I’m always surprised that India—the world’s second most populous country & the most populous democracy—never gets much coverage in introductory comparative politics textbooks/courses. That’s a real shame.
Ben Arnoldy writes this week cover story, encapsulating India’s tough challenge - building 50,000 schools in the next 10 years to educate up to 100 million students.
Schools are already springing up across the landscape – from big campuses in suburban fields to one-room boutiques in teeming malls. As they do, Americans who feel inadequate about their education system can take solace in at least one fact: Indians are looking at US institutions as models. In the five-star hotels of New Delhi, delegations of presidents and deans from various American universities meet regularly with teams of Indian officials and administrators to set up partnerships, faculty mentoring, and study-abroad programs.
And yet – as in other sectors of rapidly developing countries – India isn’t looking just to mimic the West in education. It is hoping to leapfrog it. In some ways, the country has no choice. “The way education is today in the global market is not scalable,” says Sam Pitroda, an education adviser to the government. “The cost of education has really increased substantially, mainly because IT has not been used effectively the world over in education.”
This means that India is not just trying to build thousands of American-style campuses with neat quads. Many of its new schools will be virtual, for-profit, and integrated closely with workplaces. It may, in fact, end up pushing the concept of online education further than any other country. As a result, what India comes up with will not only affect its economic competitiveness in the 21st century. It may become a petri dish for how to build an educational system in the Information Age.
Yet questions loom. Is India on the verge of a new renaissance or is this effort an overreaching bound to fall of its own ambition? How do you maintain any kind of quality control in such a massive scale-up of schools? Will the legendary bureaucracy of India stifle its quest to be the world’s new cerebellum?
We pay a lot of attention to China’s economic success story—and we should. But we don’t pay enough attention to how democracies have achieved similar successes—or the particular challenges that doing so in a democratic society implies.