Atanu Dey On India's Development

Nursery Schools and Government Malfeasance

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Mumbai makes me mad. Never mind the alliteration, I cannot stand the horrendous traffic, the repeated demented wail of mosque loudspeakers, the incessant honking of vehicles, and the crowds. But then, I was on Bangalore a few days ago and it was not much better. (Bengaluru is now the proper name but it sounds strange to a Bengali.) Bengaluru too has horrendous traffic, demented wailing from a few thousand mosques, the honking, . . . Signs of urban decay and disastrous descent into chaos is depressingly ubiquitous and inescapable. If that has not cheered you up, continue reading.

Delhi Nursery Schools Still Tougher to Crack Than Harvard?” says a blog post at the WSJ.

The post does mention the government a couple of times — “. . . the government decided to abolish interviews at the nursery level . . . In 2006 a government committee came up with a system that gave kids points from 0 to 100 for . . .” — but does not reveal a connection between the acute and persistent shortage in the education sector and government action.

The government through its heavy-handed control and ineptitude has brought the Indian education system to this sorry state. The people are clueless about this fact — naturally so since they are largely the product of that same inadequate education system which does not equip them with critical thinking skills. In a different state of the world, the parents would have dragged out the bureaucrats in charge of controlling the education system and given them a sound whipping.

I am repeating myself here but here’s the story about government control and shortages. The government engineers the shortage by imposing barriers to the supply. This is done through a licensing scheme. It hands out the licenses at a price. That’s where the black money originates, which then ends up in overseas banks. The quantum of black money abroad is now reportedly around $1.5 trillion.

According to media reports, the Italian-born UPA Chairman Antonia Maino aka Sonia Gandhi’s family has a few billion dollars salted away. These reports have been surfacing regularly and have met with stony silence from the accused, underlining their veracity.

The billions of the Gandhi family being both bribes and monies stashed away in Swiss banks, they are inextricably linked to the larger issue of bringing back the huge national wealth stashed abroad. All world nations, except India, are mad after their black wealth secreted in Swiss and like banks. But India has shown little enthusiasm to track the illicit funds of Indians in Swiss and other banks. Why such reticence?

Why such reticence? Because the government of Antonia Maino cannot reasonably be expected to recover the money from her. The money was not taken for safe-keeping. It was taken away for keeps.

Before moving on, here’s a point worth noting. In the quote above, it says, “India has shown little enthusiasm to track the illicit funds . . . ” India is a country and not an individual. Individuals have emotions and motivations that abstractions like a country cannot have. As a figure of speech (synecdoche), writing “India” to mean “people who are in the government of India” is understandable. But we have to be careful that that shorthand way of writing does not lead to shortcuts in thinking.

The word “government” is an abstraction, and what the government does is done by real flesh and blood people. These flesh and blood people are self-interested people, just like you and me. The people who run the government do what is in their interest, which may or may not be in the larger interests of the people they are supposed to serve.

Anyway, back to our main story. The government erects barriers to entry, and charges a high price for handing out licenses. The resulting supply shortage leads to high prices. Desperate people pay whatever they can. The difference between the high prices and the costs is profits — which is absolutely needed to pay for the licenses that were obtained through black money.

Same old story in every sector that the government controls — which means practically all aspects of the Indian economy since India is a socialist economy.

Talking of which, the other day, I was at a dinner party. One dinner guest was surprised to learn that India was a socialist country. He was surprised to learn that to contest elections, political parties have to swear that they uphold socialist principles.

Socialism is great — for the leaders, not the people. In socialism, the state is supreme and controls everything. The people obey and the leaders command. The vicious cycle of socialism goes thusly: the people are serfs; the leaders lord it over the people and impoverish them; the people beg for their existence; the leaders throw out scraps to those people who bow and scrape and grovel on bended knees; the people reduced to beggars hold the leaders up as their benefactors; the cycle of impoverishment and dependence continues.

Every street of Mumbai is resplendent with huge bill boards with pictures of Antonia Maino aka Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders. These are the people who have billions stashed away. The people vote for them. In exchange, the government of Antonia Maino taxes the working stiffs and uses the tax monies to fund schemes that are named after the Nehru-Gandhi family. The people who are reduced to beggary by the Nehru-Gandhi family vote for the Congress. The middle-class watches helplessly.

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Back to the WSJ blog post. One comment by someone who goes by “frodo” says — frodo wrote:

Reading this, I am puzzled as to why parents don’t skip school and form homeschool groups instead. Given the tuition charged by the top schools, a group of as few as four students would be able to hire good quality tutors for the children. Or do the schools function more as childcare establishments, such that most of their value is in taking the children off the parents otherwise busy schedules?

I could not agree more. I have been telling people that they should homeschool their kids. The current system of sending kids to schools where they sit in classrooms of 30 or 40 kids of the same age is about 200 years old. The system was invented to meet the specific needs of a world that is totally different from the world of today and tomorrow. If you want your kids to be prepared to meet the world that they will face, you have to get them out of a system what is totally outdated and obsolete.

If you want the school system to turn your kids into retards, by all means get them enrolled into schools — the government mandates who will teach, what will be taught, who will attend, etc. But be prepared for the consequences.

