Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A multidimensional education system in India – Need of the hour

Educational reform in India has remained one of the oft spoken about topics ever since independence. However, much of the debate has always been centered on topics which have high relevance in the political circles, such as, bringing more children to schools and on reservations of various kinds. Amidst these debates, one very important issue has remained in the sidelines for a long time; the predominantly single dimensional nature of our education system.

It has become an accepted fact that the students in India lack choices, a fact that the student community has resigned itself to. Not many students pause to think about their career when they complete their higher secondary. It has almost become a natural choice that people with good marks choose between the professional courses of Medicine and Engineering and the students with not so good marks choose the less rewarding Arts/Commerce stream. In essence, the marks and the available choices determine a student’s career rather than his/her passion.

The impact of this saddening situation will be clearly visible in the years to come. This prevalent lack of choices has created an education system, which does not scale and is predominantly single dimensional. It is a pity to see a country of such multidimensional talent, reduce itself to so few choices. The rewards for choosing the road less travelled by are too few and far between.

This scenario has significantly narrowed down the mindset of the student right after their schooling. A person with high grades along with an interest in fine arts or a penchant towards a bachelor’s in management is really not allowed to follow his heart due to monetary as well as societal pressures. The result is a large number of people, especially undergraduate students, pursuing something that they are not passionate about. The amount of career switches happening is increasing by the day in India. Let us look at one of the relatively recent survey results to understand what this is about.

A recent survey by EMA Partners International shows that 50% of Indian business leaders are from IIT’s and IIM’s. On close analysis of this data, 13% of the CEO’s in India have an IIT-IIM background, indicating a career switch. 16% of the CEO’s with IIT background are in financial services companies, while 5% are in management consulting. One has every reason to be skeptical about the role of the IIT education in the makeup of these leaders in financial services and management consulting. The fact that these figures throw light on is that a lot of people studying technology even from premier institutions are not working in technology after a while. Or in other words, students who did not have a vision towards a long term career in Technology took up to bachelors’ education in Technology.

I believe that this statistics can in part be explained by the ‘The best minds get into IIT’s’ mindset that we Indians have developed and sustained for a long time now. An excellent student invariably thinks of getting into the IIT’s even without proper introspection of whether his heart lies in technology.

The avenues available for a student to pursue bachelors in Management are far less compared to those available in the technology domain. Even the IIM’s aren’t providing undergrad courses in Management. The care and efforts taken to build undergrad engineering institutes of repute is clearly missing in the other streams of education. The benefits of such an effort go much beyond what is visible. It will enable students to pursue what they really like. One can be sure that there will be a lot of takers for Bachelors courses in Management if reputed institutes like the IIM’s offer them. And it will also ease up the pressure on the technology institutions created by ‘The best minds get into IIT’s’ mindset, mentioned previously, that has already crept into our subconscious mind.

The illustrations I have used on Management education is only a tip of the iceberg, and when extrapolated will remain true to almost all spheres of education in India. In a lot of foreign countries, it is not uncommon to see someone with a high degree of expertise in fine arts, without any great academic record pursuing an MBA from a reputed institute, and earning the respect for his/her personal identity. It is common knowledge that such a scenario would be highly unlikely in India. Our academic orientation is too high that we seldom respect people with high industry experience, individuality and expertise in their own domain.

This alarming situation has to change and change soon, if we have to take advantage of our demographic dividend, which illustrious industry people like Nandan Nilekani have been highlighting for a while now. The demographic dividend generally occurs once in the life time of a country and the aspirations of a large number of children along with that of the country is at stake. We are in dire need of a multidimensional education system. We can’t afford to keep producing more and more engineers and rely on IT services alone for our growth anymore. It is high time for the government and NGO’s to take significant steps in this direction for the betterment of India. The alarm bell is loud and clear!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On my way home

There are two kinds of people in Bengaluru: those who seek adventure trips and those who dare to drive relatively long distances inside the heart of the city. I am a part of the latter and how the adventure associated with the daily trips to office and back home is increasing day by day is appalling.

