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Anirudha Dutta
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Exams, stress, parenting and demographic dividend

schoolThe Congress Vice President and PM-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi addressed the industry captains last week at a CII meet and spoke about the aspirations and dreams of the young. His party’s government passed the Right to Education Bill (RTE) and the three-year deadline for implementation ended on March 31st. As per the news coming out now, not much has happened by way of implementation. And if indeed the law is followed then a large number of schools face the potential of being shut down for not meeting the minimum infrastructure requirements. I have often joked that the rate at which rights are being given to us, soon we will have a Right to Smile (RTS) and Right to Happiness (RTH) Bill.

Abysmal outcomes in education
Jokes apart, the education system is another mess that we have in India. ASER 2012 (rural) findings are that overall enrolment of children in the age group of 6-14 years in over 96%. However, according to ASER, “Reading levels continue to be a cause for serious concern. More than half of all children in Std. V are at least three grade levels behind where they should be.” The learning in other subjects is as dismal. Clearly so far RTE has not gone anywhere.

A few weeks back, I was interviewing a girl residing in a slum in Mumbai. She has passed her Class XII in Commerce securing just 38% aggregate marks. A few minutes into the conversation, it was evident to us (me and my co-researcher, Tina) that this girl had very limited knowledge and her academic future was certainly not bright. But she wants to be a Chartered Accountant (CA) and someone has told her that is what she should try to be.

Not her fault
Her poor academics is most likely not her fault. It is a failure of the state since the municipal school that she went to mostly did not have good teachers. She enrolled in a training course to learn Tally and soon realised that she was being fleeced and was not being taught much. Mushrooming of such institutes, thanks to no regulation of quality and dominance by politicians, means that the poor end up paying through their nose and get nothing in return. The well off mostly have an ability to gauge the quality of the institutes. But thanks to being Class XII pass, this girl doesn’t do any household work (while awaiting admission to a college) and is not interested in taking up any vocational course either.

Nursemaid after 10-years in school?
Geetanjali Krishna in her column “People like them” in Business Standard writes about another such girl Anita, a girl who has studied up to Class X. Anita’s mother says, “She wants a mobile phone, lipstick and a job in a call centre – but she can’t even draft a leave application to submit to her school…A family I know needs a nursemaid for their newborn and are offering good money, but ma’am here doesn’t want to do such work.” Anita says, “I haven’t spent so many years in school to become a nursemaid, have I?”

No interest in academics


Herein lies a huge challenge for our country. We are producing barely literate army of people who are not equipped for today’s economy and who do not want to do any farm or menial job. I later met Ranjana, a teacher in a private school in Dadar catering primarily to the lower middle income families in the area. According to her, the children do not seem to be interested in academics.

This is quite contrary to my assumptions of an aspirational, competitive India. She next said that the local politicos are telling these kids that studying won’t help them much and anyway, being sons of the soil, they will easily get employment.

Time to start thinking
Forget English, these children apparently are struggling with Marathi, their mother tongue as well. Ed Luce in his book “Time to start thinking” mentions that US is facing a similar challenge as children are coming out of schools without adequate knowledge of the English language. If this indeed is true, then we have bigger worries on our hand. A similar version played out in West Bengal in the 1970s and 1980s under the Left Front rule and we know the result of that.

Arvind Panagariya, professor at Columbia University, in his piece “What Right to Education?” in Times of India has very thoroughly demolished RTE. He writes, “Just as onerous labour laws have discouraged the expansion of labour-intensive manufacturing in the organised sector, the demanding input norms in the RTE Act would discourage the entry of new low-cost private schools…Creating fundamental rights that the government neither intends to enforce nor has wherewithal for undermines the respect for the original fundamental rights and makes a mockery of the constitution.”

No exams – boon or bane?
One reason, other than the usual ones of infrastructure, teachers, teacher motivation etc, why our system has deteriorated is because it apes models from the western countries without imbibing the spirit behind the same. My son never sat for an exam till Class V. Till Class VIII he sits for exams at the end of each term (three terms in every academic year) and the portion is just of that term, which usually means very few chapters. As he now goes to Class IX he has no idea what it means to study for one full years syllabus and then sit for exams. He will probably adjust and cope given that he goes to a reasonably well-known school, we are reasonably involved parents (or so we think) and we will be able to afford tuitions for him.

During the first eight years there is no continuous assessment of learning outcomes, as would happen in the western countries. So we have eased the burden of exams without ensuring learning outcomes. And then we have a bunch of kids who are suddenly in high school mostly with very high self-esteem and certainly a lot of illusions about their academic abilities which is not in synch with reality.

