Posts Tagged ‘India’

Education

How many times have you heard that education system in India sucks? If I only had a dollar for every time I hear that, I would be a rich man. To be fair, what the person is really trying to say is that the College education in India sucks. Evidence for a such a hypothesis is often the number of Colleges that rank at international level and the brain drain that often occurs to foreign, more so U.S. universities. Both those points are valid, because as many people have gone abroad to study. I coerced my parents to give up their life in India, move to U.S, for I didn’t think I could, or would, study in the field that I wanted to have a career in. It is a different matter altogether that I probably didn’t know as a 16 year-old what I really wanted to do.

If I were to go back in time, I would probably not change my decision, but I do feel that the future is not bleak. More importantly, India’s education system is not backwards as it is made out to be. And I don’t say this because I’m enamored by ‘The Argumentative Indian’. To qualitatively and quantatively measure the education system, we need to first define what really is India’s education system.

Too often, I feel, that a country’s education system is defined by the college system. The argument usually proposed is, that college graduates are the ones going into workforce, government, research and academia, so it is an appropriate measure of how good or bad the system is. Qualitatively, we segment these colleges and universities into top tier institutes like IIM-A, IIT, BITS and Roorkee, and then there are tier 2 institutes such as Symbiosis. And there is everything else.

I have two problems with how we classify our system and assess the college’s quality to churn out graduates at a record rate. First, the number of graduates that a university or a college churns out graduates is only a measure of how popular it is. Secondly, what makes a university good? IIT is the premier engineering institute in India because it’s the toughest college to get into. Hell, it might have the most toughest entrance exam in the world; A 14 year old acing the exam, not withstanding.

Engineering and Engineering math is complex and hard, so it is useful to have the sharpest minds coming to your campus. So, the M.O. has become, let’s have the toughest bloody exam, and choose the cremé dé la cremé. Nobody stops and asks where are these students coming? Does it matter if they are being taught well at the primary, secondary and high school level? Is the objective just to have a student who scores in 99th percentile in the entrance exam?

That, however, is about to change; for once, and this is usually a very rare situation, I applaud the government’s decision to re-structure how the IIT exam will be held. What this means is if you’re a XIIth standard student studying in any part of India: You first have to do extremely well in the boards, on top of that you have to do well in an aptitude test that among other things measure your communication skills. Only after you achieve distinction, will you be allowed to sit in the JEE.

Will this limit opportunities for talented students who aren’t quite as good at the aptitude test, but perhaps would have aced the JEE. Sure. But, to have an engineer who can do multi-variable calculus, Fourier transformation etc. is of no use if he or she doesn’t have the aptitude to reason or communicate. The entrance exam score should not measure the quality of a student graduating a college, but by how well does he or she display the aptitude. I haven seen many students, older than or same age as me, focus their energies on doing well in entrance examination, and not giving a rat’s ass about XII. What purpose does having a nationwide board examination serve, if your students are least interested in doing well in it? Discussing merits of XII and Xth boards are not germane to the point of this post.

Hopefully, this is one of many initiatives that the government takes to improve the real education system – a combination of college and school system. India’s school system is massively under-funded and under-staffed with good schools rarely present in rural areas. Even in urban areas, there’s a high price premium to pay if you want your son or daughter to attend a good school. And even if you have the money, the school system focuses on doing well in Xth or XIIth or sending most of their students to AIMS or IIT.

At this point not enough attention is paid to the communication skills, reasoning skills or general knowledge awareness of the students. Should most of the students not be aware of the what’s going on in the world, because his or her teacher is more interested in opening a coaching center. The foundation of a world-class education system exists in India. Ask any student in XI grade to calculate standard deviation of a statistical sample, and the calculator won’t come out. Rather, he will derive the solution, and not only that he’ll actually understand what the measurement really means. I hope the people who are responsible for the education system realize it, and give students more opportunities to develop overall. And maybe as that champion of creativity Sir Ken Robinson proposes, the government could even bring back the creativity in education.

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Bargaining Power and Negotiations

In classic “Negotiations Theory”, the most optimum solution to any bargaining or negotiation situation is to strive for a ‘win-win’ solution, i.e., find a solution that satisfies the needs of all the parties involved. However, how many times in real life have we – and I used the word “we” in a general, holistic sense- have thought about the needs of the other party in a negotiation. It’s basic human nature to want to only care about one’s needs, other be damned.

