Talented youth

A guy applied for a programmers job with us. He was one among other 850 individuals. So we had to design an initial screening test. I setup a moodle instance, created test, uploaded user accounts, created password and then mass mails all of them with their credentials and the url to the moodle.

I had done all kind of idiot proof tests on the software. I had also sent a list of instructions with the mail describing which URL that these guys have to visit, click where and so on.

Within 24 hours I received mail that read

how to get login page on given website
no login page showen on website regarding <XXXX> project recruitment
please help me sir
thank u

Where <XXX> was the URL of the site from where he had downloaded the application form. That URL was completely different from the one I had sent in the mail. This means the guy had not at all read my mail or the instructions. He just visited the site where he had downloaded the form. I don’t blame him for that. But when he did not see the relevant link on that page he should have reverted back to my mail and looked at instructions which he certainly did not do.

I sent him a single line reply http://e-yantra.org/<path&gt;

He replied back saying

still no login page showing on given site

For a moment I thought site crashed. But everything was intact. I was pissed. So I asked him to send a screenshot.

He did not sent me any screenshot but copy pasted the page he could see. Obviously he had typed the URL in the browser and had made spelling mistakes which lead him to a parked domain name.

Then I realized what the problem was. Besides being a complete moron, the guy did not know how to copy paste the url. So he chose to type it out. When he saw the parked domain name with a lot of nonsense, it did not strike to him that he might have typed a wrong URL. Instead he dropped me a mail.

Then I realized that expecting him to take a screenshot was simply too much of burden for him.

How employable would this guy be ? How many such people shall we have around us ? What happens to them ?  I really wonder. The guy might be having some fancy degree (he does I have his resume) but he has very bad problem solving skills. Education has apparently not added much of value to his life.

I feel there is a market to trap. IIPM has been trapping to too well, we just need something better.

Also, the guy was using an hotmail id.

New ways of learning

Consider Raul, a 13-year-old boy who used Scratch to program an interactive game in his after-school center.
He created the graphics and basic actions for the game but didn’t know how to keep score. So when a researcher on our team visited the center, Raul asked him for help. The researcher showed Raul how to create a variable in Scratch, and Raul immediately saw how he could use it for keeping score. He began playing with the blocks for incrementing variables, then reached out and shook the researcher’s hand, saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The researcher wondered how many eighth-grade algebra teachers get thanked by their students for teaching them about variables? [Source]

I came across above paragraph when I was reading the said paper while preparing a presentation in our weekly lab seminar.

The question that popped up in researcher’s mind is very relevant. I dont remember reaching out to any of my teachers and thanking him for teaching me something. Instead I remember the great disregard I had fore most subjects I was taught. I am not complaining. That was the way education was delivered when I was in elementary school. But I am sure things are changing.

I watched Tare Zameen Par and in the last scene we see Ishan Avasthi running to his teacher and hugging him. Surely there is a lot of personal debt that Ishan felt for his teacher.

छडी वाजे छम छम विद्या येई घम घम was the line we often heard in our childhood. We not only heard it but most of our teachers believed in it and implemented it vehemently. Fortunately my school had teachers that resembled पु ल देशपांडे ‘s चितळे मास्तर and we were not as smart as today’s kids either.

Today there are various ways to learn. In fact we learn a lot more form other sources than the school and teachers. Television, internet, newspapers everywhere the young children are being bombarded with information of different quality. Schools is a place where we have still stuck to the old outdated methods of information exchange. Wouldn’t one hour of Discovery Channel program teach them lot more than what the geography teacher could tell them?

How can a teacher teach children about rainforests when he himself has not seen one ? How can a teacher teach students about French Revolution when he himself has not read a book other than the school textbook on that topic ?

Television certainly has it’s bad effects but we cant really ignore that it is a very effective medium to communicate things. If we can use it in a better way I guess our children can learn a lot more and a lot faster.

SCRATCH is a programming languages for children and non-programmers. You can paint your imagination and animate it very quickly using this visual programming paradigm. Imagination of kids has always surprised me. They come up with amazing things. The gallery there is a testimony to this fact.

I hope in times to come we figure out better and better ways of educating our kids. Hopefully the focus will shift from preparing them for a Rat Race to enabling them to aspire their own ambitions.

