Tagged: Education

Social Disadvantage and Meritocracy


Of late, I have been encountering some interesting and poignant articles on the above rather complex topic. The relevance of this topic comes up time and again during wide-ranging discussions with intellectual friends that I am fortunate to have.

Again, this is not the first time I am touching upon this sensitive area as it pertains to India. I have always been sensitive to the socially disadvantaged sections of the Indian Society. I was given an education on the same by one of my engineering school classmates, who was from what we call in India as “lower caste” – a caste that successive Indian Governments have categorized for special treatment due to centuries of penury and depravement. When I see poor people in Singapore (!) who need three meals everyday to be provided by charity, I am reminded of those sections of the society who do not have three meals in India. Disclosure: I try to work at the Willing Hearts Charity and contribute in cooking/packing meals during weekends, as I believe money does not solve everything, and our personal time commitment is called for.

While I never had a superiority complex within myself during my school days, I was kind of different from many others in my network as my father was a lawyer and author, who was open to fresh perspectives and ideas, and treated everyone equal when they arrived in his office. There was no special treatment for anyone, and neither did he indulge me. He asked me to read complicated texts much beyond my age, and always insisted that I should be good in English writing, and be sympathetic to the poor on the streets and not despise them.

I learnt from my secondary school days that Jesuit Fathers who taught me (I was lucky) treated all students in the same manner – there was no preference because some students practiced Christianity. My primary school days were also very good as I was in a Catholic School which inculcated values and equal treatment of everyone. This does not mean that I changed over from Hinduism to Christianity – I just liked the structure that Christianity put in place as compared to the unstructured Hinduism, though I have to say that Hinduism perpetuated an openness and creativity due its amorphous existence. Well, this is becoming a discussion on religions, which it is not!

Let us get back to casteism and the perpetuation of the same in Indian society. Unfortunately the Caste System exists even today in India, and people belonging to different castes and even sub-castes get treated differently by the powers that be. Vote bank politics is the cause of many of the ills plaguing the society, and the perpetuations of the caste system is a direct result of the same.

In my opinion, meritocracy has no relationship to the caste system. It is a surprising derivation to most of my friends, who beg to differ. My perspective is as follows: the presence of merit is uneven in any society. There are excellent students in lower castes of the Indian Society (as is often proven via results from competitive exams), there may be more excellent students in the “upper” castes due to the conducive environment provided to them by their established family background and systems. The concentration of merit is surely uneven, and given the proper learning and supportive environment, no one should be surprised if students belonging to lower castes outperform students coming from upper castes.

But it is not about the caste system – the very analysis of caste-based performance in everything ranging from academic excellence to business to economics to politics is ruinous as has been evidenced by over six decades of India’s existence. It is critical to support the lower rungs of “untouchables” who were led by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1930s to enter Hindu Temples. Many of these untouchables still continue in their old profession even 90 years after Mahatma Gandhi “touched” them. Less than 10% of these lowest rung of society has climbed to higher levels with regard to standing in society. Should we be ashamed? Yes, of course. Democracy is supposed to do far better. Is there a caste system in the U.S. or the U.K.? Why do we have one in India?

However, for the lower castes which have matched the upper castes in their economic performance, measured in terms of GDP per Capita, the government need not continue to provide support. These lower castes should hold their heads high and march along with the upper castes towards contributing to the economic predominance of India in the coming years, and should not let votebank politics dictate terms to them. A similar advice is applicable to the upper castes – no upper caste is superior to any other caste or person coming from any kind of background. People are created equal. We should get this into our “hard” heads. Unless we mingle with everyone in a casteless society (like what you see in the Silicon Valley – would anyone even mention India’s Caste System when setting up a company and recruiting professionals in the Valley?), India cannot progress towards an egalitarian society.

I would like to repeat that the economically disadvantaged sections of the society, the “untouchables”, the lowest rungs of the society – these are people who need everyone’s support to climb the ladder. Let us not knock off this ladder.

Government should re-engineer the society; every eligible individaul who is economically disadvantaged should be given limited entitlements for a period of time so that he or she can upgrade himself or herself. And, this starts with compulsory education for ALL.

THINK DIFFERENTLY! India is rising to the top of the world’s pecking order, and we need to rise ourselves!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th August 2016

Hygiene and Health


I debated about how I should name this blog post. Should it have been “Toilets, Hygiene and Health”? Or, should it just be “The Indian Toilet Situation”?