Excessive cult of self-esteem
Ed Luce describes this phenomena as “excessive cult of self-esteem”  in his book mentioned above. The proportion of teenagers who check the box “I think I am a special person” versus those who check “I am no better or worse than anybody else” has gone off the charts. To quote Ed, “Teachers avoid issuing verbal reprimands for errant behaviour…And every child wins some trophy or the other at school prize day…” Imagine the shock of moving from a high school where everyone is above average to a world where the distribution curve will resemble normal distribution.

We have our own version of the same problem. Reprimands are out, praise is in. Satindra, whose daughter attends one of the most prestigious schools in Delhi, tells me that when his daughter gets her spellings wrong, she still gets a smiley – a red one! Between our version of “Chinese moms” (not to forget the dads), and innumerable multi-coloured smileys, the children must be very confused.

“What kind of world are these children ready for?”
I am not for once advocating that exams be held from Nursery class and burden these children; I only hope half-baked solutions are not adapted. Arvind Panagariya, in the article mentioned above, writes, “RTE proponents had opposed exams because they produce stress in children. But for what kind of world does such education prepare children? A world that is waiting for them with a life on a silver platter?”

Before I end, a bit of pat on my own back. On 26th March, in my blog titled “Will Aadhar Put an End to Double Subsidy?” I had written, “The risk is that in a rush to discover the next winning electoral slogan (Aapka paisa Aapke haath), the Congress leadership may have prematurely rushed into DBT without adequate groundwork or penetration of UID.” Now comes the news that DBT has indeed run into some problems, as per the Prime Minister (read Direct Benefits Transfer programme has run into difficulties, says PM.) I do hope that corrective action is taken soon and this project is not sacrificed at the altar of electoral goals. I also hope there will be no Right to Happiness Bill brought in by UPA-II.

 

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Let me share one of my experiences. We held a math test for 25 teacher applicants. all of them had a diploma in education and were either teaching in private schools or giving private classes. To our surprise, 24 of the the 25 failed the test which was based on the class 7 mathematics! now i wonder if the standards at school levels are the only problem?
Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, Anna. Agreed. But aren't the teachers who drive the standards at schools? Apart from physical infrastructure, we have to think about teachers training, attracting bright people into the profession and giving teachers the right incentives and motivation. In my son's school, while all students come within a radii of 5-10kms, some teachers come from as far away as Mira Road and Virar, both distant suburbs of Mumbai (50-70kms away). The public transport system while being good is close to inhuman in the mismatch of supply and demand. How can such a teacher be motivated? And how is the teacher's performance rewarded? Some of these are complex issues that the world is also debating.

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Anirudh Since I follow your blog it was interesting to read overview of educational system.Too much of self esteem is perhaps growing faster in India may be due to certain false notions about oneself.Modesty is an extinct virtue again due to too much of tall talks and visions of grandeur by our parents, leaders and students themselves. The elimination of exams in some sections should be updated by serious quarterly tests as done here in USA.Some students in USA may be lagging behind in English? but this is not so among indian students who along with children of Tiger moms are doing very well in English, Maths and Science, which has been acknowledged by the white americans.One good thing here in USA is that there is no false pride and people do menial jobs without grumble.Perhaps the class system in India still overrules the mind of the children and reasonably updated by the parents.Yes, but I enjoyed reading the blog.Thanks
Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, Suresh, for your insightful comments and also for following the blog. I am optimistic about US for the reasons you have mentioned - apart from dignity of labour, there are people out there thinking about the country's future and how to raise academic standards.

