Innovate India

Indian technology has always had many a detractor, and for good reason. We may have past glory to gloat about, of Aryabhatta being the inventor of the Zero (the basis of all computing today), or of Sanskrit being found to be the best language for computing applications by the West. We may also have glorious examples to cite when it comes to our researchers making it big in foreign universities and research institutions. However, back home, research has not led us very far, barring some successes in space science and medical interventions. Indigenous weapons development is in tatters and there is little to show in terms of progress or innovation in even the most basic of areas. Many an infrastructure project in the country is still executed with very poor technological sense, making them white elephants in due course. Often, structures simply collapse as a result of improper execution and at others they lead to secondary problems such as flooding of segments of cities in the absence of proper planning for drainage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the 56th annual convocation of Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, expressed concern about deterioration in the quality of engineering graduates that our top institutions are producing. He said it is a social responsibility to produce not just quantity but also quality. The prime minister’s position is justified. But what the government of the day is doing to remedy the situation calls for an analysis. The way the government has fiddled with the teaching methodology starting with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) right up to higher education seems scattered all over the place. For example, at the basic level, students across the country who were just about getting used to a fresh pattern of education under CBSE are suddenly finding themselves learning under a different pattern. Much haste was shown in bringing about changes to the school system. The government is making an effort to replace the Medical Council of India with the National Medical Commission; and work is on to replace the University Grants Commission with the Higher Education Commission of India. While these institutions are being forced to change towards a more centralised style of functioning, the point that is not clear is whether these changes are for the good and will produce fundamental change in education.

The field of technological research is still vastly dependent on individual brilliance and teams producing breakthroughs are a rarity. If we were physically colonised by Western powers in the not so distant past, and our material resources were being plundered to nurture industrial growth in the West, today we face a plunder largely voluntary — that of innovative people or as is commonly known, brain drain. Sadly, what these higher institutions of education manage to produce are mere job seekers. The desire to innovate comes only in the atmosphere of entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, the IITs, IIMs and other such reputed institutions of India have never laid any stress on encouraging independent thought processes. Therefore, we have failed to create entrepreneurs who will eventually turn into job creators instead of job seekers.

The county has failed to provide a framework to sustain innovation, the seedbeds of which lie in medium and small-scale industries. Although there is nothing wrong in focusing on sustainable development, there is something inherently wrong in awaiting the advent of technology that makes manufacturing sustainable abroad for us to borrow and utilise. It cannot be doubted that that there is great interest within the country to catch up with the innovators in the West. One clear and most recent example is the one involving a preprint that a pair of Indian scientists with Indian Institute of Science (IISc Bangalore) put out stating that they had discovered superconductivity at room temperature. They claimed to have discovered the phenomenon occurring in a composite nanostructure material made of silver and gold. However, doubts have been raised about the data produced by the scientists and a physicist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, hinted at the data being incongruous with observations. The Indian scientist duo, though, have thanked the physicist for bringing the anomaly to their notice and have stated that they would look at the data to find possible explanations. Superconductivity at room temperature is a finding bound to revolutionise the way the world functions. It has the potential to transform every aspect of life and the way energy is utilized. But sheer intention would not suffice to make such a development a reality.

The malaise in the Indian education system cannot be remedied by changing institutional frameworks. As of now, we are in a state of flux where our energies are being spent on influencing modern education with religious beliefs. So much so that many Indian teachers are incapable of comprehending the difference between mythology and history. While Japanese technology is busy creating tailor-made robotic life partners for humans, our top brass is extremely pleased if they are shown a cardboard figure mounted on a battery operated remote controlled car (meant for children) and passed off as a robot. So much for our innovation. It is therefore very important that not only the government but also society at large puts its head together and strives to transform India into a country of innovations if we desire to create a better future for the generations to come.

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