I don't know the global standards for time taken to cover a particular distance, however, in Bengaluru, it takes 1 hour to cover a distance of 15 kilometers. Mind you, this is the time taken in a two wheeler driven by a person who knows the in and out of the route. Based on the number of wheels in your vehicle, this time may increase by 50% or 100%. I had gotten used this fact long time ago and took it in my stride, consoling myself that the city is helping me develop the great virtue of patience. Slowly, but, steadily the city is pushing each of those who drive to the limits of this virtue.

I felt this so much just two days ago when i was driving back home. The first thing you hit when you come out of any office during the peak evening hours of around 6pm is traffic jam. Who invented this word in which country, i don't know, but, I can bet that the word is most used in this city. That you have a 2-wheeler will help you overcome this misery to a slight extent though. The footpaths in Bengaluru are usually as wide as the road itself. You can take it that the road is too small or footpath is too wide. Both of them would be true on a case by case basis. Fortunately, it s a common practice that two wheelers are allowed to climb up and drive on footpaths. How nice. A few bike rally like moves and you are ahead of some 50 cars, auto rickshaws and buses. First hurdle overcome, hurrah!!

Because the people are battling this traffic jam, the next 200-500 meters after the next turn would usually be free. So you step up the speed to 100kmph and there you go. A big pothole right in the center of an otherwise 'o.k' road. Depending on how lucky you are the size of the pothole might vary from small to the ones which can cover half of your front wheel. Only the extra money you paid for few extra cc's in your bike's engine will help you lift your bike if you hit one of those. You then proceed thanking god for buying 180cc bike and not 150cc.

Then comes the real test of patience, the traffic jams could be overcome by some stunts, but, the trick wont work with signals. When i say, signals don't think of those green, red and yellow lights that your primary school teacher taught you. In Bengaluru terms, this means a cop standing in the middle of the road and allowing people to go in the directions purely based on his whims and fancies. Some times he keeps sending traffic in only one direction for 10 minutes that you just have to stand, stare and honk. Not that the automatic signals are any better. You ll have to endure three green signals in your direction to come near the stop line.

In all this process you have a laptop that you hang one sided over your shoulder falling either sides depending on the stunt you are performing at that point. After an hour of drive, you d realize that you haven't taken a single proper deep breath. That could be because someone is burning some waste stuff on the sidewalk, or the autorickshaw before you emanates too black an exhaust in too huge a quantity. In Aravind adiga terms, the smoke, smog, powder and cement dust just wont let you take a single deep breath and you ll be deprived of oxygen for sure when you reach home.

Some of this might seem overly exaggerated. I promise you, it is not. Every single thing that i have said is truly based on my personal experience and i ll defend to death the truth of this scenario. Where this city is heading, i have no idea! They keep constructing flyovers just to shift the jam from one junction to the next and in the process add to the smog and cement dust which is already not short out here! God save us and the city!

Monday, February 23, 2009

India's vicarious joy

The whole of india is in a vicarious joy and more so for the 6 crore people hailing from TamilNadu. If someone told me that I would listen to Tamil on the podium of the 81st Academic awards 5 years ago, i would have asked "Are you out of your mind?". I am quite a liberal when it comes to views pertaining to land/origin and the like. I am a true admirer of globalization. It pisses me off when TN and Karnataka leaders say they fight each other for people's cause and stuff. Arent they supposed to settle these issues amicably, helping people of both states. But, there are some moments when your patriotism, sense of belonging to your place of origin, takes you over.

I did not watch ARR receive the award live, but, when i heard that he spoke both Tamil and Hindi there, it gave me goosebumps right away. I have watched it over a dozen times now though. A sense of belonging overtook me. I felt proud for being an Indian and that too a Tamilian, or, should i say Thamizhian. Lot of people, me included, tell the word Tamil itself in an accent the westerner appreciates. But, when i heard ARR say, Thamizh, in the right way it should be said, i felt a sense of guilt for using an accented tone when mentioning my language to a westerner.

It is indeed a great moment for the whole nation. Getting recognition in a foreign nation having different sensibilities is truly a moment to cherish. After all, Russel crowe or Brad pitt or Angelina jolie or Julia roberts, havent got Indian National awards or I doubt if they have got any British awards too. One Indian, has crossed all sensibility barriers and come out on Top.

