2ndlook

Reform by stealth – Indian education sector

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Film Reviews, History, India, language, Media, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on February 13, 2010
Will he get education on his terms?

Will he get education on his terms?

Reform by stealth

In the last 18 months, there has been a synchronized campaign to effect major ‘reform’ agenda into the Indian education sector. The suggested template is similar to what has been implemented in the telecom and automobile sectors with reasonable levels of success.

The underlying assumption seemingly, is that education is yet another ‘industry’. Hence, similar templates can be ‘imported’ from other ‘industries’ into the ‘education’ industry also. After all, it had earlier been imported into the film ‘industry’ with some success. While 2ndlook has no quarrel with ‘commercialization’ of education, short term safeguards for a sensitive sector like education maybe essential. Some features of this campaign create disquiet due to significant silence on some aspects and overheated discussions on some other aspects.

Backdoor privatization and hidden subsidies

The Vedanta industrial group is setting up a University in Orissa. From a campus at the new Lavassa township, Oxford is going to start offering courses. These and other represent the quiet backdoor ‘privatization’ of Indian higher education. NIIT, which pioneered computer education in India, is opening an university at Neemrana, Rajasthan.

Large tracts of lands are being acquired by the Government, and handed over for a pittance to the private sector. Soon, India will have competition between State subsidized English education – and private sector English education, subsidized by the State.

‘Private’ colleges vs ‘world class’ universities

Over the last 30 years, various state Governments in India have allowed private engineering and medical colleges to open up – and operate on a partially commercial basis. This colleges were first called ‘capitation’ colleges. Most of these colleges were fronts for the rich and /or powerful.

A banker contact pointed out, politicians are the only people who can swing the system. Private-sector colleges, can come up if ‘contacts’ and ‘influence’ are used to corner approvals, exemptions, land, licenses, permissions – and hence also the financing for these colleges. To make education into an extortion opportunity.

Pitted against a regime of money bags and power centres, is the new paradigm of ‘international’ standard, ‘world-class’ universities. These foreign universities will come to India – and give Indian students, ‘cutting edge’ education. Faced with a choice of extortionate ‘private sector’ against glossy ‘world-class’ universities, Indians are faced with an open-and-shut case.

But the case is not so simple or uni-directional.

Typical computer teaching shops

Typical computer teaching shops

Indian software success

Indian software sector has built up a US$50 billion a year business, in less than 15 years. The Indian ramp up in software, from a software minnow to leadership status, happened in a short span of 15 years. These 50 billion dollars of software business has come out of (arguably) US pockets.

Indian private education can follow the software model. It was private sector Indian education system which sprang up in every nook and corner of the country. In millions of these ‘teaching shops’ software programmers were churned out. Without subsidy, without Government oversight, without regulation. Meeting the highest standards in the world.

How did this happen

The Y2K was predicted to be a major disaster – waiting to happen! The world waited with bated breath – for planes to crash; banks feared billion dollar frauds; army generals were afraid that defence systems would go on the blink. Indian software companies got Y2K contracts by truckloads.

The world piled on to Indian software companies – as there were few credible alternatives. The biggest of Fortune 500 companies entrusted the biggest software problem the world had, the Y2K problem, to the Indian software industry. Licked in less than 5 years time.

Come Y2k, nothing happened. The world over!

The Y2K meteor did not crash onto mother earth. It was just another day. It was the biggest triumph for the Indian software community. Done at a cost of a few billion dollars. By Indian software programmers. India did not celebrate this major success. Instead, they were hard at work, minimizing this success – as usual. (Instead they make a big deal of the 20:20 world cup).

Credit for India’s software success has many claimants – and all of them have had a role to play.

Any empty room became a computer centre!

Any empty room became a computer centre!

How did software become such a big thing

Why is it that software became such a big thing in India? How could Indian engineers ramp up so quickly and tackle such a complex problem – with such low levels of prior exposure to computers? With the lowest computer penetration, how could India become the largest exporter of software in less than 10 years.

The historical advantage of Sanskrit (a tabular, artificial, data base language) does not explain the impossible build up in less than 10 years. Of capacity, training, infrastructure, investments, recruitment, user engagement, application mapping, stress points understanding, testing, et al required to tackle such a complex exercise.

Since the entire code of the industrial world (at least, the Anglo-Saxon world) was rewritten, it was similar to implementing a global computerization programme in 10 years. The new code written by Indian programmers could have crashed a 100 times – for reasons other than Y2k.

Poor application understanding to start with.

Government intervention

The dark cloud on ‘software success story’ is dominance of two countries. Actually, US and UK account for 70%-80% of Indian software business. Indian software industry does not get multi-lingual recruits who can address the Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German software business opportunities.

The huge subsidy given by the Indian Government to English language in higher education has actually hobbled the Indian software industry.

Indian education needs a 2ndlook

Indian education needs a 2ndlook

India’s ‘indigenous’ education model

The software industry education system was not a new system. It was an pre-existing model – subterranean and invisible in official stats or mainstream media.