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In my opinion, homeschooling is not really a choice any more. It is the only alternative for parents who don’t want to handicap their children.

  • http://rexzilla.livejournal.com Rex

    Homeschooling is a good way to get out of the system. In India however, such a choice entails removing your kid from the entire rat race of admissions, entrance exams and the like. It may help imbibe critical thinking, but at the end of the day one still has to take the secondary school exams to be eligible for higher study.

    Homeschooling can only be a precursor to sending your children to study abroad – our educational institutions here still value rote learning and regurgitation of facts above all else.

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  • Ranger

    Atanu, I am first of all depressed most of the time when I think of the situation in India, and then I visit your blog and find 100 more reasons to be depressed…… its like we are in a car in which the brakes have failed, the steering wheel has come off and it is going at 100 kmh in heavy traffic…….

  • Chakram

    @Ranger, enough enough. let the peril unfold as fast as possible.could not take it anymore.

  • Sridhar

    Wonder how less guilty are the Swiss Banks with their secretive policies and willingness to take any amount of deposits regardless of individual sources of income. Should these secretive banks not exist, the Sonias or Rajas in third world countries would settle for something less.

  • Rationalist

    @Atanu: Why don’t you add sharing options to this blog. F(acebook),T(witter),D(igg),… and others.

  • http://www.indianliberals.org Ashish Deodhar

    Homeschooling is a good option but our system doesn’t support it. Think of someone who wants to get into the best engineering/business colleges/universities. They have to have certain certifications (degree etc.) offered by the government. To get those certifications, one must pass the exams set again by the government. And to be able to pass those exams, one must know what the government expects one to know.

    I think the better solution is to get the government out of the education sector completely. Abolish the boards, privatise the universities. Allow people to learn what they want, as much as they want.

  • TiredProf

    “Allow people to learn what they want, as much as they want.” — Which brings us back to Idiocracy.

  • Manish

    @Ashish Deodhar,

    It is not called Home School in our country (at least in the state of Maharashtra), but rather called appearing for SSC and HSC exam privately. Please refer to page 36 of this document of Maharashtra State Board, which provides information for taking SSC and HSC exams as private student.

    Also, while growing up, we used to visit Calcutta every year, and it was not very un-common to see kids of some of my uncles neighbors being home schooled.

    The real problem is, just like the admissions to schools are shrouded in mystery, information about home schooling is also hard to come by in our country. As opposed to this, in the US there are many support groups that actively encourage home schooling.

    I have visited couple of schools so far in Pune to interview them for my 3 year old. I could barely tolerate the principals (as they ramble on and on about syllabus. I do not know whatever happened to those graceful ladies who used to be principals when I went to school). None of them gave me confidence of trusting my kids future in their hand. Personally I do not want my kid to study in any of those schools.

  • http://www.indianliberals.org Ashish Deodhar

    Manish

    You are absolutely right about the standard of today’s schools. It wasn’t very good even when I went to school 15-odd years ago.

    But the SSC and HSC boards are what I have a problem with. If these boards are going to set exam papers, the students will have to prepare for those exams – be it at home or at school. Think about how these children prepare for these board exams. I remember mugging everything up without understanding any of it. I got good grades. Oh and yes, most of it was home schooling (although I went to school and coaching classes etc.)

    The better idea is to abolish these boards. Don’t set any exams. Give the children free hand with the subjects they like. Let them learn as much or as little as they want. Some children can learn a lot more in a short span whilst others take their own time. Setting a common annual “curriculum” is unfair to both types of children.

    Let there be entrance exams only for university applications for the chosen subject. What’s the point in testing someone’s biology knowledge if that someone is interested in accounting in the first place? Imagine the possibilities of letting a child concentrate only on maths for 10 years of his educational life than making him “learn” everything from history to biology!

  • Madhusudan

    Home schooling is a good option. The britisher made the education system of India in such a way as to keep the child in the school for a longer time.
    However, parents who are teaching their children at home are realizing that their children have the ability of learning very fast, faster than the current curriculum of the schools in india (NCERT, ICSE, State boards etc.)

    The students then become eligible to appear for 10th and 12th standard at an age atleast 2 years before their counterparts in Schools. That edge over others can be gained by homeschooling. but there are other factors also that govern the development of child. but it is certain that the growth of child will be retarded by home schooling.

    I’ll cite one example: teaching children sanskrit as a language can help them develop critical thinking at a faster rate than the existing schooling system in India.

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  • http://www.graduatetutor.com/microsoft-excel-tutorial.php Microsoft Excel Tutor

    Atanu,

    Great piece. You are right, it is a demand vs. supply issue caused by government barriers that is causing this problem. The state and the central government create problems because both want to handle the black money generated!

    The root is the corruption in society. You had an article titled A ‘National Character Flaw’ and we are all participants in our society. We have to lead the change.

    MET

  • http://www.graduatetutor.com/microsoft-excel-tutorial.php Senith

    Atanu

    Its an issue in our country. We amplify this problem as parents when we think our kids can succeed only if they join a top 20 school.

    I noticed that this problem in China when I visited in 2005. I think when larger a population chases few opportunities, competition gets extreme and every second from a child’s birth is used to get them an advantage! It robs parents and children of life and lesiure.