India - Interviews
Watershed - Indian ‘basic’ education system: how people from 7 years to college are educated?
Newman Coutto - The Right to Education Bill passed in Parliament has become a Fundamental Right of the children to education. Actually, in India, the children of 7 years and above go through 5 phases – the pre-primary, primary, secondary, college and post-graduate. But those who go through this education process are the children of parents who can afford the education. Since India lives in villages, educationists are striving their best to help the backward and the downtrodden who can hardly make both ends meet leave alone send their children to school. Demographically India has a young population that our educationists and philanthropists are trying to mould into a mighty human resource machine to fuel our prosperity. A lot of business houses adopt villages in remote areas to train them in basic education like languages, mathematics and sciences, so that they can face life with greater confidence. Not only that, adoption of villages involves everything like setting up of schools/hospitals, training of women in hygiene and discipline, providing the necessities for the village population and so on. Besides, the government has made it compulsory for qualified professionals like doctors and accountants to work voluntarily in villages for a year before coming in the mainstream of urban life. The government of India has made education free upto the secondary level specially for girls who are discriminated in backward villages. But there is poor implementation of this process and the progress is slow. Fortunately, NGOs (non government organizations) have stepped in to fill the gap and are striving to help the needy children with books, stationery and schools bags and water bottles. Child Rights and You (CRY) and Umang Foundation are 2 such NGOs that help a lot as they realize that devoid of proper education a child will be vulnerable to exploitation. All the same the government of India makes it compulsory that the 4th child in the family has to pay fees for her/his studies in public schools in order to control population. Normally, children in India go through the basic education system of 10+2+3 after the pre-primary stage that starts at the average age of 4 years. So, by the time a child reaches the age of 19, he/she is a graduate and ready to branch off in the vocation chosen through the love developed over the past 15 years for a particular subject or profession. In 1986, the pre-primary education got a boost through the government’s stress on Early Childhood Care and Education. The formation of National Literacy Mission in 1988 gave an impetus to make a billion people literate. Besides, the government encourages and recognizes non-formal and adult education. It also encourages Distance Education for students who cannot attend full time courses and live in remote areas. We also have morning and evening colleges for those who are self- made and are employed. There are special initiatives taken by the government to help the poor. There is the Mahila Samakhya that helps the education and empowermwnt of rural women. Then there is the Navodaya Vidyalayas, which are model residential schools, with emphasis on developing gifted rural children. Then there is the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan for the benefit of children in remote places, the school drop-outs in the age group 6 to 14. Physical training and vocational courses form the basis of study at the secondary level. As we know youth is the time when the seeds of character are sown. So the teachers also teach discipline and train the children to be responsible citizens. As such, Indian culture trains the children to respect authority and there is fear of the authorities reprimanding them. Therefore they strive to give their best specially in today’s competitive environment.
WS – Elaborate on urban and rural level of literacy, and technical courses, college degrees and the entertainment factor that affects it, as well.
NC - In India, presently, there is a great exodus from rural to urban areas and most important cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Calcutta Delhi are congested. One reason is the awakening created by media and television. It is the education and employment opportunities in urban areas that fuels this exodus. It is a foregone conclusion that the level of literacy is very low in remote areas due to lack of infrastructure, as the politicians have not lived to the expectations of the people who empowered them. In rural areas there are a few municipal schools run by government and those schools are not upto the proper standard as the school buildings and the teachers are of sub-standard quality. There is no proper drinking water and toilet facilities and hygiene is very poor. Also the children have to walk great distances to reach school. There are many drop-outs as the rural homes do not provide the proper attitude of encouraging children to study as the parents themselves are illiteratein many cases and do not know the value of education. But things are rapidly getting better for rural India, thanks to the great efforts made by government and the business community, the social reformers and philanthropists. Besides, for the rural children coming from poor families there is an organization called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, which lays special emphasis for the upliftment of the girl child and the disadvantaged classes. The girls are mostly a neglected lot in the rural areas as they are forced to do the house chores and discouraged from attending schools. In urban areas the children are more lucky to take advantage of the advanced environment like better schools and colleges and now the technical education and the use of computers and mobiles have added a lot of spice to their lives. The parents too encourage the children to study well and join good career courses as they know the value of education. Children are sent to specialized tuitions and coaching classes and there is a great fervour to score high marks among the students. But just like every rose tree has thorns, the urban localities also provide a variety of entertainment places and so the attention is divided between studies and attractions like cinemas, discoteques, dances, regular parties, picnics and so on. Not tht these pastimes are bad, but if the students get addicted to it and many do, it hurts the parents to see their children stray away from their careers. But all said and done, urban cities specially, have study centres that can really propel good students onto fantastic careers.
