Education may be a recession-free business but it needs huge amounts of money if some significant improvement has to take place. In this context, Wipro chairman Azim Premji’s transfer of shares of his company, worth Rs88.46bn, to a trust that works primarily in the field of education is an exemplary gesture. In fact, it is unarguably one of the largest charities done by any Indian entrepreneur. Mr. Premji has been an exemplary industrialist in more ways than one. His focus on primary education shows his correct diagnosis. The current state of primary school educations is in a state of utter mess. Majority of the students who do well are doing well more because of tuitions or because of their own efforts rather than the schooling system. If we don’t address this problem, then maybe in 20 years, China will overtake us in services also.
What is more interesting about Mr. Premji as compared to Mr. Bill Gates or Mr. Warren Buffet is because the succession law and estate tax laws in America are such that transfer of wealth from one generation to the other generations is very tax-unfriendly. In India, this is not the case. In spite of easy passage of wealth from one generation to the other generation, Mr. Premji resisted the temptation to keep wealth within his family and instead chose to transfer it to the society. Certain cynics argue it was done to comply with listing guidelines, but in India, every act is dissected with a negative mindset.
Mr. Deepak Parekh recently made headlines when he spoke about investments in education and how he and his organization are going to take steps in improving the quality of education. Two gentlemen of stature, reputation and ability are taking the right steps in education. Just as Mr. Parekh revolutionized the home loan markets in India, I only hope that he can replicate the same in the education field. Society needs education and so called 9-10% growth rate, which India is seeing will falter if don’t invest in education.
One of the reasons why America has been so successful is because of the quality of education. In the 20th century, world’s finest brains migrated to USA. World War I and II merely accelerated the exodus. Students of science would remember that England and France were in forefront till USA overtook them in the last century. In any field, America always finds solutions to problems because of its incredible brain power. This society respects brain power, Silicon Valley is a case. Irrespective of your color creed or ability to speak English, if you have a good idea, you will get backers.
More importantly, education changes the mindset and will help in reducing the other social evils like female infanticide and perhaps to some extent corruption. Any father who has strived to get his child admitted to get to good school will understand the pain because schools are few. To get into a good school, in most cases you need to pull some strings or give donations. Most children are known to travel a few kilometers to school. I know families who stay at Colaba and send their children to Juhu. If more schools are set up and overall quality of schools improves then the child can save precious travel time of 1-2 hrs. I think the government should spend more time in improving primary education rather than waste time in changing IITs and IIMs. I hope entry of stalwarts like Mr. Parekh and few others could influence positive policy changes, which will bring about the much needed improvement.
With this, I hope other big donors like Mr. Ratan Tata, Mr. Anand Mahindra and Mr. Narayana Murthy also start espousing the cause of Indian education and loosen their purse strings for Indian institutes. Wipro’s catch line is Applying Thought; and Mr. Premji has certainly converted his thoughts into positive action.
On another note, I read in Mint, on charity and contributing to society. I agree with the author that one should contribute to good causes and not wait for certain milestones – like attaining a networth of $10 mn before doing noble acts. Apart from accumulating good Karma, you can actually improve someone’s life. If you don’t know whom to help, look in your daily circle. You can educate your driver’s child or pay for your watchman’s cataract. Start, however small, but start.
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