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Let us give gifted Indian youths the boost they deserve

Let us give gifted Indian youths the boost they deserve

During the recent Tokyo Olympics, Neeraj Chopra won a gold medal and made all of us feel proud. An exceptional event, indeed. But it also made us ask, “Why do we win so few medals at such global events?”

The answer is simple. We don’t have a working system of spotting and nurturing young talent. We know that only some of the young people supported by such a system would eventually prove to be world-class. But, without such a system, how many Neeraj Chopras have never had a chance to win a gold medal?

But, why stop with athletes? What about young Indians who are gifted in academics or arts? Do they get a chance to realize their potential? Mostly no.

Unfortunately, the truth is that India does not have systems to help our gifted youth. That’s a needless loss as they could not only bring us international fame but also boost our economy in many different ways.

Union government has recognised the problem

The Union government’s New Education Policy (2020) has accepted that India’s education system does not support gifted students adequately. The Policy says:

There are innate talents in every student, which must be discovered, nurtured, fostered, and developed. These talents may express themselves in the form of varying interests, dispositions, and capacities. Those students that show particularly strong interests and capacities in a given realm must be encouraged to pursue that realm beyond the general school curriculum.

To resolve this problem, the Policy says:

Topic-centered and Project-based Clubs and Circles will be encouraged and supported at the levels of schools, school complexes, districts, and beyond. Examples include Science Circles, Math Circles, Music & Dance Performance Circles, Chess Circles, Poetry Circles, Language Circles, Drama Circles, Debate Circles, Sports Circles, Eco-Clubs, Health & Well-being Clubs/ Yoga Clubs and so on.

Non-profit institutions should also step in

The Union government’s plan is a good start, but it is not enough.

First, as reported by the World Bank’s Human Capital Index and ASER India’s reports, too many of India’s government schools are not doing a good job of teaching the basics. Will they do a better job with the additional responsibilities for gifted children in the New Education Policy? Some schools will, but most will probably be unable to handle the extra work.

Further, the Union government’s scheme looks comprehensive, but it is still somewhat narrowly focused, as it has to be for a practical national programme.    

For these and other reasons not discussed here, it is very worthwhile for non-profit institutions (NPIs) to supplement and complement the government’s programmes.

Suggestions for NPI programmes

1. Customize the programme locally

A national programme, like that of the Union government, often fails to consider local barriers or take advantage of favourable local conditions. However, NPIs can, and should, tailor their programmes to the local conditions, which can differ significantly across India.

2. Focus on students in Tier 2 and lower areas  

The schools and facilities in such areas are not as good as in more developed cities. Hence, it is likely that the gifted youths are not getting the support and attention they need and deserve.

3. Involve experienced national and international mentors

I, and many other people I know in India and outside, have been working as a mentor for groups of young people in India with a local facilitator. All of us are happy with the progress of our mentees. With today’s technologies, this is an efficient, proven way to connect the gifted youth with interested people worldwide who can help them.

4. Broaden the scope of learning  

The government’s programme seems to be focused on particular clubs. This can be complemented by broader programmes that include at least two issues/subjects, which would broaden the scope of their learning. For gifted college students, the idea would be to broaden and sharpen their knowledge and thinking beyond what is taught in their educational institution. For example, there could be a programme on “Technology, Economy, and Society (TES),” broadly defined.

5. Make a special effort to include girls

Too often, girls get left behind because socio-economic factors don’t work in their favour in many parts of India. This is a needless waste of our talent.

6. Use the summer and other long breaks full

Since the schools are closed, school-based programmes are also likely to shut down at this time. However, the youth are free, and their abilities can be developed at these times.

7. If possible, connect youths in different parts of India

 It is broadening to connect with your peers in other parts of the country – and even across the world. This is particularly useful in India, which is more diverse than most countries.

Conclusion     

While the Union government has recognised the need to boost gifted youth with its own programmes, there is considerable scope for non-profit institutions to implement their own programmes that complement and supplement the government’s programmes. I have outlined above the main features of the programmes that non-profit institutions can set up. These should be considered as suggestions that should be taken into account in formulating practical schemes to be implemented.

About the Author

Subodh Mathur, an economist (Ph. D. MIT), has worked in many countries. He is the author of the book called ‘India's Path to Prosperity 2022-2047: A Workable Agenda for the Next 10-15 Years’.