In a 11 March rediff article titled “Mediocrity has become the norm“, the transcript of an interview of Arun Shourie makes interesting reading. I especially like his views on how Indian education has to change.
I have been very fortunate, meaning I have not had to struggle with poverty so to say. I am the son of a very honest civil servant, a very creative one. But I struggled against authority, which would mean governments, dominant intellectual fashions etc. For instance, when everybody was a socialist, I felt that those controls, and the License Quota Raj is going to cost us a generation and everybody condemned what I wrote at that time.
The other evening at a dinner someone defended Mr Nehru. I had said that Nehru was clueless about economics: he insisted on a socialistic centrally planned economy and that it was a disaster. The other person said that Nehru went for socialistic planning because that was the fashion those days.
Yes, it may have been the fashion among ignorant retards. People who have vision and are intelligent see beyond the fashions of their time. They are leaders, not people who don’t know that they don’t know.
But let me not go on a rant on Nehru. There will be world enough and time.
. . . much of the change is brought about by very small elites. The great masses of India [ Images ] can’t produce metal alloys that are needed for rocketry, for missiles, for the Arjun tank. So, we must respect elitism when it is based on merit and competence. Now, mediocrity has become the norm. Intimidation has become argument, and assault has become proof. Because I can assault you therefore I am right.
So, I am much for elitism, which is based on opportunity or everybody, positive help for everybody. And, based entirely on performance and merit. The current, reducing elitism to be a prerogative (sic) word has come entirely from this Leftist discourse. Which is, under the guise of equality, you pull down the standards. And anyone who has achieved something, you say, damn fool, elitist.
I am sure that Shourie must have said “pejorative” and someone not too familiar with English took it as “prerogative.”
Anyway, the UPA government is doing its best to drag India back to some Gandhian state of innocence and purity where “spiritual” values fill the empty stomachs of Indians. The race to the bottom will see India at the bottom soon enough.
In 1982, I learn from the interview that Mrs Indira Gandhi got on Shourie’s case and got him fired from his newspaper job. That’s how dictators behave — if they don’t like what you write, they make life miserable for you.
Mrs Gandhi was a ruthless person. Her name is plastered over all sorts of schemes, roads, airports, and institutions. But Indians actually celebrate the triumphs of those who raped India — Aurangzeb is one such. Go to Delhi and drive around Mother Teresa Crescent. Another ruthless person.
Moving along, here’s what Shourie feels about private entrepreneurs in education
. . . they will come only if there is profit involved. But, they will not be able to build an institute, an institution of excellence, if they keep interfering and running it as a business. A good model is American institutions; they are all set up by millionaires. Somebody gives a million dollars, someone donates acres of land. But, after that he doesn’t interfere, he has that self-restraint to leave it to professionals, each of whom has been selected on the only criteria of their extreme dedication to education.
. . . My regret is that a larger number of Indian industrialists who have done well and set up institutes of excellence in their own industries have not done the same thing in education. I am quite hopeful that the new breed of entrepreneurs are self-made men, who did not have much money to begin with but are now billionaires.
If they are enabled to come into the field of education, they will bring the same spirit into education; that is my plea. If we don’t do that, the field will be open to racketeers, they will definitely come in and fill up the vacuum. That is the scene as of now, which happens in every society.
To the question of appropriate policy framework, Shourie says
The greater freedom to persons of worth to set up educational institutions, is one. But, at the same time strong rating agencies which are not in the hands of anybody, they are free spirits. True rating agencies, regulations but ratings that will put pressure for excellence. Some of those will be corrupted, no doubt.
Racketeers will suborn those who are doing the rating. But, some will arise among them saying ‘No, our future depends, even our business future depends on being a credible rating.’ Second thing that will improve standards is surfeit of supply. Today, racketeers are prospering, because there is a shortage. That is how regulaters get corrupt.
I have proposed that India should have an Education Regulatory Authority. See this post “A Modest Proposal to Make India 100 percent Literate in 3 years.” That post is around 6 years old.
Then Shourie is asked what he would do to bring about change.
To clean up the regulators, because that is the most accessible thing that a Minister can first do, UGC, AICTE and all. The main thing would be to encourage a large number of publications and freelancers to monitor their contributions. That would go a long way. Third, to do everything possible to turn our education system to the future. It’s not looking far enough, in terms of the syllabi, that’s very important.
Probably use technology to get over the shortage of good teachers. That’s very possible today and that would be a quick way to multiply quality in India. We can use institutions which are known for excellence to do their corporate social responsibility by becoming places to upgrade teacher quality in their regions.
I have added the emphasis in the last para quoted above. I have been working on precisely that for the last few years.
Mr Shourie is good. That is why India is unlikely to have him as the prime minister. A flock of sheep will not vote to have a lion as their leader.
[Hat tip: Akshar Prabhudesai for the link.]