December 27, 2000, 9:35 AM —
DRIVING THROUGH THE SLUMSof Bangalore is an assault on the senses. Dirty, naked children play outside makeshift shanties, the pungent smell of fresh urine wafts through the window, and as the car halts at an intersection minutes from the glass-enclosed towers of Bangalore's high-tech haven, rag-draped beggars rap on the windows to demand a handout.
India, as anyone who has been there can attest to, is a country of contrasts. And those contrasts are nowhere more stark than between the poverty that tarnishes its rural and urban landscape and the promise that defines its global IT industry. The single bridge between the two is education, and that explains India's most powerful and recurrent dream: creating the greatest skilled IT workforce the world has ever known.
Already, Indian schools produce 73,500 IT graduates per year -- a staggering number considering the country's 64 percent literacy rate. (By comparison, the United States produces roughly 35,000 IT graduates per year, according to the National Science Foundation.) But it isn't just that India educates a lot of IT professionals; the ones who graduate are good. There are legions of top-notch software engineers, many of whom have been trained in mathematics since they were old enough to walk. Indian schools are respected worldwide for their ability to produce the best and brightest IT minds. The country's six elite, federally funded Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) aren't just compared favorably with MIT and Stanford University; they're noted for producing the leaders of such world-renowned companies as Infosys Technologies, McKinsey & Co. and Sun Microsystems.
It's not that India is any better at training IT professionals than the United States or any other developed country. The tools and the textbooks are the same, and even in the rigorous IITs, once the students get past the grueling entrance exam, they claim to enjoy the same four years of "work hard, party harder" as their counterparts on U.S. campuses.