Literacy for all is not the truly Utopian goal; what would be worth aiming for is an excellent education for all. I make the distinction based on my own journey in understanding. I believe that an excellent education—more so today than ever before—is also about character-building, values, who you want to be as a person and how you want to contribute beyond yourself to the world around you. It is important to learn mathematics, and language, and science, but it is equally important to learn tolerance, gender equality, and respect for diversity, how to resolve disputes at home; things which seem to have become incidental to education. Until we shift what we think about, what the purpose of education actually is, we’re all doing a lot of work but possibly not in the right direction.
Where are we now and how do we get to this? The truth is, I have no idea. It seems to me, as it would to a layperson, that we are very far away. From whom do we recruit as teachers, to how do we train them, to are our schools set up to be safe and caring environments, to what our curricula look like, there are many miles to go.
Will we get there? I have no doubt that we have the resources—the time, the money, the expertise, the ideas—to get there? I have no doubt that we do. If we can’t solve these problems today, aided by technology, in a world which has become much more ‘many to many’, I don’t know when we will have the opportunity. The differential is, do we want badly enough to solve them?
The real answer is how much we—not just those of us in the field of education, but every one of us across the country—are willing to commit to it. It’s not even about children; are we all committed to the idea of unleashing India’s human potential? If we are, then we have to make an investment in education.
I see the next five years being incredibly exciting, in thinking about and putting that idea into action. How do you provide opportunities, examples, platforms, for every single person, no matter who they are, what work they do, to say: This is my unique contribution to the goal we share as a nation.
Your huge contribution to this goal—you, this magazine, you, the reader—is your giving me this platform, you reading this. If you work in business, you could think about the massive opportunity we have ahead. If you’re a parent, think differently about what you’re going to provide your children and how you’re going to help them understand their education. Every person has their role to play.
I have shifted pretty dramatically from feeling, when I was much younger, that there had to be silver bullet solutions, big ideas that were going to take us to this goal, to believing now that it’s the power of that collective will fuelled by all of us doing little things that is the answer.
It’s a complex problem to break down, and I don’t know if there is a natural, obvious sequence of steps towards a solution. In fact I would caution against saying, this is the first step, this is the next.