In the midst of all this euphoria, i couldn't help but notice some people still talking about poverty porn, why this movie needed to be done by a foreigner and stuff. I can only pity them. If it was made by an Indian, for sure it would be catered to the local audience, shot in Hindi and it would never have made the impact it has made.

What makes that man even great is that he still remembers his roots and is as humble as anyone can be. I am proud of whatever he has done and I am sure he would leave an indelible mark in the world of Music surpassing anyone who is a legend thus far. One sad thing amidst all this is that we are gonna miss him even more often in Tamil music after this.

Pity him, even he has only 24 hrs a day and 7 days a week!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Musing on SDM

Let me start this blog with a note that this is not a movie review. However, if you find traces of review stuff, empathize with me, after all it is a film that this piece of prose is based on :) I liked this movie quite a bit, except that i wished, i had watched the Hindi version of the film instead of the English one. Roadside beggars of Mumbai speaking in accented English was a little unpalatable for me, personally!!

I happened to watch Slumdog Millionaire quite a while back and since then this post has been lingering in my mind. How can i not write about something that the whole of india, or at least the shining part of india, has indentified with. The other part, not so shining india, does not buy moser baer dvd's or drop by multiplexes to have identified with the movie. So, we, the relatively rich people have to testify on the behalf of the poor of the country, whether this is a realisitic depiction of their poverty. Doesn't that say quite a bit about the status quo here?

My musing is not about the film per se, but few of the prominent incidents in the movie which say quite a few things about the society. First of all, the film is based on the reality show, KBC. What is great about that show? How did it revolutionize the market for reality shows in India? Is it worth it? Secondly, the portrayal of the begging racket. This part hits you hard, especially if you happened to watch "Naan kadavul (tamil)" the following day, like i did!! pity me. Thirdly, about the strange coincidences any arguably great film seems to have.

First things first. The reality quiz shows, are they really a measure of the persons intellectual capability? Happened to read an open page article in 'The Hindu' which made my views on this stronger. I have never liked quizzing much. But, if you are an avid quizzer, read on only if you could take a little criticism. The film portrays how this chai wala, is able to reach till the final question just based on some loose facts, trivia, which he has acquired, by chance! Such a nice depiction.

In India, there is always an over emphasis on factual knowledge. Heard that even in civil services examinations, they ask questions related to the height of Miss India 2007 in cms? My god!! How could such mugging up of crass facts make one intelligent. I ve seen examination papers, MBA entrance examination papers, from highly popular institutions having a section called General Awareness, where they ask "what s the currency of Somalia?" How does that gauge my talent? Quiz has often been a thing used to boost up an otherwise uninteresting resume (this sentence is borrowed from that open page article) as it is considered a measure of one's intelligence. How does remembering loose facts, trivia, and the ability to retain them make one intelligent? Instead of questions like, 'When was Tashkent agreement signed?', shouldn't we be asking 'what is the significance of TA in India's foreign policy?'? Giving 4 choices and then allowing use of 50-50 option and then answering a 'when' question is no measure of a person's talent according to me.

Second thing, about the begging racket. 'Naan kadavul (Tamil)' was the most crude depiction of this racket, which i saw the next day after SDM. But, isn't somebody watching? The government officials. Shouldn't they be doing something about this kind of begging rackets? Just wondering!!

Third, about coincidences!! This film like many acclaimed films has a lot of coincidences too hard to believe. Starting from the beggar friend of the lead actor recognizing him after years instantaneously and his brother doing so over phone et al. Could somebody do something like that in real life?

How can i write about SDM and not say a word about ARR, the mozart from Chennai. He has done better works than this, but, this is just a platform for him to get through to the world which should have recognized him long back. Hope he brings home a few oscars too!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is india in need of moral policing?

After a long break from blogging, here s something that forced me to sit down and write something. This is being debated over and over for the past week or so. Moral policers, this is what the attackers call themselves to be. I have been hearing a gamut of views about these mangalore attacks spanning the entire spectrum from utter conservatism to complete liberalisation. I am not here to give a solution to the problem, but, to try and understand where the society stands with respect to this whole problem.