There was a recent case in South India (Tamil Nadu State) when a girl child aged 9 years died due to kidney troubles caused by holding off nature’s call for whole days at school. The school spared only 10 minutes for recess between classes and they had just 10 toilets for some 400 students. Girls are disadvantaged when there is not enough time to cater to nature’s call (as do boys but at least they have urinals though no one knows their situation). When the concerned girl complained of pains, doctors diagnosed problems with her kidneys.

Such situations are not uncommon in India where public toilets are in very short supply. The most disheartening thing is that young boys and girls in schools who are the future generation, suffer in a most humiliating manner when they cannot even get access or time to fulfil their most pressing need from a physiological point of view. Government and school administrations should be embarrassed.

Despite the call of the current Indian Prime Minister to build more toilets, there has been no perceptible improvement on the ground. India operates on a federal structure which means that it is not necessary that a State Government should heed the call of the Central Government. The only way is persuasion or defeating the ruling party at the next hustings.

It is time for the people who pay taxes to demand proper hygiene and toilet infrastructure services from the government and public schools and public office buildings. It is the government which has to serve the needs of the people, rather than the other way around. The argument that there are not enough receipts against needed expenses won’t fly as the budgeting process is flawed if it cannot cater to the fundamental needs of the citizens.

According to Centre for Water Resources & Management, India, only 47% of India’s population have access to toilet facilities. And only 36% of these toilets have septic tanks. Given that there are a number of toilet innovations from a variety of private companies in India, it is imperative for the government to buy and install these toilet facilities according to a set formula for population access in both rural and urban areas. While the government now collects a cess related to this program, it is difficult to see the results.

Enter the private corporations of India. Even if the top 50 listed companies of India direct 50% of their CSR budgets towards toilet building (which the government can match Rupee for Rupee), India’s toilet problem can be solved in flat 12 months. Eco and Bio toilets are available today at prices ranging from INR 18,000 to INR 30,000 and the prices will come down if demand is established.

I do not know what we are waiting for. But I do know that children, their personal hygiene and health are getting affected every day in schools, and we have to do something very urgently on a war-footing to solve this problem. Many of us have some discretionary monies available for charity, why don’t we contribute to this magnanimous purpose instead of other kinds of donations? It is proven that if the donor can see and feel the result of his/her donation, he or she will contribute more and continuously.

Time to change the toilet situation in India. Let us follow Prime Minister Modi’s vision but not the slow-moving government machinery. Let us leverage India’s phenomenal private enterprise to solve this problem.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th August 2016

Overstepping Zeal


The recent incident of a 14-year old student being handcuffed by the police in Irving, Texas, U.S., for bringing a digital clock to the school yet again demonstrates the overzealousness of law enforcement officials in the U.S. This incident also shows that the School involved (MacArthur High School) did not follow procedures, or logic, though they claim they did. They did not even inform the father of the student before the police was called in for investigating the matter.

What did the police do ? They promptly profiled Ahmed Mohamed racially and determined that the device he built was a threat to the School because it could have been a “bomb”.

There are many learning points in this whole episode.

One is that the teacher who reported the matter did not use simple logic. He or she knows the concerned student, and probably knows that he is a builder of scientific things.

The engineering teacher who appreciated Ahmed should have informed the other teachers and the school administration that Ahmed has built a digital clock and would like to show it off to the class. He did not and told Ahmed not to tell the other teachers about the clock.

The other angle is that the parents of Ahmed should have known that he was taking the clock in a briefcase to the School. Shouldn’t they have informed the class teacher that he is bringing his new contraption to the School, and that he should be given some demo time, for instance ? Even this basic thing did not happen, and for this I have to only blame the parents. They know what Ahmed was doing or building anyway.

The School should have known that it was just a digital clock – where was the engineering teacher who knew that ? Did he go absconding ? Why report to the Police when they could have determined what it was in the first place and could have also told Ahmed to inform them in advance in future ? Why couldn’t the School have a conversation with the parents, who they obviously knew ?

The Police action is no surprise at all – most police officers in the U.S. seem to think that everyone is a criminal unless proven otherwise. And, they seem to believe in tough enforcement without delving deep, and make symbolic communication like handcuffing 14-year olds, so that the society will learn to reform itself.

