Principal Adviser, CII



Few people now will remember that even till 1850 A.C.E. India and China dominated the world trade close to 70% of the total. Then there was a great fall, coming down to less than 5% at the time of independence and now still struggling to reach 1%. No doubt economic liberalization of 1991 contributed to faster growth. Still the reason why we are not able to gallop fast as a nation in most fields including in agriculture is because we have forgotten the need to make the huge population learned and skilled. India’s past glory was also greatly due to various forms of innovative learning methods adopted at various levels of trade, age groups etc. Families and local communities imparted the learning skills.

British did part good and part terrible to the Indian education system. It is no use going back to a time warp of the past. But it is only to be remembered to remind us constantly that we should not be stuck to the British installed systems without bold innovations to suit the modern world and that we need to draw upon the rich and diverse culture of India. Much more than that of economics, education and learning are a part of cultural processes.


We have a whole spectrum of schools in the country. Very few elite and highly expensive schools, many of which in the name of world class education, often emulate some foreign (usually British) schools. And many thousands of “middle range in expenses” types of schools, sought after by the middle class aspiring upward mobility. Part of it, is by Govt. run systems. One group of them is affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) about 10,000 now, still growing, as CBSE recognized schools are sought after. They occupy most of media attention and form the bulk of students who compete for high quality higher education. While they are doing well, these schools are trapped in the current craze of “highest marks” being equated highest quality of education. CBSE can take lead in the five innovative steps mentioned in this brief article.

There are many (about 40) State Board recognized schools. The quality of these vary – a large number of Govt. run schools in rural India and municipality run schools in towns and cities suffer from many problems of governance.

A quick recap of numbers :


Number of Primary Schools

7.7 lakhs

 Number of upper primary schools

2.7 lakhs

Student enrolment in primary

1320 lakhs


Number of Secondary Schools

(9th to 10th)

1 lakhs

Number of Students at Secondary levels

245 lakhs

Number if students at Higher Secondary

130 lakhs

These are taken (and rounded off) from the reports of the Planning Commission Working Groups. (Numbers around 2004-2005). The numbers are moving upward especially at the first category of Elementary Education and will go up further thanks to SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and Right to Education Act. For secondary level, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) is being rolled out.

All of them can do the following innovations :


It is difficult to address the innovation needs of all of these categories of schools in different parts of India. India’s greatest reality is its diversity – of culture, people, languages, environments, skills, art forms, etc. To think of a uniform standard for all of them is the greatest tragedy in our post-independence educational policies and discussions. Even to think of a uniform standard for a State is not realistic as there are many diversities within a State.

For the mobile middle class persons there are CBSE type systems catering to easy inter-changeability wherever they go in India. But even in this system there is a need to innovate capturing several local traditions of excellence. Do we even pause to think why the best marble layers are sought from U.P. or best plumbers from Orissa or best under water construction workers from Kerala ? Not that others are no good. But traditions form. Some parts of India still are sources of great paintings or music or dances and other traditions of learning. Unfortunately in the post independence search of an artificial unity and single point central control, we have destroyed or weakened many local learning traditions.

Now with Indians more confident in the global scene – in trade and commerce, in professions and in workforce – we can shed our unnecessary fear of loss of unity, when we celebrate the diverse local learning traditions. Fortunately some visual media focused on Indian languages are doing a better blend of our diversities with a few universal features of nation and world.

Capturing the strengths of Indian diversities and incorporating them in the learning processes right from the primary schools going upto 12 standard and beyond is the FIRST major innovation we all have to aspire for and to demand – not a dead uniformity. Then creative potentials of many of our children will be unleashed. The drop out rates in most of our schools at the elementary stage (above 60%) will go down.

Introducing diversity will help children discover their talents. Teachers can help in that process by allowing them to experiment. Parents should try too and not get stuck with the marks in “key” subjects.


Even for those who opt for English as a medium of instruction from the first standard, it is essential that the children master one Indian language – not just to be literate – but to be good in literature of that language. Languages imbed in them culture of millennia and above all rich mythologies, so crucial for imagination and therefore creativity. Most discoveries and inventions (even in science and technology) come from flights of imagination. Einstein said that imagination is more important than intelligence. Let our children enjoy Harry Potter but not be limited to it. Our myths, local folktales, our epics etc carry many concepts, ideations and visualizations. Real innovations from Indians will come only when we can trigger these parts of their brains at an early stage. Otherwise they will be “follower type” as we mostly are now.

This is the SECOND major step for innovation.



Current competitive tests in our school systems are fragmenting children’s learning to fixed subjects. That too for studying template answers for template questions. While it is good only when it is to a limited extent, current evaluations are based on these alone. Sports are completely segregated. Music and arts in schools are limited only to VIP functions !

We need to evolve a system of evaluation wherein the performance of the child is not just based on rote learning but on several other human activities including curiosity based self-learning.

My daughter-in-law Mahalaxmi (Anu) had recently summarized in an e-mail about her son Aditya (my grandson) 10 year old and studying in USA. Aditya got an award for Outstanding Academic Excellence signed by the President of USA and US Secretary of Education. The judgement is based on an integrated evaluation, of several parameters including some elements which we call as soft skills at higher education level. It is fascinating to read how the schools and teachers in USA (along with parents) discover the child’s capabilities and potentials.

This is the THIRD step of innovation in schools. This will require a mindset change for parents who are used to single point “objective” tests which destroy innovation in children. It will require a governance system which empowers individual schools and also the teachers to experiment, evaluate and educate.


Keeping diversity and integrated learning in mind, children ought to be given opportunity to explore with hands and with other sensory perceptions, the world around them when they are studying lessons. It is possible to do it for all subjects, and definitely for arts. One may not be able to do for all lessons but at least for one-third it can be done. What is the use of teaching “environment”, if children don’t see a gutter, soil degradation and also curative methods? Or read history without going to a place taught in the books? Instead of a central diktat with which we are comfortable, schools should devise own methods and innovate. Should not repeat them for each year the same standard package. Then it is routine and predictable. Let us create excitement in learning which is key for innovation. These HANDS ON opportunities are the FOURTH step.


These are mostly around use of ICT technologies and audio-visual methods. But it is not just computer literacy or use of web. While these skills are useful, children ought to be shown how to use them for learning which means ability to discern. They should be shown how to cross-check; how not to trust all computer given materials as final truths etc. In addition, animation tools can help unleash imagination. There are also opportunities to interact with teachers and students from different parts of India and world: A multicultural learning experience.

The FIFTH is picking up in India in many schools. Our teachers are becoming masters of these tools. But we need to integrate this Fifth powerful step with the other Four steps mentioned before. Also create many ICT contents in Indian languages to help other children in India learning in Indian languages. Their number is large. Totality of country’s INNOVATION will come about when all Indians do some thing innovative at their levels.


We need to give all teachers freedom to teach and to experiment. We should respect teachers as was our tradition. So that more and more of best youth will aspire to be teachers. Then alone INNOVATION in EDUCATION will be complete. It will usher in a GREAT INDIA.


Y S Rajan