of the education system are being questioned: why does a B.S. degree require four years? How can space on a university campus, where many classrooms are often unfilled, be better used? The debate has already begun, aided by India’s democratic platform.
The Knowledge Commission’s main priority is improving primary education, but higher education is also critical and may need to be handled differently. For example, the Indian government recently raised quotas for lower caste students in primary schools, but in higher education quotas would entail letting quality suffer. In this respect the Knowledge Commission emphasizes “a process of change, not a product,” Pitroda said.
To address inequality in development, India needs first to identify new measures of economic health and growth. “The models of the past don’t make sense,” Pitroda said, including measures used for decades by the World Bank. Second, India needs to incorporate human capital development in measures of national health and economy. Third, India needs to reform its intellectual property (IP) rights system. “It’s very painful to get a patent in today’s IP system,” said Pitroda. The delay in processing patent applications has increased and the need for translation of applications has resulted in duplicated effort and higher cost. “Basically, the message to would-be creators and entrepreneurs is, ‘Don’t invent.’”
The Commission’s recommendations on IP policy support a single open international platform for intellectual property protection. The system would determine within a year whether the applicant has an invention or not. After that, opportunities for challenges to a patent would be limited. As a result, patent owners would be more certain about the extent and reliability of their IP rights.
In creating these new models of education, health, and intellectual property, India needs to change long-held perceptions. Pitroda underscored the difficulty with a story about a Texas farmer’s visit to an Indian village, where he asked a small farmer, “How big is your farm?” The local farmer pointed out the limits of his land – about an acre, bounded by tree, stone, and building. In turn he asked the Texas farmer, “How big is your land?” The Texan pondered how to reply in meaningful terms and answered, “If I start out driving at 6 a.m. at one end of my farm, it can take me 18 hours to reach the other end.” The Indian farmer considered the answer for a few moments and responded, “I had a car like that once, too.”
Asked by a member of the audience about the scope for and rate of change in a democracy versus an authoritarian system, Pitroda said if the goal is swift change on pre-determined lines, authoritarian systems can respond well; but democracy is better suited to bringing about change where the goal is more far-reaching improvement in the quality of life. Will rapid technological change convince hundreds of millions of Indians not engaged in technology of the benefits of globalization? Pitroda replied, the answer lies in part in how we communicate about the issue. Today “globalization” is widely seen as an attribute of multinational corporations not conducive to improvements in the general population’s quality of life. It needs to be communicated that globalization also means open platform development and collaboration among agile teams bringing widely shared benefits.