Of Kapil Sibal, Convention Center and more!

Today marks a special day, not because it is Techfest Day 2 or because I finally saw ‘No one killed Jessica’, but because I finally heard from a man I have disliked for a while now- Kapil Sibal. Before I get to that, let me just put the word out that the new swanky Victor Menenzes Convention Center makes you feel special as soon as you enter. Now if only they maintain it well and not let it rot like the new hostels! Remembering the good old days when he was studying here, Victor said that he had to make a choice after clearing JEE, between IITB and IITM. His mom brought him here for a visit of the campus, and while roaming around, held his hand and told him gently that she thought he’d fit in well in here. Several years later, his mom was back in the campus today, present to see the gift his family was giving to his alma mater. He also named a prof Kamath from his era, whose tests still gave him nightmares.

Kapil Sibal, on the other hand, gave a very good talk on how India needs to radically transform itself in the next quarter of a century in order to truly grow, and how education, knowledge and innovation are the basis of this change. Though Sibal was all over the news recently for questioning the charges of corruption being thrown on the telecom ministry and for pulling the CAG into the mud, his Harvard education shows in the way he can pinpoint his achievements and make you wonder at what could have been if this guy was put in charge of affairs much earlier.

It is very true, India needs to step up in terms of the number of children finishing school and moving on to higher education. The Right to Education act, 2009, (with all its pending expenditure woes) is a bold and definitive step in this direction, and deserves a mention even though nothing is on the ground yet. It is also true that we need to speed up our educational infrastructure development because as the number of students clamoring for a seat in higher educational institution grows, so should the number of institutes providing such education. Otherwise there is simply no point in making the 12th board exams optional and then making the poor hapless student slug it out for a seat in a college.

Perhaps the most important the GOI is taking (or at least plans to take in the near future) is investing in innovation at the institutes of national importance. Some sectors pointed out by Mr. Sibal, like healthcare and energy, require massive amount of human innovation capital, which surprisingly is available in surplus in our country. The industry needs to step up its participation in such efforts, but would they like to, given that most of our institutes still resort to red-tapism and the silos becomes too much to tackle for a budding entrepreneur? What is being taught is often miles away from what is required at the moment, and until the gap is nullified, I don’t see why the industry would like to invest in research at IITs. Rather than promoting free-spirited innovation, we are bogged down by impressions on old minds and the so-called right school of thought. Of course, the students share some of the blame, but if some of the brightest minds in the country opt to choose banking over designing better products, the need to introspect lies elsewhere.

– Siddharth Shukla