Thursday, September 06, 2007

To Better India II: Primary Education

This follows from the previous article, To Better India I, where I listed top three actions items for India to concentrate on. Here, I talk about the priority one- Primary Education.

The future of India lies in the hands of its newer generations. While the present will continue to be beset with problems of myriad nature, the future could be made better by investing the right kind of skills, values and attitudes in our young generations. And India should go on a massive overdrive to achieve this. I want us to take this up seriously on all fronts, go on a full-fledged campaign to get every kid in India educated. Our goal should be to see no kid on the street, begging or hawking stuff. No kid should be in a restaurant working as helper. No kid should be working as laborer on a construction site.

Every kid should be in the school

It’s the duty of this state and its people to ensure that every kid in India is in the school, no matter what. If it means that the kid has to get the food, clothes and shelter, then it is our duty to provide the kid with those. If his parents believe the kid is better off working in a cafeteria or in a farm, then it is our duty to compensate the parent for that loss of labor. Do whatever it takes to keep that kid in the school. And don’t give excuses (there are too many already). Dream of an India where there is no hawking or begging kid and work towards that.

Do not give alms to a begging child. You are not helping the kid; you are only perpetuating his misery. The kids on the streets are usually employed by one adult who collects the daily income from them.

Education as tool of empowerment

Education and education alone can bring emancipation to multitudes of India who are caught in the vicious circle of economic and social backwardness for centuries. A promise of free and easy education with an incentive of guaranteed employment is the only way we can make these people embrace education.

Schools need to be funded, need to be equipped with teachers, filled with necessary infrastructure to carry out meaningful education; they need to have necessary amenities to make this education a wholesome and healthy experience.

Scholarships, incentives, reservations, are necessary in addition to the basic facilities to ensure that the lower classes and underrepresented get incentives to study, learn, and acquire necessary education to pursue something worthwhile in their lives.

Instill right values

When developing this nation, we have to ask ourselves, ‘how are we creating the future generations?’ The need is to instill our young generations with the right values. I am not talking about the much touted Indian traditional values. I am talking about the universal values- such as responsible citizenry, importance of adult franchise, access to justice, equal opportunity, separation of state and religion, social responsibility, gender equality, importance of liberty, our freedoms, and most important of all, our duties. While Math, Sciences, Languages, Art, and History are equally important, we need to stress on creating a responsible citizenry, who are not bigoted, who welcome different opinions, encourage debate, do not stifle creativity, and respect freedom of expression.

We need to teach our kids to respect and tolerate people of various cultures, classes and religions. We need to teach the importance of paying taxes, keeping environment clean, preserving the nature, and building better civic amenities.

The most important aspect is to allow debate, give room for reason, to reject the notions that curb original thought- such as objects of sanctity and objects of blasphemy. We need to inculcate in them the tools of reason and logic so that they can wage their own fights against superstition, blind belief and fanaticism, which seem to hold our nation’s psyche in its clutches.

Encourage originality and creativity

We should encourage the kids to be creative, to be original, and to value their individualism while recognizing the importance of the social fabric of the family and society.

Right now, creativity is not given priority. Instead conformance is. Disciplining the kids is of course important. But till what age shall we discipline them? I see parents imposing a strict code of conduct on their kids past their adolescence. Even college going kids fear their parents and teachers, and are expected to conform, not deviate. College principals and teachers completely curb all individual expressions during that crucial age which is deemed important in the growth of an individual transitioning from a kid to an adult. I know of institutions where a boy talking to a girl in a college campus is deemed highly inappropriate invoking the wrath of conservative and ultra-orthodox faculty who treat such a chat as outright sexual indulgence. Treating our kids like kids forever, never allowing them to grow up, or experiment, or create, or to find their own paths, is not going to make them responsible and accountable citizenry. Responsibility comes from knowing that one has the ability to influence and impact, and that ability to influence has its roots in freedom of expression.

Our versions of creativity are also pretty standardized, like painting a flower by filling in colors within the already defined borders, or going to a sitar or musical instrument lessons where rules are followed in strict regimen. ‘Originality? What’s originality?’ Nobody knows that in India. When every movie is a remake of another, where music is copied blatantly and flagrantly from another, and when parents and teachers turn a blind eye to all acts that involve copying, originality becomes a worthless commodity and least desirable asset.