This Indian education model was, till about a 150 years ago, unique in the world. With the highest literacy ratio in the world, and completely privately funded, it set global and historic benchmarks. This model has been buried under a mound of silence – and once in a while you get a glimpse of this.

My first glimpse of this model was through the draft of Parag Tope’s recently released book – Operation Red Lotus.

The beautiful tree

The Beautiful Tree - by Dharampal

Click on the photograph to access Sri Dharampal Gupta's book

Gandhiji, in correspondence with Sir Philip Hartog, (chairman of the Auxiliary Committee on Education), laid out the the pre-colonial scenario, which has now been buttressed by research by Dharampal, a Gandhian, in his book, Beautiful Tree, Indian Education in the 18th century.

I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished. (Gandhiji, at Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Oct 1931 - extracted from Indian Models Of Economy Business And Management By Kanagasabapathi; Page 60).

At the grass roots level, India is struggling to recreate this system. James Tooley, an IFC-World Bank employee (for sometime), researched and wrote a book (funded by the Templeton Foundation), called The Beautiful Tree (what else did you expect?). Sreelatha Menon, a journalist reviewing Tooley’s book and research, seemingly, depends on Tooley’s own PR handouts to write an entire post in Business Standard.

Does she ever make a mention of Dharampal, whose work is the most authoritative today?

Between a rock and a hard place

Dharampal’s pioneering work, in 1983, has, not surprisingly, been ignored by the Amartya Sens and the Jean Drezes of the world – and all their avid followers in India. Kapil Sibal has been trying to further the colonial British efforts by laying out a red carpet for foreign universities – while tying up Indian institutions into-knots-into-knots-into-knots. The ‘modern’ theory about Indian education goes that all credit for Indian education should go either to the British Colonial Raj or the Christian Missionary Benevolence.

End of the road … the bankrupt model

The health care system in USA, social welfare entitlements of USA, employment benefits costs by UK, showcase projects of Japan are running countries into the ground.

India has, as yet, not gone down that path. Though, the Indian State has been trying – quite hard.

Crisis in Iceland

The major beneficiary of this policy by stealth is likely to be UK’s struggling education sector. The UK education sector significantly depends for upto 80% of its funds, from the State. UK’s universities are clearly struggling to stay afloat, hit by the ongoing economic recession and banking sector problems.  An examination of UK’s education sector will reveal problems with this approach. British students are scrambling to rework their finances affected by decreasing ability of the British state to support education. British universities have ‘threatened’ to cut various study streams to cope with decreasing funding levels. Due to current recessionary trends and a contracting European economy.

A major hit to British Universities was the crisis in Iceland. And many British universities had their money stuck in a Icelandic banks, totalling some GBP77 million. Oxford had some GBP30 million in Icelandic banks. Cambridge followed with GBP 11 million.

Iceland had also presided over the fastest expansion of a banking system anywhere in the world. Little did anyone know that the expansion once so admired would go on to saddle the country with liabilities in excess of $100 billion – liabilities that now dwarf its gross domestic product of $14 billion.

Iceland overreached itself in spectacular fashion, and the party is coming to a messy end.

Looking at the mess in Australia, with Indian students and locals, British immigration authorities clamped down on foreign student applications.

Economics forced the British authorities to backpedal, as some 3,40,000 international students support the British education system with fees totalling to some GBP 8.5 billion). From China (50,000), India (20,000) Malaysia (10,000), Nigeria (12000), Pakistan (10,000) and other countries like Turkey (some 1,600 students).

UAE red carpet welcome to Western universities

The recent expansion of US universities in the UAE is instructive – and illustrative of the pitfalls. Faced with decreasing State support, shrinking student budgets and depleted teaching populations, reactionary local populations, US and struggling British universities are seeking to diversify out of their home countries.

What better choice than India?

The collapse of Dubai’s overheated economy has left the outposts of Michigan State University and the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) struggling to attract enough qualified students to survive.

In the last five years, many US universities have rushed to open branches in the Persian Gulf, attracted by the combination of oil wealth and the area’s strong desire for help in creating a higher-education infrastructure. Education City in Qatar has brought in Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth. (via US university branches in Dubai struggling – Corporate News – livemint.com).

Vested interests

Long queues for education breeds complacency

Long queues for education breeds complacency

Recently, the Government has taken another step towards ‘progress’ in Indian education sector.

The HRD ministry has decided to de-recognize as many as 44 “deemed universities”, spelling uncertainty for nearly two lakh students who are enrolled with them. The ministry’s decision amounts to an acknowlegement of irregularties in conferring the “deemed” tag to these institutions under the first UPA government in which Arjun Singh was the HRD minister.

These two lakh students (200,000) will add to the already over-burdened Indian higher education system. To see that this ‘de-recognition’ will create a ripe target for the new ‘world-class universities’ coming to India, does not need prescription lenses. With this preparation, international universities will find Indian ‘consumers’ sitting ducks – which they can pick off with their pea-shooters.