WS - Private and public schools: discuss the quality and standard maintained, costs, access and the affordability of an average Indian family.
NC - With the advent of economic prosperity in India, mainly due to advances in Information Technology and financial and business acumen of India Incorporated, there is a huge middle class and lower middle class booming. Western countries also send their work to be done in India as the labour here is still cheaper and so the mushrooming of call centres which pay well. This affluent middle class can afford to send their children to private schools which are definitely better, both in school curriculum and faculty. Public schools are more of prototype schools with an average infrastructure and sports facilities. The affordability of an average Indian household to send their children to a designated school depends on the level of sacrifice the parents are willing to undergo. And the Indian parents are willing to invest in the intellectual capital by sending them to the best schools, specially parents who are seeing good days through the economic boom in India. Of course where the question of access is concerned it is the marks that the children obtain at the entrance examination that determines the admission. Private schools are definitely better as they teach morals, discipline, etiquette, manners and generally even the curriculum and teachers are more refined. But where other things are concerned, for example the human weaknesses of eve teasing, drugs, sophistication, it is the same in the public and private schools. Besides private or public it is the sincerity and will power with which students take up to their studies that counts a lot. Some parents send their children to renowned private schools just to keep up the prestige or status. It is part of the gossip at cocktail parties to boast about their children and their achievements. Normally only the rich can afford private school education in these days when the standard of living is so high. But these children have a disadvantage as they are not exposed to children coming from various walks of life as one finds in the public schools. Children from private schools – children belonging to the rich and the famous—are taken to schools by cars and they miss the interaction that takes place in school buses of the public schools. What ultimately counts is the marks these children score whether it is a private or public school. Wherever one school success is 99 percent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration.
WS - Is the Indian political system truly dedicated to the education of the masses? Or are they playing to the gallery with their rhetoric with an eye on the vote bank? Were they following the colonial rulers, so far, to suppress awakening?
NC - This question attains prominence specially because even after 60 years of Independence there are millions of illiterates in India, thousands of villages do not get proper drinking water, people still die in debt as we have seen hundreds of suicides from farmers in recent years, and in remote villages, there is not even a single doctor to help the sick and the old people. India is fast heading to becoming a super power with advances in technology, atomic energy, backed by a huge and qualified workforce. But India is developing only sector wise. During the first forty years it was a buyer’s market and now after the reforms and liberalization from 1991 it is a seller’s market. What were our leaders doing during the first 40 years? Could we say they were wrangling for power? Nehru decried the private sector but ultimately it was proved that the public sector that was the culprit. Government , during the early years from the fifties to eighties concentrated on building major projects like Bhakra Nangal which had gestation periods and it left the people high and dry. The poor became poorer. The feudal society was perpetuated leading to poverty and illiteracy. The invasion of the media and the television brought a lot of awakening. People made efforts to send their children to schools. Pressure groups were formed to seek better living conditions. Formerly small cultivators suffered as they did not have refrigeration and warehouse facilities, and their produce rotted as they did not have the means to take it to the city to fetch a good price. The bottom line is that the political leadership and the bureaucracy in India have not yet made a diligent and committed attempt to help the education of the downtrodden. A. K. Biswas, writing on the Mainstream Weekly in an article called Universalisation of Education: India in a Trap, says that the elite Indians who have been at the helm of affairs are not really concerned about the well-being of the disadvantaged. They prescribe palliatives but do not want lasting cure for the diseases. Universalisation of education with commitment and sincerity would have altered the situation long back. But the elites had different calculations for the millions of deprived Indians. As Lord Ripon had foreseen way back in the 19th century the educated few have penetrated every layer of Indian polity and frustrated every attempt to ensure education reaching the common man. Ripon’s apprehensions are come true and the illiterate masses have been used as an opportunity, by the small highly educated class to harvest golden dividends at the cost of the ignorant masses. Well the educated Indians were therefore not very far from their colonial contagion. But alas their dreams were shattered by the invasion of media and television which they could not control.
WS - Professional success: does a college degree really help or is it an imposition from the society?