Most people, me included, when faced with this question come up with the most politically correct answer and say this is completely wrong. "We live in a democracy where people have the right to live as they please, to have alcohol or not, or to have them at pub or at home is an individual's domain. Who is this guy to interfere with that?", is the response that comes out almost spontaneously. This reaction to this incident will be completely justified although this kind of argument has it s own flaws. If people in a democracy want to consume 'cocaine', are we allowing it?

But, The people of sena, or for that matter, any organization or person, has no right to ask the people of this country to be as to be as they want them to be. It s the people's behavior that defines the culture and not the other way around, right?

So, can we conclude that this is just an aberration and ignore these events as signifying nothing? I dont think so. I have been able to observe a silent majority support for the sena activists with the people i have interacted with in the past week, in person and in sites like orkut. A deeper questioning of my own values and beliefs also suggest that this agitation is not completely unjustified.

Isn't there a prevailing situation in India which needs to be addressed? Dont we need to preserve our culture? Is stopping people from consuming alcohol in pub's, the way to conserve our culture and values? The immediate answer would be "Hell! No". Haven't men been whooping it up through out the course of history, what s the matter now? If you are targeting women only, isn't this male chauvenism? Dont women have the right to drink in a democracy!! Let me talk more about this on a relevant discussion in a detailed manner!! for now i am keeping the discussion to general culture preservation ignoring the male chauvenism part.

The alcohol consumption has nothing to do with the culture, let s say. What s been the basis of our culture? Honesty, bravery, respect for elders, abstinence from vices, especially in front of elders etc.., People have been consuming alcohol through out the course of history (from the days of soma banam..). But, indulging in liquor in a, so called, social manner has never been prevalent in India. People have always been consuming alcohol, but it has always been a forbidden fruit meant to be enjoyed with a sense of guilt. It has slowly started to become a part of social culture very recently.

Offices, IT companies, organize parties with beer these days where the subordinate and the manager sit and drink side by side. There aren't you breaking some tradition (abstinence from vices, esp in front of elders). Two generations ago children barely opened their mouth before their father. Wont it affect us, if there comes a day when father and son sit and have a drink side by side? Aren't we breaking the hierarchical, respect based society?

Every situation has a flip side and i am not telling these are entirely bad either. Going by our tradition, elders got respect just because they were elders. This culture manifested itself and is still very much prevalent in government offices etc.., where seniority is the only criterion. With this addressing by first name culture, i get to know the person much more and respect the person for what he/she is and not for his/her seniority. In spite of these explanations, every race/country should preserve it s roots. There is a uniqueness in every race and religion which has helped in the evolution of mankind and that has to be conserved.

Hence, there is indeed a need to reiterate the values of our society. The manner in which this is being done is wrong, as accepted by the respective organization itself.

( be continued)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Social Net'weakening?

It was a few days before that google announced it s database of most searched celebs, phrases etc.., and i was watching a news item on how Katrina Kaif was the most searched celeb. Well, you many think, "what a useless stuff to do?" Everything we do in life need not have a meaning, rite? I was indulging myself in one of those futile act's, whiling away my time, when i happened to hear a sociologist talk about how orkut and facebook have penetrated in to the life of the youth.

A pang of conscience struck me and I started thinking about what has become a part of today's youth's daily vocabulary, social networking. I sometimes feel amazed at the amount of time people (me included) give to their social networking site's . It has become so much of a routine that you feel uncomfortable if you havent checked your orkut profile for 2 days. It would not be acceptable to me to restrict this piece of prose to social networking web site's. All the modern day gadgets, 3G mobile's, even TV's which people have accepted to be part of their life's should also be within the purview of this discussion. I better make it clear that we are not into a 'technology is good or bad' discussion.

The question which made me ponder was whether we were getting more and more into the virtual world of internet that the real world relation's aren't accorded with the time they ought to get.

