National Knowledge Commission of India:
An initiative Sri Lanka should emulate
GREAT INITIATIVE: The Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh,
when setting up the National Knowledge Commission as a high level
advisory body to him, said, “The time has come to create a second wave
of institution building, and of excellence in the fields of education,
research and capacity building so that we are better prepared for the
India set up its National Knowledge Commission (NKC) in June 2005 and
its first report to the government titled, “National Knowledge
Commission: Report to the Nation 2006” was submitted in January 2007.
In the foreword to this report, NKC’s Chairman, Sam Pitroda, former
founding Chairman of the Telecommunication Commission of India and a
former Advisor to the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, says that “.....
we feel a sense of excitement at the potential that India has to emerge
as one of the leading knowledge societies in the world.
The Commission was set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prepare
a blueprint to tap into the enormous reservoir of our knowledge base so
that our people can confidently face challenges of the 21st Century. We
are conscious that this is a daunting task, which requires not only
resources and time but also a vision and a long Term view.”
What is knowledge?
Knowledge is defined (Oxford English Dictionary) variously as (i)
facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience
or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject,
(ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and
information or (iii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a
fact or situation. Philosophical debates in general start with Plato’s
formulation of knowledge as “justified true belief”.
There is however no single agreed definition of knowledge presently,
nor any prospect of one, and there remain numerous competing theories.
Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes:
perception, learning, communication, association, and reasoning. The
term knowledge is also used to mean the confident understanding of a
subject, with ability to use it for a specific purpose.
The terms of reference
Very clearly, the Indian Prime Minister has identified the need to be
proactive in using and creating knowledge for India to face the
challenges of the future.
At the heart of the NKC’s mandate therefore are five key areas
related to knowledge: Access to Knowledge, Knowledge Concepts, Creation
of Knowledge, Knowledge Applications, and Delivery of Services. The
Terms of Reference of the NKC tell us its scope.
* Build excellence in the educational system to meet the knowledge
challenges of the 21st Century and increase India’s competitive
advantage in fields of knowledge.
* Promote creation of knowledge in Science and Technology
* Improve the management of institutions engaged in Intellectual
* Promote knowledge applications in Agriculture and Industry.
* Promote the use of knowledge capabilities in making government an
effective, transparent and accountable service provider to the citizen
and promote widespread sharing of knowledge to maximise public benefit.
The NKC has designated time frame of three years: from October 2,
2005 to October 2, 2008. In its first report to the nation, the NKC says
that the ability of a nation to use and create knowledge capital
determines its capacity to empower and enable its citizens by increasing
It goes on to add that India today needs a knowledge-oriented
paradigm of development to give the country a competitive advantage in
all fields of knowledge. The NKC also has a mandate to guide policy and
NKC’s overarching aim is to transform India into a vibrant
knowledge-based society. Undoubtedly, the NKC recognises that this
entails a radical improvement in existing systems of knowledge as well
as the creation of avenues for generating new forms of knowledge.
It recognises that increased participation and a more equitable
access to knowledge across all sections of society are also of vital
importance in achieving this goal.
How it operates
Interestingly, the NKC will not submit voluminous reports to the
Government. Instead, they will submit a letter to the Prime Minister
incorporating key recommendations, first steps, and financial
implications etc., supported by the relevant explanatory documents.
To compile and make recommendations, the NKC adopts a novel approach
- an interactive consultation-based work methodology.
Setp by Step consultative process
Firstly, the Commission identifies focus areas. Incidentally, one
such area that has been identified is the Libraries, which resonates
with us too. This identification comes after a wide consultation, both
within and outside the government.
The next step is the identification of diverse stakeholders and
understanding and highlighting major issues in the area. Thereafter,
working groups of specialists and practitioners are constituted.
These typically consist of between five to ten experts; the group
meets periodically over a period of three to four months in order to
prepare a report.
Reports of the working groups are one of the inputs used by the NKC
during its discussions to frame recommendations to the Prime Minister.
In addition, the NKC holds seminars and workshops periodically along
with informal consultations with concerned entities and stakeholders to
get as broad-based a point of view as possible.
