Saturday, November 12, 2011

How can we, in personal capacity, help reforming basic education in India?

Some time ago I suggested to giving importance to basic education, at primary and high school level to have better quality of scientists and other professionals. I also think, there is absolutely no point to waste public money in setting up (mostly) useless new, “elite” institutes at this time. It will surely provide employment for some but will not bring much positive change in the quality or productivity of Indian higher education and research. Quantity does not guarantee quality unless there is the desire and transparency in the motivation

Initially I used to be optimistic about Non Governmental Organization, NGO (non-profit organization- as popularly known in the USA) operated or promoted schools. Later I realized that majority of such NGOs are equally corrupt and counter productive for our national interest, operated within and/or outside the country. India has the largest number of NGOs in the world (3.3 million registered ones, as in 2009, with many more unregistered) with more than 20 million employees, mostly unpaid or under-paid volunteers- nicely exploited for their temporary infatuation (for majority), some fashion and few passion (besides the usual compulsion to have a job and/or experience, applicable to any other sector). It is alleged that more than 90% of Indian NGOs are corrupt. Many big business houses, politician or political party affiliated organizations, individual entrepreneurs and even organized crime syndicates start NGOs for various reasons- starting from acting as "pressure groups" (lobby) to promote a product or technology or public policy that benefit it, to money laundering and human trafficking. Indian government is the biggest donor (Rs 18,000 crore in the XI plan), followed by foreign contributors (worth around Rs 10,000 crore in 2007-08). Around Rs 2,000 crore was donated to established religious bodies such as the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. Lately individual donors are emerging as the biggest and most lucrative source of funds (1).  

In short, motivation for majority of Indian NGOs boils down to profiteering and tax incentives, not only from that specific venture but also for other organizations owned by the same company or individual than dedication towards any social or national cause. Due to that overwhelming majority, few dedicated NGOs also lose credibility and that affect its financial prospect. Almost none of those NGO operated/promoted schools have any idea about education, leave alone its desire or ability. It is just another business as usual. Many political and business heavyweights in India now have schools, colleges and even universities that are pathetic in quality and motivation, nonetheless doing roaring business. It is because majority parents have no idea about education either and few, who have, do not have any desire, rather able to gather the courage, to groom their children as “educated”.

The few honest efforts to run schools suffer not only from resource crunch but also are confused if they should continue that effort. The students from such schools do not do very well in competitive exams and job market, as compared to rot memorization and coaching based kids and/or kids in cities from affluent families. Gradually such schools lose its sheen among parents, particularly among those parents who can pay, and become establishments for less-privileged kids who have no better option). Mostly run by few benevolent, reasonably honest donors and government handouts. Dependence on government fund ruin its independence, attract political interference that ultimately destroy its purpose. Most of the time the institution dies with the death of the patron, who established the school. Then local mafia or political leaders become its president  or sectary and party cadres become the teachers and administrators. 

One patron of such a school once jokingly told me  that, "I need to open my own industry to recruit the students from my school". His next statement was more serious, "not many organizations, public or private, prefer to recruit our students. Even the most brilliant and dedicated ones are forced to go away (from our island) and do petty clerical job. That too if s/he is fortunate. Because we do not teach them how to score 100% marks, can not teach them to become 'street smart', speak fluent English to get the BPO jobs". Whatever the person might say, one can easily understand the impact of his school among local people, among the community. The community is economically poor but very clean (both personal hygiene and community-wise), disciplined, honest and, most surprisingly, none of them (I talked to) ever realized even the need to have a police station! They still have excellent sense of collective responsibility towards the community. Wealth distribution is more or less equal, no caste or religious division (so far I can witness), no crime whatsoever. They follow laws and ethics without any fear or force from any police. There was no police station in the whole island. Some might be illiterate, yet, collectively they are more educated and developed in every sense. Many will be surprised to know where I found that excellent community and the school! It was in one of the remote islands in Andaman, Rangat island, about 200 km away from the hustle and bustle of Port Blair. The community was established around mid 1950s, (mostly) by refugee Bengali community settled in Andaman after partition of India.

No, those local students never top UPSC exam or secured the top positions in any 'prestigious' joint entrance exam, probably never joined IISc or IIT or IIM type 'elite' institute or get any foreign scholarship/fellowship. They are not expected to get any either in foreseeable future. US and Europe are as alien to them as moon to many of us. There I got one of the best models of education and students I ever experienced anywhere in India. Probably we will lose that soon, as heavy flow of 'civilized' and 'educated' tourists, businessmen and bureaucrats started pouring in from outside- polluting that remote, (so far) peaceful and civilized part of India (2). Many of these 'outsiders' never learned the basic to respect other human beings particularly if they have darker skin, not to treat them as animals in a sanctuary. Many 'highly cultured and educated' tourists and 'outsiders' settled there go for thrill ride looking for the tribal people, just like African safari to see wild animals in Masai Mara. Local people are worried, but feel helpless. There I met one ex-army officer, an excellent gentleman, who settled there to enjoy both natural and human ("Insaaniyat"- as he described me) beauty. He was a very worried man too, but determined to continue to fight the losing battle. 

I realized that education and quality of school reflect mentality of local people and the  community. Just yesterday I met an young Indian couple in front of an Indian grocery store in a US city. They parked their car in a parking lot reserved for handicapped people. There was enough empty parking space but that handicapped one was the nearest to the shop they went. The car had a big "Ohio State University Alumni" sticker to advertise the owner's "education", but did not have the permit to use handicapped parking, which is legally binding all-time-display, to use such facility. When I suggested the couple not to misuse the facility, they started telling me how that is none of my business and suggested me to do whatever I feel like (in the typical irritating tone, prevalent in some parts of northern India)! Their "education" taught them that maintaining law and order is the responsibility of only police and government - common people "have no business" there. I was looking for an apology and simple assurance that they would not be doing it again. Instead their arrogance and defense to support their illegal activity prompted me reporting it to the police. The car had a booster seat at the back. I assume they have kid(s). What type of education the child like to get? Such people practically destroyed India and will contribute doing the same wherever they go- Andaman or USA, knowingly or unknowingly. 

If we ourselves are not honest, do not value ethics and morality, no law can force us to change that. No formal education or school can teach that. So long parents want to groom only “toppers” and desire to have some heavy-weight degrees for their kids that (they think) will allow them to earn more money and power, we will only have that type of “education” (rather lack of it).  We can reform education in India (or probably anywhere in the world) if you and me, as parents, give lessons of morality and ethics, teach our kids to respect and uphold honesty and justice by being their role model. Then only we will start producing world class scientists (and any other professionals) in that country. It is an individual effort first. If we succeed at home, then it makes sense to talk about systemic change in the society and government. 

Probably my long post will make no sense to many "educated" people and I apologize to them.

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