G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

India’s Present-day Society Lacks the Desire to See Every Child at School

Prof. Krishna Kumar, Director of the NCERT was interviewed by Frontline dated March 14, 2008.

“….There is plenty of evidence to say that India’s present-day society lacks the desire to see every child at school…

… Education is a long-term investment. To make such an investment generously, one needs faith in the future and the hope that we will get there. For appropriate investments in education we also need socio-political imagination and a social consensus on certain basic ideas, such as the idea that every child matters. In our country such a consensus has yet to emerge. Far too many people still believe that only the so-called bright or smart children matter and deserve education of the best quality.

Also, a lot of people perceive education as a private concern, in the sense that they worry about their own children but don’t feel hurt or pained when they see others’ children exploited or treated badly. In such a social ethos, any government will have difficulty in pushing radical educational reforms…

… In every area, from science and maths to social science and language children must be given a space to reflect, ask questions, wonder, and probe sources of knowledge outside the textbook…

If progress in examination reform has been slow, the case of teacher education is worse. The sector is facing a grim situation, with rampant commercialisation on the one hand and a lifeless, uninspiring B.Ed. curriculum on the other…

Teaching profession is in a deep crisis today and in certain parts of the country it is in a shambles, with unqualified, part-time para-teachers serving in place of professionally committed teachers…

We live in a very divided society. People just defend themselves and their own interests in everything. [Points to bottled water on the table.] We even drink different kinds of water, and education is like that. It all depends on class, caste, gender. For at least two decades there has been a high value placed on education even by the poorest. But the system has not evolved to the point where their children get the attention they deserve.”

I, me, myself culture of India's non-poor.....

'Look, we've discussed all this. If it gets the kids into a decent school, it's worth it...'
The Spectator 2008


Chetan said...

Criticising the I, me, myself culture of the Indian haves is fine and is perhaps required. However, I don't see how it fits in the context of education. I look at it as a crass, egregious and faux sanctimonious attempt by the NCERT Director to cover his policy making and implementation failures by shifting the blame elsewhere. (Like a true government servant there is the nauseating mandatory praise for the HRD ministry inserted somewhere) I went through the entire article and not in a single instance does he explain/support his statement about well-to-do Indians supporting the idea of brightest in the society matter. Let alone that, nowhere does he even clarify how, if indeed such an attitude exists, has it been able to thwart education reforms.

Let's talk concrete. On asked about challenges he speaks of reforming the 42 boards and their curricula. Even by the wildest stretch of imagination and by applying the most evil motives to the Indian haves I cannot see how their attitudes can be a problem here. Then he goes on to talk about the B.Ed curriculum. Do you and him mean to suggest that the Indian haves are responsible for the 'lifeless and uninspiring curriculum'? In fact, at the end of the answer he himself identifies the problem. "The real power to bring about major changes in this sector lies with the National Council of Teacher Education." Of course, the Indian haves are controlling the National Council of Teacher Education, aren't they?

Now assuming that him and you are blaming the lack of action on governments part to tackle education reform on the Indian haves, because they don't make it an issue -- I don't see how that holds water as well. First of all Indian haves do not have power when it comes to the ballot. So it is wrong to imagine that the State politicians are concerned about their thoughts on issues. Had that been the case, their I, me, myself concerns such as regular electricity and good inner city roads would have been addressed long ago.

Prof. Krishna Kumar says, In addition, we ensured that the voices of the more innovative NGOs [non-governmental organisations] known for their good work in education were also heard. These grassroots organisations had worked where the system had failed to reach, and NCF 2005 mainstreamed their ideas and innovations.

Who funds and run the NGOs? It's the Indian haves. If what you and him believe is true then these guys should not exist, let alone be doing some exemplary work. I have seen so many households where the maid's children's education is taken over by the family she works for. In fact this is so common a case that explicit rules have evolved surrounding the funding. For instance the money wont be given to the maid since her husband might get hold of it and burn it up on alcohol etc. but given in the form of books and uniforms. If, as you painted the entire Indian society in a broad brush, was true then such instances would not have been possible. Look at the Indian blogosphere which I have been following for the past 3 years. Most of them are authored by haves. Yet, I can send you links of hundreds of blog posts debating furiously about tackling education primary issues in our country. There are debates about school vouchers Vs improving public schools, tackling drop out rates etc. In fact the new school voucher initiative by the Center for Civil Society was embraced warmly and got word of mouth publicity through the most popular sites in the Indian blogosphere. The program is currently funding over 500 children since its launch in January this year.

Despite so much of the tax income being poured into education, I haven't seen many complain about the education initiatives by the government, even though they end up down the drain have have very little to show for. Contrast that to the opposition to the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. In that case when tax payer rupees were spent, there as virulent opposition in media and in social circles of the Indian haves. Have you ever witnessed anything similar regarding Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan or any other HRD education initiative?

It is the lack of imagination, support sought from teacher's unions, politicisation of education, the lack of competition etc. that should be blamed and criticised strongly for failure of Indian education to reach all the have nots. Indian haves certainly don't have anything to do with it.

