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.

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