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Ed Voice: Why foreign numbers don’t add up in India

Ed Voice: Why foreign numbers don’t add up in India
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By Shalini S. Sharma

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has recently announced reservation of 700 seats in the country’s public funded higher education institutes for students of Indian origin.  This is not something which is being cheered by the Indian community in the island nation since the move has come after widespread criticism over the failure of some of the brightest of these students being unable to find a place in public funded institutions despite impeccable track record. For them to be now offered seats on the basis of their race is like adding insult to injury. Considering that people of Indian origin, specially of Tamil origin, comprise a big chunk of the population, this move explains the political compulsions there but even then, it is difficult to conceive of a parallel, say in a country such as India where seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes and Schedules Caste people in keeping with commitment to affirmative action but reservation on the basis of religion or ethnicity is inconceivable.

In fact, the higher education system in Malaysia makes an interesting case study for India since it stood in the eighties where India stands today. It had limited capacity in public funded institutions and a high percentage of its students used to go abroad for higher education, leading to a drain of foreign exchange. The country did some thinking on how to provide world class education to students on its own soil and amended rules in mid-nineties to allow foreign institutions to start offering degree programmes. These were so far limited to franchise arrangements with private institutions.  But this is where the similarity between the two nations ends.

Malaysia, with a population of roughly 30 million and regarded as a success story in higher education in the Asia Pacific region after Singapore, has today more international students than its own. Its target is to have 200,000 plus international students by 2020. The numbers at present stand around 90,000 each for both categories of students – international as well as local. In India, 30 million is the number for higher education enrolments alone. And the number of international students is around 33,000, as per 2014-15 estimates of the Association of Indian Universities. With even 30 million enrolments, India makes for a gross enrolment ratio (GER) of only 24 per cent. The government’s target is to increase it to 30 per cent by 2022. Which means that India has a long way to go to create enough capacity for students of its own and hence cannot really give high priority to providing seats for international students. At least this is what the ministry of human resource development thinks. But other arms of the government, such as the ministry of commerce and the ministry of external affairs see differently and are keen on pushing for more open borders for international students. The slugfest between the ministries continues.

Tech trends in education

You have read in this column about the latest technology trends in test preparatory segment but if one were to look at technology from a gadgets perspective then the latest tool to have caught the fancy of education players is the humble projector, the difference being that it is no longer that humble. It’s almost as if enlightenment has dawned simultaneously on a multitude of companies and they all have started fiddling with the projector in some way or the other. Or may be somewhere in some city in China, technology to make projectors has become really cheap and they are being supplied in large numbers to cater to every kind of need of the market now. Smart people are adapting them to suit different needs and they have reached a level where they threaten to displace the display segment.

A demo recently of one such all-in-one projector, called VirtuLive, was an eye-opener. The projector is capable of turning any wall into an interactive screen. Movies can be watched in 70mm sitting in the comfort of one’s home. Content can be played from a storage device or streamed live without the need to connect to any desktop or laptop. There is in-built wifi, high fidelity camera for video conferencing or live lectures, built-in speakers and everything else from file sharing to recording, playback, group chats, web browsing, making telephone calls…you name it and it’s there. With bundled software and operating system for using this in classrooms, this can become an ideal one-stop solution for making every class a smart class.

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