I am one of those lucky few, staying with relatives in workplace as a bachelor and therefore, enjoying home food. But, I ve visited a few bachelor den's. And the most common scene would be something like what i shall describe below:

A house shared by 4 close friends, one guy sitting in a corner browsing orkut/facebook, another guy probably sleeping or lying under the blanket sms'ing someone, 3 rd guy watching a movie with headphones on and the last one, in another far corner preparing for an impending competitive exam, checking out university info on the net. Where is the interaction here? There is interaction in all the places, but, with people who are everywhere but right near them.

These days, everyone seems to prefer blogging their thoughts into the net to sharing it with the person sitting right next to him/her. I have been a victim of this myself at college, where SMS'ing was a rage. It was a time when people wouldn't get sleep if they dint complete the 100 sms quota of that day :) A person not roaming around sms'ing was considered an outlaw :) When walking with 2 of your friends, you walk sms'ing a 3rd friend and when he also joins you in person, talk to the three of them while sms'ing a 4th person. :) Thank god, i realised what i was doing and now i have a plan in which sms costs 1 re while call costs 50p :)

Even in home's most of the interaction is about the TV serial episode that one of them missed due to some other activity or a fight for viewing their favorite program. Hasn't our sub conscious mind adopted it as being natural? I wasn't a big fan of cutting 'cable TV' (atleast that's what they call it in my small town) when it was a fashion for parent's to do that when their child got nearer to board exams. I also couldn't help but be a vitim of that phenomenon when i was near class 10 board exams, for around 2 months. It was the time when sting operation was making big news. Sure, i missed all that excitement. But, i must admit, it was indeed good. We got a lot of time for each other in the family and after some time, it wasn't actually difficult.

My college life was beautiful mainly due to the hostel life and I would attribute the success of our hostel life, partly, to the lack of TV and Internet in the hostel. Had those been there, the amount of time we took to develop our bond's would have been surely eaten away by Jodi No1, crorepati, orkut and other website's I dare mention in my personal blog :)

Coming back to the scene of thought, the sociologist attributed the increased access of virtual internet world to the lack of bonding in the real world. I am not here to attest her claim, I am merely trying to correlate her views with my observations. It s good to share our thoughts on the web and reaching out to the world, but, we must also take care to see that we don't neglect our real world relations. If we realize this and take time to switch off our laptop's, TV's, Mobiles every now and then and sit and talk with those, whom we live with, don't u think the world would be a much more beautiful place?

Monday, December 8, 2008

The english word 'politics'

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of political interviews and debates and that is probably why i had to think about this word. I got so bemused at the usage of this word in the recent past that i went up to the dictionary to look at what this meant and it read thus:

Looking at this defenition, it din't appear to me, for even a sec, that it has such a negative connotation to it. After the mumbai attacks, almost all of the politician's interviewed faced a question like "Don't you think politics should be kept out of an attack like this and treat this as a national crisis?" and what appalled me was the fact that most of them responded in affirmative stating clearly, "We should not be doing politics in this hour of crisis".

Wait a minute. The word politics is not such a derogatory one after all. The interviewer tells him that this is a national crisis and aren't politician's supposed to act in such a situation? If politics is to be kept out of a national crisis situation then when is the time for politics to function?

In India, we have become so used to seeing a lot of politician's being under a cloud that an earnest politician is looked upon as a 8th wonder, all right. So, I dint mind when they say "Arasiyal pannadha.." in Tamil. But, English, In spite of being such a widely spoken language and in spite of being the language of developed countries like the UK and the US, has attributed such a negative connotation to that word.

So, does that imply politicians all over the world have become so defiled that all the languages have adapted themselves?

Is it the same case with other languages such as german, french etc.., too? If that is the case, how is it that the people who govern us, proudly call themselves politicians? Shouldn't they be trying to change the negative connotation that the word has gained? Or, if it is too difficult to change, look at coining a new term for themselves, like say, 'regulatitian', 'governatitian' etc.., If you feel my choices are bad, feel free to coin your own terms :)

On a more serious note, where are we heading? If all of us have accepted and have resigned to the fact that politics is such a derogatory term that we alter the language to reflect the situation, there is indeed a serious problem ahead. After all, democracy is the only sensible choice we have!!

Just a thought to ponder upon :)