When I ask the question ‘does better education mean a better nation’, it leads to a further question, ‘What do we mean by better?’ There is no simple and unique answer. Everywhere in the world, there exist schools to suit every socio-economic class. There are expensive schools for those who can afford, and free schools for those who struggle financially. There are elite curricula and there are curricula for the masses.
Among the criteria for parents to make their children’s schooling decision is the local or international acceptance of the school curriculum. A parent, while enrolling their children in the school is more concerned about the future of the child than that of the nation that they live in. If better education and better future is available in a foreign country, it is natural for them to overlook their national pride and let the child travel the seven seas for a better future.
I have a graduate degree in Electronic Engineering and a masters in Information Systems. If I were to get a second shot at life, I would probably study Social Sciences, or Creative Arts. When I look back, every decision early in my education led to engineering as a final destination. Based on what was available in the country I grew up in, in the society that I belonged to, it was the in thing to do engineering. After studying electronics, the next in thing was to study Information Technology. The world around me was designed for me to follow these pathways.
International education introduced me to an international crowd, as well as diverse Indian crowd. My university had students from all over the world. No matter where you came from, you had to have a certain prerequisite educational level, a certain excellence in your own country, to play on a level playing field where your national or ethnic background didn’t matter. Not everyone that I knew had a background similar to mine. It was an eyeopener for me to know how broad the world was and how much knowledge there was for us to explore. Even among my fellow Indians there were no clear criteria to pinpoint why someone chose to study what they did. Everyone’s inherent interest, family background, and various factors unknown to me made them choose their course of study. At the university, different people scored better or worse with no direct correlation to whether they had an advantage or disadvantage because of their national, ethnic, socioeconomic or academic background. ‘Each person dealt with the evaluation criteria best to their own ability’ is the only thing I could deduct from my observation.
Did anyone have a better education compared to another? Across the spectrum, everyone was the same. There were A-grade students from remotest corners of the world and there were A grade students from economically developed worlds. At the end of their graduation, all were qualified achievers with the name of the university as the only common factor. Again, years after graduation, everyone’s struggle was different. After leaving the university, some people struggled, some did not – some struggled less, some more! Everyone went to different corners of the world and had their own individual experiences. The countries that they went to after graduating didn’t end up becoming better countries overnight. Some countries probably even ended up worse off, maybe for political or socioeconomic reasons.
Every faculty at the university prepared its students to a future structure of that particular field. What every student did after entering that particular workforce was their individual effort. People who made contribution to their field based whether on their intelligence or on their hard work excelled irrespective of the geography. I am sure their workplaces benefited from their contribution. Better education in this sense for me, is a combination of individual’s personal ability, their professionalism, backed by their qualification.
The second half of the title refers to ‘better nations’. A better nation in my view is a nation with a strong economy, strong infrastructure, strong system of government and a productive and healthy population among the most important factors. In a nation with democracy, the power lies with the people. A stable nation is one which helps its people benefit by virtue of its citizens’ contribution so that those very citizens can be instrumental in supporting and strengthening the nation that created them. A nation with a strong government, strong infrastructure, strong economy provides education to its people to reinforce all these strengths. It educates them in strong governance, strong economy and strong infrastructure. It creates competent social scientists, legal experts, architects, engineers and doctors.
An individual alone cannot build a nation. A nation cannot become strong without capable people. I feel that it goes both ways. A nation needs strong leadership. Strong leadership of a nation makes the population productive. Most importantly strong leadership also knows the pulse of the people. It requires education that resonates between the leadership and its citizens.
At this juncture, I would like to define better education as an education that follows a certain accepted standard. So, an education that has better standard is almost impossible to emerge out of a place which has failed to achieve a socioeconomic standard. In that case, better education needs a better nation, and not the other way around. Better education is a default outcome of better socioeconomic conditions.