Educationalist Amreesh Chandra, who, in 2006, established Chandra Edu Links—which has grown into a top-tier education service company—is an active advocate of making India a global education hub. He believes all the tools required for setting India up on the pedestal already exist and simply require combined effort of the public and government. He is the second Indian, after former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to be honoured with the title Freeman of the City of London for his contribution to the development of global education. He is also the Indian ambassador and head of International Strategy of a United Nations support NGO ThinkEqual, which promotes gender equality and understanding of human rights among school-going children.
Recently, he launched the World’s Largest Lesson initiative in India, supported by UNICEF and GEMS Education. The initiative aims to teach every child in India—nearly 360 million—a lesson about the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he says that by understanding these Global Goals, today’s children can help build a better tomorrow for the nation. Excerpts:
What significance do initiatives such as the World’s Largest Lesson have in the Indian context? The country struggles to keep her children in schools, and a large number of those who are in schools struggle with reading, writing and calculation skills…
The World’s Largest Lesson is not an academic programme, it endeavours to teach and sensitise schoolchildren on the 17 Global Goals identified by the UN through a mass school connect programme. There are other outreach programmes as well that are being adopted that shall go to students who are not enrolled in schools, especially through the medium of cinema, television and free distribution of comic books.
The World’s Largest Lesson appears to be a private initiative, for private schools and students…
The World’s Largest Lesson is a ‘global initiative’, and cannot be termed as a specific nation initiative, or private or public. It is something that has been put together by aware global citizens from across the world, and endorsed by agencies like the UN and UNICEF. It is a lesson that shall be spread across all school-going kids, irrespective of whether they are going to private schools or public.
How can the Indian education system be improved to make the country the next global education hub?
India has a robust school system at all levels, and some very fine institutions. However, the growth of such world-class institutions has been underdeveloped for several reasons and prevalent regulatory environments. Today, with Brand India getting stronger and the social fabric as adaptive as always to foreign cultures, the improvement in the quality of infrastructure—both physical and teaching resources—and the understanding of the financial institutions of funding requirements of educational institutions, India is poised to be the next global education hub. Nevertheless, education in the country needs to have an assessment and evaluation system that is not exam-based but based on assignment, which I do understand is a long-standing debate, but this would bring a paradigm shift. The second most important thing is ‘technology’. For us to compete at the global level, the use and understanding of technology in teaching and learning is very important.
How can soft-skills training for teachers enhance students’ well-being—academically & socially?
This is an extremely important aspect that needs to be addressed within the education sector in the country. Often we see that teachers are academically-qualified, but yet are unemployable as teachers. This is usually on account of language barriers, communication skills and lack of technological know-how, and many other soft skills. It is no use churning out academically-trained teachers who lack the soft skills to make an impression in a class environment. The government should—other than setting up IITs and IIITs—set out to establish National Teacher Training Academies that equip teachers with soft skills. Each state, to begin with, should be given the mandate of setting up one such academy, ideally under a private-public partnership, and it should also be made mandatory for each qualifying teacher to go through these academies.
How can the education industry leverage from Brand India?
The education sector is already beginning to leverage from Brand India. It is on account of Brand India that there are an appreciable number of foreign students flying into the country for internship programmes—as a work experience in India is now considered a big plus. However, we need to set our regulatory environment right and draw the attention of world education providers to pro-actively look at India.
Special Economic Zones in India have not taken off. Can a different kind of SEZ (Special Education Zones) succeed in India?
I have been actively campaigning for special zones that promote education. Having personally designed two such—with the most recent being the Macedonian Education One World, which is an integrated education city in Macedonia—I suggest such zones are the way forward and would pitch us as the ‘intellectual capital of the world’. These zones should ideally be referred to as Education Economic Zones (EEZ). They would be fully-integrated and gated education cities that would complete the entire cycle of education of a student—from nursery to postgraduate level, complete with sporting and residential complex, and skilling centres. Essentially, a living satellite education city.
These EEZs would also have single-window clearances, subsidies, special grants, special seat allocations, and financial institutions would have to be told to have a preferred funding approach to projects within the EEZ, and above all affiliations and NOCs would have to be given with lightning speed without any red-tapism. I do not see why such zones shall not succeed in view of the investments that one now sees happening in the education sector.
But such EEZs have not really succeeded. For example, would you regard the Education City in Qatar—where some of the world’s best universities have set up campuses—a success?
Both the Qatar Education City and Dubai Knowledge Village have had early but limited success. While the Qatar Education City has renowned global education partners, it has by and large become a research campus and draws only research scholars.
With EEZs in India, the idea is to propose an open platform for teaching and learning, and one that also enables school education—both affordable and premium—combined with teacher training. Our social fabric and English language skills will give us far greater success.
There is Make-in-India, there is Skill India, should there also be a formal Educate-in-India?
To be a global education hub, and draw foreign investments and the global student footprint in India, we have to be an open knowledge economy that allows equal participation of foreign education providers. This is the best time for us to open doors to global education providers.