Sameer Patel

Arch Coal Inc. Corporate Fellow

McKelvey School of Engineering: Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering | PhD


Cohort 2012


Graduated 2017


Sameer Patel, a PhD candidate in Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, is interested in understanding formation of particulate pollutants during combustion of solid fuels and non-commercial alternative liquid fuels.

Solid fuel or biomass is burned by around half of the world for cooking and heating. Air pollution from these micro sources has adverse implications on both health and global climate. On the other hand, non-commercial alternative liquid fuels has potential to provide cleaner energy by replacing solid fuels. But this can be done only with the development of suitable engineered combustion systems which requires a thorough understanding of combustion characteristics of these liquid fuels.

“The McDonnell International Scholars Academy provides a unique platform to interact and learn from a diverse group of scholars with different cultural and academic backgrounds. It is both, interesting and enlightening, to hear opinions about the same issue or idea from different perspectives. As McDonnell Scholars, we also get to interact with global leaders in industry, politics, academia and other fields, giving us exposure and insight into a broad range of leadership techniques. The McDonnell Academy offers a nurturing program with talented peers, excellent mentors, and a wide range of future opportunities.”

Scholar Highlights

Education in India Needs a Complete Overhaul

India is a developing nation of 1.3 billion people, plagued with high income disparity and a political system driven by nepotism, caste and religion. Education in such a scenario seems to be the only means for a common person to overcome the social and economic barriers. But for the underprivileged section of society, opportunities for getting a good education are very limited for primary school education, let alone higher education.

The ‘Education for All Campaign’ (Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan) was launched by the government in 2002 to provide free and compulsory education, a fundamental right, to 192 million children in the age group of 6-14 years. This scheme has drastically increased the enrollment rates in public schools, an accomplishment which is used by the government to glorify the public school system. But what is of importance, and intentionally downplayed by the government, is the horrifically high absentee and dropout rate from public schools. More than three-fourths of the children do not make it to the higher education system, and about a half fails to make it even to higher secondary school education. The government has also started a free ‘Mid Day Meal Scheme’ in public schools to ensure high attendance, but many students, and even teachers, come to school just for the meal. By World Bank estimates, 25% of school teachers never show up for work, and the salaries of such teachers add up to two billion USD per year.

Apart from lacking financial resources, qualified teachers, and infrastructure, the Indian school education system also lacks adaptability. It hasn’t evolved much since its introduction by the colonial masters. The education system was then designed to create civil servants to serve India under British rule. Our reliance on the same old education system weakens the foundation of higher education. Almost half of the students graduating with a higher education degree remain unemployable. More than 1.5 million engineers graduate every year, but this doesn’t translate to technological innovations. However, the issue shouldn’t be about engineering or the medical professions only, which are considered to be mainstream in India. The prevailing system in India doesn’t provide much opportunity for students interested in the arts, literature, and so forth, thus blighting the future artistic and intellectual capabilities of the country. To further worsen the situation, school curricula are often shaped by the ruling government for their own propaganda purposes.

The Indian education system is undergoing a crisis and needs a complete overhaul, but one should not expect the government to accomplish this single-handedly. Though free meals can be an incentive to attend schools, the government needs to shift its focus to providing uninterrupted high quality education. Parents, both literate and illiterate, understand the importance of education and are ready to spend beyond their means to ensure good education for their children. From an economic perspective, this willingness creates a supply-constrained market, indicating that resources from the private sector, complemented by government policies, might be a potentially profitable proposition for all.

Radical changes under good leadership are required to improve the public school system and ensure quality education for the masses. One potential solution is to deregulate education, with appropriate checks and balances to ensure affordable education opportunities for all. Overhauling the curricula and teaching methods are critical to transforming a system designed to create civil servants into a system that creates innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs.

One should also acknowledge that teachers are the foundation of any educational institution. High salaries and performance-based incentives under the private sector model should be made available in public schools too, which will attract talented individuals to teaching positions which have been considered as a last resort by many. More investment will also improve the infrastructure, enabling teachers to do their job more effectively.

Poor leadership without a vision led to the current sorry state of public schools, depriving the underprivileged of the only opportunity to break the poverty cycle, and ultimately limiting human potential and the nation’s growth. Policies, good or bad, for education in India will have global implications in the long term and thus educational overhaul needs to be promoted in the government’s list of priorities.