On The Need To Scale-Up Education

Holding a MS in Computer Science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Balaji is a serial entrepreneur who found NalandaU, Agni Innovation Labs,, and Be Limitless.

I graduated from school in 2000. My classmates and I often studied in overcrowded classes with hardly any infrastructure clean bathrooms, library or play grounds. We thought we had the worst system EVER. Looking back 18 years down the line, after going through multiple Masters Degrees in decent US universities, after hiring dozens of students and mentoring hundreds of them, I have a better appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of our system now.

First, we will discuss regarding the astounding fact. Almost none of my schoolmates are unemployed. Majority of them hold important positions in global companies. A number of them did PhDs at top US universities and many of them hold leadership positions in Silicon Valley. This is a phenomenal success not just by Indian standards, but by global standards. Even the ones who didn’t get placed in college eventually went on to have successful careers.

If any school in the US had done such a feat, they would be in cloud nine. Many of the students graduating out of their schools are not gainfully employed and get saddled with a mountain of student loan. Many present or past NRIs like me want to educate their children in India the same system we made fun of when we were students. In short, when we truly evaluate our system we should be cognizant of our failures,but we cannot ignore our successes. Our school administrators educated us on a shoestring budget(my high school fees were around Rs. 500 per month and I paid Rs. 2000 per semester to my college) and when you compare student success rates to amount spent, we have done a phenomenally good job.

The failures come not when the students enrol in a good school, but when they are stuck in government
schools in areas where the
administrators don’t care about them. Where absenteeism is rampant and where school dropouts are big. In short, where ‘no education’ is imparted. Where education is imparted in a fulltime school setting, the students do well in their career regardless of whether it is a rote base system or not.
Balaji Viswanathan, CEO, Invento Robotics
Even in the US, the schools that succeed are not necessarily those that invest in a lot of labs and gadgets, but those where parents and teachers invest time in properly educating the students with the foundations. As a country, we have to first make sure that every Indian gets the level of education we got in mid-level private schools. It is not very expensive and we don’t need to overhaul the system. We just have to make sure that we spend enough and ensure 100 percent school attendance until the 12th standard.

Where education is imparted in a full time school setting, the students do well in their career regardless of whether it is arote base system or not

In parallel to this standard, we need to have a parallel track for the truly gifted students the sort of Ramanujans who are stuck in the system somewhere. These geniuses have to identify not through a one-time test(such as the JEE or CAT or UPSC) but through a multiyear observation early in their education. These are the students to be pushed to their ends and be challenged with research problems. Countries that truly excel in something, say sports, have these programs early in a student’s career and they take the molding very seriously. That is what our system sorely lacks. For the rest of the students, our existing system works mostly fine with some alterations.

In summary, the important priorities for the countries education are two things:
1.Building out a scalable system that educates every Indian until 12th with the quality of education we expect out of good private schools. This requires a massive investment.
2.Building a genius track(without cookie-cutter exams) to identify geniuses in every field and properly molding them in a system that pushes them to their limit.