`Deekshant’ is not `Shikshant’ – 100th Convocation Address of Banaras Hindu University delivered on 22 November

I deem it a great privilege to deliver the 100th Convocation Address of our Banaras Hindu University, which has not only been an extraordinary historical and inspiring centre of learning but has also been the symbol of national consciousness and cultural renaissance for over a century now.

I feel doubly privileged to give this convocation address, because I am a proud alumnus of this great university. I received D.Sc. (Hon. Causa) from the University in the year 2002.

My young friends, this `Deekshant Samaroh’ has a very special meaning in your life.

Your graduation marks a milestone in your life as you leave the portals of this great university to enter a world that is full of exciting opportunities. I congratulate you warmly. I must also congratulate your parents and teachers for giving you the best gift of your life, education.

And why do I say so? Let me explain.

There was a discussion on what is possibly the most powerful equation that was ever developed by scientists.

Someone said that it was the Newton’s second law, giving the relationship between force (F), mass (m) and acceleration (a), namely, F = ma.

Someone else said that it is Einstein’s equation linking Energy (E) to mass (m) and the velocity of light (c), namely, E = mc2.

The others came out with some other suggestions. Then they asked me as to what I thought. I said neither Newton nor Einstein. The most powerful equation is E = F. Here E is Education and F is Future! Education is equal to the future.

This equation is universal and eternal.

Well, you will say you are a scientist. And a scientist has to prove the equation that he proposes. So what is the proof that E=F?

Well, I have witnessed the proof every day of my life but let me just single out one day, i.e. 30 March 2000. On that day one of the highest civilian honours in India, Padmabhushan, was bestowed on both Ratan Tata and me by late President K.R. Narayanan.

But how does it prove the equation E=F? Let me explain.

President Narayanan was born in a small village in Kerala; I was born in a small village in Goa. He walked 15 kilometres to get to school, much like I walked barefoot to a municipal school. He sometimes stood outside class and eavesdropped on lectures because his family didn’t have enough money for tuition. Due to extreme poverty, my widowed mother could not afford notebooks or shoes, and I remember many nights on which I studied under street lights. He took his brother’s help to copy notebooks and books and return them, and I remember sitting on a footpath, borrowing books from a kind bookstall owner, quickly reading them and returning them.

And interestingly, both of us stared at the grim possibility of no higher education, no future due to our poverty. But both of us could do higher studies because of the timely & generous scholarship that was given by the house of Tatas.

So it was the case of President Narayanan, a former Tata scholar bestowing Padmabhushan on the Head of family of Tatas, Ratan Tata, as also me, another Tata scholar. That proves the equation E=F.

This degree ceremony, this `Deekshant Samaroh’ is a culmination of a journey as well as a beginning of a new journey for you. But I want to emphasise that `Deekshant does not mean `Shikshant’. Your education and learning does not end here. It begins here.

And my friends, what I am saying is nothing new. The founder of this great university, Mahanama Madan Mohan Malviya ji gave many profound messages in his 12th Convocation speech delivered in 1929. In these, he had emphasised “Speak the truth, think truth. Continue your studies throughout your life. Be just and fear none.”

But Mahanama’s message of `lifelong learning’ given almost a century ago is even more meaningful today. The world was very different a century ago. Today we are living in a digitally disrupted VUCA world, where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is ruling the world. In this new world, not just the change but the rate of acceleration of the change is just amazing. So lifelong learning is not optional for you. It is a must, my friends, for both survival and continued success throughout your life.

Look at just one example of the impact of digital disruption. World’s largest taxi company owns no taxis. That is Uber. World’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate. That is a Airbnb. World’s most valuable retailer has no inventory. That is Alibaba. World’s largest movie house has no cinemas. That is Netflix. This was unthinkable even 10 years ago.

Look at the way the industry is getting digitally disrupted. The first industrial revolution was mechanization of production using steam. The second was mass production using electricity. The third used ‘simple’ digitization. ‘Complex’ digitization gave birth to the terminology Industry 4.0. Here cyber-physical systems are predicted to bring in dramatic shifts. Major upheavals in technology led job destruction and creation are expected in Industry 4.0.

In this era of digital disruption, machines are increasingly performing tasks that are typically considered “human”— such as complex analyses, subtle judgments, and creative problem solving. We will have to interact with a machine in the way that one would with a co-worker.

Indeed, advanced automation, big data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence will be four major drivers. There is a saying that data is new oil. And Artificial Intelligence (AI) is new electricity. In fact it is said that industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery. AI will free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery.

And look at the way machine learning is dramatically changing. Go, an ancient board game, has been always viewed as one of the greatest challenges for AI.

In late March 2016, AlphaGo took on and defeated legendary Go player, Lee Sedol, who has won 18 world titles.

What is really remarkable is that AlphaGo played many unprecedented and creative moves. According to experts, AlphaGo’s move 37 in Game 2 had a one in 10,000 chance being played by a human!

