Thursday, January 26, 2012

Education in India - Is someone Listening?

 (The following article was originally written for The Forthright )

A lot has been written about the system of education in this country. A number of questions have been raised like- are we doing the right things for progress, is our research output anywhere near comparable to other nations and why in the world does a country of more than a billion people fail to produce enough Nobel laureates. 
So, before I proceed any further let me tell you that this is in no way intended to provide magical answers to the questions posed.    

A couple of weeks back the results of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey were out and there was much hullabaloo all over. The reason – out of the 74 economies that had participated in the survey (which compares the quality of education in these participating economies) India was placed second from last, only ahead of Kyrgyzstan. The results were appalling to many- probably from the fact that the system of education in the country has been considered to be one of the most rigorous and we have even seen people like Mr.Obama mentioning that he fears that the Indian and Chinese students may capture all the jobs- but for those who have been continuously lamenting about how pathetic the system is, it came as no surprise, only that the results made their point more evident, along with the right facts and statistics.   

It is impossible to disbelieve all that was out especially considering the fact that this is a country where education just means passing examinations and earning degree certificates which in turn has shown a steady tolerance to the problem of rote learning. You could easily get away by-hearting those formulas, math exams can be cracked remembering the right steps and for all that we just need memory. There is nothing for us to point fingers at the student here, they just can’t be blamed for, that’s the way it is and we have been trained to do it left, right and centre. 
So it doesn’t come as a surprise when a survey which was done in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu shows the students, in the primary, in very poor light. Only 17% of students, in Tamil Nadu, were estimated to possess proficiency in reading that is at or above the baseline. And in Himachal Pradesh, this was 11%. The PISA study also found that only 12% of students in Himachal Pradesh and 15% in Tamil Nadu were proficient in mathematics. Put it without any statistics and according to the survey, not even half of the children, 15 years of age, could perform basic arithmetic or basic reading – something which brings in a lot of concern especially driven from the fact that the two states being talked about here, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, have always been on the right side of development and have been considered among those progressive states in the country.

Although one could easily shy away from the facts saying that most countries considered, as a part of the survey, are either developed economies or small countries with a history of quality education, it is a reality that the system has failed to provide what it is supposed to – the quality. In fact, we are still in a state where only a meager percentage of the population, usually the urban middle class and upper castes, have access to good schools and teachers and it would be no exaggeration to say that majority of our children, especially on the rural side, are either employed as laborers or found in those schools which lack teachers and are devoid of those basic resources and facilities, including access to books. It’s sad that this is the case but this is quite the reality and the need of the hour is to really reduce the disparity for, we can’t really be serious about economic development with just including the fortunate sections. It has to be with the inclusion of the all the people and for that education is the real key. 

Increasing enrollment is a major task. It is indeed wonderful that the mid day meal scheme and the Right to Education Act have actually achieved that to an extent, but the real dilemma really lies on what constitutes education. Is it a mere ability to write one’s name or is it something more than that- to actually go out into the real-world?
The RTE and the mid day meal scheme maybe buzzwords, but the real truth is that we can’t just stop with these laws alone, we just cannot afford to have children in schools just because they have been provided a meal or the law, through the RTE, makes it mandatory for them to be there. Not that these aren’t important. Yes, the mid day meal scheme is important, the RIGHT TO EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT, but equally important is THE RIGHT EDUCATION and we just have to find ways and means to ensure this quality for I certainly don't think we would want the world to see us as 'Bharat Drowning'. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

It’s not often that I sit down to watch a movie alone.  Blame it on my patience or my short attention span but rarely do I sit through one when alone for, I often end up sleeping (something on which I’m working, trying to improve ;) ) . Always it’s either with mom or a couple of friends and most times its Malayalam when in the former case. So, as a part of the improvement process, I had decided to see this – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. A lot had been said about the movie, reviews I read described it as ‘awesome’, there were incessant referrals to this movie in a couple news debates and some people had even suggested it to me telling it’s a ‘must see’. 
I finally saw it a couple of days back and I must say it could easily be in my list of ‘most liked movies’. A very light hearted movie with probably the best message – ‘to live life to the fullest'. I  watched it again today and I should say that the movie is just too refreshing and somewhere deep inside it's bound to have an influence on you as a person.

I didn't mean this to be some sort of a review (there are enough ones all over) but just a gentle reminder that in case any of you haven’t watched it, you must. I can bet you will LIKE IT.

