Friday, July 1, 2011

Education System in India

Education system has taken the turn for the worse, and you may refute me here and say that it has “always been like that, so what’s worse?” It has always been like that, but in the present scenario it has lost its context and the result for all to see. Indian education system needs refurbishing, but not before we understand where it lacks. And when I talk about the “Indian Education system” I am essentially referring to the national boards and higher education centers in India. ‘Madrasas’ and other indigenous forms of education have not been included here.

Let’s talk about the CBSE examination, one of the most important educational boards of India for class X, XII examinations. In this examination, Kapil Sibal has introduced an option for students to take it or opt for the grading system instead. This was introduced due to the rising suicide rate amongst students because of bad results. He wanted to ease the examination pressure on the students. However, I ask, “What will happen to these very students when they don't succeed in their corporate lives in future? When they won't be able to take the pressures of highly competitive entrance examinations like JEE, AIMS, CAT and the Civil services?” The point I am trying to make is, if they don’t receive enough training to deal with tough situations early, statistically significant number of them are going to falter for the first time they face them. Hence, instead of gearing them up for the hard future, you are giving them more time to relax!
Better way to go about solving this problem of depression and suicide of young students would be to not pressurize them with expectations. The parents should understand their kids’ strengths and weaknesses are and let them perform accordingly in exams. One should try to motivate them rather push them to do things. Parents should relieve the pressure of expectations from their child than expect the ministry to make the test simple. The HRD ministry, in trying to listen to parents, has simply solved the problem in the wrong way.

One of the arguments to support this grading policy is, "it works in the U.S". Now, that’s just naive. First, if the solution works in the west, it’s mostly not going to work here because it’s a social problem and not a technical one. Metals/Non metals have known behavior, humans don't. For the same stimulus ten people will react in ten different ways. So, please don't give that reply.
Also, you need to bring the society at the same level as that of the west in terms of standard of living before you start using the policies that are made for them. Simply, we are not at the same platform and HRD should take this into account.

Secondly, the average American is not all that smart. He gets good money, lives a good life because there are decent arrangements made by his government. Don't mistake it for the effort one has to put in to have the same living standard in India. Thirdly, their education system has flaws (like the level of hardness of tests and the kind of questions asked in the same grade in different states) which they have recently discovered and are finding difficult to resolve.

Most of the students would like to not take the examination to get away from stress. Isn't it? Grading is not a very good idea to be implemented when the number of students scales to millions! It’s ridiculous to give the student who is really well the same grade as the students who just makes into that bracket. There is no room for a student to show he is different, even if it’s for 2% he scores. This frustrates the people in the lower bracket of grades as they are unable to judge themselves; also the system has also given them something which is hard to quantify in terms their ability which has even bigger consequences for them, although not as drastic as suicides, which are immediate. If this grading works in the IITs or other reputed institutes in India, it works because the students have already gone through one competitive examination assumed to have certain guarantees on the level of understanding they have regarding that field.

Here, you cannot guarantee anything common in the levels of understanding of a student from college X and Y in Tamil Nadu and Bihar taking their boards examination; it’s contextual depending on the region. Also, one should understand we are not talking about bright students; we are talking about students who are average and even below average.

The schemes that have been implemented on the education system should be fool proof and should take into consideration Indian society and its many nuances. Else rickety schemes like the grading system will just produce confused students who will add to the current mediocrity of the country.

Education in villages has deteriorated too. One of the news bytes shows how teachers in villages don't even know the spelling of "Saturday"; Sibbal does not even bother to improve the standards of teachers in villages. There is not much wrong with the teacher in the news (link), but there is a lot of which is wrong with the teacher training institution. If there is one teacher like that, it indicates that there are hundreds other like that. Sibal should make sure the quality of teachers coming out of these training institutes meets at least Indian standards, if not international ones. But does he even have a clue that this matters in the building of a good education system? I doubt.

