Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Don't get that college degree!"

The New York Post is not exactly a fount of intellectual discourse. Still, it's never a mistake to see what the "other side" has to say. Thought provoking article here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tenth std. Board Exams to go away? Will pigs fly?

As the father of a boy who just got done with his 10th std. board exams, I cannot but jump for joy upon hearing that the government may scrap 10th standard board exams. I couldn't believe my eyes, but the link came up just above my Gmail messages and I had to go check it out immediately. If this actually happens, I am ready to forgive Kapil Sibal -- a person I don't particularly like -- for all of his real and imagined trespasses. This will be the single most important and radical transformation in the Indian school system in a long time.

I don't particularly care for the current system of education, view board exams with deep distaste, and am absolutely furious with the deranged idiots that inflicted two sets of board exams in quick succession - the 10th and the 12th - on a hapless Indian youth population. I would happily apply just about every vile term in every language every spoken, used to describe people one doesn't like, to the people -- nay, misanthropic cretins -- that created the current system. From the Indian Express article,
“I am thinking of relooking at the necessity of having a Board examination for Class 10,” he said. “A child moves up from Class 9 to Class 10 in the same school and there is no reason for either the student or the parents to get traumatised by the 10th Board exam,” he said. As a first step, the HRD Ministry will consult state governments and state education boards, Sibal said. “I hope to move forward very soon and set up an alternative system of evaluation of students that is based on percentiles rather than percentages.”
Yessss! Kapil -- or is it Mr. Sibal, Esq. or some such silly thing? -- I am prepared to launch a movement to name a holiday in your honor if you push this through quickly. I wish you had done this last year before my son had to suffer it, but there are a lot of kids in the country who would gladly replace every picture and bust of Gandhiji with yours when this is over. This is a watershed moment in Indian history. Finally, it appears, we are ready to hang up the ghost of the British Empire that has hung over us like a dark, threatening cloud for the past six decades. It is from the British that some of our India's great cargo-cult intellectuals learned to create two separate board examinations, separated by just two years. The British do it in the 11th and the 13th, but we decided to make it a total of 12 just to be in sync with the rest of the world. We ended up with a grotesque monster that has driven numerous Indian children to suicide, with the so-called 'intellectuals' looking on with smug expressions on their faces from their lofty perches.

I don't know if the percentile system of evaluation is going to be superior means of evalution. I think we need a clean break and construct a radically different means of promoting learning and building productive citizens. But we have to start somewhere, and getting rid of some of the detritus from our foolish socialistic past will do us a lot of good.

So, Ave, Kapil Sibal, all hail thee!

Monday, June 22, 2009

American education, Indian price?

Nobody will argue that Indian families place a premium on formal, institutional education. A big part of it is because getting a college degree is highly correlated with (relatively) decently paying employment. But a very significant part of it is because education is considered intrinsically valuable -- education is viewed as something that makes one more cultured, more informed, and a better human being. I'm not sure that what passes for formal education in India actually accomplishes much of that; my own memory is of learning a lot of stuff despite having to suffer formal education -- the real learning happened on the margins. Not because the content of formal education was lacking, but certainly the manner of its delivery, the process. And the ethos, the environment, and a whole lot of other things. And this was at purportedly reputed institutions -- which the majority of institutions today, are certainly not.

What abounds in India is what one might call cargo-cult education: it imitates a certain form of education that was prevalent in decades bygone, and believes it emulates British or American education, but all it really does is to go through the motions, and that too not particularly well. The result: bad education, badly executed. Those who learn anything at all, and even excel in life, do so despite, not because of their so-called education.

The roots of the problem go back to the British Raj when the colonizers asphyxiated traditional Indian institutionalized education and created a very few institutions based on British model to produce graduates that would serve the Empire. But the Indian governments that succeeded them did little to improve the situation; if anything, they exacerbated the problem. Young people who had the means or the talent or both, left India at the earliest opportunity for Western lands, usually English speaking ones, and most never returned, for their talents, skills and experience were neither appreciated nor accommodated.

After 60 years of despoiling the educational landscape, the newly re-elected Indian government seems to want to improve the situation, by inviting Western universities to set up shop right here in India. Now, I'm a little wary of this, but as long as it does not drain Indian resources, I can't see where this initiative could go wrong. After all, every year, hundreds of thousands of young Indians, their academic ambitions blocked by either the lack of available slots or the low quality of Indian education seek to escape to foreign universities, often suffering racism and other indignities as well as going deep into debt to fund their dreams. According the WSJ article,
Only 9% of college-age Indians have college educations, far lower than in China and many other Asian countries, according to a 2006 study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, a New Delhi think tank. About 160,000 students a year leave India to study abroad, according to the National Knowledge Commission, an advisory group to the prime minister.
If the same universities had branches in India where they could deliver the same education at the same level of quality for a much lower price - that would keep a lot of that money in India and help preserve the honor and dignity of these ambitious young people.

More importantly, the presence of such institutions on Indian soil would raise the aspirations of Indians and send a wake up call to other Indian institutions -- as occurred when the Maruti Suzuki 800 automobile was introduced into an Indian market dominated by the ancient Ambassador and Premier Padmini cars -- and force them to raise their standards.

