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Monday, 25 May 2015 00:00

The Great Indian Education Loot

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My first memory of school is of the day I was literally dragged by four boys to the primary school in our village, and as they handed over their find to the headmaster, of being slapped real hard by him.


My crime was that I was of school going age, but was not in the school when it was in session. The four boys were one of the teams the headmaster used to routinely send in the village, and even in the fields, to find boys who should have been in the school, but were not.

The headmaster was a terror, a larger than life being, for the boys in the village. (Girls did not have to fear him, they had their own “Kanya Pathshala.”) I can still relive him: in spotless white dhoti-kurta and turban, walking tall, with children in the village scattering like deer herd when it spots a lion. He was from a neighbouring village, but he occasionally used to visit village after school hours to meet friends and acquittances, and even during vacations, as he was invited to weddings and other functions by the village families, being a very revered figure. As soon as a boy would spot him coming towards village (school was about 500m from the village), the word would immediately spread among all the boys of the village, and we would hid ourselves, wherever we could.

Nobody could ever enter the school premises when it was closed. It had flower beds, trees, a well, and clean toilets even in those days. It was always clean, we used to clean it, there was no staff for that. And of course there were no mid-day meals.

There were very few books, and early classes had no note books. The takhti (a wooden flat) was on what we used to learn to write. It had no furniture for any class, we used to carry our own rugs. IV and V class had rooms for them, all the rest of us were sheltered by trees.

Subjects were chiefly two: mathematics, and Hindi (our mother tongue). I dimly remember being introduced to elementary Geography and History later in the primary school.

But what emphasis it was on mathematics! Tables up to 40 were a must for all by the time they reached V class, and the day in school was mostly spent on mathematics, mathematics, and more mathematics. Before closing for the day, we were all assembled, and made to repeat tables in unison.

School hardly cost anything to the parents of the boys. Books once purchased would last two to three years in the extended family and among neighbours. And rest all was “manufactured” in the village: the takhti, the ink, the kalam. And no, we were not required to wear any uniform.

Mathematics and Hindi have always stayed with me. And with the boys. Most floundered by the time they reached Highschool in the nearby town (the village school was only up to V), and dropped out, with the resignation,”Aage padhne se hoga kya? Naukari to kahi hai nahi,” but they never forgot to count and to read. Their parents in fact agreed,”Too much education would make him unfit for farming, and a job he won’t get. Why waste time and money, & him?”

Around mid ‘70s, when I was two to three years in school, the headmaster who had got me dragged to school, retired.

The country had had about two decades of socialism by that time, and its first consequence: corruption; was already making its presence felt.

Then slowly we saw the school in the village deteriorate: first the iron-clad rule of nobody entering it after school hours was broken. Soon, the flower beds were destroyed, the well went into disuse as it was not cleaned. The quotes on school room walls were disfigured into obscenities. Then the few chairs and tables meant for the teachers were stolen. After few years, even windows and doors went missing.

No raiding parties of boys searched the village for the boys shirking school. In fact, on many of the days even those who went there, came back without learning anything, as the teachers started being absent, something unimaginable in the time of the old headmaster.

Number of boys going to private schools in the nearby town became more than those attending the village school.

Decades later, I have learnt that the school still exists. Some boys go to it because it gives grains as part of mid-day meal scheme. But most boys of the village go to the two private schools that have come up in the village. Boys now have note books from the beginning, ball pen, uniform. Each boy is supposed to buy new books from the school itself at the beginning of each year.

Most boys now go on to pass class XII at least.

But jobs? Number of boys getting jobs is still almost the same. Because there are no jobs.

Parents of that generation were wiser: why waste time, money, and him; on education beyond middle school, if all that he would come back to is farming. Or may be parents now have no choice: after all they have no land left to call him back to.

I told above story of my village school to highlight the points that ail our education system, our society, our economy, our government, our education administrators, the thinking of the educated class, and have given rise to the racket that is called Indian education.

