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Speeches and Remarks 2010

U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer Keynote to panel “Educating the Future Workforce: Asia’s Next Generation”

20th Asian Corporate Conference, New Delhi | March 19, 2010

As prepared for delivery

While reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi last week, I was struck by his discussion of the Mississippi River basin.  He writes of how American life flows through the River. He writes:  “the basin of the Mississippi River is the body of the nation.”  I immediately thought of the River Ganges, which also so reflects the life of India. 

In my travels through India, I have already had the privilege to raft and swim in the holy Ganges.  I know how people throughout India have collected bottles of the water from the Ganges to keep in their homes.  I know how the river flows through the Indian psyche, as a place of pilgrimage, a source of water, the source of life. 

And then, thinking of today’s talk, I thought about how a nation’s educational system too is so integral to a people, flowing through and touching every aspect of all lives.  Education reflects values, teaches shared histories and futures, provides skills, and is the heart and soul of a nation.

As I’ve travelled across India, my most memorable experiences have been my interactions with students.  It has been inspiring to see how India’s future leaders -- its youth -- and their parents, teachers, and school officials, are so keenly focussed on education as the pathway to a prosperous future.  I have seen the eighth standard orphan studying English as to improve his chances. 

I work with the Indian parents at the Embassy who take leave to support their children during exams.  I have met the school and government officials who are constantly striving to improve and expand the education provided in India. 

As parents, Sally and I also value education as critical to making our four children successful global citizens.  This core value was passed down to me from my grandparents and parents, who were educators in Indiana.  I served on the Education Committee of the House of Representatives and worked to pass legislation that would help provide better opportunities for children to learn.  And now here, as the US Ambassador to India, I am focussed on education as one of the key five pillars of the strategic partnership between India and the US. 

This bilateral strategic partnership between India and the United States has never been stronger or more promising.  Together, we are working at an unprecedented level on education – our topic today – but also on science and technology, economics and trade, health, agriculture, and countering terrorism and providing for regional and global security.  Together, we are working to support the scores of senior U.S. government visitors who visit India to build that education partnership.  Together we are working to implement the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, to improve scholarship programs, and to share experiences and best practices in areas such as teacher training. And together, we are working to better serve remote areas, expanding education’s reach. 

I want to underscore and emphasize the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.  This program will focus support on the formation of higher education partnerships between institutions of higher learning in both countries, and develop and enrich junior faculty at Indian institutions.  We are hopeful that strong private-public partnerships will accompany this government initiative, expanding its reach and scope, and helping ensure that it is linked with employment opportunities and real economic needs for the future.

Our USAID education programs help improve the quality and relevance of education, particularly for disadvantaged youth.  We reach millions by supporting the effective use of modern technologies in education.  Through the use of radio, these programs help teach basic skills to students in the farthest flung regions of the country. 

In another program, over 70,000 poor, out-of-school youth have gained skills linked directly to jobs thanks to a three month course on soft skills, with a placement rate of 76% in the new sectors of India’s booming economy. We also support education for Muslim communities, providing teacher training and developing materials for madrasas, which link them to the formal state educational system.  USAID also has a long history supporting U.S. land grant universities to build the capacity of Indian agriculture universities and research institutes.

Our older and long-established programs are receiving new funding and creative review.  We recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright program in India.  Since the program’s inception in 1950, Fulbright has awarded approximately 8,200 grants funded by the Department of State in almost every academic discipline.  

Today, with India as our full partner in the governance and funding of the Fulbright-Nehru Program, the U.S.-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) has nearly tripled the number of grants from previous levels, and is developing new and innovative programs, such as bringing recent American college graduates to teach English in Indian government schools.  Earlier this week, I met with nine Fulbright scholars in Lucknow, each one working in innovative new ways – in education, NGOs, the press – to further understanding of the challenges of the 21st century.

President Obama, in his Cairo speech, stressed the shared interests, shared values, and mutual respect between the United States and Muslim communities.  He noted that our cultures “overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Practicing our shared values and priorities, the Department of State sponsors the English Access Microscholarship Program in India.  We have programs across the country providing disadvantaged young students the opportunity to study English, gain an appreciation for U.S. culture and values, and increase their ability to participate successfully in the socio-economic development of their country.  Thousands of students here in India have benefitted from this program, and gone on to become the first generation of their families to enroll in college.  Many have already entered the workforce as part of India’s future promise.  I have visited these English Access programs here at Deepalaya School in South Delhi and in a Muslim school in Kolkata.  I have seen the gleam in the eyes of these students, and witnessed their conviction that there are no limits to what they can accomplish with the right skills.

India faces several challenges to meet its domestic goals and become a global power.  There are three major challenges ahead – 1) to grow the economy at a sustained rate of 8 – 9 percent annually, 2) to provide power and electricity to people and businesses and industry, and 3) to develop the infrastructure needed for the 21st century.  All three of these challenges are tied to education and developing the proper skill sets – the skill sets to design the roads and transportation networks, to build the electricity grid, to contribute fully to economic development with modern high value added jobs.  Let me add that these challenges face all of us – India, the U.S., and the world. 