We are not encouraged to create and then enjoy that creation. We don’t experience the sheer joy one gets when he builds a car, a plane, a phone, or a small gadget. We don’t know what it means to see our ideas translate into reality.

Unless the newer generations are raised appreciating originality and creativity, we will continue to see the systemic deficiencies, celebration of mediocrity, apotheosis of avarice, and tolerance of plagiarism.

Promote rational thinking

Rational thinking to combat prejudices is an essential element in this education. The younger generations should be able to embrace newer ideas without having to feel guilty of deviating from the sacred values. There is a greater need to teach our kids to conduct debate rationally and logically.

Promotion of Science is the key. Instead of wallowing and basking in the glory of our ancient past which is riddled in conundrums and wise sayings, we should allow our kids to experiment, analyze, deduce, apply logic, and thus appreciate the world around him. The kids should ask questions, lots of them. And the answers have to be rational ones even if they are incomplete.

Science, its promotion and its celebration is extremely important to promote rational thinking. It will empower the Indian masses to dispel the cloud of superstition and blind belief, and to combat centuries of discrimination rooted in religious and sacred practices.

Teaching caste issues

Most urban upper caste kids of India grow up in protected environs rubbing shoulders with kids of their own kind- both social and economic. They have very few friends of lower caste and even if they did, those kids seem to be well-off. These kids are completely oblivious to the problems of India’s poor or lower castes. The only time they get a chance to encounter the existence of these people is when they graduate from high school on the verge of entering premier institutions of India for their professional education. And this encounter is not quite pleasant one either because the urban upper caste kids get to know for the first time that about half of the seats are ‘reserved’ for certain lower caste people.

To avoid such unpleasant encounters, all school going kids in India should be taught casteism, negatives of its perpetuation, the long history of discrimination in this country, and the need for reservations in institutions and employment as method to address the socio-economic issues. Indians have this habit of avoiding all sensitive topics- thinking that not addressing it will somehow make them disappear. We need to educate our kids to deal with real issues, and one of the ways to do it is to prepare them for realities of India.

Teaching religion issues

Talking or discussing religion is another anathema to most Indians. The mere reference to such a discussion is seen as inculcating separatist and communalist views. The kids will eventually learn their own religion and existence of other religions sooner or later. We should be careful on how that learning is going to be. If it is going to come from bigoted sources, then these kids will turn bigoted. Instead if it is handled well while they are still young, by the parents and the teachers, the kids will be equipped to handle the aspects of religion much more maturely.

That education should involve origin of religions, the diversity of religions, the conflicts of the past and the disastrous consequences of bigotry and prejudices, the importance of tolerance, etc.

Most probably, we will see an India in future which is more respectful of other religions unlike the kind of educated Indians we seem to produce now that are completely contemptuous of the people of other religions.

Make them think big

We are one of the most myopic cultures on the planet. Our vision is short-sighted. We don’t know what is long-term planning. All our decisions and actions are based in achieving short-term and greedy goals. Our roads are built that way, our homes are built that way, our policies are made that way, and even our parenting is also myopic, and so is our teaching in schools.

We are always looking for immediate and short-term quick fixes. We never sit around to solve a problem completely. Our kids are never taught to look at the world with a long-term attitude. Where scores in each exam are more important than following a career of your own choice, the kids are trained to make small gains in small steps instead of taking a longer, harder and riskier route to something grander. I see this phenomenon in Indian industry too. (More about this later).

In a society where each single failure, however insignificant, is seen as a direct ticket to eternal shame and damnation, the kids learn to become extremely averse to taking up activities where a failure might occur. They become less curious and less adventurous. They stick to conventional ways of scoring over others to become Xerox copier-machines working for foreign creators.

Kids should be taught to concentrate on long-term and grander aims instead of hoping for quicker and smaller gains. They should be allowed to make mistakes, take risks, and learn from the failures. That way we will make inventors, creators, artists, visionaries and better leaders.


I believe investing in a better future is the wisest thing we can do right now, and that involves investing in creating better younger generations. For that, we have to ensure we do not inherit our kids with our prejudices and bigotry but instead equip them with skills, values and attitudes of the right kind, so that they make their own future, hopefully, a better one.