As often happens, however, there is a slight problem: it appears that the universities want the Indian government to subsidize their entry into the country.
But, he said, given the U.S. economy and shrinking endowments, colleges may need incentives from the government of India to be able to afford to open.
Whoever calls the shots in the government ought to ensure that:
  • any incentive provided to universities doesn't exceed the benefits it might generate
  • the foreign institutions create a curriculum and androgogy that is suited to the needs of India and Indians even while it breaks away from the stale and obsolete patterns that have been used in India for perhaps a century or more
  • the institutions share their knowledge and expertise with Indian institutions and help raise the standards of Indian higher education; this is not too much to ask: with a population of over a billion and steadily growing, not even all the universities in the US can satisfy the Indian thirst for education, and so there is room for everybody

Thursday, June 11, 2009



Donald Norman, the distinguished interaction design researcher and former university professor turned Apple fellow turned consultant, received his PhD in psychology from Stanford University. Prior to this, he received an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from MIT. Hang on to this data point for just a bit.

I was waiting for my son to finish up his exam at his school and happened upon the physics teacher. This pleasant and intelligent man is working on a Master's degree in physics by correspondence through some remote university that agreed to take him. He has a major problem. Turns out that he has an undergraduate degree in engineering. He knocked on the doors of many universities, but none would let him enroll in a master's program in physics. The reason? His undergraduate degree was in engineering for gosh's sake! Imagine that! He didn't have a bachelor's degree in physics.

Now how harebrained is that? Physics is the mother discipline for practically every field of engineering. Here is a man over the age of 40, a physics teacher, entirely out of his own interest, wishing to pursue a master's degree in physics and university administrators with brains smaller than a fruit fly refuse him admission. What kinds of idiots set academic policy in India? What is this thing called the University Grants Commission? Is its primary purpose to ensure that the bulk of Indians remain without college degrees and those that do are subjected to the most intense torture during the process? Does the UGC have any understanding of the nature, purpose and process of education? Why are Indian universities so bad that hundreds of thousands of Indians are willing to incur the crushing burden of loads to send their children to third rate universities in Australia -- a nation well-stocked with racists who revel in maiming and killing Indians?

Idiots! And these people have the gall to refer to themselves as 'intellectuals'. It seems that in India, a deep understanding of Marxist theory is sufficient to turn one into an 'intellectual'.

Nothing short of a complete overhaul of education - free of any ideology and focused entirely on REAL EDUCATION - essential and urgent today in India

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Education, Sheducation

Atanu Dey is usually a good read, and this post of his presses one of my hot buttons -- education in India. Innovation is my shtick, and I am convinced that large scale innovation in all areas of our society is essential to pulling this nation out of its -- at least partially self-generated -- morass. While anybody, regardless of skill and learning, can be innovative -- and frequently are, as can be observed in the great resourcefulness of the mass of poor in India -- education alone can help the nation make massive strides in innovation. There is no alternative to having a literate, well-educated society if we are to achieve any significant measure of social equity. Literate and educated people are more likely to stand up for and demand their just due; and such necessities as they demand, as we have learned, are the mothers of invention -- and innovation.

Oh, there is innovation in India, in the education sector, but unfortunately, the major ones are rather unsavory in nature. Decades of slothful, myopic -- and in my opinion, diabolical -- union government policies, peddled under the guise of socialism and social equity have robbed our nation of the capacity to deliver education to the masses. Students are pressured -- sometimes driven to suicide -- to prepare many years for board and entrance examinations to attend the woefully few academic institutions available for them in comparison to the demand. It is scandalous -- though, ironically, presented with great pride -- that India's IITs and IIMs have a far smaller ratio of admissions to applicants than the prestigious Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and Oxford universities: despite the fact that these institutions are superior along practically all measures to the Indian ones. It is a paradox that the most well-prepared Indian students end up in the IITs and IIMs, and it is only those who don't make it to these institutions that end up seeking admissions in the far superior foreign institutions. And there are the hordes of others who end up in places like Australia and become victims of hate crimes even while they contribute signficantly to that nation's economy.

India's education policies -- created and maintained by an elite group of so-called 'intellectuals' typically of the leftist persuasion -- are ironically opposed to the creation of elite institutions and the maintenance of their elite status. They spare no effort in trying to dilute the intellectual tenor of the institutions even while doing little to alleviate the shortage of quality institutions. The genuine leftists of China, on the other hand, have pulled out all the stops in building a large number of world class -- and elitist -- institutions that admit only the best (of which, that population has no shortage). Their admirers in India would rather see Indian education sink into oblivion at the hands of a meddlesome State.

Consequently, the world of education in India is seething with corruption --hefty bribes and capitation fees for admission to the few government-rationed seats at institutions run by the very politicians who create education policies. Oh, the humanity! The high prices (and low quality) are clearly the consequence of a controlled education economy. Free competition (with regulation and oversight in order to ensure quality) is a key means to delivering what the public sector has not, in the past 60 years delivered, and given the evidence, is unlikely to deliver for a long time.

One final quote from Dr. Dey:
A very rich businessman who had made his massive fortune in a major city in India wanted to give back something to society by financing a world-class university in the state in which that city is. He submitted a proposal to the state government. There was no response. Months later the chief minister of the state admitted in private to the businessman that the proposal of a good university in the state was unwelcome competition to other politicians of the state who run private engineering and medical colleges.