Plight of higher education in India

We were struck by the fact that over the years we have followed policies of fragmenting our educational enterprise into cubicles. We have overlooked that new knowledge and new insights have often originated at the boundaries of disciplines. We have tended to imprison disciplinary studies in opaque walls. This has restricted flights of imagination and limited our creativity. This character of our education has restrained and restricted our young right from the school age and continues that  way into college and university stages. Most instrumentalities of our education harm the potential of human mind for constructing and creating new knowledge. We have emphasized delivery of information and rewarded capability of storing information. This does not help in creating a knowledge society. This is particularly vile at the university level because one of the requirements of a good university should be to engage in knowledge creation – not just for the learner but also for society as a whole.   [Yashpal Committee Report]

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with some doctors from Tata Memorial Center-Mumbai. The doc complained that you technology experts have ignored health sector so badly. Then he went on elaborating how we can build a device to do blood test without taking out a single drop of blood from patients body, how we can build a cheap device that can help patients communicate immediately after say throat surgery and so on.

I could see that there are several real business opportunities hidden in his ideas. And most importantly those ideas were about real  world, it wasnt a research to be conducted in 4 closed walls about which no one will hear for next 10 or perhaps 100 years. Here were the ideas that would help millions of Indians if they were to be realized.

But then what is preventing us from doing this? The main reason I feel is that the institutions who should be doing research are very few. In fact the abysmal quality of faculty and infrastructure prevents most of the institutions from contributing anything to the field of science and technology. Due this, these institutions focus only on maintaining status quo. They focus more on a rigid syllabi and consequently a similarly rigid examination structure. With time these institutions become averse to any change.

What about our elite institutions like IITs and IIMs? Both IITs and IIMs are underutilizing their resources. For example, Sanjay Mishra writes in Economic and political weekly:

Harvard University and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have about 20,000 students each; in Asia the University of Tokyo and the National University of Singapore each have more than 30,000 students on their rolls. All these institutions have a much better academic ranking than the IITS and IIMs.

Interestingly, the top engineering institutions in the United States (US), for example, MIT and Georgia Tech have only 168 acres and 400 acres of campus respectively, which is less than the average campus size of an IIT/IIM.

What has happened to our examinations system? What it should be like in the first place? Isn’t examination a way to test that the student has acquired the required level of skills in the discipline he is studying and he has show both the urge and competence to learn more on his own? But our examination system is focusing more and more on swallowing information, memorizing it and then reproducing it on a piece of paper in the examination hall. Students tend to believe that whole purpose of studying is to reproduce this memorized content in the examination hall. Degree become the end of learning and not the starting point.

At present, the design of curriculum and syllabi is reflective of the entrenched examination system under which the student is asked to face a question paper at the end of the year, or in some
universities, at the end of the semester. This archaic examination system, ostensibly used as a means of certifying the ability of students, unfortunately does not really test the kind of skills they require to be successful in either the pursuit of pure theoretical knowledge or in practical real world situations. The examination system, even in the case of the relatively better equipped and less rigid institutions, has remained quite manifestly traditional and incapable of distinguishing between different talents of students in a reliable manner. Similar to what happens at the school level, university-level evaluation practices also simply broaden the scope of memory-based questioning, with the occasional rote-based ‘application’ question masquerading as real-world problem solving. In doing so, they entrench the student’s lack of ability to examine and understand the real world, as a result of which their engagement with people or issues remains scarce once they enter the world of work, with implications for their abilities as workers and citizens. [Yashpal Committee Report]

This observation by Dr. Yashpal is not exceptional but it is the trend. Most of the companies that hire freshers today need to train them extensively before putting them on work. I was listening to HR head of L&T Infotech who said for every 100 people his company scrutinizes for employment only 5 are qualified to be hired and put on job. next 15 require 1 year in the finishing school where they are taught basic skills and communication skills. Next 80 people arent employable at all he says.

Those 80 people form a market for fake institutions like IIPM. Just one look at the Mumbai city and it’s newspapers and you realize that educational institutions are probably the largest spenders on advertising. From 2 year coaching for IIT-JEE to English Speaking course a zillion institutes have sprung up like mushrooms. Poor quality education for an unaffordable price is what these institutions offer for the helpless future citizens of India.

While the situation at home is so depressing, we arent allowing foreign univerties here in India on pretext that they will be mediore instituions opening their shops here selling degrees. The proponents of such destructive mentality I suppose live in the Manoj Kumar era to think of India as a sone ki chidiya which the firangs want to steal from. [Phrase taken from Mr. Shourie’s speech at IIT Kanpur].

