Some years are memorable. Others, just passe. 2013 was certainly a year that can lay claim to the former. Especially if you were a student in Chennai. Courtesy the pro-Tamil Eelam protests, colleges were shut, cops were called in by the bucketload and Things were burnt, broken or bandied about. Students won’t forget that in a hurry. But there was another thing that they aren’t likely to forget. It was the year that we set the ball rolling on what was, is and has been India’s biggest education conclave — The New Indian Express’ ThinkEdu Conclave. And the disruption of ideas that it brought to the city of thinkers, Chennai, the Queen of the Coromandel, has been unparalleled.
In the land where education has always commanded reverence and knowledge prized beyond all measure, the two-day symposium has been an event to look out for in the social calendar of academics. While other summits have sought to pit India’s greatest minds against each other for the sake of the odd viral video, The New Indian Express Group’s flagship conclave has stood apart — asking the men and women who matter to leave their political differences at the door and talk about the one thing that can shape for the future - education.
If it was the late former President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam who kicked off that first edition, that also featured four sitting Chief Ministers and a host of Union Ministers, perhaps it is only fitting that in its seventh edition, the conclave will host another dynamic former inhabitant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan: Bharat Ratna Pranab Mukherjee. And with him, 46 other movers and shakers from across the spectrum will debate, discuss, ponder and ruminate over Ideas for a New India, which happens to be the theme this year.
In the six years since ThinkEdu began, the landscape has changed. Elections have come. Governments have risen. Leaders have fallen. Unlikely, younger ones have scripted new narratives. While our journey through these years has chronicled those changes through the varied speakers we have hosted, we also pride ourselves on our foresight. As India inches closer to a new education policy — which is set to be debated this year by key players like AICTE chief Anil Sahasrabudhe and Education Secretary R Subrahmanyam — we started this discussion at our inaugural conclave all those years ago. And every year since, the students and academics of Chennai have been given ringside seats to what goes into the making of the policy by getting to interact with the people who have steered the MHRD — Textiles Minister Smriti Irani and MHRD Minister Prakash Javadekar.
As a media group that holds free speech dear, our conclave has always asked tough questions of our leaders — about a space for dissent, about secularism and about a misplaced sense of nationalism. This time, we ask these questions of seasoned politicians like Subramanian Swamy and Farooq Abdullah — while also putting the student unionists behind India’s biggest protests on the same stage.
One significant enhancement to this year’s edition - one that’s going to bring a lot of cheer to the sizeable reading population of the city - is the addition of bestselling authors Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi to our speaker roster. Top that.