Saturday, September 11, 2010

Leave the IITs alone....

This is an open letter to Mr. Kapil Sibal. I am sure that the best way of reaching a person, who is a media darling and constantly obsessed with sound bites, is through the media only. At least, I hope that you will now you will take your job seriously and instead of vested agendas will take a wholesome approach to education. It is high time you stopped being the minister for IIT entrance exam reform and focused on all things. Before we go further, I want you to answer the following questions:
1. Do we have the right capacity in all geographical regions for primary education of children?
2. Now, do we have the same in high-school and secondary education?
3. The higher education capacity (college) is an abysmal 11% are you even aware of this?
4. Does your government have a priority list of additional subjects and do you have a plan for rolling them out?
5. Are we equipping the socially backward classes with enough skills to take advantage of the reservation programmes from the government?

Based on your high and mighty media projections, I am not so sure whether you have even thought about these. Well, we all know that focusing on these and getting strategies published, consensus built and committed is a tough job. Of course, this will not get you air time in the NDTV brigade. So rightly (in your opinion that is) it doesn’t deserve urgency.

We have reservations and rightly so, in some sense, for weaker and oppressed sections of the society. Are we equipping the people from these sections to take advantage of them? Are rural students as well equipped as their counterparts with choices and awareness about education? These are serious questions that you need to answer and firm up policies. Like it or not, you have the potential to change or destroy the young minds, I would urge utmost caution and diligence in the way go about it. Presently, though you seem to be obsessing about “reforming” IIT entrance exams only. It is high time you got off that high horse and focused on a total approach starting with primary education.

Look at rural India and the urban poor, do they have right schools? Leave out colleges, which are abysmal even in urban areas and even in big cities. Even with large sections of the society not having opportunities, still our higher education capacity is abysmal, with graduates who get out of even some engineering and medical colleges functional illiterates. That really is the status of education today. Mr. Sibal, I hate to break the news to you. If at all, there are a set of institutions where its graduates are functional literates, it is the IITs and guess what you are up to, obsessing with ways to “reform” them. Excuse me, but to a lay man like me, for whatever their flaws they seem to be doing way better than most and why are you hell bent on destroying them?

All your ideas seem to be what were in vogue in the west, particularly in the USA, perhaps during your Harvard days as well. All the proposals like aptitude test,well rounded approach judgment and doing away with the need for microscopic judgment (marks) and go with broader classification (grades). Even in the west, there is increasing focus on academic standards with several countries/states introducing common board exams to judge how students are doing when judged against a common bar. Countries like China/Japan/Korea/Singapore all have made giant strides leapfrogging by building an honest and transparent education infrastructure and a rigorous evaluation system, in some ways lot tougher than what a typical youngster goes through in India. It is a shame that for some unknown vested personal interest, you seem to be hell bent on adopting the ways that are practiced in the USA. Your government, can show its loyalty to USA with nuclear agreement, but please spare us your efforts on the education front. I wonder as to what is obvious to a lay man like me is amiss in the thoughts in an intelligent (I still have my hopes) man like you.

Start with education capacity, focus on starting primary and secondary school in every village or cluster. Don’t be a control freak and trying this as a purely central government driven effort which results in only a focus on English/Hindi based medium of instruction and leaves the majority of India which studies in other mediums of instruction. Partner with the state governments in establishing such schools. Achieve commonality in subjects like Math, Science, and Economics etc. Acknowledge that heroes and significant folks in history geography exist outside of Delhi too. E.g. how many of your students who are studying CBSE history can answer who is “Andhra Kesari”. Whereas each one of the students in TN can answer who is “Chacha” and call it out as Nehru. Do you get the point at least now? In history and languages defer to the state boards. Agree on a common exam and conduct it simultaneously in all regions and languages. Each student irrespective whether they are urban or rural, or from North/South/East/West should feel integrated. It is precisely a feeling that CBSE exists only for Delhiites is causing angst in a large section of the population and state governments. There are saner voices as education ministers in various states, listen to them.

Please Mr. Sibal, leave out the IITs for now. Ensure corruption free and common education and evaluation criteria at various levels, I would recommend common board exams from 8th standard onwards. Normalize results when appropriate. E.g. leave it to the TN government to manage the Tamil language criteria and evaluation and similarly defer to other states. Acknowledge the diversity of cultures and education systems in India, you seem to be recognizing Madrasas as the only unique things that need preservation, trust me every state board in India deserves the same. Get the priorities right, e.g. why CBSE deems sex education as something that is of a higher priority than e.g. basic law, is a question that needs to be answered. Bottom-line, please educate yourself first on the diversity of education in India, maybe then you will have a better shot at going about your job. There are several exams like AIEEE and AIMedicalTest etc. which provide ample opportunities for you to learn from them and course correct. At least, compared to your predecessor you are not corrupt, hence my decision to appeal to you…

Last, try this if you really do a good job, there is no need to worry about what NDTV thinks about you, wouldn’t that be perfect? At the moment though, you seem to have only one agenda which to a lay man looks like the following: “IITs are elitist, their selection process is corrupt, they are in serious need of reform”, if this is true about them and considering that they are the best in producing folks that are sought after all over the world, god help India !!! Thankfully, we all know that is not the truth….

Sincerely yours,

Baskar Kothandaraman

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