The HRD ministers seem to be the political pawn of the ruling party. Arjun Singh introduced OBC quota in IITs somehow before he died/was thrown out of power without thinking that the number of seats need to be increased as a whole and not for a section of society! Again a lame decision coming from a group of ministers; the people revolted and thankfully the number of seats was increased. Now, is it a good decision? Yes it is. To have 2500 IITians from a population of 1.3 billion today and around the same number 20 years back does not make sense. Surely, there is a lot of talent IITs might have missed because of the sheer shortage of the number of seats where they can admit students. But the way, this was brought about as a political agenda to get votes from the backward communities was wrong. Apart from the people who make good living, most of the backwards in villages would not even know how will it help them. We as IITians know how difficult it has been for IITs to be managing such a change instantly with lack of enough faculty members to actually give attention to all the students. The HRD does not give enough grants to make the laboratories, hostels etc. All they want is that the students should get an admission in IIT. The IITs are going to get dilute, and there is a lot we have to do to save it. IITs are asking the alumni base for funds to help them with this situation and they are helping. But it’s high time, Government should give a thought on giving money in figures in which their scams run into. If they do it once, they won't be required to do it again (I will talk about scams in India some other time).

Sadly, again they forgot the meaning of education. A stamp that certain X is an IITian is not going to make him a super human. There are certain resources they have to be given, certain training and motivation which HRD ministry cannot. When the IIT Directors question them, they turn deaf. They give orders instead of making things smooth. If the HRD is not going to build a bridge between the society and teachers who have given excellent education to the students in the past, then there purpose is not served. Fifteen IITs! Come on, you had a hard time sustaining the original 5 of them. IITs is not just a place you go for an education, it is a culture, where students are true to their teachers, have ethics, that’s why it’s a "brand". There is a certain trust involved when you take an IIT student in your firm or in any other institution which is similar to a product which you chose, like a computer from IBM or a Mercedes Benz. You need to look for teachers who can give that, which is different from getting teachers with degrees. I guess politicians never met those kinds of teachers, which is why they are what they are today!

Sometime back, one of my uncles asked me about what’s going to be the future of India with so many BTechs being produced from so many colleges? Surely, this is one thing to really think about! Everyone wants to become Engineer without having a clue what it is. Classic case of IIT
JEE 2011, AIR - 1 is to become an IAS after graduating from IIT Bombay!! What a waste.

The other students in engineering colleges, not all of them but considerable percentages don’t have a clue on what they are doing, just that they need to get grades in the mid terms and final term examinations. They think the curriculums they are following are going to make them an engineer? Even the curriculum at IITs is not up to date. Students make personal efforts to know things outside of their text books. Recently in 2007, a committee took feedback from IIT Madras on the changes the students want to make in the curriculum and our then faculty advisor asked the batch mates to give comments. A report was made but they have failed to give a response till now! I am sure the same happened in other IITs too. I wish if I can ask Kapil Sibbal on what he did on this front? I think everyone will agree, Nothing!
Besides this, coming back to the thing I was talking about, I think students should take education seriously once they are into any college. Why doesn't Sibal make committees of retired professors from all the IITs and let them take on the challenge of making policies for educating India clubbing them with the teachers from other leading institutes who deal with sociology? Is it so hard for him to think...Indeed, it is.

Definitely, the society we are going to have in coming decades will be more logical than the present as people will be able to understand and comprehend better because of the increased involvement of science in everyday lives. Given that, the society might just become one-dimensional, as all of them will think alike. People might not be "creative" in the real sense. That’s just my point of view but I hope people who get into Maths stream in class X might be better off by doing something in Arts if they like Arts and excel in it than get into so many of colleges and become programmers in one of the IT companies in India. We need people who can write good prose, who can appreciate nature on their canvas, people who can talk about history and science at the same time; people who can understand other people without a selfish motive. We don't need so many engineers and if we have, they better start making goods as cheap as Chinese to make themselves count. Even if they do Bachelors in Arts, they should make it count to contribute in someway to society and their family by simply the variety of their degree in a different field and give alternate points of view.

Recently, President Kalam visited IIT Madras and spoke about his vision of 2020 and the things he wishes for India. For those to come true, one needs to educate India... the millions of socially/economically deprived kids who usually don’t go to school because there parents aren't well to do or are not enough motivated to teach them need to be sent to school. There is not much to do giving people space at the top when there won't be students who have done their primary and junior schooling properly. For all this our HRD ministry has to do much more work at the ground level much like the way their political parties do, than talk to media all the time and not even implement that properly.