While all these policy formulations were being ‘crafted’, a well-oiled media campaign was unleashed. One such case was where Sanjeev Bikchandani (of Info Edge, which operates Naukri.com) and Jayant Sinha (of Courage Capital Management) wrote a pseudo-paper outlining ‘reform’ proposals for education in India.

Five points to perdition

These two writers feel, that Indian education ‘requires radical action in five key areas‘.

One – all Government controls must be scrapped. Two – Taxpayers must pay for scholarships. Three – private Indian and foreign universities must be allowed freely into India. Four – the tax payer (via the Government) must fund scientific and technical research. The fifth point (not clearly defined) that they probably make is that probably affirmative action should not be compulsory – but can be tied to Government funding.

Interesting.

What these two worthies pretend to address is the problem of the Indian education system. Instead, what they end up doing, is push forward the bowl in front of the Indian taxpayer – without pre-conditions. All that they are interested in, is addressing the problem of the English speaking elite. They don’t even pretend to address the problem of non-English speaking students.

Is it possibly, that the writers think it is below them, to attempt such ‘base’ ideas? Imagine addressing the problem of Maithili speaking students of Bihar or Telugu students from Rayalaseema! (Dont push me! I can be grosser still!!)

Of course, we should not expect them to talk about how nearly 800 years of violence against Indian education system must be reversed – and the Oriya student needs help more than the elitist English speaking student.

Of course, maybe I expect too much from them! Possibly my over-expectations make me fault them for not seeing the contradiction of allowing ‘foreign’ establishments to set up indoctrination and recruiting centers in India.

Blow up tax payers money

Blow up tax payer's money

Billing address

The Indian tax payer must subsidize the education of a privileged few. But the tax payer must NOT ask any questions or raise any queries or impose any agenda. The Indian tax payer must just quietly pay up and take whatever the English speaking elite dishes out.

For the last 60 years, the Indian tax payer has entrusted this English speaking elite with authority for setting the agenda in the Indian education sector – and the track record of this elite is obvious.

How many times do the writers mention Indian languages (vernacular, native, Indic, regional, etc.). Nil. How many times do they use the word exclusion, colonial, Westernized. Nil again.

Throwing money down the English education hole

Throwing money down the English education hole

But, they sprinkle their article liberally with Western examples like how, “In the US, the top 10-15 universities such as those in the Ivy League, MIT, Stanford and Chicago play a similar role.

Even though India pioneered the system of reservation for the disadvantaged, and the US followed India by nearly 20 years, with their diluted system of ‘affirmative action’, these two worthies use the term affirmative action four times – and reservations (nil times).

While a weak case can be made out for funding education in India for a limited period, the ‘freeing’ that these worthies propose is interesting. Freeing. Umm! Who is likely to benefit from the ‘freeing’ that the two worthies propose? For the English speaking elite, I suspect.

3 Idiots - Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra star, director and producer of film 'Three Idiots' at Metro theatre on October 30, 2009. (BCCL/Deepak Turbhekar) 31 Oct, 2009

3 Idiots - Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Star, director and producer of film 'Three Idiots' at Metro theatre on October 30, 2009. (BCCL/Deepak Turbhekar) 31 Oct, 2009

Idiots on idiots

At another level, there is yet another kind of ‘progress’ being made in the India education industry.

Indian educational success is being written off as rote learning. This rote learning, it is alleged hampers ‘innovation’. Critics of Indian educational practices support their argument with a thin statement like “you only have have to look at American ‘innovation’ to understand how rote learning hampers Indian students.”

Without ever looking how Indian coders rewrote the entire software of the American and UK corporates in a matter of 3-5 years during the Y2K problem. Or how Indian generics rule the world. Or how Indian pharma R&D is generating molecules for commercialization by better ‘endowed’ Western corporations. Or how Indian frugal engineering is developing world class products – at home, with Indian capital.

The most recent and egregious example of this is the Bollywood film, 3 Idiots, which encourages student laziness with delusions of genius. Behind the film is the book by the hallucinatory intellect of Chetan Anand. A supremely facile and baseless story, written without understanding either human epistemology or education.

Or the essential nature of the Indian. Indians are the most optimistic people on earth for the last 50 years of measurements. And they are also willing to work hard, very hard, to sustain and realize this optimism.

Penniless, landless, unlettered - but you gotta learn English (Landless labourers protesting against the SEZ in Raigard district. - PHOTO: MEENA MENON from The Hindu).

Penniless, landless, unlettered - but you gotta learn English (Landless labourers protesting against the SEZ in Raigard district. - PHOTO: MEENA MENON from The Hindu).

The Great Indian progress

The poor, landless labourer, remains poor and landless. Hardly any change. The only way he can get educated is, if he agrees to learn English!

The Indian State does not allow private sector into education – and denies the poor, education in the manner and medium that is useful to him. He is comfortable with.

Independent India – colonial practices

The Indian State today subsidizes English Language with billions of dollars – a policy that the British started in 1830. In the meantime, Indian language education systems have languished – and their survival is a credit to the Indian social strength.

English should immediately be deprived of all State support – and Indian language education system should be helped back on its feet. Privatization of education is the Indian way – back in history and way in the future.

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