In education lies our future. In higher education lies the quality of that future. Higher education is essentially elitist. Meaning only few people will participate in it whil it will consumes maximum resources. But then we must udnerstand that its elites who lead the society. Its the elites who provide direction to growth. There is only one engine to the 40 wagons of the train, but we can not ridicule that engine for consuming maximum resources.

These are the testing times. With a minister like Kapil Sibbal in chair we can certain expect that the recomondations of the Yashpal committee will be taken with due care. Those recommendations may not be adequate to remove the rot in the system but hopeful it will make the situation better than what it is now.

Right to Education Bill: Reality Check

RTE: Is going to change their life?

What does Right to Education mean? laws are passed to ensure our rights so that more powerful people can not prevent poor and defenseless from practicing those rights. For example Right to Express ourself is often denied to people by those who have an advantage in suppressing it. Tar is poured on authors who try to expose things or they are made to fly away from the country.

Laws help in providing security to such people. Ideally a modern society can give its citizens right to expression without passing any law but because this right involves conflict of people or groups; a law becomes a necessity.

Education is one area where everyone agrees that it must be made accessible to every citizen. No point in time after independence any party or group opined otherwise. Also, those people who are not receiving education are not doing so because some one is preventing them. They do it largely because of social and economic frameworks they live in.

The right to education bill makes it mandatory that

1. Children from 6-14 age must be in school.

2. There should be a school from within the vicinity of every village.

3. 55000 crores to be allocated each year for education.

4. Center will shoulder the large part of costs incurred.

5. Local bodies to play major role in supervising the infrastructure.

Honestly, I don’t see any reason why these things can not be done without passing a Bill with lots of fanfare.

Again, if the bill enables the government to impart education to all those missed out then it must be welcomed, but what I fear is that merely passing the bill will be assumed as landmark instead of implementing it. We have passed the bill hence we have done so much for education is to be the likely stand taken by government in near future.

The Reality

Out of all money that government spends on education 90% is spent on teacher’s salary. Surveys suggest that out of 4 teachers 2 teachers are absent through out academic year. Which implies almost 45% of funds are simply going in drain.

Also, the quality of teachers is another issue. India does not have good enough framework to train and certify teachers. The right to education bill says where qualified teachers can not be hired they will lower the norm. One must not forget that the reservation policies of government will be applicable while hiring the teachers as well.

Plight of teachers in India is unwatchable. Whenever government does not have funds, teacher’s salary is withheld. Several government aided colleges do not give full salary to teachers, school management makes them do work which is not part of their duty.

Bill does try to address several of these issues but then there is no reason why we should believe it will be done that way.

But implementing a solution is different from figuring out the solution. Is the Right to Education bill an indication that government has managed to understand the real problem and then address it?

I don’t think I am competent enough to pass a judgement on this, but it would have been incredibly useful if the house had debated and discussed this bill and possible alternatives in extreme detail.

Otherwise this bill might be just another attempt of shouting “We won” and running away.

Here is a film by Nandita Das :

Allegory of Cave

One of the foremost texts in ancient western philosophy is Plato’s “The Republic”. Plato discusses his ideas about an ideal state in this book. The book is in the form of his dialogs with his friends or disciples.

In a chapter titles “Turning The Psyche”, Plato discusses a very small story called “Allegory of Cave“.  Here is an animated version of this story.

When plato narrates this story to his disciple, one of them replies firmly that he can’t relate to this story, Plato instantly replies that we are just like those prisoners.

A deeper contemplation would reveal that even after thousands of years the story is so relevant to the modern society. In fact now we have more pertinent examples of this story.

Arent we like those prisoners? Prisoners saw their shadows and we watch television and other media. Arent we living on truth that is not really experiences by us but created for us? Dont we mistake them for reality?

And it is not just about the television it is about almost anything. Consider the case of education. We simply dont have a choice. Government decides what will be taught to us and our choice of subjects. Government decides admission criteria which includes caste and religion. Then we mistake the government fed textbooks as the soul source of truth and we can’t imagine anything beyond it.

And like the freed prisoner when some intellectual returns with truth that we find inconvenient we simply denounce him. We call him a fool. In rare cases such people face more violent opposition.

I guess thats the nature of the world. What thrills me is that someone had figured this out couple of thousand years ago and had put it in such beautiful words.

