The recent controversy over the Ambedkar cartoon in a class XI political science textbook raised questions about the rise of intolerance and turning the clock back on innovative textbooks.
The reaction in Parliament
and in a section of the intelligentsia over political cartoons
, coming close on the heels of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's response to another political cartoon, is cause for concern.
Not merely because it erodes our right to expression and free speech but because what it means for innovations and innovative thinking. It shouldworry us because the response hits at the heart of innovation, which is crucial for economic growth.
is not a skill to be learnt, but an approach to think differently or to think beyond the accepted. It can't be taught, it needs to be nurtured and encouraged.
In linking economic growth
and innovation, the tendency is to focus on technological innovation and research and development (R&D). But if innovation is an inculcated attitude, then it has to start right from the school level. Innovative thinking is less a sign of rare genius than the product of a culture and system that puts a premium on ideas.
A school education
that encourages questioning of accepted norms and explanations, and promotes thinking beyond the obvious must be enmeshed in the education curriculum. In engendering aculture of intellectual risk-taking, and encouraging students to maintain the perspective of the outsider, the base for innovations at the higher levels of learning and R&D is created.
Education plays a major role in economic growth, but for it to have its optimum effect, the entire chain of education system - primary, secondary and tertiary - must continuously reinforce the idea of innovation.
In a fast-changing world, with new challenges being thrown its way, education is always chasing a moving target that needs innovation and adaptation even as the basic goal of education remains unchanged: that of making of socially-responsible
and caring persons.
In a country like India, which is multilingual, with multiple and complex layers of economic and social stratification, innovation plays a key role in ensuring that knowledge is evenly disseminated. It brings to fore the need for skill formation in teaching and classroom innovation.
A culture of innovation results in the creation of a public stock of knowledge, which, in turn, raises everyone's productivity. If the aim of education is to ensure socially-responsible and responsive citizenry, then the education system must ensure that innovation is the cornerstone of the edifice.
Research and development creates new knowledge, which, in turn, contribute to economic growth. Late Harvard economist Zvi Griliches stressed on the high private and social returns to R&D, and the spillover effects from R&D.
For a country to realise the full potential of the benefits of R&D, it needs a large body of educated people for whom thinking out of the box is a habit and not an exception. It is, therefore, necessary to create the conditions that allow for innovative thinking in our schools and universities.
A more educated workforce is needed to develop new approaches, technological and non-technological, and improve on them. Closing our educational institutions to new perspectives challenging the status quo does us no favours.
Not reforming the way we deliver education will only make it difficult to invest in creating human capital that can take on the challenges that the country encounters as it seeks to ensure a better life for all its people.
It goes without saying that all innovations are not necessarily good or effective. But what counts is the process that goes into giving rise to aninnovation: a different approach to a situation or a problem, the ability to take a thought and develop it into something that seeks to improve upon an existing way of doing things.
It might seem too much value is being invested in how the cartoon controversy unravelled. But those hours of high-pitched airing of 'informed opinion' in Parliament hold up a mirror, and the reflection is not a pretty one.
It showed up a deep discomfort with out-of-the-box thinking. But none of these events should dissuade us, we must keep in sight the fact that innovation is a critical source of sustainable economic growth.