The purpose of seminars and workshops is to ensure that diverse
opinions are brought together and a process as inclusive and
participatory as possible is instituted.
At this stage, relevant government ministries and the Planning
Commission of India are actively involved to ensure that later
implementation is smooth and without any impediment.
More often than not, external consultative processes without the
involvement and agreement of the line ministries end up in voluminous
reports compiled through painstaking processes that are however not used
at all resulting in a absolute waste of time and resources.
The NKC, after several rounds of deliberations, sends a letter (not a
report) to the Prime Minister containing key recommendations, first
steps, financial implications etc., supported by relevant explanatory
documents. Once the Prime Minister receives the recommendations etc.,
widespread dissemination to state governments, civil society and other
stakeholders takes place.
The most important step of this entire process is implementation and
since it is done under the aegis of the Indian PM’s office, there is the
highest level co-ordination and follow up with various implementing
NKC’s work programme
NKC’s present recommendations cover vital areas such as libraries,
translation, language, knowledge network, right to education, vocational
education, higher education, national science and social science
foundation and E-governance.
Its works in process include focus areas covering Literacy, Health
Information network, portals (environment, health etc), open and
distance education, school education, legal education, medical
education, management education, technical education, innovation and
entrepreneurship, Intellectual property rights, science and technology,
agriculture, and traditional knowledge.
Potential Future Areas cover Strategies for New Technologies (such as
Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Security Applications, Cryptology),
Environment, Public Health, Gender (including education - specific
constraints to education of girls), Legal Access Issues including
availability of laws and judgements in the public domain, Basic Access
to clean water, food etc., Teacher Training, Learning Methods,
Government Process Re-engineering, grass roots/rural/social innovation
and grass roots business.
Recommendations on English Langauge Teaching
NKC’s recommendations pertaining to English language teaching are
very relevant to us as well. Therefore, those will be reproduced here.
NKC has recommended that teaching of English as a language should be
introduced along with the first language of the child starting from
Class I (in our case, Grade I) in school.
Teaching methodology is also to be changed. NKC has suggested that
English should also be used to teach some non-langauge, content
subjects, starting from Class III in school. In our case, a subject like
social studies may be very useful and fruitful.
Pedagogy of language learning as well as teaching should be suitably
contextualized, to lend meaning to real situations and daily lives, as
per NKC’s recommendations.
A National Testing Service (NTS) for certification of langauge
competence is proposed by the NKC.
Since a large pool of English language teachers is required,
graduates with high proficiency in English and good communication skills
would be inducted without formal teacher training qualifications.
India’s nearly four million teachers, regardless of their subject
expertise, are to be trained to improve their proficiency in English
through a variety of programmes, such as vacation training.
A host of other recommendations has been made by the NKC in regard to
development and access to good resource material such as textbooks,
audio-visual material etc.
What should we do?
Since Sri Lanka boasts of a high literacy rate in the region, we too
must look at the next phase of knowledge enhancement.
While India has to grapple with improving basic literacy, we have the
distinct advantage, thanks to our remarkable social welfare policies, to
leapfrog to a much higher pedestal in the realm of knowledge. However,
the road map to such heights must be carefully but speedily crafted.
The work done by the NKC of India could easily be adapted to suit our
needs. We do not have to re-invent the wheel in conceptualising and
setting up our own National Knowledge Commission.
Some of the Terms of Reference of the Indian NKC could be taken as
they are. Nevertheless, there would have to be consideration of our own
needs when drafting the Terms of Reference.
The Way forward
The President can appoint a few eminent persons with a clear Terms of
Reference to the proposed National Knowledge Commission of Sri Lanka (NKCSL).
These eminent persons will come from fields such as Education.
Engineering, Medicine, Economics, Languages, IT, Mathematics, Science
and Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities, Public Service, Business
Management, Rural Development, Culture and Aesthetics.
