National Knowledge Commission, Report to the Nation, 2006
The government of India appointed the National Knowledge Commission – chaired by telecommunications expert Sam Pitroda – on June 13, 2005, to serve as an advisory body to the prime minister of India (then, Manmohan Singh). The Commission published this report in January 2007.
The Commission was appointed for a three-year period
from 2005 to 2008. It was to make recommendations to build an educational
system ‘to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21st century’; encourage
knowledge creation in science and technology; manage institutions enforcing
intellectual property rights; as well as promote knowledge applications in agriculture
and industry and the use of knowledge to make government services more effective,
transparent and accountable.
The 87-page report is divided into nine chapters:
National Knowledge Commission (chapter 1); Access to Knowledge (chapter 2);
Knowledge Concepts (chapter 3); Creation of Knowledge (chapter 4); Knowledge Applications
(chapter 5); Delivery of Services (chapter 6); Recommendations (chapter 7);
Consultations (chapter 8) and Abbreviations (chapter 9).
The report contains recommendations under the
following nine themes: libraries, translation, language of instruction, ‘knowledge
networks’, the Right to Education Bill, vocational education and training, higher
education, national science and social science foundations, as well as e-governance.
The government of India initiated the National Literacy Mission in 1998 to attain 75 per cent ‘functional’ literacy for non-literate people between 15 and 35 years by 2007. According to Census 2001, the literacy level went up from 52.21 to 65.38 per cent between 1991 and 2001.
The healthcare system is characterised by widespread disparities in the distribution of health professionals and services. Teaching hospitals and medical colleges are mainly found in urban areas which are home to only 30 to 35 per cent of the population.
Over 60 per cent of the population depends chiefly on farming for their livelihood. Agriculture remains the country’s largest economic sector despite its declining share in the gross domestic product (GDP) and the deepening agrarian crisis in many areas. The Commission discusses the application of knowledge in agriculture to increase farm productivity and incomes, focusing on post-harvest infrastructure, organic farming, integrated pest management programmes and energy management.
The Commission makes a series of suggestions to reform the Library and Information Services (LIS) sector. The strategies include setting up a National Commission on Libraries; preparing a national census of all libraries; revamping LIS education, training and research facilities; encouraging community participation in library management and establishing a Central Library Fund.
Translating resources on various subjects into different languages increases the accessibility of knowledge, states the report. The Commission appointed a Working Group to address problems in the field of translation, headed by its member, economist Dr. Jayati Ghosh. Based on the Working Group’s inputs, the Commission arrived on such recommendations as providing impetus to develop a translation industry; creating and maintaining tools for translations; offering quality training and education to translators and the translation of pedagogical materials.
The additional resources required to provide universal elementary education range from approximately 0.8 to 2.5 per cent of the GDP.
The Commission says that the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector should be placed under the purview of the government of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development. The report proposes an increase in resource allocation towards VET; enhancing training options available for the unorganised and informal sector; addressing existing problems in industrial training institutes and centres – and more.
The proportion of India’s population aged 18 to 24 that enters higher education is approximately seven per cent. The country has about 17,700 undergraduate colleges, 200 of which are autonomous. The rest are affiliated to a total of 131 universities. The Commission’s recommendations for reforms in higher education broadly call for inclusivity and excellence in, and the expansion of, the sector.
Regulatory systems in higher education chiefly perform the following functions: ‘entry’ or providing licences to grant degrees; accreditation or benchmarking quality; disbursing public funds; affirmative action and determining fees; and providing licences to practice professions. The government of India’s University Grants Commission undertakes a majority of these functions. The National Knowledge Commission recommends establishing the Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education to oversee matters of entry, licenses and accreditation.
The Commission appointed its member Nandan Nilekani (founder of the IT company Infosys) to lead a group studying e-governance. Based on the group’s inputs, the Commission suggested re-engineering government processes rather than computerising existing ones; providing secure broadband and hardware infrastructure; that state governments use templates created by the Centre to make localised data available on the web; and that the government spends one of two per cent of the national programme schemes of such policies as MGNREGA on establishing e-governance infrastructure to enhance their delivery. (MNREGA or the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, aims to provide 100 days of paid work in a year to rural households in India.)
Focus and Factoids by Tanupriya Singh.
National Knowledge Commission (Chairperson: Sam Pitroda)
Government of India, New Delhi