India will have the largest youth population in the world by 2020, and by 2030 will account for a third of the world’s working population. Potentially the demographics give the country a unique advantage: the chance to position itself as the pre-eminent global talent hub, serving the world’s markets with a skilled and productive workforce. But with skilled workers currently making up just 2.3%—according to the Economic Survey FY15—of the total Indian workforce, between the demographic opportunity and its realisation stands the need for education.
But what sort of education is required? As educators, our greatest concern is to help students learn better and learn more. We have a responsibility to ensure that what students learn in the classroom—more importantly, how they learn—develops the skills they need to succeed in life.
Research tells us that building students’ capacity to think about their thinking and become ‘self-aware learners’ creates the conditions for sustained improvement in their educational achievement at school, prepares them better for employment, and enables them to acquire new knowledge and skills throughout their working lives. In a world of constant change, students have to learn to cope well with uncertainty and adapt themselves through further learning to new situations.
The teacher’s role is fundamental in establishing an excellent learning climate, and students should be encouraged to play an active part in the classroom and take responsibility for their own learning. A well-designed curriculum, supported by capable teachers, provides an opportunity for students to develop higher order skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. These skills are sought by employers, regardless of the occupation.
Schools should both educate children in their own culture, and also help them turn into ‘global citizens’. Our future depends more than ever on cooperation across borders in the face of shared challenges. Moreover, increased globalisation means that employers can recruit from a global pool of talent, and so it is no wonder we are seeing high demand for international education from parents and governments worldwide. India is no exception. There is a growing appetite for a curriculum that gives learners access to international as well as local opportunities.
An international education is no longer just for the student preparing for higher education abroad. India is a case in point. The global competitiveness of Indian enterprise is driving world-beating economic growth and expanding employment opportunities at home for the skilled. That is why, for example, we have introduced the option of sitting exams in March for students following the Cambridge curriculum in India. They can move smoothly into the country’s best higher education institutions as easily as they can apply to universities in foreign countries.
I believe what those students will take with them—more important than the exam grades that gain them university access in India and beyond—is a love of learning, informed curiosity, the skills and knowledge they need to tackle the demands of the 21st century, and a sense of global citizenship to complement their pride in their country and culture.
The author is chief executive, Cambridge International Examinations. In India, it offers education from 5 to 19, including Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge International AS Level & A Level, the equivalents of 10th, 11th and 12th Class exams