Philosophy of Education Essay

Philosophy can be defined in many ways. Some definitions are as simple as “defining the meaning of words” to “reflective thinking on the world around us”.  Philosophy of Education tries to contemplate this unique human endeavor called education.

Unlike rest of living beings human beings are distinctly different. Human beings are more organized, have sense of ethics, have culture, sense of justice, have economy and ability to communicate. Hence a human offspring when born, simple does not posses any of the skills and substantial knowledge that it must have in order to feel accepted among rest of the community. The skills like reading and writing, arithmetic etc. do not come naturally to human off-springs. It must be given to less knowledgeable by someone who already knows it. This concept of transfer of knowledge from someone who knows it to someone who doesn’t know is called education. Besides knowledge skill also forms part of education. But it is up to the individual to sharpen his skill by constant practice.

The obvious consequence of education is that, the knowledge and skills that an individual obtains are largely determined by the education system he goes through. Hence the benefits that he will get by acquiring it also depends of the education system. Which means education system becomes a social-sorter and has an enormous impact on economic fate of an individual.

Once attained some basic education the individual can define his own goals of life and can further equip himself with education that will help him in attaining his own goals.

This shows that education is so important. Over years several philosophers have thought on this subject and have tried to express their views on education, knowledge, truth etc.

When contemplating on education there is rich set of topics that philosophers have tried to contemplate upon. Education and it’s effect of class structure of society, the difference between education, training, indoctrination, education for individual aspirations or aspiration of citizenry, educations and rights of students, children, parents and teachers, free or paid education, should we have same education for all or can we have different education with different aim for different class, gender , region etc. In Indian context the contemporary issues are reservation in education , state sponsored education or private education, medium of instruction etc.

Among all philosophers one man who stands tall is Plato. It is often remarked that Western Philosophy is nothing but footnotes to Plato’s The Republic. When it comes to thoughts relating to education and knowledge Plato simply beats the time. Even today philosopher most often tow the same line as Plato.

Knowledge , Truth and Light

A few centuries ago, before the industrial revolution education basically meant religious education. Most of the times it was based on Dogmas or in case of India, mostly on direct experience through a Guru.

But invariably, the reason civilizations felt education was desirable was because , they related it to the main objective of human life, to be “good”, attain “higher truth” or “the truth”. Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya, from darkness to light etc.

Education is believed to make human life better. It is not only through economic status of individual but through social, moral and spiritual status. While human beings have a limited life span groups, communities and societies continue to live. Education remains a critical factor in determining progress of a society over a period of time.

Education and Economy

But mere presence of education is not enough. As mentioned above it acts as a social-sorter and quality matters. The societies which managed to build excellent education system became stronger and richer while those ignored education perished.

It is worth nothing that India with its oldest education system was a rich nation until British arrived destroyed the beautiful tree (term coined by Gandhiji to describe indian education system). Argentina and United states were rival at the beginning of 18th century, United States Invested in education and today it is still the strongest economy. China’s growth should also be correlated to it’s pursuit of improving it’s education system.

Plato

But then it means that human beings are basically not good, they live in darkness or in “Avidya” (ignorance).  Plato’s parable of cave very aptly describes the state of human society. The prisoners in Cave mistake shadows for reality. One prisoner among them manages to make himself free and escape the cave to see the world outside. But when he returns to free rest of his fellow prisoners they don’t understand him.

The apparently simple allegory, describes several problems. The truth as we perceive it , is not the real truth? Is it the responsibility of the person who has seen the truth to come back to rest of the ignorant crowd and explain the reality? And how the ignorant crowd will accept the wise ones words ? Does it imply that direct experience is essential in truely liberating our self?

Plato’s ideas about education are described in The Republic. He argues that the abilities of human beings do no depend on genes and person from any class can exhibit talents more appropriate for other classes. Hence he argues that the State must separate children from parents and segregate them based  on the kind of talents they show.

Plato’s education system considers women and men equal. Everyone gets military training for two years and education can continue till the age of 50. Given that the life expectancy during Plato’s time, this is significant.

Plato describes knowledge as the truth. He also describes that knowing truth is like going higher up, in his allegory of cave the free prisoner had to climb steps in order to reach light. A ray of light illuminates the world outside and the freed prisoner is able to see the rest of world. In Indian context too, light is synonymous with knowledge and truth. The illuminator Sun is often considered as the symbol of knowledge.

