India must be a hub of knowledge

2022 is a landmark year in India’s history as the country is about to complete 75 years of independence. Milestones are a good time to pause and reflect on the journey, especially if they come in the midst of a global pandemic.

The tech industry has been a beacon of hope in these very difficult times, essential to the survival and resilience of businesses around the world. India’s information technology (IT) services industry grew by around 10% last year to Rs 14.21 lakh crore ($190 billion), outpacing global growth by 3-4 %. As governments, businesses and consumers are rapidly embracing digital technologies, India is also emerging as one of the fastest growing digital economies in the world.

Global spending on technology is set to double in the coming years and India is well positioned to take advantage of this. To get there, we need a plan for the next 25 years. Although much of the initiative will come from industry, government has a crucial complementary role to play to this end. Here are several key priorities:

Universal Access to Quality Education: India will have the highest youth population in the world in the next decade. Our ability to provide them with a quality education will determine the future of our country. Our children and youth need a strong foundational education that encourages problem-solving and inquiry-based learning in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

India spends only 3% of its total GDP on education. We must increase spending to at least 6% of GDP, in line with the commitment made in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Although we have provided access and recorded a high enrollment rate for children over 75 years old, poor learning outcomes and inequalities continue to haunt us. The NEP represents the biggest educational reform in India. It covers the entire arc, from early childhood to higher education, seeks to develop real capacities and envisages a transformation of all support structures, including regulation.

While the Union government approved the NEP in July 2020, its implementation needs impetus, especially in the states. With over 200 million children out of school since March 2020, the learning loss is enormous. Rapid implementation of the NEP across the country will help alleviate some of the damage Covid has done to our children. In his budget speech on Tuesday, Nirmala Sitharaman also promised to create a digital university for students across the country. Investing in basic research: Much of India’s technological prowess stems from its early investments in science and technology research at institutions such as the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro), and public and private universities. In the 1980s, when Wipro established its research and development (R&D) unit, the company made several hires from public institutions.

While industry can and will invest in technologies in the shorter term, to achieve technological autonomy and emerge among the top three scientific superpowers in the coming decade, India needs more in-depth research to term on new and emerging technologies.

Unfortunately, the government currently spends only 0.7% of GDP on R&D. In comparison, China spends 2% of its GDP on R&D and Israel spends nearly 5%. India’s private sector, meanwhile, contributed more than 35% (36.8% in 2017-18) of national R&D spending in recent years. With the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2020, it is hoped that the Center will boost research and innovation.

Improving infrastructure and living conditions in small towns so that IT can adopt more basics: In his speech on Tuesday, Sitharaman said: “…at the time of [email protected], almost half of our population probably lives in urban areas. This would require us to reinvent our cities as centers of sustainable living… We plan to steer a paradigm shift.

I couldn’t agree more. While we need to make megacities the current centers of economic growth, we need to prepare Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities to “take over in the future”. This will not only create new talent pools, but will also foster a more inclusive society. Rishad Premji is Executive Chairman of Wipro Limited. First published in the Economic Times of India

Donald E. Patel