This is the exact premise that applies in international relations today; and it isn’t exactly a surprise. Each country when negotiating a trade treaty, a military or agreement of any kind with a friendly country, looks to maximize its gains without really thinking about the other country’s need. After all, no politician will be successful, if he goes to his people and says, “It’s okay if we didn’t get all we wanted, the other nation also got some benefits.” What’s really interesting in international negotiations isn’t the actual bargaining power, but the perceived bargaining power.

For instance, everybody and their uncle thinks that China has some influence over North Korea. Often, U.S., South Korea, and Japan are at China’s door asking for it to put pressure on Pyongyang to not perform its usual mischievous tricks. China in turn milks this when discussing trade and Yuan appreciation with U.S. Reality, however, is completely different. China has no more influence on North Korea, than does any other nation. There is some truth to the notion that NK and China share some history as they were or are Communist nations. It’s a different matter that China is trending more towards a Socialist governance rather than a Communist one. North Korea in reality brings no bargaining power to the table, but the perception of it as a renegade and a notorious nation gives it a perceived bargaining power to negotiate at the table.

To me this notion of perceived bargaining power hasn’t been more evident than in the case of India. The Flotilla incident is very fresh in our memories and here is a comparison of different approaches of India and Israel towards terrorist organizations [or in India’s case the reaction it would take]. India’s reaction, or lack of it, is a direct result of it buckling to international pressure. It is common knowledge that most terrorist attacks in India happen from across the border in Pakistan. To be clear, the people of Pakistan are not to be blamed for the attacks, as much as the Pakistan military is. The Pakistan military has always had the policy, after ’71 war, to not directly engage India in a war, but in a guerilla-warfare type proxy war, and provide resources to home-grown terrorist to bleed India via a thousand ‘paper-cuts’.

During Kargil war, there was ample justification for India to wage a war against Pakistan. At the very least, there could have been surgical strikes against the terrorist organization hiding across the border. Despite the national sentiment, India buckled or caved under international pressure. Argument proposed then and now is, that India needs to focus on its internal problem if it ever harbors any ambition of being considered a world superpower. In reality, India’s internal problems can’t be solved with a complete focus of its resources to it’s domestic issue, which can’t happen with all the external distractions that India often faces from its friendly neighbors.

Prior to 9/11, U.S. didn’t care much about India-Pakistan conflict, because there was no genuine terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda. Now, with cat among the pigeons, U.S. can’t afford to have India-Pakistan to go to war against each other. Pakistan, clearly can’t control the Taliban in NWFP, yet it parades the line to U.S., ” You need our help against Taliban and Al-Qaeda.” In return, Pakistan gets billions of dollars of bailout. This is happening while U.S. is sinking knee deep in debt. What’s India’s role in this, well nothing. What has India to offer to the whole Taliban solution. Apparently, nothing. Or so Pakistan would have you believe.

The money and weapons that U.S. provides to Pakistan, aren’t exactly being used against Taliban. Pakistan made the deal with the devil years ago, and now is paying the price. Deteriorating economy and infrastructure, along with frequent civilian casualties are one sign of it. So when I read stories like these, I can’t help but scoff. Frankly, U.S. can’t even guarantee that those weapons will be used against its troops, that’s how much in shambles the Pakistan Army is in.

The blame lies squarely on India, for not developing any perceived bargaining power. As the world’s 7th largest country, and a rapidly developing economy, India has no bargaining power today at the world stage. Perhaps, being overtly aggressive like Israel wouldn’t have achieved the aim, but the current policy hasn’t done anything, either. Repeating the same thing over and over again, and excepting different result each time, is stupidity, and that pretty much characterizes India’s foreign policy. And this is only with respect to Pakistan, forget the actual threat – China.

Olympics

I love Summer Olympics; my love affair with Olympics started in 1988, when my Mom would make me watch them, and hope I would get interested in the games and acquire some “general knowledge”. After Seoul ’88, and Barcelona ’92, my interest in Olympics went through the roof. I would try to find more information about the history of the games, and could name the hosts cities of past 5-6 Olympic games without missing the beat.

I haven’t been quite able to figure out why I look forward to the games every 4 years. Perhaps, it’s because I have always been partial to sportsmen playing for the country. Yet, I haven’t been able to explain why I was up at 3 in the morning in 96, rooting for Leander Paes against Agassi, and I was uber-excited when Leander beat Sergei Brugera for the bronze medal. Even till last Olympics, I rooted for Phelps to win 8 golds. Phelps 7th gold medal in Beijing was an experience that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, the thrill of watching 2 competitors giving it all for country, and not for money was simply amazing.

