Allow experimentation in schools, says Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economic Advisor

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The speech of Raghuram Rajan, the Chief Economic Advisor of the Finance Ministry, Government of India (recently announced as the new RBI Governor), under the auspices of the Kuruvila Jacob Initiative, touched upon the three different levels that need focus in education, apart from vocational piece.

One, the teaching institutions, with good teachers teaching a lot of students; two, institutions to train teachers, to create college teachers and PhDs; and three, idea-generating institutions, to create patents, technical ideas, as well as literature and cultural ideas, so that the country can be known for its ideas, said Rajan.

We have taken the first step, he added. “There is plenty of capacity in higher education. We have the quantity now.” An evidence of the same is the seats that are remaining vacant in the engineering colleges, he reminded.The next step, in Rajan’s view, is to improve the quality of education, especially in the private sector, which is going to be a major player in education. How is this done? Focus on three things, he said.

One, we need a method of measuring the quality of output. “There should be standardised tests for students leaving the colleges. That has to be an input into the accreditation of the colleges.”

Two, be far more open to the variety of inputs, Rajan urged. In this context, he gave the example of MOOC, massive open online course, “aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web,” as Wikipedia explains. Or the technology to teach many people with first-class teachers, as Rajan elaborated.

Acknowledging that a variety of technology experimentations are going on, he gave the example of Harsh Rajan, sitting next to me. (Searching for him on the web, later, I learn that he co-founded HeyMath! along with Nirmala Sankaran, ‘to dispel the fear of Mathematics.’ HeyMath! finds mention here.)

Technology allows us many ways to use it in education, pointed out the speaker Rajan. But, he said, we need to have both technology and good teachers, for the best of the two worlds. What is important is to allow experimentation in the schools, rather than impose a technology regimen.

And, the third thing in his list is full transparency of outcomes, so that we know whether the students get jobs after passing out. Also, monitor them for a few years after they graduate, he said, lest they get ‘jobs’ that evaporate within a few months; ‘jobs’ for placement records that boost the commercial value of the institution while harming the future of the students.

It might have come as a shock to many in the audience that there are engineering graduates who are do contract labour owing to lack of jobs. “That suggests a lot of bad things have happened to these students. They spent 4 or 5 years learning nothing. They spent lakhs and lakhs being able to learn nothing. And at the end of it, they go back to stand in line to work as manual labour. They have been really hurt by the system. That is atrocious,” lamented Rajan.

To the teachers among the audience, the prospect of using technology to enhance the outcomes should sound cool, provided there are champion administrators, too. And, to startups in education, Rajan’s call to allow experimentation throws open the prospect of immense opportunity.

Prime Minister has approved the appointment of Dr. Raghuram Rajan as the Governor of Reserve Bank of India for a term of three years. The present Governor D Subba Rao completes his term on September 4, 2013.

Raghuram Rajan, presently the Chief Economic Advisor is a former International Monetary Fund, IMF chief economist and the Chicago University Professor. He is famed for his perceptive warning about the global financial crisis of 2008.

50 year old Raghuram Rajan, graduated from IIT Delhi in 1985 with B.Tech in Electrical Engineering and joined IIM Ahmedabad for Post Graduate Management Studies. He received a Ph.D in Management from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, MIT in 1991 for his thesis titled ‘Essays on Banking’.