Locke

John Locke, when he was in exile in Europe, wrote letters to his relatives who had questioned him about how their child, heir should be educated. The Kid apparently had learning difficulties. Locke’s letters were later published and became one of the most important work of philosophy of education.

Locke argued that a child’s mind is like a blank tablet which needs to be furnished with time. He suggested that learning must be made fun. The child must form several simple ideas in his mind and more complex knowledge is essentially combination of these simple abstract ideas.

He saw repetition as an important tool to internalize good habits and argued that parents of teachers must help children to carefully nurture their natural habits before they are exposed to academic education.

Maria Montessori

A french doctor who devised a method to teach children below the age of 7. Based on her observation she concluded that “Education is not an activity that is to be imposed on the individual but it is a spontaneous activity carried out by the individual himself. A teacher is not supposed to teach to the individual but provide a series of motives to learn, an environment where a student can learn and present an obtrusive distractions.”

Her method was very successful and she received a lot of acclaim for her work. But the critics of her method argued that while her method was very successful for cultivating basic skills, when it comes to subjects such as mathematics and greek which disciplines our mind, it is not helpful.

Influences and way forward

The modern times have seen education getting influenced by modern thoughts such as Marxism, pragmatism, feminism etc. etc. political thought continues to be the driving force as most of the education system in world is driven by state.

The world is undergoing rapid changes with time. These rapid changes along with the importance that we are attributing to information has changed people’s perspective towards tradition concept of education. The amount of knowledge and skill required is so substantial that human beings can’t memorize all of it. With different technologies, memorizing is becoming less and less important while creativity and imagination is gaining more and more importance.

On the other hand, the divide among The “haves” and “Have not” is increasing. While the importance of education remains beyond any doubts, a large population around the world is uneducated, illiterate or the quality of education that they have received remains abysmally poor. India itself is home to worlds largest illiterate population.

Education poor and women has received high attention from international communities. Many argue that State must make basic education free and compulsory to its population. On other hand there is discussion whether the poor should be subjected some different sort of education system rather than the one we followed in previous century.

Philosophers continue to ponder over these questions. As education becomes more and more important certainly there will be more and more interesting thoughts coming forward, and without any doubts these thoughts will determine how the future of the world is shaped. du

The Beautiful Tree and Fistfull of Rice

Many intellectuals keep saying that the education system that we have today is almost same as the one built by British to manufacture clerks to support the administrative activities. But most of the people today, at least those to whom I speak to seem to agree that there was no “schooling system” before the British blessed us with their. At the most some concede that there was some sort of gurukul System but since it was a main feature of Hinduism even agreeing to its existence would be communal and hence taboo.

“The system of village schools is extremely prevalent; that the desire to give education to their male children must be deeply seated in the minds of parents even of the humblest classes; and that these are the institutions, closely interwoven as thy were with the habits of the people and the customs of the country.”

This is the report from 1835. Known as “State of Education in Bengal”. Most notable features of the report was that the 30-35% enrollment was from what we call today the “backward classes”. The very same classes which are given reservation in almost everything under the pretext that they did not have equal opportunities earlier.

This and other findings by British indicated that India already had its own schooling system which was predominantly “privately funded” and it also catered to the needs of poor. Amazingly the enrollment in these schools was almost equal to the enrollment in England itself.

However this sort of schooling system did not serve the aims of British rulers. Hence they worked hard to destroy it. For them there was clear incentive in keep poor uneducated. Unfortunately, even after Independence our country was cursed with leaders who were more happy calling themselves Englishmen. The results are clear.

But then when I look at my school;  “Shree Damodar Vidyalaya”, which is now almost 85 years old,  I can perfectly relate to the British report of 1835. My school is now government aided. All its teachers receive salary from the government but before independence it was a private school.

The model that was followed to fund this school was very common in Goa. It was called “mushti-fund” translated to English it would be “fistful of contribution”. Several schools in Goa, still even today continue with the same name.h

In case of our school the idea of private school had come from a Seer, His Holiness Shri Indirakant-tirth swamiji. He requested (or so goes the story) the people of our village to keep aside a fistful of rice everyday from their own meal. The school of run by only one teacher who would at the end of the week or so would go to each house and collect this rice. That was his allowance. He was supposed to manage everything else with this amount of rice.