NC - A college degree is a launch pad to go higher on the educational ladder. Sometimes it is the minimum qualification for any job in today’s competitive world. Maybe you will get inspired to do your master’s someday and your college graduation will help. Besides it gives you an edge over those who do not have a college degree when it comes to apply for a job. Basically if you are qualified in the current subjects that are in vogue - like media, hospitality or event management or culinary expertise, you have a better chance. But again college degrees are always not required when one is bent on success. College drop-outs like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs have left their imprint on the sands of time by building huge business enterprises. Shakespeare never went to school. But these men were successful as they lived in the times that gave them the opportunity which they capitalized. College degree and college life broadens the horizons of the people. College education develops one’s skills and you have a great repertoire of information on various subjects. The social life too bubbles with activity and you stand a better chance to capitalize on the opportunities through the huge friend’ circle. In a way college degree is an imposition from society specially for the girls when they are ready to walk the aisle. The groom’s parents are keen to know if the girl is a college graduate. It adds a feather to their cap, their social circle. Besides a qualified parent is an asset as he/she can guide their children better in their journey in life. Basically life is what you make it. College graduates are looked upon differently in society and even their children find it more comforting in the long run and gives them the inspiration to study as they would always like to go one up on their parents.
WS - Did the Nehruvian model of development see the necessity of educating the middle class? And why Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are lagging behind in education leading to regional differences between states?
NC - Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, had his hands full when he wrested power from the British in 1947. Nehru knew that the spread of literacy was associated with modernization, industrialization and consequent urbanization. So he made education free and compulsory for all the children of India. Adult education centers, vocational and technical schools were also organized especially in rural areas. But his dreams were not translated into reality, in most places, as he did not have dedicated people and lacked proper infrastructure to carry out the stipulated work. India of early fifties and sixties was extremely feudal. The hang-ups of the colonial days - money-lenders, power local chiefs, autocratic landlords – still had a sway over the people they controlled. India was mostly below the poverty line when we attained Independence, and though the Nehruvian model of development did see the necessity of educating the middle class, the corrupt bureaucracy and the politicians subverted Nehru’s wishes as the greed for power and money was rampant. India of those early years of Independence was mostly backward as India always lived in villages and agriculture was the main source of income. The transformation to industrial development should have been slower as we did not have duly qualified people to fuel the change and had to rely on foreign technicians. Moreover Nehru championed the cause of a mixed economy where the public sector held the sway and this led to a state-controlled economy, which encouraged corruption and inefficiency. Subsequently, during the time of Rajiv Gandhi, the economist appointed by this grandson of Nehru, backtracked the activities of the public sector and he (his name was Raja Chelliah) proved that the public sector milked the Indian economy and made the poor of India more poorer. Besides, the irony was that Nehru criticized the private sector that was more enterprising. Nehru also failed to develop cadres to carry on his good work and intentions and after his death in 1964, the above scenario still active, people groaned under an economy that was mismanaged till 1991, when India scrapped most of the monopolies created by the old regime, and put India on the road to reform and liberalization. Meanwhile, the lower middle class and those below the poverty line suffered and that is why states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were worst affected as the elected representatives did not take care to help the people. The government of these states did not set up the infrastructure to do rudimentary things like school buildings and proper teaching staff to the children. There were no proper books provided to the children let alone the toilet facilities, and that is how migration from these states started to affluent cities like Bombay and Calcutta - commercial hubs - located in Maharashtra and West Bengal. This led to the regional differences between states. When India took a loan from the IMF in 1991, Edward Luce in his book Inspite of the Gods: The strange development of modern India wrote: “Nehru’s socialist dream of creating an economy that would be immune from the influence of former colonial powers, had culminated in bankruptcy and worse, a bankruptcy in which it was London that played the symbolic role of a pawnbroker in saving India from collapse”. Thus, for India, Nehru’s intentions were misfired. Surely, he could have done better if he had listened to Mahatma Gandhi and developed India at the grassroots with the help of small scale industries that could have employed the vast Indian masses.
WS - Global competitiveness of India is significant. Elaborate on how India holds sway not only in engineering research but astonishing advances in I.T. solutions and is generally armed with a huge intelligentsia – an efficient workforce.
