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India and Knowledge Society

Let knowledge come from all sides. (RIG VEDA):

Knowledge has always been an essential and distinguishing characteristic of human society, for human beings are unique among all species in their extended capacity to formulate, systematize, preserve and consciously transmit organized bodies of knowledge from one individual, community, generation and location to another. That is the essence of all that is known as education.

There is almost universal recognition that knowledge as a product and as an instrument will be the basic foundation for competitiveness of individual business and of nations in the 21st century. Robust research findings suggest that knowledge as a factor of production explains a substantial proportion of economic growth internationally.

 Historically, Indian society is a hierarchical society and its knowledge base has always been elitist. Whether it is the caste based system or the colonial education system, access to knowledge has primarily been the privilege of the few. But such a system can never lay the foundation for a holistic development strategy. Therefore, all socio-economic and political
ideas have to be focused on inclusive growth and socio-economic equality in the real sense

The recent focus of good governance is to enable inclusive growth and development. India has come a long way from the hierarchical society and its exclusive educational system which we imbibed from our cultural and social heritage, as well as our colonial past. The thrust of the envisaged changes in the society calls for knowledge for all and a shift towards an inclusive
knowledge based society.

“If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us” said Adlai E. Stevenson. This is the idea behind the concept of an inclusive society based on free and easy access to knowledge for all.

Knowledge Society consists of practices and policies for using intellectual assets to support key economic objectives and to reduce vulnerability gaps, and in the process of social transformation strengthening national security .Knowledge management deals with the knowledge as a corporate resource. Knowledge culture is necessary for survival and success in the modern world of business.

Knowledge is only one input to the development process, but it is an absolutely essential one. Without adequate knowledge all the other essential inputs-land, infrastructure, factories, capital, technology, administrative and social organization-cannot yield full results. Enhancing knowledge generation, dissemination and application is the fastest, most cost-effective means of increasing the productivity of all these other resources and accelerating national development.
Development depends on four knowledge processes:

  • Knowledge generation and acquisition through scientific discovery, R&D and transfer of technology.
  • Knowledge adaptation through innovation to particular fields, needs and operating environments.
  • Knowledge dissemination through formal and informal channels from knowledge developers and adapters to those responsible for applying the knowledge in society.
  • Knowledge application through skilled action in fields, factories, classrooms, hospitals and every other field of activity to achieve practical results.

The competencies that would count in the emerging Knowledge Age are intelligence, knowledge, good formal educational qualifications and skills in communicative English-we are abundant in it.

Knowledge is important not only for the rich but also for the poor. This is all the more relevant in a country such as India where the gap between the rich and the poor is enormous. Thus India has to closely link economic development with social development .Technology can assist in the development of the social sector. The anytime-anywhere and death-of-distance paradigms of technology enable better leveraging of scarce resources. Computerized learning aids, cyber classes and e-education are instances of use of technology in education. Knowledge is the key driver in the race for economic leadership. A key imperative today is for the government to collaborate with the private sector and industry in building knowledge infrastructure. This includes partnership for developing talent, formulating conducive regulatory framework, creating bandwidth and providing affordable computing power.

It is suggested that Indian policy makers and organisations consider focusing on the following areas to prepare for a knowledge-based economy and society.

First, good quality institutions, a reasonable degree of contestability in the economy and in polity, and an outward-orientation are essential for creating, diffusing and adapting knowledge in India; efforts should be made to deepen and institutionalise economic and governance reforms.

Second, strong education and training in technology and science are essential as knowledge cannot be absorbed unless some basic knowledge is already possessed. Reforming education policies and regulations, particularly those designed to increase supply and quality, should be an urgent priority. India must preserve traditional knowledge and subject it to scientific enquiry and application.

Third, capabilities to take advantage of international conventions such as converting product and process knowledge into patents and intellectual property rights must be developed. Commoditisation of traditional knowledge by more resourceful countries needs to be addressed through cooperation among developing countries, which have similar interests.

Fourth, private and public sector firms and organisations of developing countries must be open to new ideas. There is no more insidious colonisation than colonisation of the mind. In most Indian organisations, the desire to reform traditional methods of administration and delivery of government services is essential if the efficiencies arising from the knowledge-economy are to be realised.

Fifth, multiple sources of new ideas and experiments, including rural technology innovations, need to be cultivated. If such sources of ideas are combined with encouraging social entrepreneurship, i.e. meeting social needs with capitalist means, and with effective public private partnerships, application of knowledge-economy to diverse areas can be facilitated.

Sixth, a great deal of knowledge is organisation, context or location-specific. The challenge is to use it to address specific economic and social needs. India’s heterogeneity can be used to great advantage in discovering and diffusing location specific knowledge to develop more sustainable, relatively less elaborate, production and supply chains.

These, in turn, may help increase resilience of local economies to external shocks.

The National Knowledge Commission (NKC), an advisory body set up in 2005, has five focus areas, namely easy access to knowledge, emphasis on education at all levels, creation of knowledge, application of knowledge to all sectors, and better delivery of services in all sectors. The NKC however has not received strong political support. Its recommendations have been blocked by petty political and bureaucratic rivalries. Unwillingness or inability to assert strong political leadership by the Prime Minister in this area has contributed to the erosion of his authority, while constraining India’s future options and prospects.

Many believe that those representing Indian institutions will have the capacity to push for a level playing field on the world scene as far as access to technology and the relevant knowledge bases are concerned at the same time as they foster the development of local knowledge and ICT applications. However, this will depend on other factors such as international trade relations and whether the government and other stakeholders can avoid becoming victims of the ICT fetish. India’s resilient features and strengths in terms of its social organisation, its cultural resources and its vast reservoir of knowledge workers should not be frittered away as a result of greater than necessary participation in the global knowledge society.

India was a knowledge force in the ancient days. Let us again restore this status to Bharat again. Let us draw inspiration from our great wise men of the past and the intellectual leadership of the present and make the world exclaim, “The Wonder That Is India.”

India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last word, she lives and has still something to do for herself and the humankind. (AURBINDO GHOSH)