I do not limit this responsibility of Primary Education to state alone, or to teachers alone. I include everyone into this, the people of India, the parents of India and everyone connected to the young in every possible way. The onus is on all of us.


  1. Good thoughts. Let's go ahead and do it now. EXECUTE.

  2. How about teaching kids about happiness, generosity, giving, building and having trust, kindness and love? How about teaching them how to find out what makes them happy? How about telling them how to figure out their passion early in the life? How could they become sustainable consumers? How could they take care of our planet for generations to come?

    How about letting them blossom in to their realselves without imposing our own prejudices? The best way to teach them, as you pointed out correctly is by setting examples. You decide if your kids see a good example when they see a drunk father who just ate three cute chickens and is going to get some AIDS from some infected prostitutes? That just nullifies all the education that one has imparted. An AIDS infected family with a dead kid is dead meat irrespective of the education.

  3. Darpon, you got it wrong. I agree that an AIDS infected family with a dead kid is dead meat irrespective of the education. But, a good education to all will ensure that such cases will soon become history. Happiness is a relative term. Just because it gives people happiness, we cannot give drugs to kids. Thatz why Sujai is putting emphasis on stuff like rational thinking. Making a kid rational will help the kid to be happy at a later stage. If we avoid making the kid rational in the name of making it happy at the early stages, the kid is bound to make others unhappy as it grows up. The current confused generation is a perfect example of this. I think Sujai has emphasized on the right issues.

  4. Krish: I agree with what Sujai says here. The second part of my comment here is just talking about the big-bold comment on top of this Blog that glorifies things like getting intoxicated, sex slaves etc.

    To put things in perspective (and it is a little offtopic), rational thinking or thinking itself is the biggest cause of unhappiness in human beings. Unfortunately, only our species is able to store and analyze future "planning" in our frontal lobe of our brains and that results in most of the anxiety and unhappiness as we know it. Cows and birds have brains too but they just have enough rationalization to do the immediate things like poo, pee and eat. It is us, the great human beings (that ofcourse includes me) who rationally think and make our lives unhappy with overthinking. What's missing from this blog post is the spiritual and generosity education (not specific to any religion, please note that religion and spirituality are different). I just pointed out the "additional and incremental" things that are even more fundamental to happiness and long-term prosperity of our nation or our planet as a whole.