In your reply to this comment, please be specific about how you think the Indian haves' attitude has hindered education reforms. Please don't skirt the issue by claiming that you feel guilty about various things and claiming you are too small a person to answer the tough questions. Since you made that very serious charge against the Indian society I think you should take the responsibility for your words and point out how the Indian society is responsible for what is essentially policy making and governance failure. Thanks.

aniruddha g. kulkarni said...

I feel guilty about various things and I am too small a person to answer the tough questions.

Chetan said...

Since I expected such a reply from you, I am not disappointed. I just wish you shared your thought process behind the rhetorical sounding statement so that your readers may get a chance to chew over your arguments.

Anyways, since I respect you enough to believe that you wont make a frivolous statement without having some background knowledge or some empirical observations which you are not willing to share, I went ahead and started reading and thinking actively about this issue and whether such a bias as mentioned by 'sycophantic toward HRD ministry while passing the buck on to unrelated people' Mr. Kumar does truly exist.

I came across this article by one of my favourite bloggers.
"Except for a chosen few in a class, most students were reminded in numerous way of how utterly incompetent they were. Every child was certainly not “gifted”, except in the eyes of their extremely adoring parents. Even there, a number of parents would publicly state how worthless their kid was. In college, you’d routinely be reminded that you were no better than an earthworm lost in the sand, ready to be crushed under some heel. Professors would look at you with an expression that read “you are a state topper and this is the best you can do?” (or would sometimes even actually say that). Most of our grades in college weren’t artificially inflated too much. If you sucked, you flunked the course, simple as that. And then you’d be clearly told that you sucked, and you’d have a better future selling peacock feathers at the railway station. A majority of the students’ grades were what the majority should be, average. In the end, you came out of the system typically underestimating your own abilities. You either were resigned to a life of mediocrity, or would strive insanely hard to be that much more successful. I’m not sure how many people have come out of college in India with such low self esteem that it took years to undo. Unless of course you went to an IIT. In that case you really believed you were special even if you flunked half your courses while you were there."

I agree with that completely and hence I guess the strand of criticism regarding people believing that only the brightest are worthy of education might have a strand of truth to it. But the question of how Mr Kumar extrapolates that this attitude, which can be blamed for churning out undereducated/underconfident kids who are beneficiaries of the existing education system, is responsible for the failure of the State to provide universal education is beyond me.

Regarding the actual causes, which Mr. Kumar conveniently papers over is bureaucrats and their attitudes. I came across this interesting blog about 'Dalitisation' of education. It refers to the phenomenon where public schools are so dismal that only Dalits are going to study there and the attitude of government servants is such that they think that Dalits don't need quality education anyways and therefore the quality of education goes in a downward spiral.

Do we know of any among our urban middle class circle, that were educated two generations ago, but whose children are uneducated today? But, this remains a possibility among the poor, Dalit, or Adivasi families. This takes us to the second myth that education has little to do with politics.

The continued dismal literacy rate among Adivasis and Dalits is a matter of embarrassment for the leaders [who think themselves as rulers] of India. The overwhelmingly Upper-caste bureaucracy, responsible for taking education and other development measures to the marginalised, see little sense in doing so. They perceive the spread of education as akin to the erosion of their privileges. There are micro-level studies available that hint at the systematic evolution of a culture that denies development to the poor and “lower castes”.

This again is the result of caste prejudices amongst the bureaucracy and village level caste politics. To this extent, yes, Indian society is to blame. However, the onus is on the Human Resource Development ministry to ensure that caste prejudices are not reflected in policy making. And hence, had Mr Kumar been an upright and principled bureaucrat who really was concerned about universal education, he would have taken responsibility on behalf of the bureaucracy and not taken the high horse despite repeated failures and passed the blame on Indian society in general while praising the HRD ministry in the same breath.

Again, I wish to emphasize that I am not saying Indian society does not possess the above mentioned attitudes. But if you compare, such primitive, racist etc. attitudes are present in many countries, yet their education system functions much better than ours. While blaming Indian society is fine and warranted I think you are doing a disservice by praising bureaucrats like Kumar whose job it is ultimately to make the education system function. Imagine a scenario where a CEO of Hindustan Lever blames the 'unhygenic' culture of Indian society for lack of sales of Toilet soap. Do you think shareholders would praise the CEO for his assessment or would they hold him responsible for the lack of sales and find a new CEO who can increase the sales despite the present culture or who would be willing to take on the present culture through advertisement and awareness programs. (here I am not trying to get into the private Vs public education debate but would like you to reflect on how we give a pass to bureaucrats and the government while forgetting that they should be held responsible for failures and not just the culture.)

aniruddha g. kulkarni said...


You have raised many pertinent and critical issues in last and this feedback.

I am not going to defend NCERT director just because I quote him. I think just like Indian Prime Minister he is an important person and what he has said is important and he gets the place.

It is another matter that I tend to agree with him based on anecdotal evidence and my observations on the ground in India.

You may argue that he is wrong or even evil. I respect your view and have published it without any change.