Many places followed the tradition to call the teacher himself to have lunch with the parents of the kids he taught. Thus he would develop a rapport with the family of his students as well. Even the concepts of picnic [Vana-Bhojan], social service [Shram-daan]  were very closely integrated with this type of schooling system.

When my school celebrated it’s 75th anniversary, the decedent of the founding Seer, His Holiness Shri Vidyadhiraj Tirth Swamiji had visited our school as a chief guest. Along with him almost the entire village had turned up for the function. Several teacher who had taught in that school many decades back also were present. One student who was part of the first batch of the school in 1925 Dr. V. B. Prabhudesai too had visited the school. He had obtained his Phd. in History.

One most notable feature of my school was that the emotional investment of the people in the village. Many of them use to turn up even though their kids were not part of the school. I think now I understand why. I think desire for education is very deeply rooted in the minds of our people. What we need is to give them and opportunity. In this, if a private school system can give much, we must give them an opportunity, instead of getting into the cliché of “Private schooling is for Rich”.

Book Review: A beautiful Tree by James Tooley

It was on Deeshaa.org. that I first read about this book. A beautiful tree. It is about authors experience about how the poor, not the poor people like me but the most desperately poor people try to educate their children. His experiences were from various countries such as India, Ghana, Kenya and China. The name of the book comes from what Gandhiji use to call the pre-colonial education system.

Here was another source pointing to the phenomenon of private schools for the poor — why weren’t they better known then? The PROBE team’s findings on the quality of public schools were even more startling. When their researchers had called unannounced on a large random sample of government schools, in only half was there any “teaching activity” at all!

In fully one-third, the principal was absent. The report gave touching examples of parents who were struggling against the odds to keep children in school, but whose children were clearly learning next to nothing. Children’s work was “at best casually checked.” [Read Excerpts]

In the light of government passing a “right to education” bill this is a fact that will put anyone to think. If the public schooling system over which government spends astronomical sums is not adequate for all the poor to get them self decent education what do they do?

The Beautiful Tree.

Unfortunately for the government as well as the NGOs would love paint a rosy picture that they are the only ones to serve the poor, that whatever they are doing is enough while the private schooling is only for the richer class.

James Tooley finds his own discovery surprising. It seemed that in many places the public education was not good enough. Despite better buildings, free or cheaper education the schools fared very bad at the thing that mattered. That is educating the children. The teachers dint turn up, they treated the kids as slaves etc etc.

The private schools for poor were run by the business minded among the poor themselves. The fees ranged from Rs 200 to 600  a year in countries like Ghana where as around Rs. 100 per month in Hyderabad. It was affordable for those poor and they preferred this private education over the government-run schools. These people run the schools as a profit making business despite such low fees. Far from ripping off the public they offered completely free education who could not even afford these minimal fees.

The best part is that James finds everyone in denial about the very existence of these schools. He notices that right from world bank officials to the district level education administrations denies that there are private schools for poor. If they exist, they claim, they are only to rip off the poor. James finds that the truth is exactly the opposite. He notes that parental love and entrepreneurship among the poor can be a major contributing factor in getting poor educated.

I have always felt that it is the government that has failed to give way to it’s people’s aspirations by constantly misguiding them. The schemes like NREGS actually handicap the poor. They make them dependent on government dole. The public education system with absolutely no accountability to the public it serves actually prevents the children from getting better education.

Whether it is education or occupation, poor people certainly starve for more. They also show tremendous ability to innovate within their spheres of existence. Mumbai’s dabbawalahs to Pan shop owner you can see them struggling for existence by constantly innovating. I am especially very impressed with the kids that market very weird products in the Mumbai locals. The way they talk would put TeleBrands t.v. anchors to shame.

I guess it works this way. The government pumps in more money to show people that it cares about the education. But then it is like trying to hold water in a mesh. No matter how much money you pump in it disappears without showing results. The reasons for this inefficiency are far deeper and shameful than the government would like to admit. Hence it attributes its own failure to more lack of funds.

Rich countries like USA, Japan and institutions like World Bank provide more and more money to various government projects. In due course of time everyone finds incentives in blaming “lack of funds” fo

r the inadequate results. The rot continues.

James Tooley is certainly deeply concerned about the education system world over. This book explores the facts which no one ever bothered to bring in front. It is really worth a read for anyone who cares about education system.

