Difficult Dialogues Partners With Oxford for Fourth Annual Forum

Panjim: The end of January will see leading domain experts in the field of education, policymakers and famous personalities gather in Goa for the much-anticipated return of the Difficult Dialogues forum, an annual conference tackling the most vital issues facing South Asia. The fourth edition in the series that previously highlighted issues around India’s position in a globalised world, health and gender equality, will focus on ‘Education: Illuminating Myriad Facets’ this year, from January 31st until February 2nd, at the International Centre Goa (ICG) & Goa University in Dona Paula. The annual event, founded by philanthropist Surina Narula, will be partnering with international universities Oxford (UK) this year, along with Goa University, the International Centre Goa and Brookings India as local knowledge partners.

Since independence, but especially since the 1964 Kothari Commission, the Indian government has taken many initiatives to strengthen and improve the education system. A short list of issues concerning the education sector includes low levels of public spending; challenges in access to education for ethnic minorities and girls/women; quality; poor administration and management; and inadequate concern towards education at the state level and often at the national level as well. In fact, India has never been able to achieve the Kothari Commission’s recommended 6% spend of GDP on its education.

India will soon have the world’s youngest population and there is a desperate need to increase public spending on education. This is also because over the years, public education has weakened, and the education sector has been increasingly taken over by the private sector. Studies show that even parents from low-income families prefer to send their children to private schools. The same scenario is found in college education where nearly 70% of all students are enrolled at private institutions.

According to the Gender Gap Report 2017, which considers education as one of the key determining parameters, India was ranked 112 out of 144 countries on educational attainment for gender parity index. Overall, only 40% of Indian adolescents attend secondary schools (Grade 10-12). Only 1 out of 10 young people have access to higher education. India’s spending on education is the lowest among the BRICS nations. Given the current dismal state of education, Difficult Dialogues 2019 will focus on what can be done to rescue India’s education sector and set it on the path of excellence.

Some of the prominent speakers include Dr. David Mills, University of Oxford Department of Education; Dr Arathi Sriprakash, University of Cambridge; Francisco Marmolejo, the World Bank’s Lead Higher Education Specialist for India; Renuka Chowdhury, Congress representative in the Rajya Sabha; famed TV journalist Barkha Dutt; educator-activist Ms. Atishi Marlena of the Aam Aadmi Party; Dr. Bhushan Patwardhan, Vice Chairman University Grants Commission (UGC); former cabinet minister Arif Mohammad Khan; Prof. Ashok Misra, former director of IIT Bombay; Prof Pankaj Chandra, Ahmedabad University; Prof. Shyam Menon, Delhi University; Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF; Yamini Aiyer, Centre for Policy Research.

Engaging panel discussions will be held on topics such as Building World-Class Universities; Value Education; Inclusion in Education; Education and Finance; Primary Education; New Threats to Academic Freedom; The Role of Technology in Reshaping Education; and Curriculum and Pedagogy, among others. The forum also features a college debate event called Daring Debates, which brings together students from multiple cities around India, and will be moderated by actor and newspaper columnist Pooja Bedi this year.

The conference will bring together civil society, media, academic experts, activists, and people working at the community level with government and non-governmental organisations. We aim to start a dialogue on how education as a tool can be used to develop and deploy the talent and to bring equality and justice in the society. Actionable policy papers will be produced from the intellectual discussions of the conference by Brookings India, a non-profit policy research institution.

Difficult Dialogues was conceptualized by Surina Narula, a philanthropist based in the UK and India who received a British Honour, the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2008 for her years of charitable work. She is President of the Consortium for Street Children; a network of 65 UK based development agencies. She is also the founder sponsor and festival advisor for the Jaipur Literature Festival and co-founder of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.