The headmaster of the school in my village I talked of in the beginning came to my mind as I studied socialism, and its first consequence: corruption. He had that aura and authority because he was honest. Study of socialism also revealed to me the reasons why the parents of that time thought education beyond middle school to be a waste. They knew the basic fact of life that our “policy experts,” educationists, bureaucrats, and politicians do not know: that education does not give jobs. Education does not give jobs; factories, businesses, and industries give us jobs. They knew that the only jobs going around at that time in India were government jobs, and even if all the children were to be post graduates, only the number equal to the number of vacancies would get the jobs, and vacancies were mostly in two or three digits each year.

As the persons like that headmaster, fired by the idealism of Freedom Struggle, and imbued with innate honesty that was the norm of life in India till seventies, gave way to post-Independence generation, that grew up with the corruption that came with the socialism we adopted as our governing economic system upon Independence; the authority that teachers carried vanished. As they took to tuitions, and stopped teaching in the schools, the respect for the teachers was also lost. Government schools decayed, as corrupt headmasters no longer controlled teachers, and tuition taking teachers no longer controlled students. Parents in desperation shifted their children to private schools, and The Great Indian Education Loot began in right earnest.

Till eighties, Government Inter College in each district of Uttar Pradesh (my state) used to be the best school for classes up to XII. Better than any of the few Catholic private schools in the district. And Kendriya Vidyalayas used to be the elite schools, the very best for real education.

As the corruption took hold of the education, government schools at all levels became almost defunct. Private schools could maintain some semblance of discipline, at least the regular attendance, and therefore now all those who can afford, and those who can barely afford, send their children to them. Affordability is the major issue, as these schools skin the desperate parents alive, at each stage: admissions, development fees, regular fees, books that have to be purchased from them, uniform that has to be purchased from them, on “picnics” and “tours.” And they teach a dozen subjects even at standard I level. At that level, and up to V class, I don’t think anything other than mathematics and two languages (mother tongue and English) need to be taught. Then come the tuitions. When I was in school, nobody knew of tuitions till at least class IX (the board year). Even then very few boys would go for tuitions in mathematics and English. And that was all about tuitions. Teachers who gave those tuitions never let that affect what they taught in class.

But now, tuitions start in the primary classes, and I was shocked to learn that children now take tuitions for subjects like history also. That is, for almost all the subjects they are being taught in class, they also go for tuitions. Even for young children, the day starts with tuitions, and ends with tuitions. And parents pay through their noses for all these, in the fond hope that with all that expenditure, their child would be the one to beat all others to get those rare jobs in government and private sector.

Jobs are still rare. Because for all practical purposes, we continue to be a socialist economy, with very few economic activities that generate jobs for the educated. And they are mostly in engineering.

Therefore there is mad scramble to get into an engineering college. The elitist columnists may make fun of this middle class obsession with engineering college, but what choices do the parents have?

After all, a low value economy like ours can support only that many painters, musicians, artists, journalists, writers. If you are not able to get into an engineering college, or later into a government job, you are done with, finished, looking at starvation. And now with so many engineering colleges, even jobs after an engineering degree are just as elusive. Because, after all, factories, businesses, industries give us jobs, not our degrees.

And one may ask why the graduates we are producing in bulk can’t start their own businesses. Well, answer again is: because of socialism.

Government of India has now stopped nationalisations or setting up new industries in public sector. But that it has compensated by increasing regulations manifold. Regulations of all kinds, with new ones like Environmental regulations being invented daily.

Therefore if you try to start a new business in India, there are about 50 government departments that would rush to prevent you from doing so. We are 142nd on the index of ease of doing business. And we pay for the salaries of all those who are keeping us there. Not just salaries, but their bribes also. Then if a courageous entrepreneur beats all those 50 departments, he discovers that there is no land on which to set up the industry: in the rural area it is endless wait for acquisition/change in land use plan. In the urban areas, all premises are locked in rent-control laws. After this stage, he discovers that there is no electricity, and he has to use costly diesel gen-sets. And as the factory gets going, come the labour inspectors, trade union mafia, and criminals who demand extortion money under threat of kidnapping his children. And in many cases, some Environment Lord may come and shut down the factory, if not jail the owner.