6 pointers and Goal of IITs

It was by pure accident that I landed myself among 4 professors in room. One of them was a very distinguished and elderly professor I had blogged about before. There was a woman Prof. from Humanities and Social Science department, I dint know the other Prof. and the 4th one was my guide.

The elderly Prof. was saying that, when it comes to final year project all the profs. will guide only those students who have a CPI of 7.5 and above. He himself though is known in department to take “any” student who is refused guidance by all other Profs. He also noted that if a student has score less than 7.5 it actually means the student should not have been in IIT in the first place. [As per rules if you score less than 6.0 you are kicked out of IIT]

“Since the student has score above the mark set by the institution, isnt it the institutions responsibility to arrange a guide for them? No one takes them and an old man like me has to take the responsibility.” He questioned others. I smelled that a debate is about to start.

“Why do keep such students in institution? throw them out” Said the lady prof.

“But the rules say that if he scores more than 6.0 he can stay in IIT”- Another prof.

“Then change the rules” her reply was swift.

Everyone laughed and I too grinned.

“But then if you increase the level you will still find some at the bottom.”

I thanked the fate that at least one of them thought pragmatically. And then the same old man said the following words, which I indeed expected from him knowing him through his lecture, speeches and articles. These words not only are true but they highlight how IITs have turned to “Institutional Insanity” ( Word borrowed from Atanu Dey).

“I have seen many 6 pointers passing out of these institution. They have completed their projects well, they have got good jobs, they have a family, they are happy and they have contributed to the growth of society in a way no less than most 9 pointers. Then why reject them?”

One gets into IIT by fighting his way out from thousands and lakhs of students. The competition is not just unfair but takes a heavy toll on life of those students. Certainly if one gets into IIT by merit he is someone who has fought his way out by beating others to dust. I have written before about people who don’t get through. They are made to feel losers.

But even after getting in, and meeting the criteria set by the institution there are some “made to feel” losers.

By now way I am arguing against merit. Keep raising the bar but more important question that the institution needs to remember is, what is its goal? I am unable to find it even after searching the whole IITB site.

If the goal is to:

Act as a filter to, weed out every possible definition of mediocrity and pass only the best among the best in the given lot of best minds to society.

Then I think what the woman professor said is correct. Why 7.5? One can keep the criteria to 9-10 as well. There are geniuses all around the campus who will achieve it.

But if the goal is to, and I believe it should be the real goal:

To find the best talent in country, provide them with best infrastructure and guidance, to help them become finest engineers available to society.

Then I would say it is insanity not ensuring that every students passing the criteria of 6 CPI must get a guide.

But then the problem is not about guide and project. The problem is while talking about excellence the institution must remember that the kind of students enter IIT are excellent even if IIT doesn’t give them anything. Wherever they will go in world they are indeed above average. What matters is whether IIT can act as an amplifier and not a filter to the talent and intellect they posses.

As far as I am concerned I am new to this environment. But I see that most of the public institutions are so deviated from their original goal. It is not good for our society.

 

Regulating Higher Education In Goa?

In today’s Navhind Times, Dr. Nandkumar Kamar, a noted and genuine scholar from Goa argues the “need” to “regulate” the higher education space. I think the whole argument of regulating education is completely misplaced.

A DOCTORATE in any subject for Rs 2 lakhs, an MPhil in languages, natural or social sciences for Rs 1 lakh, any post-graduate degree for little less than Rs 50,000

Why would someone buy a Doctorate for Rs. 2 lakh instead of spending 4 years? The incentives are simple, you get a degree in so little time. Certainly thats illegal but people buy it because it works. The reason such fake degree manufacturers exist and flourish has two very important factors behind it.

Firstly, the acute shortage of educational resource. Our universities are abysmally equiped to meet demands and aspiration of our students. 4 lakh students appear for IIT-JEE, 8000 get through. The remaining 392000 students are not suckers. Most of them do deserve something equivalent to IITs but they dont get into it. They then try to opt for other opportunities, including buying out a degree.

Secondly, it works! The people who pass out from an institutes like Goa Engineering college, are not really in practice smarter than someone who has done a good course from NIIT or SEED. Both of them are considered as equivalent in Industry. In fact I can show examples where people with absolutely not engineering background have fared far better in real world than those who have degrees. Clearly, the fake degree is useless and doest make any value addition to individual, but then neither does the real degree.