The trends are clear. Machines will increasingly take away jobs that require both brain and brawn. Machines will influence both blue collar and white colour jobs.

So what impact is all this going to have on jobs, especially in a country like India?

The 2016 follow-up report (“Technology At Work v2.0”) by Martin school suggests that the technology impact on jobs will be far greater in the developing world than in the developed world. For instance, the report concludes that 69 percent of jobs in India and 77 percent in China are at “high risk” of automation as against 47 percent in the U.S. and 57 percent across the OECD.

My own research on the subject is contained in my article `Exponential Technology, Industry 4.0 and Jobs in India’, which is published in SAGE publication journal `Review of Market Integration’. I have shown the way forward so that India can avoid technology led jobless growth and move on to job led growth, which our nation needs.

But for this to happen, as I have pointed out, India will have to move from `right to education’ to `right education’ to `right way of education’ in view of the great disruption that exponential technology is going to create.

First on right education. A recent report by U.S. Department of Labour said that almost two thirds of the senior school going children will be doing jobs that do not exist today. So how does our education system prepare our students for jobs that don’t exist today? That requires visionary thinking.

No matter what disruptions take place with newly emerging technologies that can’t be predicted today, there will be five skills that will have an evergreen value.

First, dealing with complexity. Second, critical thinking. Third, creativity. Fourth, emotional intelligence. Fifth ability of co-working, co-creation, and that too with both men and machine together. The right education system for new India should be geared to that.

Now we come to the `right way of education’. Our current ways will have to change dramatically.

In education 1.0, we had Gurukuls of India, knowledge was held by the Gurus and there was restricted access to a privileged few.

Then came education 2.0. It had to do with an assembly line model with mass enrolment. There was one to many information dissemination. All of us learnt that way.

Now comes education 3.0 with dramatic paradigm shifts. What are these?

First, Information memorisation and brute force recall will be made irrelevant. From `brain as storage’ to `brain as an intelligent processor’ will become the norm. Humanity’s accumulated knowledge is now freely available on the Internet and that too anytime, anyone, anywhere.

Second, rich formatted content, flipped classrooms, and research material from the best faculty on a subject is available for free.

Third, on demand tutoring, P2P learning, personalised and generative course structure and sequencing to meet the individual needs are the order of the day.

In summary, Universities of the future need to transition towards a learner-centered education model where learning and work go hand in hand. Customized learning modules coupled with adaptive, dynamic and agile life-long learning should be the focus of the universities to create workforce with long term sustainability.

And I emphasise dynamic and agile learning is life-long, so there is no `Shikshant’ with this `Deekshant’ ceremony, my young friends!

The question is whether we are ready for education 3.0. The answer is yes. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister through his visionary `digital India’, `make in India’, and `Skill India’ missions has set not only a highly aspirational mood and the tone, but there is actual solid action on the ground.

India has moved from the 155th rank in mobile broadband penetration to being number one in mobile data consumption in less than two years. This is the fastest transition from 2G/3G to 4G anywhere in the world. In terms of fixed broadband, India will rise from a lowly 135th rank to being in the top three nations. 130 crore connected Indians means a huge transformational opportunity to create a new digital India of our dreams and pole vault to Education 3.0.

The good news is that the Government is moving with a sense of urgency. I had a discussion with our HRD Minister. I gave him the list of 55 new jobs that the disruption due to exponential technology is going to create. I also told him how China has introduced AI in schools. In turn, he told me how hundreds of Atal Tinkering Labs around the country are being set up, where young children will be exposed to 3D printing, robotics, sensors, internet of things, etc. All this augurs well. We must bring speed, scale and sustainability in all these efforts.

Five Mashelkar Mantras

At the end, I will tell you about five mantras that have helped me in my life. I hope the Mashelkar mantras will work for you too. After all, in life, aptitude is as important as ability.

First, your aspirations are your possibilities. So always keep them high. Keep your eyes on the stars, and not down at your feet.

Second, perseverance always pays. It is always too early to quit. Winners never quit and quitters never win.

So my friends, look at the word FAIL differently. FAIL is First Attempt in Learning. As long as you keep on learning from the errors you have done and not repeat them, you will ultimately win.

Third, be always a part of a solution, never a part of the problem. If you can’t find the way, create a new way. Don’t just knock on doors of opportunity. Create your own doors.

Fourth, like instant coffee, there is no instant success. There is no substitute for hard work. You may be talented, but remember hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard enough. But work hard in silence. Let success make all the noise.

Fifth, there is no limit to human endurance, to human achievement, to human imagination, except the limits you put on yourself. So go limitless.

Let me end by reminding you again of the power of the equation E=F.

Let me remind you again that this `Deekshant is not Shikshant’, so pursue lifelong learning. And if you do this, I am sure each one of you will reach great heights in your journey upwards on the limitless ladder of excellence and achievement, not only for you individually but collectively, for our beloved motherland.

Thank you.