Do we need professionals for India's development? The usual answer to this question is a decided 'yes'. We need engineers, doctors, administrators, scientists, managers, lawyers and so on. In India, we already have many educational institutions, which churn out young professionals every year. This is because, after independence, India heavily invested in these institutions - the Indian institutes of technology and management, hundreds of medical and engineering colleges - to create such human resources. The result is before us. India's journey towards a modern nation is steered by such people. The nation produces everything from bicycles to SUVs, trains, ships and aircraft. We build our own roads, bridges, power stations; we have world class hospitals and doctors. India's economy is touted to become the third-largest in the world after the United States of America and China.
In spite of all this, India still suffers from many social, political, economic and ecological problems. Nearly 50 per cent of Indian women are anaemic, an alarming number of children suffer from stunted growth; a large percentage of school-going children are unable to learn anything useful in spite of being in school for a long time; more than 40 per cent of farmers' sons and daughters want to quit farming; decent jobs are rare, water is scarce in many cities, pollution is already a menace in almost all urban Indian centres. These are just some of the problems. Addressing them requires a different set of skills and knowledge. It demands a holistic understanding of Indian society, its people and their culture, various institutions and structures that influence people's lives, existing government policies at work, and a study of how some other countries have addressed similar problems. This learning may be broadly defined as development education.
While engineering, management, commerce and medical education capture the limelight in education-related advertisements and public discussions, a fundamental point is often missed - India's developmental challenges are often social, ecological and political, and not purely scientific, medical or managerial. This is not to suggest that India does not need managers, engineers and scientists - of course it does. But equally needed are professionals who know how to engage with social, political and ecological issues on the ground.
Does India have post-graduate level educational programmes to create human resources to work on these issues? If it does, are students who opt for such programmes eventually going to get jobs? Do these jobs provide decent career prospects?
The answer to these questions is 'yes'. Moreover, unlike engineering, medicine and management, the cost of pursuing higher education degrees and diplomas in many of these subjects is much less, sometimes a fraction of what it takes to get a degree in management.
These educational programmes are known by many names - rural development, social work, rural management, development studies, entrepreneurship and livelihoods, sustainable development and so on. Fortunately, there are quite a few such programmes now across the country. Most of them are Master's degree courses; some, especially the management type courses, lead to post-graduate diplomas.
Unlike studying engineering, science or medicine, the choice of taking up development education need not be made immediately after school. In most cases, graduates of any discipline can do a post-graduate level degree in development education. This is generally a good thing, because many young students start thinking seriously about their professional futures only after graduation. It is at this time that one starts considering their personal interests, cost of education and professional prospects all at once. In many ways, development education brings all of these together for young people - in terms of costs, meaningful work lives, decent careers and a direct contribution to building a modern nation.