Atanu Dey On India's Development

A Slow Sort of Country

Since moving from the Movabletype platform to the WordPress platform, posts prior to the reform appear all misshapen and ugly. I am fixing then as time and mood permits. Recently worked on a post from over two years ago called India’s Wonderful Reforms. Nothing much appears to have changed.

I am told by many learned people that we are a country slow to reform because we are “democracy.” Why democracy implies slow reform is left unexplained by these learned folks, as if it is axiomatic and asking for reasons only betrays stupidity. Naturally, if indeed democracy were an impediment to growth and development, then the reasonable thing to do would be to suggest that democracy be discarded–at least till the moment that the majority of the people are not starving and illiterate. But this suggestion would be met with looks of sheer horror. What is it, one would like to ask these learned folks, that is so compelling about a system which condemns half the nation’s children to grow up malnourished and illiterate?

I suspect that these learned folks are just passing the buck by blaming democracy for the ills of this economy. They have a vested interest in not just passing the buck, but also not recommending the removal of the admitted cause (democracy) because they personally profit from perpetuation of this dysfunctional system (whether or not democracy is to blame). The “licence control permit quota control” raj is good for those who are in control of the licences, permits, and quotas. They erected the barriers so that they can act as gate-keepers and only allow those who were willing to pay the entry-price.

Education system reform, for instance, can be undertaken irrespective of whether we live in a totalitarian state or a democracy. What sort of reform does education require? The release of the fundamental choke-hold that the state has on the education sector. It is outdated, inefficient, ineffective, ridden with mindless regulations, costly and supply-constrained. No one except the tiny minority who currently dictate the rules would be against reform of the education sector. Yet, we carry on with our lives as if we are perfectly content with an education system which fails so miserably that by the age of 10, half of the children have dropped out of the system.

The required reform of the education system is possible whether or not we have a system in which an illiterate bunch of people vote for a corrupt bunch of politicians.

I should note in passing that there is a constituency of … how shall I put it diplomatically … idiots who believe that the internet and laptops will fix the educational system. You may call them graduates of “The Marie Antoinette School of Economics.” (Just for the record, it is reasonably certain that Marie Antoinette did not say what she is reputed to have said. But we will not tamper with a good story merely for the sake of accuracy.)

So when she was informed that the peasants had no bread to eat, she replied, “Well, let them eat cake.”

“Sir, our children are growing up illiterate.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, sir, the schools are strained for resources. Most of the million or so schools do not have even the basic of facilities related to education. Many don’t even have blackboards, leave alone furniture. Some schools don’t even have teachers regularly. Girls especially are deterred from attending schools because of lack of proper toilet facilities. We just don’t have the financial and institutional resources to provide for the hundreds of millions of children we need to educate. We don’t have the money to pay teachers who will actually teach, we don’t have blackboards, books, note books, etc.”

“I see. The solution is simple, isn’t it? Give them laptops connected to the Internet. Let them use IT since we are an IT superpower.”

Now on to solutions. I have pondered the matter of education on these pages (see education related posts). In the next couple of weeks I will outline a proposal which I would like to implement. I want to transform the way education is funded and provided. If I can sufficient people to “vote” for it, I am sure that even the learned folks will have to admit that since we are a “democracy,” the system will have to be implemented.

  • http://www.broadbandblog.in Abhishek

    Atanu, I personally believe that IT can be an enabler. Laptops are no solution though.

    Let’s see. Why not implement a thin client model connected to a server which in turn is broadband enabled? From a central server, it might be possible to download engaging content. The entire computing takes place at the server end which makes it easy and simple to upgrade if need be. Plus, rich multimedia content can have it’s own advantages. Content creators would get meaningful employment too. It has the potential.

    Primarily, the human development indicators are way behing the developed nations. Interestingly Kerela seems to buck the national trend. I would be aghast if someone points out that it’s the commies at the forefront. Land distribution reforms may have played some part though. West Bengal is a study in contrast.

    The idea here is that people haven’t forced the elected representattives to step up investment in health care (which fell to 0.9% of GDP in 2001). Ditto for education sector. This is because of the grand staging of the elected “idiots” as you call them, to keep the country illiterate.

    This suits their purpose. An illiterate dude wouldn’t question. Almost next to nil awareness. And at election time, he would be happy with his “tharra” (or liquor). It doesn’t bother him whether or not agricultural subsidies are phased out in Europe. Or Retail entry would actually affect the “mom and pop” stores.

    A vast majority of the plain graduates (BA or BCom) are found to be unemployable. Literacy here too is doubtful in realistic terms. Add to the pressure of no job creation and we have a vast underemployed population.