In the past year, I have visited 2 cities which hosted the recent Olympic games – Athens and Beijing. Prior to each of my visit, I was unsure as I had heard murmurs of how the cities are old and the infrastructure is not that good and how they won’t be fun to visit. One thing I can positively say, Olympics have had a great impact on how these cities are now. World class public transportation system in both the cities, amazing hotels and restaurants, great road conditions etc.. What’s there not to like. Traffic through Beijing and Athens airports doesn’t even compare through the number of flights going and coming in out of Bombay’s airport. Yet, the condition of the airport in general is quite terrible, despite the vast number of improvements made over the past few years. With Beijing hosting the last Olympics, all the major Asian economies, bar one, have hosted the Olympics.

Sadly, India, in the near future, will not or should not host Olympics. Clowns like these are perhaps one reason why India will be never good at Olympic sports. India by land mass area is the 7th largest country in the world, its population is 2nd largest and its economy is the 11th largest. In light of these factors, saying that India’s performance in Olympics games has been bad, is grossly understating it. A great tool to view India’s performance in a historical context here. In 2008, India ranked below countries like Zimbabwe and Mongolia, and in 2004 we finished dead fricking last in the total medal count.

India’s performance in Asian Games has been no better. A list of India’s previous performances in Asian Games here. Not a very flattering picture, eh? The lack of medals in International competition can only be blamed at lack of sportsmen talented enough to compete at international level. This may sound like a harsh statement. I don’t mean to imply that there are no sportsmen who have the potential to compete internationally, or even win medals for India. Talent in a sportsman needs to be nurtured; the athlete needs to be provided with resources to hone and improve his skills. This lack of infrastructure and support system turns off the even the most of the gifted athletes India has. Seriously, today if you want to play Tennis, Golf, or any other Olympic sport, what motivation do you have?

The reason of this post was not to lament the lack of medal or put out a bunch of links to prove my point about how India is big, yet sucks when it comes to Olympics. Few days ago, I read this article in ToI, and this comment caught my eye-

“It is a ridiculous decision,” said opposition lawmaker Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who has headed the country’s archery federation for 31 years. “It makes no sense. People have served in parliament for 30 years, many of our ministers are above 70, so why this rule only for sports officials?”

The comment was made in context of new regulation limiting the term of various National Sport Federation (NSF) heads. The argument that VKM makes is flawed on several levels-

  1. Members of Parliament are elected representatives, and are only allowed a term of 5 years at a time. Every 5 years, they return to public and each MP’s election represents the mandate of the particular constituency from which he or she is running. Post of National Sports Federation is by no means democratic, perhaps it may be so in name. Certainly not in practice.
  2. VKM conveniently makes the issue about age. The regulation doesn’t explicitly or implicitly cares about the age of the head of NSF. The regulation merely deals with the tenure of a head to be no more than 2 consecutive terms, each lasting 4 years.
  3. Thankfully, VKM didn’t use the age old mantra – performance, not age, should the definitive criteria to measure the tenure of a head of NSF. On occasions, the MPs/MLA’s/Ministers have been accidently known to take decisions that benefit the nation or their respective constituency. I can’t remember one good thing done by these heads.

Oh, and VKM has been the head of archery for oh about 31 years, and India hasn’t won a single medal in Olympics. I don’t necessarily mean to pick on the Archery, for they did medal in World Championships recently, but somehow their performance over the 31 year period is nothing worth writing about. At some point you wonder, shouldn’t there be a fresh perspective or a new administration, if the current administration can’t provide one. Lack of infrastructure and resources leaves our athletes so under-prepared that they often can’t even get out of the first or second round, let alone compete for the medal. In general, all the NSFs that comprise of the Indian Olympic Committee are each of the head’s personal fiefdom, with tenures of each head ranging from 12 years to over 30. And by chance, there’s a need to replace the head, it’s in accordance of the wishes of the person wielding most power. Democratic elections….phoooey!

Later this year, India will host the Commonwealth Games, charter being to show the world that India is capable of hosting an Olympic game. The IOC led by oh so incompetent competent Suresh Kalmadi, will manage to ruin whatever little hope I have left. Leave the rampant corruption aside, he and his band of merry men have been running the show so poorly – stadiums are behind schedule and even tests runs are being shifted out of the host city, serving what purpose I don’t know.

One of things on my bucket list has been to attend the Olympic games in person. I had hoped that this would be in India. I am not optimistic that I’ll ever see this dream come true. I hope I’m wrong, will just have to wait and watch, and hope that the idiots are kicked out and a competent bunch of people take over the IOC.