.