Helping to educate India's children

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A group of students from Monash University sees India up close

One of the ways India can achieve its potential as a nation is to place greater emphasis on acquiring public policy knowledge within government and among the broader community. This is because knowledge is actually power. It gives the power to escape poverty, to establish the rule of law and a system of justice that works efficiently, to care for the elderly, and many other things that residents of developed nations, like Australia, take for granted.

When I visited India recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see five different states – Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Kerala – in the short time frame of one month. I also stayed in the capital territory of Delhi.

In Assam I worked with the Society for Empowerment, Service, Training and Awareness Australia (SESTAA, which means ‘to try’ in Assamese) to evaluate the funding needed for a school for disabled children in the town of Goalpara. In Delhi I taught English and general life skills to residents of the Jeewan Nagar slum with the organisation Asha (meaning ‘hope’ in Hindi).

Starting this June, I will be employed with Teach for India as a fellow in Ahmedabad where for two years I’ll teach a class of 40 kids English and social sciences.
One of the reasons I decided to take on this venture is because I believe that India already has all the natural resources it needs to ensure everyone can achieve a decent standard of living. All it has to do now is acquire the knowledge needed to unleash the nation’s untapped potential, and part of that process involves residents of developed nations mixing with Indians to share what life can be like.

What can Australians share with Indians? To start, as a more established capitalist country we can share our aversion to taxing and regulating businesses to death. Since 1947 India has experimented with socialism and this has led to disastrous results (such as malnutrition). On the other hand, Australia ranks among the top ten most economically free countries in the world according to the annual ranking published by the Fraser Institute in Canada.

On average Australians are more open to foreign investment and engaging in mutually beneficial trade than Indians. That’s why in 2013 Australia had foreign direct investment inflow of $49.8 billion as compared to India’s $28.2 billion and an average tariff rate of 1.8 per cent to India’s 7.7 per cent. By making it easier for outsiders to set up shop in Australia, the nation has experienced more gains than India as foreign firms create jobs locally.

Australians are also sceptical of government ownership of assets and prefer that governments not interfere too much with private enterprise. Since the sale of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 1996, all commercial banks in Australia are privately owned. Yet India’s government still retains ownership in several banks. In addition, Australia has partially privatised its public transportation systems, whereas India’s government still owns bus and train companies. Indian Railways, for example, is a loss making enterprise that contributes significantly to wastage of taxpayer funds which in turn keeps the country fiscally unsound.

The results are obvious: Australia has a higher life expectancy than India, higher income per capita, safer roads and less corruption among the political class. With respect to corruption, I anecdotally know of a case where an engineer paid $50,000 to the minister to secure a promotion within the Public Works Department – and this is just one job promotion for a single individual; imagine the total value of bribes a minister in an Indian state must be getting each year!

When it comes to intercultural exchange of knowledge on how to improve India, organisations like Asha and Teach for India are doing excellent work. Asha’s founder Kiran Martin has met with Australian, British and American politicians, and the organisation regularly hosts students from overseas who become involved in their work across Delhi. Teach for India (a partner organisation of Teach for Australia) recruits persons of Indian origin based overseas so as to provide a varied learning experience to the students they mentor.

I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a one-way street though. Indians have much to educate Australians about too. The Indian Institutes of Technology are respected around the world and their engineers go on to get jobs at major companies in countries such as the United States of America. In the fields of science and mathematics, Australia can definitely stand to benefit from a dialogue with India.

Teach for India, SESTAA and Asha are all organisations that fill in the gaps left by ministers and bureaucrats too busy enriching themselves with bribes to remember that their primary role is to serve the people. Ultimately it won’t be politicians that save India but rather a concerted effort generated by ordinary people residing in India and the rest of the world.