India: Vinay Rai

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Vinay Rai - President, Rai Foundation

Vinay Rai discusses ways of increasing the reach of education in India and improving standards in delivery.

Vinay Rai is the President of the Rai Foundation and has been involved in education for over 15 years, having conducted numerous studies into education issues in India. The Rai Foundation is a philanthropic non-profit body, established with the objective of addressing various socio-cultural concerns of India and its people, supporting human enterprise in every sphere of life. The Foundation was established in 2000 and now provides education to over 20,000 students across seventy campuses and forty cities. Vinay's ultimate ambition is to provide rewarding, high quality educational experiences to the vast majority of people in India.


Problems with the Indian education system

Vinay Rai is widely hailed as a powerful and visionary figure in the fast moving education discussion in India. As our interview begins, he is keen to confront the big issues immediately, and delves straight into an important historical legacy which he believes still plagues the Indian education system today. For Vinay, Indian classrooms are limited by adherence to out-dated pedagogical approaches, and he puts this down to problems related to colonisation, "Rote learning was imposed by the British and kept for sixty years after independence. This system has become the default approach, and mindsets haven't changed." Additionally, he describes the country's infrastructure problems as profound, with many children "studying in pathetic conditions."

Highlighting the lack of equal access to education across India, Vinay mentions recently announced state investment policies, which he sees as indicative of the Indian Government's commitment to implement profound change across the country. He believes it is vital to provide access to education free of charge, a huge ambition in a country of 1.2 billion people, but acknowledges several profound barriers to this: "States within India have much autonomy in education, which makes centralised change difficult... education and vocational training departments don't talk to each other; there is a distinct leack of


Improving standards – incentivising industry links

The conversation then turns to issues with teaching, and Vinay explains that the status of the profession presents a real problem in terms of both quantity and quality of teachers in schools: "Being a teacher is one of the least wanted jobs for educated people in India as the pay is so low. Improving this situation means more taxation on industry, which is not
politically expedient."

Even more fundamentally, attendance (of teachers) in state-run schools is also a huge problem according to Vinay, "less than 20 per cent of teachers actually attend class across the board" and he goes on to explain that "Unfortunately, teachers in India have very strong Unions, and they are where you need to start in order to effect change." As well as the status of the profession, which inevitably impacts on the calibre of those choosing to teach, Vinay states there is also a lack of proper faculty/teacher training and "a lack of accountability and transparency in teaching." Possible solutions to this problem are there
for the exploring but difficult to bring about. Vinay elaborates on one such solution: "Creating more public-private partnerships could help incentivise industry and bring standards back to education, and the industrial sector in India is booming. So, how do you incentivise industry to get involved?"

The sharing of best practice is important but needs more impetus, "The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) produce excellence. However, IITs only provide education to a tiny percentage of the population and there is no analysis of why these few do well in order to transfer this knowledge to other areas of the educational system."



Solutions: accountability and transparency

Vinay outlines several solutions to these deep-rooted problems, believing that a strategic, systemic approach must be introduced to assure accountability and deliver widespread improvements: "Transparency is needed in the rating of the Indian education system. Making schools accountable through mandatory testing would improve standards."

He reiterates his belief that access to education should be free for all, arguing that a profit-driven approach is untenable in a country with such profound wealth differentials: "corporatisation and motive for profit should not be allowed in education because market forces alone will not meet India's educational needs. 70 per cent of educational seats must be kept for the poor, as 800 million people in India live below the poverty line."

Vinay is greatly concerned by the overwhelming shortage of opportunity, particularly in the higher and further education sector: "At Delhi University, there are 30,000 seats to more than 1 million applicants" and argues that private education institutions cannot enrol the number of students they need teach, as economic circumstances automatically disqualify many from considering this route. He explains: "At present cost, there is a very low level of uptake in private education. Somebody needs to take a gamble and it will have to be Indian organisations that take the initiative. The question still remains, how do you match reasonable profit for industry with a not-for-profit maxim?"


Effective Education for Employment: a timely report

Our final topic of conversation is the content of the Effective Education for Employment report, which Vinay describes as having "a good selection of countries with comparable parameters".

Vinay agrees with the report's assertion that "academic learning is given too much status over practical ability". He points out that "high IQ means you can learn faster, but only 10 per cent of educated people will be needed for pure research and development work, and 80 per cent of R&D projects have no yield".


Skills, attitudes and behaviours

As well as stating that having respect for all knowledge is vital, which means combining academic with professional learning, Vinay Rai echoes the findings of the Effective Education for Employment report in relation to the lack of focus on the explicit teaching of the attitudes and behaviours needed by contemporary Indian employers. He cleverly puts this issue in the context of needing to understand and embrace the global economy: "These behaviours and attitudes are universal across the world, but are not taught in India." He goes on to explain that in one important respect, attitudes among Indian learners are not a problem:"The simple fact is that people in India want to learn; we have a great respect for knowledge."

Vinay ends on a positive note, seeing the sheer scale of the task of educating hundreds of millions of people as a great opportunity: "The market for education over the next 30-40 years is huge, and involving the private sector is necessary to build the infrastructure needed for an increase in educational facilities." He also points to The World Bank's launch of low interest loans to develop facilities (approximately $80 million), which he believes the Government should see as a real opportunity for India. However, he again states how important transparency and accountability are if this seismic shifts in education are to be made a reality.

In spite of the acknowledged scale of the challenges, Vinay still remains upbeat and issues a rallying cry that emphasises the urgency of this debate: "It is now or never. This is the time to make a change. There is support for educational change within the Indian Government and the market is ready today".