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Well written, timely and apt. And yet, futile! Couple an approach of over and mis-regulating a sector that should otherwise be the lifeblood of the country (comprehensive coverage from primary to secondary to under-graduate through to post-graduate technical studies) with misplaced priorities among parents, a career ambition that extends to getting the next BPO job, delusions of ability in students, no self-respect amongst teachers, add a dose of aping evolved educational systems without the necessary spirit and follow through mechanisms (so rightly pointed out in the article). Et voila: you get the Indian education sector and a recipe for disaster in the next generation. Unless the education sector is belatedly thrown open like telecom and airlines (without the muck), I am going to find a vocational course and get my kid to start fixing engines at the age of 16. At this rate, we will indeed need a RTH Bill soon to get over our partly self-induced moroseness and constitutionally guarantee happiness!
Sujit Bhattacharyya
Anirudha, Wonderful article. Here are some thoughts: 1. There is a very disturbing trend of manipulating the normal curve. In an effort to show better 'results' CBSE has over the years relaxed the level of topics being tested. Hence today it is much easier to score 80% or more than 10-15 years ago. It suits everyone. HRD Minister claims better pass percentage, so does CBSE chairman, schools, teacher and even sometimes 'proud' parents. The kids and the nation get jacked. 2. The cult of excessive self-esteem is still a distant reality in India. 99.9% of teachers and school environments ensure 'discipline' by an overbearing high handed attitude towards children, continuously reminding them of their faults, being highly prescriptive, and often humiliating. A mutually respectful and warm school environment is as rare as honest politician in India. 3. RTE is going to unleash the power of the license raj onto schools. The level of harassment that an RTE inspector can do is not funny. Our school received their first RTE cheque of Rs 2607/- per child per YEAR. Wasn't it supposed to be at par with govt spend of a child? Our great demographic dividend assumes 100% education to all and that too of reasonable quality. I really wonder how many people believe that we will truly get there.
Anirudha Dutta
Sujit, Thanks for your insightful comments. The inspector raj is really worrisome and instead of demographic dividend hat we are staring at is demographic nightmare.
Sidharth Mehta
Hi Anirudha, Haven't come across any of your mid cap investment notes's in the recent times. All your ideas have been really good. Markets aside . . To the point . . Excellent piece and rightly timed. "Right to xxxxx" bills are passed . . . However, lack of strategy in implementing these rights makes me feel whether these rights are being used as a marketing tool in their electoral campaigns. When implementing such Right's, personal and / or political agenda should never be kept in mind. To make this happen or implement it in an appropriate way . . one needs to change his and party members mindset. And I wish we don't see a day when Right to Smile / Happiness bills are passed. ;) Regards, Sidharth
Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, Sidharth. I have not written anything on midcaps recently (since leaving CLSA).
Anirudha - brilliant and a well timed article - when the word "education" has become a mockery. Last week, I was part of an interview panel at Kolkata University, interviewing MBA aspirants. The experience was a rude shock for myself and my co-panellists who were brilliant academicians and another partner from the industry. A majority of the aspirants abjectly lacked - application of knowledge which was compounded by their inability to recollect basic concepts - of the educational degrees that they had graduated in just a few months ago or were in the final term of completion. The term "human capital" in India is being misconstrued as "population". Our HRD Ministry seems to be in an eternal state of confusion - which is not too different from what we Indians lack the most - "the ability to execute ideas". Intellectual cacophony is in abundance - alas to find a person who can implement remains a mirage. In this desert of despondency there are a few oasis we cannot ignore. I have had the privilege to meet Sister Cyril Mooney who launched Rainbow Home in 1985, a distinctive program for orphaned, abandoned and street girls was founded by the 76 year old Irish nun, (Principal of Loreto Sealdah Kolkata from 1979 to 2011 and has been in Kolkata since 1956) that combines schooling with life's necessities such as food, hygiene and housing. Today, half of the school's 1,500 students are from poor families or the streets. Older girls and volunteer teachers coach newcomers on the basics of studying and hygiene prior to formal enrolment. And all this happened when there was no Right to Education Act. What does this tell us - the ones who "execute ideas" are a million times more worthy than the ones who "churn a million ideas". And for executing ideas - the educational system needs to make its people think. I am signing off sharing a related article of my friend Jerry Durant, Chairman IIOM: http://iiom.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/the-decline-of-education-according-to-socratic-teaching/#.UVZEWSu5BFs.facebook

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Anirudha Dutta
Anirudha Dutta is former head of research at CLSA India Limited, a leading foreign brokerage house. While every number tells a story, there are many stories beyond numbers and both are equally important. This blog will attempt to tell some of these stories.
 
 
 
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April 12, 2013 07:23 am by Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, Anna. Agreed. But aren't the teachers who drive the standards at schools? Apart from physical infrastructure, we have to think about teachers training, attracting bright people into the profession and giving teachers the right incentives and motivation. In my son's school, while all students...
April 11, 2013 13:59 pm by anna abraham
Let me share one of my experiences. We held a math test for 25 teacher applicants. all of them had a diploma in education and were either teaching in private schools or giving private classes. To our surprise, 24 of the the 25 failed the test which was based on the class 7 mathematics! now i wonder...
April 10, 2013 13:54 pm by Anirudha Dutta
Thanks, Suresh, for your insightful comments and also for following the blog. I am optimistic about US for the reasons you have mentioned - apart from dignity of labour, there are people out there thinking about the country's future and how to raise academic standards.
April 10, 2013 04:33 am by Latest Parenting Training NewsArticle Directory
[...] Exams, stress, parenting and demographic dividend She enrolled in a training course to learn Tally and soon realised that she was being fleeced and was not being taught much. Mushrooming of such institutes, thanks to no regulation of quality and dominance by politicians, means that the poor en...
April 10, 2013 02:01 am by suresh
Anirudh Since I follow your blog it was interesting to read overview of educational system.Too much of self esteem is perhaps growing faster in India may be due to certain false notions about oneself.Modesty is an extinct virtue again due to too much of tall talks and visions of grandeur by our pare...