Just too good.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hours of mall hopping and later

The last time I had been there it definitely resembled a book store. One of my most preferred places, whenever I visited the mall, I always ended up here waiting for mom to finish off her business. It was the case this time too. I visited the place first for, I always liked the sight of books stacked up, all kept in an organized and neat fashion. Although I wouldn’t count myself among those voracious readers, in fact I read very little, at the least I would at least take a look at the cover, read those last few pages, arrive at a judgment and leave it there. But this time around with more Ra One CDs’ than books on display it looked more like a marketing office for the movie, with the only good thing- a stack of Deccan Chronicle newspapers placed on a table with a few chairs around. I instantly grabbed one, I had to for, I had a long time to while away at least till one of those shops where possibly struck from the list mom had in mind.

7 pages and a couple of scams later, something interesting happened. With anyone else, I could have probably guessed they were here to buy some birthday gift for their friends or probably here to spend the cash they had received for Christmas- New Year but with these 4 guys, 10-12 years of age or so, I was sure they weren’t here for either. Perhaps it was one of those moments when one would involuntarily end up thanking God for all he has given. With torn stained shirts and loose fitting trousers which were half their actual fit, they had walked in carrying exam pads on their hands and one of them carrying a red bag on his shoulders.  Well quite unsurprisingly they didn’t know the rule of keeping the baggage at the entrance and just as they entered the guard shooed them off to the baggage counter, with a belittling smile on his face. They were definitely a confused lot, they didn’t have much idea on what to do with their pads and after some talk with the person there they were convinced they could take that with them.

They tried their hand at some books, to begin with. I wasn’t sure if they knew English, but they took a few of them, turned the pages probably searching for some pictures, but not for long. They quickly left it there probably discouraged by the endless  lines of text and the lack of any graphic content.  Next to the accessories section where they were quite fascinated on seeing the headphones. I saw them talking to the salesman for a while, probably they enquired its price and then they were off to the Audio/Video CD section. There were curious eyes following them everywhere, a few of them puzzled and a few others with a sheepish smile on their faces.  There weren’t many Tamil CD’s on display, they spent a long time seeing those Ra One disks and few other music CD’s. And finally there was a one hard look at Aishwarya Rai on the Dhoom 2 disk, exchange of a few giggles between them and in a flash they were at the baggage counter, probably unable to withstand those spurious eyes any longer or maybe they had just seen that kid, of the same age as theirs, who was fighting with his dad for a book in the young readers section.

And just as I turned back to the newspaper, quite ironically there was Sonam Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra with their respective New Year resolutions. I wasn’t keen on reading the newspaper any further for, the next page was the horoscopes and I didn’t need any reassurance for the week ahead. I was sure it would be good- no exams, no college, a possible meet-up with a few school buddies and loads of sleep- ideal  as far I’m concerned.  Moments later, I saw a hand wave from the entrance. I knew it was mom and as desired I didn’t wait to finish the newspaper. And as I walked out I wasn’t sure where I was heading to next. For sure it had to be to one of those curses of the multi-brand retail in this country or what I call as a ‘Husband-Hate Store (HHS) ’, ; but then I didn’t bother much for, all it took, for an HHS, to please me was a couch at the corner of their store- to comfortably place my ass, to take those occasional glances at the rare single ones that passed by and to feel pity at  all those cool dud(e)’s who languished around seeing their  bank balances getting sucked - while on the other side, the never ending search for the perfect salwar continued.

And at the end of it, maybe there was a small realization that after all, all these malls weren’t just a mere reflection of how brand conscious the urban Indian had become. In some way they have also enabled those kids, like the ones I saw in the book store, to see a world away from their grungy homes and to dream of a time when they wouldn’t be looked upon as they were.
 But aside that, after what was nearly three and a half hours of mall hopping, quite expectedly, there was nothing much that had been achieved except for a few cramped muscles and  that ‘only 60% satisfied’ look on Mom’s face.   


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rushing through

It been some time since I have written something here. With the semester coming to an end, it’s the usual rushing up of things – half a dozen projects to complete with deadlines nearing, dozens of assignments pending, lab records to be made and on top of that tons and tons to scramble into this little head. Well of course I know there is no point complaining but me being me I do. In fact I complain a lot, I curse everyone in the process – the college, the system, the professors and myself too, for being complacent all this while. And when it comes to the end of a semester there is  this familiar thought that always crosses my mind – maybe I should have listened in those classes, maybe I should have written some notes and  maybe I should have thought about doing those projects much earlier just to avoid this last minute rush.
Yes, I’m running, like behind a train, a lot of things to catch up and I keep muttering all my way.  A week to hell but more importantly two to heaven and I’m waiting. 

And I just created a meme (my first one) 

may God bless you and me

P.S:- Meanwhile I opened a flickr page a few days back and have uploaded a few photos. Please do have a look at them and put in your valuable suggestions. Will update them as soon as this drudgery called eksaams is done. Here is the link->

P.S. And in case you have reached this line I thank you for bearing me.