    Finally,IT is a hogwash. Seriously. A new age cyber coolism with innumerable army of morons working in “call centres” do no good for the nation’s image. We have one of the worst telecom infrastructure; BSNL’s majority of the exchanges are outdated.

    It’s way too difficult really to single out any one reason for the mess. It’s a complex whole inter related tangle that would only solve itself out when we need a change. When there would be felt demand. Otherwise,it’s status quo.

  • http://seven_times_six.blogspot.com seven_times_six

    I feel that Education is an area of market failure; more so for higher education, but also for primary education.

    That is because the good universities and schools are never those that SEEK to make a lot of money/profit; in fact most of the great private universities in the US are all non-profit institutions managed by trustees.

    I’m not saying anything about accountability, which is a must; I’m just saying an institution like Harvard or MIT cannot come up by “market forces”.

    A specific analysis of the forces of incentives and accountability at play in the education sector is thus a must, due to its differing nature from normal market forces.

  • http://seven_times_six.blogspot.com seven_times_six

    Abhishek:
    It’s way too difficult really to single out any one reason for the mess.

    There is; this belief you and others have in centralized authority. The belief that it is a centralized govt forced by “informed citizens” which should “spur development”.

    People are adept enough to create prosperity if the govt does not create obstacles in their path. The key element is not “enabling” but “not disabling”.

  • Navin

    IT is only an “add on”. A “nice to have”.

    Its not the panacea to India’s educational problems.

    Lot of people are hyped up by the GDP growth and India Shining story just because they see new models of a. Cars
    b. Cellphones in the market.

    What they don’t realise is thousands of people slogging to produce millions of garments and export to West in exchange for a singe airplane. :-(

    We are abysmal in productivity and R&D capabilities mainly because of third world infrastructure we have.

    We always stay few years behind the curve in technology (although we call ourselves IT super power). Here in London, Blackberry and Wireless Internet are commonplace but I hear in India its a luxury.

    I sometimes wonder if I have to keep ranting like this forever :-)

  • Vivek S

    I am sometimes surprised that in a mediocre performing nation, how atleast IT works and people are making huge profits.

    The GDP will grow; We will have excellent cars, mobiles and i-Pod and whatever.

    Bangalore is a lesson. Some years before people said “Bangalore rocks!!!” Now I hear the other way “Bangalore sucks!!!” Still the MNCs are there and GDP is high there. Having all the MNCs and having lots of money doesnt make sense if people travel 2 hours inhaling CO2 or CO to office under stress.

    Singling out reason for the mess the nation is? “Corruption”. No matter the Government is socialistic or capitalistic or whatever, if “corruption” is not eliminated in the minds, then anything will be in a mess.

    I always hear bureaucrats are a problem. But there is this collector, in the district of Nagapattinam, who became so famous because of his relief measures during the Tsunami, that people protested against his transfer and he was asked to stay back.

    So, all bureaucrats are great?

    Instead of seeing things as either “black” or “white”, we should look at things which paint everything black.

  • Patel

    Here is a possible solution. I don’t know how easy it would be to implement. First it involves opening up the educational sector. Not very easy to do. But as you said Atanu in your interview, due to WTO rules, this will happen eventually regardless of the resistance put up by the gatekeepers.

    What the government should do is offer private “for profit” institutions a percentage of the tax revenue generated by each of the school’s students. Say for example a school has 1000 students. The government can promise to give x% of all taxes collected from each student up to a maximum of y dollars for z years. This would create a situation where the school would not only have a pivotal role in the students education, but also assisting them in finding employment, and making sure that they pay their taxes.

    The government for its part can direct education by offering a higher or lower percentage of the tax revenue for different fields i.e. IT, metallurgy, programing…

    Possible challenges would be:

    1. Imaginary schools/students used to generate revenues. This issue can be tackled by the creation of an independent regulartory authority similar to the SEBI.

    2. Private schools simply pluck out the talented students in public schools at the end of their education to try and maximize their profits. I wonder if taking the brightest students out and offering them a better education. But perhaps requiring schools to “adopt” students for a minimum of say 6 years can take care of this issue.

    Ultimately, this will make more efficient use of tax revenue, garrauntee greater tax compliance by the next generation, and make a much easier transition for students for acedemia to industry.

    Anybody see any major flaws?

  • http://parvativetri.blogspot.com Parvati

    Your proposal for cleaning up the education-act in India is awaited by me and many others too, I am sure..

    Patience
    Always pays :)