  5. Education in India (and elsewhere)
    There has been a lot of discussion lately about the quality of some higher education institutions in India such as the IITs and the IIMs, some of it from the US media. While it is true that some of these graduates have done well in the information technology sector and, to a lesser extent, in other parts of the corporate world, as well as in entrepreneurial activities, the key questions are whether they truly represent value in India's growth equation, and whether they are truly the product of meritocracy. I would make the following observations:
    1. The biggest public gains from a public welfare standpoint to any society is in primary and secondary, rather than in higher education. Since there are more private gains for every additional year of higher education, this is best left to private capital to manage at market prices. Affordability and access to such higher education institutions should not be an issue as long as tax policy and access to private funding is encouraged (bank loans, etc.) since the key underwriting question will be the net present value of future earnings from such education; the "sheepskin effect". I would venture to suggest that institutions such as the IITs should be sold to private entreprenuers (and even such institutions such as JNU whose current contribution to public welfare relative to tax spending is questionable) in order to release substantial efficiencies. The AICTE and other regulatory bodies, on the other hand, should be considerably strengthened in order to provide quality-control and oversight over privately funded institutions. Government expenditures in higher education should focus on niche areas relevant to economic growth such as biotechnology or alternative fuels research that may not attract short-term focused private funding, but even here, TATA (as in BP solar) or Suzlon and Biocon should be encouraged to fund their own future requirements in manpower and R&D (tax breaks). Also, fees in IITs should be increased substantially to reflect the true cost of education, mitigated appropriately by scholarships and loans to provide access to less-privileged students.
    2. Although there is a strong myth about the competitive nature of IIT and IIM entrance examinations, and the focus on meritocracy, there is a considerable skew towards prospects from urban, english-language schools. Go to any IIT campus, and you will see that the proportion of students from such schools is much higher than the underlying proportion of such schools in the overall geography of India. My point is not to argue that those schools have an unfair advantage since they offer better educational facilities and preparation for IIT entrance examinations, but to suggest that kids from rural schools or government schools in general have a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the real relevance of IITs and other elite institutions in their future lifetime earnings. When one looks at other publicly funded "institutions of national importance" such as the ISIs (Indian Statistical Institutes) the skew is even more pathological; why is there an overwhelming overrepresentation of Bengalis in the ISIs, is it because they are genetically predisposed to be statistical in their thinking, or is it because the ISI entrance examination notices appear next to tender notices in many national newspapers, and is more heavily advertised in Bengal newspapers? The answer is that fees (and scholarships) need to be raised in these insitutions and specific funds need to be applied to advertising and coaching for students in rural and vernacular schools. Then you will see a real meritocracy, not just meritocracy among the children of the Indian professional elite. Think of the quality of IIT graduates then!
    3. Despite the appearance of academic quality, there is a dearth of good faculty at these institutions and this is primarily due to the lack of pay but also due to the lack of quality control in faculty hiring and promotions. A lot of these issues are due to lack of autonomy and interference from government agencies, and the fact that the existing faculty and administrative bureaucracies at these institutions haave taken shelter under the pretense of lack of autonomy to subsidise large-scale inefficiencies. The lack of merit in teaching and research related income streams clearly will have downstream effects on the quality of graduates coming out of these institutions. These facts are often hidden from the taxpayers who fund these institutions, creating a classic "moral hazard" from a public welfare standpoint. The central universities, in particular, where an increasing share of taxpayer funding is diverted, are places where this kind of pathology is rampant -- JNU, Jamia, AMU, Pondicherry are all excellent (!) examples.
    4. When it comes to primary and secondary education, there needs to be a sea-change in taxpayer funding, focussing large funds on rural schools, in teaching as well as in infrastructure, but also in the local control of these fund expenditures. Give local taxpayers control over schools and their governing bodies and you will see better visibility in their functioning.
    One little known fact is the skew in public tax-based funding of Kendriya Vidyalayas, which subsidise inefficiencies and restrict access to these "better" schools through the tariff barriers of admission criteria. Let me expalin this tax scandal which has been going on in India for the past half-century, which neither our media, nor tax-paying citizens have chose to make visible. Kendriya Vidyalayas are, like many other publicly funded institutions, primarily paid for by corporations and private-sector employees. However, the children of private-sector employees in effect have almost no access to these schools, who have a stated policy of discriminating in favor of government and public-sector employees as well as defence personnel. Why hasn't someone moved the courts against such an obvious flouting of equal treatment constitutional principles? Again, taxpayers in private-sector jobs probably have written this off as yet another cess and in any case have access to other private-sector primary/secondary education options, but what about access and scholarships for children of day laborers in the unorganized sector???
    Perhaps the left leaning ideologues at JNU would wish to comment on this dictatorship of the proletariat! Why are there so many of these Vidyalayas in urban areas or in public industrial towns or in district headquarters towns rather than in far-flung rural areas?
    Enough said.
    By the way, educational access and skewness against the underprivileged is not just an Indian problem. Just see how asymmetries and inequalities are reinforced in other educational models; in the UK, how many Oxford and Cambridge graduates come from working Cockney families in relation to their proportion in the population? In the US, how are Harvard and Stanford admissions criteria different for children of alumni and donors, as opposed to the general population?
    India has a tremendous focus on education (I have benefitted) but I would argue much of it is familial and societal culture; the specific question to honestly answer is how much the government has done to unleash procutive human potential through illiteracy eradication. How much of India's education policies are simply a function of the need to provide quality education enclaves for the children of bureaucrats, the successors of the British collectors? Are we democratic in our education policies? Think about this the next time you vote.

  6. Eklavya believes that education is an infrastructure, atleast, as important as nation's roads, electricity and telecom. It plays a fundamental role in determining the prosperity and well-being of its citizens. Progressive nations have strategically invested heavily in education on a long term basis.

  7. To improve India,we need to burn buses and pelt stones at police officers who do their job to control angry and out of control mobs.


Dear Commenters:
Please identify yourself. At least use a pseudonym. Otherwise there will be too many *Anonymous*; making it confusing.

Do NOT write personal information or whereabouts about the author or other commenters. You are free to write about yourself. Please do not use abusive language. Do not indulge in personal attacks and insults.

Write comments which are relevant and make sense so that the debate remains healthy.