With Modi sarkar completing 2 years in office, I wondered to myself what would be befitting to write about on such an occasion. I was about to write about the Rishi Kapoor and Senior Bachchan controversies being played out in the media, but I felt this was too trivial a subject to talk about on such a day. After some thought, I felt that I should write about what I feel is the most important sector a nation can possibly have: education.
The biggest resource in India is people. I have always felt bad that India is not particularly rich in coal, oil or uranium, but the one thing we do have is people. And we must remember that ultimately people are what make all resources possible. Nothing is a resource until we know how to use it.
So, this is the biggest new announcement in the Indian education sector:
“The Union Cabinet which met today gave its ex post facto approval to amend The Institutes of Technology Act, 1961 for incorporation of new IITs at Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Palakkad (Kerala), Dharwar (Karnataka), Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), Goa, Jammu (Jammu and Kashmir) and conversion of Indian School of Mines (ISM), Dhanbad to an IIT under the law.”
Now I see the utility in having more IITs. We have a huge crop of millions of bright young minds springing up every year and providing them with a sound education is an enormous challenge. But can I go out on a limb and say that “creating more IITs by government order” is not a good solution?
First and foremost, the government simply wishing new IITs into existence by amending a law does not create new world class institutions by itself. Worse, it risks diluting the “IIT brand”, which is a truly powerful global brand. As such, I strongly feel that these new institutions should be created not as IITs at birth, but as “wannabe IITs”.
Let me explain. I mean that these new institutes should have a new name…like Indian Institute of Science and Technology (think of something)…with the possibility of being “upgraded to IITs” at a later stage. This upgradation would happen when the new institutes are able to reach a certain level in number and quality of faculty and most importantly research output. This could be assessed, for instance, every 3 years, with only a fixed number of institutions to be allowed for upgradation every year. For instance, out of these six new institutions, you could have a provision that not more than 2 can be upgraded to IITs within 6-8 years. This coveted IIT status would bring with it massive prestige and huge increases in funding. This would spark off tremendous competition between the institutes. As a deeply right wing person, I tend to think that the way to improve most things lies in higher competition.
On the other hand and this would be even more controversial…it should be possible…at least in theory to downgrade existing IITs if they screw up on their research output. To make it more interesting, whenever an existing IIT is downgraded, it opens up an extra IIT slot for someone else to fill 🙂 Imagine the condition of a downgraded ex-IIT, which would immediately set off an exodus of its best faculty and a massive loss of face. This fear should definitely set the cat among the pigeons 🙂 🙂
Of course, measures like this are hard to take for any government. Because it is much easier to give out feel good headlines like “6 new IITs”.
Of course, the problems of Indian education run much deeper. The first and foremost problem is to fix the “leaky pipeline” from primary education to college. The vast vast majority of Indian kids never have a chance to be in a decent primary schools, which is by far our biggest problem. This is a criminal waste of human resources, akin to Saudi Arabia deliberately setting fire to their own oil wells. The real reform cannot come from creating more IITs, but from better primary schools. On this front, government schools can only go so far. Teachers in most states are unmotivated, hired usually due to favoritism and fake degrees are an epidemic. We need BIG change.
We need the charter model of schooling, which is sweeping the US right now. Instead of opening up schools, the government attaches the money to each student. A charter school, which is a private institution, collects the money from the government for each student it admits. The key is that the charter schools all compete with each other to admit students and parents are completely free to pick the school they want. This model would be even more successful in India, where parents, no matter how uneducated themselves, understand the value of education. I believe that this is one of our greatest cultural advantages. Indians value education. We have a deep seated 5000 year old reverence for knowledge. This is a trait that I have found to be missing in America…where people in the “lower strata” often don’t seem to care about school as much. This is probably also a result of the complete breakdown of the American family at lower levels of the economic ladder, hastened by welfare policies that make it easier for a 16 year old American girl to knock out a couple of kids and go on public assistance rather than make something of herself by getting an education. Marriage is generally not an option because that would actually reduce welfare payments. No wonder that households like this, with single parents who dropped out of school at 15-16 and with kids from several fathers, don’t really understand the importance of education. Please note that this is not a moral opinion on personal sexual conduct or lifestyle choices of people, just an assessment of the perverse incentives created by the current American system.
Such a charter system may not be too far to achieve even in India. Take the midday meal scheme. The government has already partnered with private organizations like Akshay Patra to provide these meals rather than have the school cook the meals. Now all we must do is adopt the same model for the actual academics of the school as for the midday meals. In fact, under RTE, the government already has a model where private schools are paid by the state for each student they take. Now RTE has MASSIVE problems with the issue of minority institutions … in fact it is Sonia Gandhi’s prescription to finish off Hindu educational institutions (which deserves its own post). I am not praising RTE, just noting that the government has already in place a system of paying schools per student. It just needs to be expanded.
Well, thats just my 2 cents on Indian education. Of course the issue is vast and probably deserves a blog dedicated just to it… let me know what you folks think…I just thought that on the 2nd anniversary of the Modi government, I would talk about a difficult and heavy subject rather than some transient cable news media driven issue.
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PS: The last time I threw out a one-line guess on a risky topic, I won and Amma returned to power in TN. So, I am encouraged to make another. After watching Modi’s Saharanpur rally, I am making another: Rajnath is BJP’s CM face for Uttar Pradesh.