Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We don’t need no ed-ju-ca-shun?!

Many years back, during the Pujo vacations when my family managed to take our first holiday in many years, we went to visit our uncle’s family in Delhi. It was a time before LPG –nope not the stuff in the red cylinder that is fuel to cook my food… I was talking about “Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization” in the MBA lingo. The shameful situation that compelled our country to physically take bullion reserves abroad is another story altogether. Sorry I tend to digress - back to the story – it was a time much before LPG – so family vacations were a rare luxury with middle class wages being the order of the day (I think history is now close to repeating itself given the present times). What particularly stands out in my memory of that vacation, apart from the grand Pujo Pandal of CR Park, was the strange situation where scores of young dadas and didis who went to college were burning themselves over something called the Mandal Commission and protesting against someone called VP Singh. I was probably 12 – 13 years old at the time and didn’t quite understand what was going on - but it was my first brush with the dirty politics over education that this country has become prey to…

Cut to 3 years back when ugly quota politics again found a soft target in higher education. It was the time when I was preparing for the CAT, XAT, MAT and all such animals aka MBA entrance exams – determined to be a part of the great Indian MBA dream. India Shining people were sure and MBAs were the “future leaders” of a “young and vibrant nation” – how many times have I heard this in the first year of my MBA, I have lost count (in the second year, the monster called recession ate up the world economy and this tune changed sooner than you could say palti!) Anyway in 2006, the hot topic was increasing the reservation in the institutes of higher education – especially the premier institutes… IITs, IIMs, AIIMS – to accommodate the OBCs (Other Backward Classes).

With already about 22.5% reserved for SCs and STs, and a further 27.5% being reserved for OBCs – where was India aiming to go really… Into a bright meritocracy that will ensure that we prosper in the future or in a future that would try to correct the wrongs of the past by wronging others in the present and the future? I am all for social justice and inclusion of weaker sections of society. Everyone has a right to an equal opportunity. The financially challenged need our help. But even Mr. Arjun Singh knows that there is no logic of reserving seats in higher education institutions unless the government provides a mechanism that guarantees quality education to all children in primary and higher secondary schools. If the base is not strong, will the institutions last? The government talks of mid-day meal schemes to lure kids to school – while civil servants are found to hire child labour as domestic help – quite an indicator of the government’s intention of putting all kids through school. America (yes Mr. Karat – the country you hate) does that – can you arm twist the government of India to make sure it follows suit? Try doing this instead of derailing the country’s economy through unnecessary strikes!

Also, is there a count of how many of the candidates that actually make in on the reservations are actually good enough to last the course at an IIT or an IIM or an AIIMS? If hearsay is to be believed, most drop out unable to cope with the pressure. So why waste these seats on them and not offer them to meritorious candidates, irrespective of their caste?

Who benefits from the reservations? Is the needy and financially challenged dalit in Bharat or the unscrupulous son of a government official whose parent made it into the job on reservation in the first place? Does a senior civil servant’s offspring merit a reservation in an IIM over the son of a poor general quota peon? Will the government ever dare to leave out the “creamy layer”? Not in a million years! How in the world will they ever dare to antagonize their vote banks… this is democracy meri jaan. Numbers matter and the Indians don’t match up to the Bharatiyas – in the end, the only prophecy foreseeable is sustainable darkness.

Moreover, at a drop of a hat, our geriatric politicians head abroad for medical treatment – why not consult one of the many reserved “doctors” that have passed out – why don’t they trust their well being with them and how do they expect the public to benefit from such incompetent professionals (an oxymoron as it is)? I use a strong adjective but reducing cut offs in critical areas by 10% signals the death knell for progress isn’t it? Would someone who is not good enough to be a doctor by prevailing norms for the “majority” be able to do justice to his profession once he is “qualified”? I extend this logic to the “management quota” intake as well. Unless you are good enough to get in, only a superhuman effort would increase your caliber to make you a worthy professional.

With so much already being “done” for the sector, Kapil Sibal comes out with his vision of revolutionizing the education system of our country by talking of abolishing the class 10 board exams etc to relieve students of “stress”! Incredible train of thought, isn’t it? Let’s take a step back to understand why there is the stress in the first place? Is it because of the board exams or is it because of the lack of quality institutions of higher education that a candidate has a realistic chance of getting in provided he has unrealistic marks or great luck or reservations? It is a shame that the so called “good” colleges and universities of my father’s time remain the “good” colleges and universities till date (my cousin is gearing up for his post graduate studies this year)! Instead of reducing chances of the common student of getting in via reservation for mainly the creamy layer of SC/ST/OBC and not doing anything to develop more quality institutions of higher studies – say of the quality of St. Xavier’s , St. Stephens, IIMs, IITs etc – Kapilji would want us to believe that we don’t need no education! Sirji – I love Floyd too. But why kill meritocracy here too? (BTW, do catch Chetan Bhagat’s short story – “Cut off” in last Sunday’s (26/07/2009) HT Brunch –aptly illustrates this malaise in the system.)

Instead there are many other areas (some of which I have listed below) that our minister can look at and deliver it in the prime mister’s 100 day mandate. Most of them are critical to ensure that our social fabric is strengthened but make news so often that we have become accustomed to ignoring them:

1. Rampant practice of “auctioning” seats in engineering, medical, dental and business colleges. A couple of weeks back, a sting operation alleged the involvement of a union cabinet minister in the most recent “seat for money” exposé. However, it is a big money racket and the demand for “professional qualification” far outweighs the supply of quality institutes that can provide it. Hence this racket will continue till the government ever decides to wake up.

2. School teachers in government schools don’t show up. There are a million kids who battle the odds to make it to school but then are cheated out of their right to education by government apathy on an everyday basis. Moreover there are frighteningly regular horror stories of inhuman punishment of students by teachers. What leads them to act so barbarically? And more importantly, what will the government do to protect the kids?

3. Year after year students die of ragging. Universities claim to have regulation in place to clamp down this evil practice. All incoming students sign an undertaking to stop this evil. But will the government be able to eradicate this epidemic?

4. Checking the quality of institutes of higher learning. How long can we let the likes of Arindam Chaudhary and his ilk take students for a ride? Don’t believe me… see this link:

5. Improve the curriculum in schools to make it more relevant. Why create a ruckus about sex education being immoral when India is staring at a HIV AIDS crisis? Why let the state governments modify the curriculum to promote their political ideology?

6. Stop moral policing in colleges. At 18, an Indian citizen is considered able enough to exercise his franchise to elect the country’s government but not old enough to dress the way he/she wants? Sheer hypocrisy, isn’t it? Will wearing salwar kameez or collared shirts make a pupil concentrate better in classes? You’ve got to be kidding me?

It is a wonder that we still claim to have one of the best talent repository for the world…