Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak nails the problem with India’s education system

Indians often wonder what will it take for our country, which has a huge and enviable pool of talented engineers, to take the next step and start competing with countries like USA and China, as far as cutting edge technology is concerned. Although India is emerging as a superpower, most of the focus in Indian business is to make cheaper alternatives to world class technology, rather than developing world class technology from the bottom up, in India itself.

Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak, was in India recently for the ET Global Business Summit in New Delhi. In an interview at the event, he spoke on India, and why he thinks India is not pushing the envelope enough. His views seem to have hit the nail on the head:

Q: What are your views on India? Do you think a global tech company can emerge from here?
A: I am not an anthropologist and I don’t know the culture of India well enough. I don’t see those big advances in tech companies. What is the biggest tech company here, Infosys maybe? I just don’t see that sort of thing coming out of Infosys and I have done keynotes for them three times.

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Infosys for long has been India’s premier IT company, but as Wozniak rightly points out, Infosys has never been known as a pioneer in emerging technology, but rather more of a “body-shop“.

He is then asked by the interviewer, about the cause of this problem:

Q: What is the missing link here?
A: The culture here is one of success based upon academic excellence, studying, learning, practising and having a good job and a great life. For upper India, not the lower. I see two Indias. That’s a lot like Singapore study, study, work hard and you get an MBA, you will have a Mercedes but where is the creativity? The creativity gets left out when your behaviour is too predictable and structured, everyone is similar. Look at a small country like New Zealand, the writers, singers, athletes, it’s a whole different world.

Wozniak, though technically an outsider to India, has seemingly identified the problem. He mentions that India’s educational system is rigid and does not allow creativity to thrive. Our education system is currently plagued with far too many exams and bookish knowledge. Children are taught how to pass exams, and not how to use knowledge to move ahead in life.

One of the obvious issues with this is that the products of the Indian education system are usually academically brilliant, but rarely possess the skills and training to learn on their own, or to create something new. The lack of out-of-the box thinking is severely hampering out growth as a country.

At some levels, the Indian society too is to be blamed for not cultivating the right culture. A cushy job is more respected that a daring entrepreneurial project. Parents advise children to take the safer route, rather than the harder path of innovation.

To solve this issue, we need a paradigm shift in our education system. Schools should focus more on learning outcomes rather than exams. Children should be allowed to think independently rather than sticking to the syllabus. Parents too have to play a role in changing their though processes and allowing their children to venture into new areas. Wozniak has identified the problem, we have to find the solution.

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