So this is the scene that enables, facilitates Great Indian Education Loot:

Corruption has made sure that government school system has collapsed.
The Private schools have filled the vacuum, but are fleecing the parents.
Very few courses guarantee a job, and therefore a decent life, and therefore there is a mad scramble to get into those courses, particularly at reputed colleges like IITs.
This desperation is being used to fleece parents through coaching classes.
Now even Institutes of higher education are being opened up, to fleece the desperate parents whose child could not get into a government (and therefore subsidised) college, of course with hardly any prospects of a matching job.
Government is coming up with all sorts of weird solutions, typical socialist solutions which only exacerbate the problem: there is to be no Boards, then marks in school exams to be counted in deciding merit for entry into Engineering and medical colleges., mid-day meals to be used to bribe the students so that they attend schools, no child to be failed till class VIII. (this fraud was possible only in a kleptocracy like India. By promoting a child who would otherwise not have advanced to class VIII, we are cheating the child, we are cheating his parents, we are cheating his employers, we are cheating the society.). That is all solutions except the only real solution, and that is dismantling of socialism.

How and why dismantling of socialism is the only solution of the education problem of India?

If the socialism is dismantled, there would be all round economic activities in India. Jobs would be available for all, not just for engineers and doctors. The society would be able to support enough numbers of painters, musicians, artists, journalists, writers. People would acquire reading and writing skills, and then they would start their businesses, instead of wasting their time on higher education. We do not need everybody to be a PhD. PhD degree doesn’t give job to anybody. Some other economic activity does. And only economic activities fund the research which leads to PhD degrees. And only economic activities support the research for its own sake. PhD or research papers should not be there to advance academic careers, but to actually add to our knowledge or solve some problem referred to the colleges by industry. Somehow now we have come to believe in the idiocy that number of PhDs would reflect our progress. Instead, only more economic activities would mean actual progress.

We do not need more IITs or IIMs. We are not able to give jobs to all the graduates from even the existing ones, and they have to migrate out of India in search of jobs. Medical colleges would come up on their own, once we have enough people who are able to pay the doctors what the doctors spend on their education and on setting up their clinics. Otherwise, nobody would enroll even in the existing medical colleges, or they won’t study sincerely.

Coming back to tuitions and coaching, the scourge has reached even the engineering and medical colleges also. Yes, you read that right, now the students of even engineering and medical collages go for tuitions. And there are coaching classes for all the competitive examinations for jobs. Fleecing of parents is never ending, and in most cases, there is nothing to show for it. No matching job that could recover in decent time all the money spent on admissions and all other fees, and expenditure on books, etc., from nursery classes to colleges and on all the tuitions during the whole education.

Of course our ruling elite is totally unaware of all the above. They live in a different universe. That is why now they have come up with a boondoggle called “skill development.” As if, we do not get jobs because we lack skills. We do not get jobs not because we lack any skills, but because there are no jobs. All our skills can’t create a single job needing those skills. And if economy is opened up and jobs start getting created, people will automatically acquire the required skill, no government programme would be needed for that.

So to conclude:

It is the socialism generated culture of corruption that has destroyed Indian education. That has led to a situation in which Indian parents are being looted dry, at each stage. Even the poor in the remote villages are sending their children to private schools and paying beyond their capacity, only to discover that the child is still unemployed.
Education doesn’t have to be the costly the way it has become in India. Hardly any money is needed to be spent for a very great education. But for that government schools need to start functioning again. And that would happen only when socialism is dismantled and society rediscovers honesty. With that, even private schools would stop fleecing parents.
We do not need any more IITs or IIMs for the present. What we urgently need is complete separation of economy and state. With that would come economic activities, culture of crime and corruption would vanish, and with rule of law would come even more economic activities. Required institutions of higher learning would automatically come up to the required numbers.
Higher education is grossly overrated. It only wastes precious years of life, wastes money, and kills entrepreneurship. We need more trade, factories, businesses, industries; not more colleges of higher studies. Not every citizen needs to attend college. School education is quite sufficient for most entrepreneurship.
We do not need increased allocation for education. We should set the education free instead. No permissions should be required for schools upto XII class. Government should just issue all the laboratory and syllabus requirement, and let parents monitor the facilities in schools and decide to choose schools accordingly.

The Great Indian Education Loot started because of socialism we adopted as our economic philosophy, and it would end only with the dismantling of socialism. All other solutions are waste of precious childhood of our children, precious money, and would only prolong the agony. And would create generations of unemployed and unemployable.

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