NC - India turns out engineering graduates that is twice as much as the whole of Europe does. That is the kind of quality workforce that India harnesses to the various infrastructure projects in the country headed by corporations like Larsen and Toubro, Siemens, Punj Lloyd, Sesa Goa. Even the Indian scientists leave their imprint on the sands of time. Take the example of CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research). More than 150 Indian scientists form the core of the haldron collider that projects the Big Bang that will find the God particle called Higgs Boson. Indian scientists remain key to yet another CERN experiment in Europe - the CMS in Cessy, France. The irony of the education system in India is that on the one hand we have the IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) and the IITs (the Indian Institutes of Technology), that rank among the best institutes in the world and on the other hand there are thousands of schools in the country, specially in the rural areas, that lack basic infrastructure like good school buildings, clean drinking water for children, toilet facilities and many times untrained teachers. But the inherent strength of our education system lies in the fact that our Indian professionals are considered the best in the world and are in great demand. The World Economic Forum released its 2006-07 rankings for global competitiveness and India ranked 43rd as it lost a lot of points due to lack of public policy and social investments in health, education and infrastructure. In the field of Information Technology Indians excel. Silicon Valley, in California, is an example. Infosys Technologies, Wipro, and TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) spearhead the IT solutions process. We also excel in the manufacture of software and hardware. Recently, a young techie from Gujarat, India, Bipin Agarwal, was given the UNESCO award for his software discovery called Ability to beat the disability of the speech-impaired people. Agarwal developed a software to convert any text into sign language and sound in order to help the speech- impaired. This device can be connected both to a computer and a mobile phone. Agarwal will make this invention available in different languages. Though India is overall backward as India still lives in villages, the 30 to 40 per cent of the total population that belongs to the middle and lower middle class forms the core of the aspiring intelligentsia, and is huge in view of the ever increasing Indian population. This workforce forms the nucleus of India’s future as they are adapting themselves to modern professions like culinary arts, hospitality, event management, media and television, cybernetics, biomedical engineering, biophysics, cognitive sciences and so on. The Indian consumer is spoiled by the choices at his/her disposal, and the Indian investor is empowered like never before. The huge middle class that is evolving resorts to heavy consumerism giving a boost to the economy. Even in rural India the awakening due to media and television, refrigeration facilities and better communications and transport has brought the average Indian on the doorstep of better living. And if we strive to develop the real India fully, we could be globally very competitive as the people have seen hard days, are ambitious to succeed, are hard working, have respect to God and the elders and are generally in a great frame of mind to show the world that Indians can do things better. Our forays into outer space, our pharma companies, the banking system and our tendency to inventions and innovations, and general independence due to huge raw materials availability puts us on the road to a high global competitiveness.
WS - How committed are the youth of India towards education? Have the scholars and professionals who migrated for greener pastures effecting a reverse brain drain specially after the melt down in the West?
NC - A plethora of effective study subjects and proper vocational guidance and a great will power to study further, is propelling the Indian youth towards attaining higher degrees in various subjects necessary for the advancement of the Nation. As India is reaping the fruits of sound reforms and liberalization there is a shortfall of talent as the present economic boom requires adequate human resources to manage the new challenges in India’s prosperity. The above scenario is bringing back the Indians settled abroad, as , specially, after the meltdown in the West, India seems to be more secure and inviting. India needs a lot of professionals to handle more and more responsibilities as India invests heavily in infrastructure and other nation-building activities. As India develops and prospers in fields like oil and gas exploration, information technology, insurance, healthcare, financial services , pharma and biotech, real estate and retail, we need the necessary qualified and experienced people to manage the whole gamut of activities that are ever expanding and advancing with the application of new discoveries and innovations. The rupee too, is strengthening against the dollar and so there is no much difference between the salaries in the United States and India. Besides, the added attraction for the Indians returning from abroad is the education of their children that is better in India and even the environment to study is much better. The children of the returnees can imbibe of the Indian culture and also be close to the extended family specially the grand parents. This proximity of close relatives cuts down on the expenses of child care as here, mostly, the parents have not to send them to a daycare that is very expensive in the West. Besides, there are even foreigners who are making a bee line to come to India to seek greener pastures as the standard of living here is as good as in the United States specially if you have the money. But the foreigners are coming for various reasons like healthcare that is cheaper and good, peace, novel tourism, cheap availability of menial help likemaids and cooks and so on. Raghunath A Mashelkar, Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, himself a returnee, says that the huge foreign investment in India, over the past 5 years, is an indication of India’s growing reputation as an intellectual centre. Also, the return of skilled workers and researchers fuels the Research and Development boom in India. Mashelkar says that by 2020 this silent scientific research will make India a knowledge powerhouse. So the reverse brain drain is a great blessing for India.
