Education Across Borders: The India Perspective

author: Shri Kapil Sibal, Government of India
published: March 15, 2013,   recorded: October 2009,   views: 2267
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Rickshaw drivers in India are frequent victims of tuberculosis after just a few years inhaling traffic fumes. This near-epidemic went unacknowledged until Kapil Sibal demanded a solution. The fix, now gaining traction across the country, is a solar-powered vehicle that eliminates pedaling. But what began as a project to assist his nation’s afflicted rickshaw drivers has broadened into a much grander scheme in Sibal’s hands. Project 800 is a government venture to apply science and technology to better the lives of India’s 800 million citizens facing a multitude of hardships.

Sibal’s mission at MIT is not merely to communicate his people’s great challenges, but to recruit. He is candid: “MIT should be a partner in Project 800,” helping to solve the “ordinary problems of ordinary men with ordinary lives.” Sibal wonders how the globalization of trade, manufacturing and services alone will solve the extraordinary problems of India in the 21st century: feeding a growing population with a limited amount of arable land just as the green revolution has gone “gray;” managing the impacts of global warming and greater energy demands; and the spread of health threats that respect no national borders. Solutions to these problems, Sibal believes, depend in large part on the globalization of education -- the dissemination of scientific and technical know-how from places like MIT to India.

But this flow of transformative ideas, warns Sibal, requires a “change in the mindset of educational institutions.” They must begin to perceive their community as global, and also be willing to move where they are needed. “They are not silos of knowledge living in one part of the world, protecting the national interest, saying as long as we’re OK, it doesn’t matter what else is happening in the world.” Academic institutions must find common cause with other communities, learn that problems thousands of miles away have the power to touch home. “There should be an element of self-interest. It should be win-win,” says Sibal.

To that end, Sibal invites MIT to partner with India on site in projects “to combat the challenges of tomorrow.” He sees natural affiliations that increase the odds for success in these collaborations: “freedom of speech, diversity of culture, the enormous ability to have dialog.” MIT also lends such ventures another advantage, says Sibal -- a woman president, “who has the vision to create, nurture and transform.”

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