Last Saturday, in his weekly radio address to the nation, President Obama spoke eloquently of the importance of education in achieving such goals.  He told the American people that “As a nation, we are engaged in many important endeavors: improving the economy, reforming the health care system, encouraging innovation in energy and other growth industries of the 21st century.  But our success in these efforts – and our success in the future as a people – will ultimately depend on what happens long before an entrepreneur opens his doors, or a nurse walks the rounds, or a scientist steps into her laboratory.  Our future is determined each and every day, when our children enter the classroom, ready to learn and brimming with promise.”  This lesson is global, and holds true for all of us.  It is true here in India.

Our education partnership with India supports India’s efforts to fulfil the promise of those children, and to achieve their development goals.  India and the United States are working together to help ensure that India’s future generations have the best possible education to allow them to contribute all they have to the development of their communities, their country, and the world at large.  We are always looking for new programs, new ideas, and new paths for this partnership. There are four new areas of cooperation and partnership I would like to discuss – community colleges, recruiting and training teachers, embracing public-private and foreign partnerships, and sharing access to high technology.

First, there is tremendous potential for community colleges to spread the benefits of education to currently under-served areas, particularly with education that is closely linked to employment needs.  The United States has much to share with India and other countries.  As I have travelled throughout India, I have seen how the needs and skills differ from one region to another. In the east in Bihar and West Bengal, coal is such a major industry and infrastructural development the priority.  In the south in Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, high tech is the order of the day.  In Punjab, the strong agricultural base drives development. I am beginning to understand just how diverse the needs are throughout this vast country.  Community colleges, tied to the local communities and their needs, can offer another step in the educational continuum which could help India prepare students for real jobs which will contribute to its national development goals in tangible ways.

Second, recruiting, training, and retaining the best teachers is another key element linked to the success of these efforts. The challenges for India are many – the number of teachers needed, particularly rural teachers, the status and pay of teachers, and spreading new techniques to all teachers.  I learned of India’s efforts in this area when I participated in an educational roundtable in Mumbai and learned about the “Teach for India” initiative.  Many of the areas of U.S. government partnership with India on education involve teacher training, particularly in the area of English language teaching.  And such training reaches out beyond India’s borders, to the region as a whole.  In Hyderabad, for example, we support the English and Foreign Language University which involves English language teachers from 12 countries from south and central Asia. 

Our USAID Mission and our Regional English Language Office also work intensively with madrasas to improve English language teaching skills for those teachers.  One recent graduate of our Access English program, Mohamed, used to be shy and withdrawn, and is now engaged with his peers around the world through English and social networking technologies to share his enthusiasm and hope for the future , a change he credits entirely to his English teacher’s dedication. When you see the interactive and joyful classes of our English Access program in some of the most marginalized areas and schools, as I have, you know that this teacher training pays immeasurable dividends. 

Third, an area of keen interest and widely debated in India, with the landmark Foreign Educational Institution Bill introduced to Parliament just this week, is the public-private and international college partnerships. I have read the statistic that 7% of Indians between the ages of 18-24 go to college.   For countries like India to meet the tremendous growing demand for education, active and substantial private sector engagement and support is essential.  I have heard Minister Kapil Sibal speak passionately about the challenges which lie ahead to meet the demand here in India, and about how the private sector will be an essential partner in meeting that challenge.  We also witnessed the enthusiasm of the private sector in answering that call. 

Finally, in today’s networked world, the role of information technology in education is fundamentally important. Using technology, we can maximize our mutual strengths to use digital opportunities to transform education, spread its reach and possibilities to the remote corners of the country, and ensure that 21st century skills are being taught to all.   So much is already being done here in India, particularly with the Indian Institutes of Technology, to make resources available on-line to the broadest possible audience.

Similarly, US institutions are trail blazers in teaching on-line to expand the reach of their courses and research.  Clearly, working together to apply best practices and maximize the reach and scope of such programs, we can help spread the promise of education to the millions of students.

In conclusion, let me stress that the US partnership in education in India is broad, deep, and innovative - reaching out to all Indians and across all key fields.  A resourceful, innovative, and broad-based education system provides a fountainhead of opportunities and skills that spread to more and more people.  These many talented workers can help build the solutions for sustainable and equitable economic growth.  They will design and help construct the bridges and ports of the future.  Together, they will conceptualize the connection of rural communities to the electrical grid.  But this can only happen if all of India’s great minds are used, men and women, urban and rural, privileged and marginalized, north-east-south-west. 

But India looks to go further – and must.  India is starting to open its educational system to best practices and partnerships from around the world.  India should be confident in its capacity to do so – look at the success of the partnerships that created the IITs and IIMs fifty years ago.  They are now magnet institutions globally. 

With the indigenous power and global reach of all 1.2 billion Indians, well-educated for the 21st century and all its possibilities, contributing to global development and well-being, partnering as equals with the United States and the rest of the world, anything is possible.  As Mahatma Gandhi said:  “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”  We share many common characteristics and bonds between our two countries – family bonds – dynamic business communities – a drive for education – the words “we the people” in our constitutions – and the dream that our children will do better – have the opportunity to do better – than us.  We are proud to be full partners in building that future by innovation – reform – and resources – to educate our children.  Because by educating our children, we effect every aspect of our society and culture, just as the holy Ganges and the mighty Mississippi flow through every aspect of our lives.