Before blaming the mushrooms of educational institution promising quick and sure degree, we must question if an institution like Goa University is any better. Instead, Goa University is run by public funds. It is a complete farce. It is just a government authorized degree sale center where degrees are cheap but one has to only spend time in there. That is why people prefer to buy degrees instead of earning them.

Though Dr. Kamat argues that Goa needs more laws and regulations in Education field in order to prevent these malpractices, the solution he suggest doesnt go well with me.

The trade of selling degrees is booming because the government has not shown any practical interest to amend and arm the Goa University Act, 1984 suitably to bar competing profit-making private interests in higher education.

What scares me is that several intellectuals seem to be opposed to the idea of institutes making profit by providing education as a service. The taboo word being “profit”. I believe that India’s education policy is not only harmful for growth of private educational institutes but the degree with which government has controlled and regulated education and higher education is just scandalous.

Government has failed completely in building system of education which will give wise man to society. While it is hiding its failure by painting glossy fake pictures of India, it has prevented other people in building any alternate system. They have restricted access to the most vital resource of the country as well as an individual. No wonder the individuals find work around to get it.

The sorry state of higher education in India can be understood from Atanu’s posts.

Of the ten percent who do get post-secondary education in India’s around 300 universities (comprising of 17,000 colleges), their results are disheartening. India produces around two and a half million college graduates, including 400 thousand engineers annually. But the quality is so poor that only a quarter of them are actually unemployable. Stark statistics reveal the oversupply of raw graduates and the under supply of unemployable graduates. Infosys, an IT giant, last year sorted through 1.3 million applicants only to find around two percent were qualified for jobs, according to a recent report in The New Yorker.

The remaining 98% one must remember are mostly passed out from reputed institutions across the country with good marks spending 3-4 years of graduation. But what they have learned in those 4 years is as equivalent to getting a fake degree by paying 2 lakhs.

If we take Goa’s case, where industrialization is not a common phenomenon, if you want a better future you need to get out of this place. If you need a government job one has to show proof that he has so and so degree and pay a bribe to minister. Minister takes care of everything else. What you have learned, your competence in the subject hardly matters. Obviously buying a degree is much easier and better than earning it.

I think Goa has good potential to become an education hub for the country. Certainly laws can be passed and committees can be set up. But it should be to free education from Government control and make it more open and accessible. Once you allow private colleges to compete freely with government one’s, the only differentiating aspect will be the usefulness of degree awarded. The attempts to improve this usefulness will lead to improved quality of education.

What applies to India generally applies to Goa, but I feel Goa can always take up pioneering work because it is a small state. Atanu Dey’s Policy brief on the topic is an eye opener and I wonder why our policy makers cant accept it.

Education forms a very important feature and pre-requisite for economic and social development. A more and better educated society is likely to prosper and be peaceful than others. For this excellence should be the goal of system. A governmental setup can not struggle for excellence, it needs to happen by letting the entrepreneurs of our country invest in education. Let the Tatas , Ambanis start universities, also let the educational start-ups come up with sufficient funds. Government should act only as a facilitator and not a controller.

Who can put this in better words if not Mr. Arun Shourie?

he first thing to do is to stop counter-positioning primary, universal education against higher education. We need both. We can afford both. Second, we must see both — the threat as well as the opportunity: the threat that we may lose our best minds at an even faster rate than the rate at which we have been losing them in the past decades; on the other side, the opportunity that we can be educators to the world.Third, to ward off the threat and to tap into the opportunity, we require the same sort of measures. To arrest and reverse the alarming deterioration of standards in most of our institutions of higher learning. To ensure that in regard to both – students as well as faculty – merit, performance here and now, alone counts. To ensure that rewards are strictly commensurate with performance.

And resources. A large proportion of these will have to come from the government – for instance, private entrepreneurs just do not have the long horizons that basic research requires. Equally, government alone will just not have enough resources for this sector. Thus, one service that finance ministers can do is to give the most generous incentives and tax-breaks for industry to invest in education and in R&D. For every trifling misuse, a Manipal will come up.
And the resources have to be defrayed not just on equipment – that is what is done ever so often: and by the time the underpaid, under-motivated faculty learn to exploit the equipment to its full potential, the equipment is obsolete. A good proportion of the resources have to be set apart for making salaries and allowances of faculty and researchers and their work-environment attractive enough for them to forgo careers in private industry and to choose instead to be in universities and research institutions. [Read Full at Atanu Dey’s Blog]

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