WS - What is the status of literacy in India? Does the misplaced affiliations to regional languages neglect the study of English language that is global?
NC - Even after 60 years of Independence, India has a lot of illiterate population. Out of the 561 million literates in the country, 145 million are educated only upto “below primary” level and another 147 million upto “primary” level. In 1951, the literacy rate was 18.3% and in 2008 it was 64.8%. Again there are more illiterates among women specially in rural areas as the women work in the fields and do all house chores. There are still 3,077 villages in the country which do not have a single literate according to census 2001. But again things are fast improving even in the villages as the effect of liberalization and reforms percolates to remote areas, thanks to media and TV programs. India is divided on linguistic basis and the children learn through the state language rather than the global language that is English. There is inherent revulsion for the English language because of British dominance but again the elders realize that the best jobs here and abroad can be secured only though the sound knowledge of the English language. Sometimes there is a misplaced affiliation to regional languages as the interests of the state are idolized. But when they realize that only the global language that is English can take them places and higher studies and the mastering of the prestigious Information Technology or working at BPOs or call centres, it is too late, as the accent and spellings become a problem to assimilate. The employers at call centres get complaints from their foreign counterparts that the Indian employees are weak in English. Actually speaking it is the mastering of the regional languages before they take interest in the English language that automatically comes in the way of smooth grasping of the English language. The British linguist David Graddol says that the majorityof students in Indian higher education do not have good enough English. In 2007, at the International English Language Testing System examination conducted by the British Council in India, only a third of the candidates had good enough English to be studying at the undergraduate level. Macaulay introduced English in India in early 19th century. Ram Mohan Roy also campaigned for the cause of English as he wanted to introduce scientific education in India through the English medium. But in post independent India, the politician’s selfish rhetoric harmed its progress. It was merely to get votes and they sacrificed knowledge on the altar of politics. But the irony is that if we investigate into the education of the politician’s children we find that they frequent the best English schools. People in India have realized these tricks and are on the right track to study good English as they have also learnt that countries like China and Russia are full swing into the study of this global language.
WS - Is the faculty in schools and colleges in India dedicated, specially those who teach subjects that leads to the churning out of professionals and the future leaders of India?
NC - Most students in India have an ardent desire to have intelligent, motivated and inspiring teachers, who at the same time are approachable and friendly. But all teachers do not create the necessary classroom climate, specially if the teachers are not trained. In India, due to the paucity of trained teachers, specially in rural areas, we have the problem of good and aspiring students being denied of dedicated and efficient faculty. Besides, since Independence, the pay scales of teachers, were not good enough to motivate the teaching fraternity to give their best. Though many teachers love their job, yet money is a factor that brings a lot of comfort to their homes as average families, specially in rural areas, can just make both ends meet. But, in recent years, after the implementation of reforms by the Education Department, the teachers are given better pay scales and naturally teaching profession attracts better talent. Good teachers can capitalize on their teaching prowess by giving extra tuitions or opening coaching classes. Though tuitions is not a very good hallmark of a good student, yet the parents in India, specially the middle and even lower middle class will sacrifice anything for better academic results of their children. But for some children tuitions become a way of life and this brings unnecessary pressure on the family purse. At the college and university level, that is crucial for the citizens of tomorrow, the policy followed by the educational institutions also matters. Some colleges in India concentrate on the infrastructure like a good building, library, canteen or locker room facilities or good sports grounds and equipment, but are indecisive when they come to recruiting good teaching staff. Faculty members, who are confident of delivering the goods are always more expensive for the educational institution. Some of these professionals, even after retirement, are called to give specialized lectures and their fees are exhorbitant. Some of them regularly free lance. There is a great teaching talent in India as some of them are trained at foreign universities. But the materialistic environment that is pervading the 21st century makes it conditional, in most cases, for the teachers to deliver the goods as per the remuneration they receive. Of course, there are many cases where the teacher is more keen in imparting knowledge by sheer love of teaching. As a rule teachers are always respected and popular and they leave an imprint on the character formation of the pupil they teach. Basically, the results at academic level and the kudos we have earned at research and development in India speaks volumes of the teachers who have trained their students to become good and productive citizens of India. The demand for the Indian professionals in the four corners of the world through companies like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is self explanatory.
Interview by Lynus Paul Misquitta