There may be some more areas, but we must keep the number of
commissioners manageable lest it becomes unwieldy. An important
consideration should be that these commissioners so appointed must be
the best in their fields as well as having a broad horizon about Sri
A draft Terms of Reference prepared by a core group can be given to
the Commission with the proviso that the NKCSL could deliberate and
inform the President of any amendments they think are appropriate
Thereafter, the mandate could be made final.
A lean Secretariat
An interesting feature in the Indian NKC is that all members provide
their services without any emoluments. The Secretariat is headed by an
Executive Director seconded from the Government of India and a few
support staff among whom are a few top-of-the -ladder recently qualified
graduates with a penchant for research and analytical work.
They are taken on the prevailing market rates. We too must have a
lean set up with a few exceptionally brilliant young but hard working
graduates to support the Commission.
The same methodology adopted by the Indian NKC could be used in the
consultative process. A few of our Commission members and staff could
visit the Indian NKC and interact with them to obtain a thorough
understanding of its working.
A few Advantages
It is imperative that we get on with this as early as possible, as
otherwise, we will lag behind other countries in the region. We have a
few advantages that must be fully leveraged.
Firstly, we do not have to worry about our basic literacy whereas for
most other countries in the region it’s nightmare. What we need to do is
to improve the quality of our teaching in the school system and ensure
that more children pass the first hurdle, the G.C.E. ‘O’ Level.
The poor pass rate of 49 per cent at this first public examination is
a sad reflection of the quality of our secondary schools. This is where
National Education Commission, National Institute of Education and the
Ministry of Education along with Provincial Ministries in charge of
Education must work harmoniously with one objective in mind, to enhance
the pass rates at ‘O’ Level.
Secondly, we have more than adequate rural level learning-teaching
infrastructure that must be put to maximum use. They must become
knowledge centres for our rural children and their parents. Schools and
their infrastructure must be fully exploited; once the schools close for
children, the adult knowledge centre must operate. Mechanics are not
difficult to be worked out.
Next 74 per cent of our households have electricity and at least a
radio is available in a rural home. The TV and the Radio must be used
extensively to provide the population with appropriate knowledge.
English language can be taught to the entire schoolgoing population
and those who have dropped out using innovative programmes, both
audio-visual and community based instruction. Another distinct advantage
is the availability of the Nenasalas and the Computer Resource Centres
in the Schools.
Through these a high quantum of knowledge in a wide array of subjects
can be given to the students and adults. This is still an under-utilised
resource and the local NGOs and CBOs must mobilise people to make use of
these for their knowledge and information requirements.
As the Indian NKC has identified, libraries will play a crucial role
in the knowledge revolution we are so eager to launch. Throughout the
country, we have a large number of libraries run by schools, local
authorities, other institutions such as NGOs and CBOs and private
The National Library Services Board must be fully empowered to
enhance the quality of these reservoirs of knowledge through which the
entire country could benefit. Innovative strategies must be adopted to
make these places attractive. Creative thinking can be utilise to
enhance the number of books in these libraries and made available to
A final Word
The proposed National Knowledge Commission is the advisory body to
the President and therefore must be provided with the most conducive
environment to work. If we do not provide it with adequate resources,
Sri Lanka at the end of the day will stand to lose.
What we invest in the quest for knowledge is certainly worth billions
of ruppes in time to come. Also, the KNCSL must use already functioning
entities, eminent persons, brilliant minds both here and abroad,
resource bases, similar global institutions, think tanks etc, to compile
the recommendations to the First Citizen.
The methodology adopted by the Indian NKC is well worth following;
their process of consultation is inclusive, they remain lean and small,
they do not send voluminous reports to their Prime Minister, and above
all, they think it is their supreme duty to make India the most
competitive country in the world.
Those in various Indian Think Tanks also look forward to the
recommendations of the NKC and contribute to the discourse with passion
and fervour. Similarly, the proposed NKCSL must engage our
intelligentsia, the professionals and their various associations,
traditional knowledge sources and rural wisdom.
In the Report to the Nation 2006, the National Knowledge Commission
of India quotes one of India’s greatest sons, Rabindranath Tagore.
The words of the Great Poet;
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary
desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.