What is Ratan Tata's latest investment? After buying into a slew of start-ups, his new focus is on Education.
Tata Trusts, headed by Ratan Tata, has partnered with the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences to launch Clix (Connected Learning Initiative-X), an online learning initiative in government school classrooms across rural India.
To start with, Clix will launch in government schools in four states: Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana. The scheme aims at impacting an estimated one lakh, sixty five thousand students. Speaking at the launch to NDTV's Sonia Singh, Ratan Tata shared why this is what's exciting him in 2016.
Ratan Tata: There have been many occasions that I had a feeling within me, and I'm sure many of you would have, where we see young men and women, or I should say boys and girls - mostly boys - selling magazines and books at red lights... you look into their eyes and you will see great intelligence and brightness, but they do not have a chance to be educated. They are unemployable because they have no skills and this is the wealth that we as a country cannot marshal to the extent it could have. We have the strength of a large population, the young population, an entrepreneurial population. The one thing that we don't have is the chance of and the ability to be educated. These young kids would love to have a chance of being educated, to be able to speak English, to be able to have their place in the sun.
NDTV: Mr Tata, Nobel Laureate Kailash Sathyarti has often said, and he keeps saying, that we often say that children work, or there's child labour, because this will end poverty, but this will actually lead to poverty because you're keeping children from being educated, and then, you're actually stopping a future resource for India. You're not investing in human resource development, you're just wasting it. When you see Education as a way to fight poverty, or Education as a way to look at India's other problems, whether it's malnutrition, whether its lack of skill development, whether it's big companies saying we can't employ current graduates from schools, how do you see Education as a solution?
Ratan Tata: I think apart from the inherent intelligence that I think is embedded in so many of our citizens, there's a great sense of entrepreneurship that exists in our country, and that entrepreneurship you're permitting to spread with Education. It doesn't need to be Master's degrees or doctorates, it's enough education to enable these people to coexist with those who are educated. There is an antiquated view that people had in India that don't educate them because they will seek too much or know too much. That's a terribly negative view to take about your population. With Education comes opportunity, with Education comes knowledge, with Education comes heightened curiosity, and it turns you away from a life of crime, of dissidence... and I think Education is a prime ingredient to a successful life. In a few cases, Education goes another way, but that's not what we're trying to do.
NDTV: It's interesting you said that on entrepreneurship, because of course we all know you're a very discerning angel investor in some sense in start-ups, so this is an angel investment of a completely different kind in a way, because it's a huge social investment. But tell me then, when you made that point, why is that when we look at government after government, and budget after budget, and of course we have a budget coming up soon, why is it that Education or Health are all sectors which never seem to take mainstream political priority? Education budgets and health budgets can be cut but defence budgets always seem to go up.
Ratan Tata: I think you're talking of what a government may have to do or what priorities the government may have, but if you were to take a poll in the country and ask the people what they would like to see the government do... I once sent a Twitter message out asking the people what they would like to see the government do, and I thought it would be jobs, housing. There was just a massive response and all said Education, and there wasn't another topic that came up. That opened my eyes - that there is a tremendous feeling for the need for Education and access to Education.
NDTV: So are you as excited about this as any young start-up, or do you think this a start-up? It is the same energy and enthusiasm, do you think?
Ratan Tata: Yes I am, I'm exceedingly excited. As excited as when MIT agreed to participate, and they have been a partner the likes of which I have not easily seen. But I think what we're doing today is transformational, and I can only say that I'm amazed and delighted to know that the government has been as supportive as they have been to us and we will make a difference.
NDTV: Mr Ratan Tata, final thoughts. When you made that point about learning of English... it's interesting going into Education because Education is a state subject, and there are so many more state governments to deal with. And there has been much debate about which language should children be taught in, the need for English at all, how to make India global. How do we learn from the China experiment, where of course the scale and quality of education is much more, but the teaching was in Chinese? And do you find it interesting that students have often opted out of the government school system, and parents prefer to pay and go to a private school to learn in English, rather than learning in the language of the state? How will you handle issues such as these which will change from state to state?
Ratan Tata: I think we're recognizing that English is the language that will help the careers of young Indians, that it is going to enable opportunities in the service sector and many areas where knowledge of English makes one more easily employable. May I move from away from that as there's just a thought that comes to my mind from the question you ask. When I went to school in India, getting a phone had a 7-10 year waiting period. It was normal, that's how long you waited to get a telephone. And when the telephone came, a certain degree of acceptability in terms of standing, identity, if you might. Then we moved to the digital age, where you have a situation where we have a billion hand phones and may be 5-600 smartphones. The same kids or the same people now have an identity and come to you and say "Send me a Whatsapp" or "I'll give you a call". On e-commerce, the same people are able to navigate their way through the digital world of a smartphone and make purchases and do commerce. What has happened... the digital world has made that possible. And that we add to that and we ride on that to educate our people. We're going to be doing a tremendous thing over the next decade and those of us who will be around for the next decade will look back and say we helped transform India further on into the next generation.