Lessons from India’s education journey for its G20 Presidency 

Andreas Schleicher
OECD Director of Education and Skills

I was in Pune, India, from the 19-22 June, for the G20 Education Working Group and Ministerial Meeting, the intergovernmental forum’s key mechanism to promote collaboration around education and skills. 

Traditionally, India hasn’t been that active in promoting education on the global stage, so countries were struck by the leadership India is showing during its G20 Presidency in advancing the education agenda, encouraging countries to move on from sharing national experiences towards doing things together. A number of points in the declaration of Ministers could change the world.

The first is about open digital resources. The G20 countries own most of the world’s curriculum content. By combining this with digital tools during the pandemic, we have empowered millions of learners. Yet, these resources have not reached those who need them most – learners in the Global South. This misallocation causes widening global education divides and results in economic, social, and political polarisation. By developing shared standards and scaling these resources, G20 countries can provide accessible, high-quality digital materials to the world, promote equity and inclusion, and facilitating cross-border collaboration. Open educational resources are not a zero-sum game—the more we share, the more everyone gains in the long run. 

Second, I commend India’s efforts to address global skills imbalances. Why is it so difficult for a talented Indian engineer to find work in Europe, despite existing skill shortages? We can do much better to turn better skills into better jobs and better lives by making education and skills more transferable across borders. Technology and micro-credentials provide us with these tools. 

Delegates also discussed how to break down structural silos. The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills shows that Japan has exceptionally high skill levels. But rigidities in the Japanese labour-market leave much of that talent wasted. Meanwhile, the US effectively turns skills into jobs despite its patchy education system. We need to bring these pieces together. The G20 Skills Strategy aims to align education, social, labour and economic policies. 

Fourth, India has put the future of work on the education agenda. Competition in education is no longer between countries, but between humans and the artificial intelligence. ChatGPT and the likes have shown us that what we can easily teach can also be easily digitalised. At the OECD, we have been tracking how well systems like ChatGPT fare on global tests like PISA. The rate at which AI systems are improving is impressive, with AI successfully solving 46% of PISA math tasks, up from 28% last year. We need to get ahead of the curve, and Ministers agreed to work together to anticipate the evolution of AI and what that means for education. But beyond promoting the global education agenda, India itself provides many gems in education, too. Pune is known as the “Oxford of the East”, and it’s not hard to see why. The city has been a hub of education for centuries, and is home to many highly regarded universities, research centres and educational organisations. I was fortunate enough to visit some of these during our visit, and as we walked through the leafy campuses, I was able to reflect on some of India’s educational reforms of the past twenty years. 

Since the time of British colonialism, rote-based learning dominated the Indian education system. While rote-based learning can be useful to build foundational knowledge about a topic, it is poorly equipped to prepare students to face the torrent of complex, competing and quickly shifting information that characterises today’s digital world. As soon as questions become ambiguous or where information is imperfect or incomplete, rote-based learners start to struggle. 

Today, India is moving away from rote-based learning towards competency-based models, framed by India’s 2020 National Education Policy, which orients the country towards a skill-oriented education system. With such a massive and complex democracy such as India implementation won’t be easy, nor can we expect it to yield immediate results, but its efforts will surely pay dividends in the long term.

Another important lesson from India’s education system comes from Delhi, where the government has been running a programme that places the mental well-being, mindfulness, social-emotional learning and relationship building at the centre of educational objectives. 

Delhi’s so-called “Happiness Curriculum” has been in place since 2018. It is characterised by 45-minute daily lessons aimed at cultivating the above skills and practices with a view to achieving better learning outcomes and creating students that are confident, mindful and happy.  

Young people growing up in the world today are living through a period of tremendous uncertainty, instability and change. Climate change is a looming existential crisis that is already affecting the lives of tens of millions of people. Global conflicts, inequality and authoritarianism are on the rise, and trust in institutions, facts and governments are declining. 

At the same time, the digital transformation is accelerating. AI, in particular, may prove to be an epoch-making technology, upending the way that we live and work while facilitating rapid advances across a wide range of scientific domains. Global supply chains are also shifting, reflecting changes in geopolitics, technology and resource demands.

Within this context, we must think about education as providing both a means to build the skills, competencies and knowledge to succeed and to develop the emotional and cognitive skills required to function successfully in society. 

It is too early to say what the results of Delhi’s experiment will be, but initial signs are promising. A Brooking’s study found that relationships within and outside of schools are improving and that children are more likely to be empathetic to one another.

I am also reminded of my last visit to India, where I visited the State of Gujarat. There, the government has embarked on an ambitious agenda for education reform aimed at breaking a dynamic of low educational productivity despite relatively high public sector wages that leaves schools with little room to invest in non-staff resources or innovate. 

Gujarat is testing models where private edtech companies receive government support to offer paid tuition, yet also carry an obligation to provide schooling for underprivileged children. In this way, the private tuition fees of fee-paying students end up subsidising those in greatest need, while offering schooling that is cost effective and high quality.

In his remarks to the G20 Education Working Group, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Yoshiki Takeuchi remarked that curiosity and flexibility are vital when the world is changing so fast. This is true for students and educational institutions alike, and for G20 members themselves. 

I am optimistic that India’s G20 Presidency will provide the country and the world with a unique opportunity to inspire transformative change in education.