G20 Presidency is education’s watershed moment

The universalisation of the functional Indian lifestyle and its relationship with nature is one of the significant contributions that India can make to the EdWG.

Published: 31st January 2023 01:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st January 2023 01:25 AM   |  A+A-

(Photo | Allen Egneuse)

When Swami Vivekananda took the podium on September 11, 1893, to address the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago and thundered “Sisters and brothers of America”, the immediate applause was longer than the speech itself. The world saw a towering and saintly statesman projecting India’s civilisational asset as a global leadership instrument. When the audience expected a story of adversity seeking alms for prosperity, his speech was a paradigm intellectual shift, demonstrating India’s global leadership capacity with emphatic confidence. In another trans-oceanic trenchant exposition, Hind Swaraj, author Mahatma Gandhi as reader and editor, puts forth compelling justifications for the civilisational supremacy of India. The ambidextrous Gandhi was possessed with the civilisational spirit and blood of India that ran in textual form. These two together present India with a showcase opportunity for the G20 Education Working Group (EdWG) meeting in Chennai that begins on Tuesday.

This extraordinary convergence of action and policy leaders from 20 nations comprising 85% of the world economy and 75% of global trade is unparalleled in India’s history. In such rare opportunities, India needs to focus on the right set of issues as it is emerging to be the voice of the Global South. The rise of India, especially after its COVIDian response system and geopolitical posturing during the Ukraine war, has not only pushed India into the orbit of global dominance, but also given countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia a ray of hope that India will speak up for them.

This tectonic shift was not an overnight magic but a visionary journey under the bold leadership of Prime Minister Modi. Various initiatives like the JAM Trinity, AYUSHMAN Bharat, UPI, PM SVANidhi, Covaxin and CoWIN, Ujjwala, Swachh Bharat, Gavi Vaccine Alliance, International Solar Alliance, etc., are happening to perfection and scale, making India matter the most now and pushing for collective action. Such an initial springboard advantage puts India’s G20 Presidency at a comparative advantage absent for its predecessor or successor.

On assuming the Presidency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated a sense of trusteeship that paved the way for the twin themes for the G20 Presidency—‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. The civilisational state that India has always been and will continue to have eternally ingrained values and cultural ethos, making the twin-tower themes a civilisational and lifestyle showcase to the world through the G20 EdWG. This legacy asset of India is a gold mine of knowledge that can be shared with the world as a leader by practice and not as a preacher. No country in the G20 can boast of such a civilisational continuum that’s enriched in knowledge and practised as a lifestyle, not by law but by respect for values.

Unfortunately, this never gets highlighted in an international forum for purposes dominated by conventional dimensions of global education covering literacy, learning outcomes, infrastructure, gross enrolment, STEM education, research and innovation, etc. With India making significant progress in these areas in the last decade, the universalisation of the functional Indian lifestyle and its relationship with nature is one of the significant contributions that India can make to the EdWG. Undoubtedly, other EdWG members shall be net knowledge gainers during India’s G20 Presidency.

India’s progress, as measured by the growing budgetary allocations for education, gross enrolment ratio, entrepreneurship and innovation outcome, capacity building in skill and vocational education, patents and publications, etc., is symptomatic of India’s qualitative rise in the education sector. The NEP 2020, which will accelerate this rise, is a global game changer. Results of the same can be visible in India’s indigenous contribution to 5G, campus-grown startups, super-computer and emerging technologies, etc. India’s collaborative engagement with universities worldwide underwent a complete change from being a consumer of benevolence till 2014 to a contributor with relevance since then. Schemes like SPARC, GIAN, VAJRA, etc., provided Indian grants for foreign university resources to visit India in the spirit of knowledge mobility, sharing and transfer of best practices. While these shall also be a subject matter of discussion at the EdWG, the growing geopolitical concern for environmental sustainability and livelihood is undoubtedly a key agenda.

The circular economy is driven by sustainable development and environmentally conscious production and consumption of products and services. The fundamental functional principles of the circular economy have to be a part of the future work-lifestyle balance to double the current levels of global circularity, which is at 8%. Global sustainability assets, projected to be USD 53 trillion by 2025, necessitate high levels of institutional awareness through various teaching and training programmes and research. With a sixth of global humanity, 30% of the world cattle population, 8% of global bio-resources, and only 2.4% of the global land area, Indian environmental and lifestyle mechanisms combined with its tenacity to harmonise various interests through a pluralistic and consultative society is India’s gift to the world.

Enlightened vigilantism and Empowered University engagement should be the twin-powered engine for sustainable growth. Like PM Modi’s Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE), India can lead the world with many such bright spots. The digital backbone powering India’s rural prosperity is another bright spot that ensures environmental compatibility, shifting from the mindless, environment-damaging urbanisation. Such leadership potential is hence India’s responsibility to universalise or rationalise civilisational values and lifestyle mechanisms to globalise its strengths and pull the world out of an impending cataclysm. India’s progressive STEM education and rooted ethos as a nation are EdWG’s blessing in abundance. This backdrop for G20’s EdWG is not only reflective of the ideas of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi whose time has come, but also India’s watershed moment for its education.

Dr S Vaidhyasubramaniam

Vice-Chancellor & Tata Sons Chair Professor of Mgmt, SASTRA Deemed University

(Views are personal)


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