Why is India a land of imitators

Posted by Admin on February 03, 2016

By Sandy Hooda
Co-Founder, Vega Schools

Since childhood, I’ve observed how many Indians look up to foreigners, especially those from the West. This happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It is reflected in the clothes we wear and in the use of language. Those who speak English tend to get more respect and higher priority in jobs, promotions, and so on. The more heavily westernized the accent, the more respect it commands. My friends who own companies would share with pride every time they inked collaboration with a foreign company. A foreign joint venture was the ultimate entrepreneurial achievement. Fast forward to today: most technology and Internet companies follow innovation and business models crafted by their western counterparts. As a result, India has a disproportionately low number of patents, products, and innovative organizations operating at a global scale.

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not deriding western culture or language. I’m also not implying that we should not speak English, or should not enjoy western culture. As I write this, 300 million Chinese are learning English, which is set to be the default global language of the 21st century. My chance encounter with educator-philosopher-historian Pawan Gupta led to several revelations. Pawan shared with me that, around 1755, India contributed approximately 30% of the global (non-agricultural) output, and today that number is around 2%. He noted how systematically the British destroyed our self-esteem. He brought to life the links between our self-esteem, blindly adopting the English language and western culture, and the ability to become innovators.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly identified self-esteem and our ability to innovate as the two engines that will propel us towards success in the 21st century. The moot point is how we do this. I wish there was more dialogue around what we can do to become truly innovative.

The starting point of any change in our self-esteem is awareness. As Pawan puts it, “We need to be aware of the distinction between word and meaning. Once we truly understand this distinction, we will also understand that no language is superior or inferior.” Language merely represents different words and scripts leading to the same meaning. Indian schools need to conduct simultaneous bilingual teaching of western and local languages to bring to life this distinction.

Once children understand this, they will be set free. Then they can learn and operate in any language, including English. Bilingual teaching also leads to optimal brain formation. Since we know a large part of the human brain is formed by the age of 10, schools need to make this happen from the early years.

We also need to have similar conversations with children on falsely perceived superiority of the west. The Guardian recently published an excerpt from psychologist Richard Nisbett’s new book, in which he argued people in the West tend to have considerable scope and autonomy in their lives, and often pursue their interests while paying little attention to other people’s concerns. By contrast, the equally ancient and advanced eastern civilization places much more emphasis on harmony with others than on freedom of individual action. As a result, easterners have a more holistic perspective on the world. Once we understand the true value in our culture, we may win our self-esteem back.

The same goes for innovation, which is a direct result of experimentation. Children need to develop innovation habits from a young age. Strategies such as project-based learning, problem-based learning, and challenge-based learning need to be the main ways schools organize learning. This is vastly different from the way schools operate today. Teachers will only teach what is assessed; therefore, assessments need to go through a paradigm shift too. We need to regularly assess children on their ability to innovate. We also need to catalogue innovation through e-portfolios and regular exhibitions of learning whereby student projects are evaluated for innovation, excellence, and quality by the real world (parents, professionals, and the community).

There is also an important question of what children need to learn today as opposed to yesterday: creativity, entrepreneurship…basically inventing their professional life, and creating their own jobs. The jobs of tomorrow will be vastly different from those of today. The success of children will depend on how schools prepare them for a complex life and career in a world where children consider themselves equal. The success of schools will depend on how they encourage creativity and a thirst for lifelong learning, all this by ensuring high levels of motivation and self-esteem. It is a call-to-action for all schools and policy makers to change. And it is a call-to-action for every parent to demand a different kind of education that discovers the star in every child.

(The author is a first generation entrepreneur and the co-founder of Vega Schools. These views are personal.)