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India - Korea Cooperation in Education

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Although India and Korea are separated by a vast continental landmass, they share multiple common denominators like oriental values, moral attributes, social interactions and family values to name few. In recent times, when all nations have experienced a direct or indirect impact of the economic downturn, Asia is looking promising to lead the world out of this recession and is poised to become the next global power continent. It becomes very important for countries of this continent to leverage each other's strengths, to secure a long lasting global leadership. Education is one such sector in which India and Korea have great potential for working together and benefiting from each other's experience and wealth of knowledge.

On the education front, India has a long history of formal, informal, reserved (on caste and society), organized and process oriented education systems. The Gurukul system of education is the oldest education system on earth. The guru (teacher) will teach or mentor the shishiya (students) either individually or collectively; and most of the time away from the home. Having a guru is quite prevalent in Indian society, even in modern times people refer to their mentors as their gurus or godfathers who have lead them to the path of success. The credit of identifying education as one of the growth pillars goes to early leaders of India who steered India towards independence through identifying and establishing some quality educational institutes like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). The history of IIT dates back to 1946, just before independence, and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, in the first convocation address for IIT Kharagpur in 1956 said, "Here in the place of the Hijli Detention Camp stands a fine monument of India, representing India's urges, India's future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India." 

South Korea with its Confucian heritage has had a long history of providing formal education; though there was no state-supported system of primary education, the central government established a system of secondary schools in Seoul and the provinces during the Joseon Dynasty. 

There are many other similarities between the two countries, with one key being both achieved independence almost at the same time, but the success and growth of South Korea is quite impressive. India, being the world's largest democracy, had its own set of challenges and it took extra time to get the world's attention, but in last decade and a half it gracefully converted its challenges into opportunities by leveraging its strong education system, cultural diversity, high adaptation and the strength of its skilled manpower's ability to communicate in the global language - English.

The Indian education system is renowned across the globe with a high respect for its engineers, doctors, academicians, scholars - primarily all those who have access to the Indian education system. Of late, Silicon Valley and Indian IT resources have become synonymous, as no global IT provider or consumer can ignore the capabilities and skill set of Indian engineers. As global trade and economies expands and boundaries shrink, this competitiveness will further pave the way for India's progress, as it has been thriving in recent times and will continue to do so.

At the same time, South Korea also has a fundamentally strong education system. Here you can see kids returning home late at night after attending schools and academies all day, and then start the routine again the next day and so on for six days a week. Few corporate and businesses houses provide children's education benefits as part of the salary, which in other ways is a mechanism to contain attrition and attract skilled resources. Recently, CNN reported that Korean schools have the maximum number of working days among the major economies and school systems. In general, for Korean parents the top priority is to educate their kids to the best of their abilities, and the society at large understands the importance of education in the global economy. This is coupled and supported by government policies with continuous improvements and multiple steps to promote both basic and higher education in the society.

There are many synergies in the two distinct cultures, one being the education system, which both countries should leverage. One of the key opportunities for South Korea can be to upgrade its competent workforce on global communication skills, standards and business processes and provide global opportunities to its citizens to pioneer the next wave of its global expansion. India has a competent and competitive education system with all necessary, proven expertise and credentials. In the last decade, it has matured its processes to support global business across the world. For example, if you are in the United States and need help fixing your computer, help with telephone banking, directions or for that matter anything that needs a phone call, it is highly probable someone in India will pick up your call (across time zones) and answer your question. India has gained a considerable market share in IT and business process outsourcing, knowledge processing across industry domains and is marching ahead to capture a much higher global footprint along with the market share. This could provide other business opportunities in which Korea can elevate its skill set and be the service provider in R andD and knowledge management across the key and high-value industry domains as it already posesses excellent processes in automotive, high-tech, manufacturing, green technology and more.

There are multiple areas in the education domain where India and South Korea can collaborate and leverage each other's experience.

I. Physical or on-premise education - This model essentially entails that the Korean workforce or people exploring education can go to India and get themselves updated across the basic or advanced education.

II. Online Models - This could be the at home education system wherein people from India can impart education over the Web at the convenience of the learners.

III. Extended Classes - You can visualize this model as an extension of an institution in India. In this, a private or a public school can tie-up with an education provider in India where the potential learner (student) will get an opportunity to visit India and spend a few weeks or months as part of the curriculum.

The above models are an illustration and can be refined further based on the mutual business interest and can also be combined for optimal implementations. Overall, there are multiple implicit and explicit benefits for both countries to collaborate in the education sector with some tangible benefits in the key areas of:

a) Quality Education for a Lower Cost - With India having an ample supply of English speaking resources coupled with a strong education system, it will create enough supply to meet the demand, which in turn will keep costs down with no impact on the quality. In addition, a strong competition on the supply side will push quality further up. This for sure will be a win-win on the both sides, for South Korea it will means both economic and social benefits like getting more for the same dollar spent, with a huge benefit for lower-middle class earners, who will have an opportunity to get an international or global education.

For India, it will translate to more jobs and the opening of a new market place.

b) Physical Proximity - For an Asian, traveling in Asia is relatively convenient compared to traveling off of the continent.

c) Stronger economic and cultural bonds - With two countries working closely at the education level, a key resource for business operations, it will implicitly tie a stronger knot between the two countries at both the strategic and operational levels.

To make any of the above models work Indian policy makers should take the first step and construct a congenial business environment so that entrepreneurs in both countries can leverage this opportunity and pass the benefits to the masses.

Chander Wanchoo - Global citizen and a senior manager - Global Client Engagement at SK C andC.


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