High-handedness is no good in a democratic civil society. Overzealousness to arrest and prosecute people with the only fear of getting shot by the criminal is not acceptable in a civil society, because every one has his/her right to be heard and a right to life. The U.S. law enforcement needs urgent fixing. I was shocked to read that in 2015 till date, 834 people have been shot and killed by U.S. police officers (as per a report that I read in Guardian).

Racial profiling of minority communities such as Muslims in the U.S. who are already in a state of siege has to be challenged. Not every one is a criminal or a terrorist just because he or she comes from a minority community.

Well, if you put all facts together, it is clear that all parties to this episode have messed up, and exacerbated an antagonism which already exists in the American society. While most things about the U.S. are good or all right, on this one factor the U.S. has not achieved freedom for its citizens. The whole world is witnessing dramatic incidents like these which only continue to spoil the image of the U.S. in the eyes of the world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th September 2015

English Language – It is very Phunny


Courtesy: Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate

Some words have different meanings and yet they’re spelled the same.
A cricket is an insect, to play it – it’s a game.
On every hand, in every land, it’s thoroughly agreed,
The English language to explain, is very hard indeed.
Some people say that you’re dear, yet dear is far from cheap.
A jumper is a thing to wear, yet a jumper has to leap.
It’s very clear, it’s very queer, and, pray who to blame
For different meanings to some words pronounced and spelled the same?
A little journey is a trip, a trip is when you fall.
It doesn’t mean you have to dance whene’er you hold a ball.
Now here’s a thing that puzzles me: musicians of good taste
Will very often form a band – I’ve one around my waist!
You spin a top, go for a spin, or spin a yarn maybe –
Yet every spin’s a different spin, as you can plainly see.
Now here’s a most peculiar thing, ’twas told me as a joke –
A dumb man wouldn’t speak a word, yet seized a wheel and spoke!
A door may often be ajar, but give the door a slam
And then your nerves receive a jar – and then there’s jars of jam.
You’ve heard, of course, of traffic jams, and jams you give your thumbs.
And adders, too, one is a snake, the other adds up sums.
A policeman is a copper, it’s nickname (impolite!)
Yet a copper in the kitchen is an article you light.
On every hand, in every land, it’s thoroughly agreed,
The English language to explain is very hard indeed!
Now note the words and pronunciation
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –
And only Scotsmen call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
and here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And do and go, and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive –
I’d mastered it when I was five.
(Author Unknown)

Courtesy: Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
14th Sep 2013

India Story – A Big Questionmark ?


The India Shining Story seems to be coming unstuck.

Never mind, it was anyway not brilliantly shining at any point in time. Achieving a GDP growth rate of over 8% for a few years should not please anyone, as the uplifting of the rural poor is not complete. Healthcare and Primary Education are in a state of mess. Infrastructure is debilitating. Just one look at China, anyone with some intelligence will realize that a Communist Dictatorship can achieve much more in resolving peoples’ problems and lifting the country out of its poverty than does the world’s most populous democracy.

What gives ?

The system of government does not seem to be the determining factor in achieving economic growth. If we take that factor out of the equation, then things become clearer to an observer. Or else, we will be unnecessarily attributing the success of China to its authoritarian government, and praising India for achieving even a modest rate of growth as the result of sustained democracy.

That would be hogwash.

What exactly drives a country towards a better economic performance and an achievement-oriented mindset ? What are the factors behind success in the world scene – be it a social power or an economic power for a country ? What drives things and people ? What attracts investors ?

There is only one answer, and I do not have any doubt about this answer.

What is it ?

It is EDUCATION. India invests less than 1.5% of its annual budget on Primary Education – a developed country invests typically double that figure, sometimes even 4%. China invests a much higher figure on education overall.

Look at the results. Not even one Indian University is in the Top 200 institutions in the world in any survey – a few Indian Institutes of Technology are there in the Top 100 but way behind the leading Asian Universities from Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

The status of Primary Education in India is nothing short of pathetic. No proper schools for more than half of the primary school going children, no proper facilities and in most cases, no teachers.

And, what does the government do ? Just make tall promises and in most instances, just ignore the problem. What did India learn from the Asian Economic miracle and Asian Educational successes ? Nothing, it seems. India did not learn anything either from the West or the East when it comes to quality of education.

How can this situation be changed rapidly given that investments in education take a long time to produce results ?

By bringing foreign universities and institutions into India since Indian school systems and universities have failed their cause and the people of India. Accept the failure and get in the experts to fix the system. Even the Indian system of educational accreditation was riddled with corruption.

India needs to invest at least 3 to 4% of its annual budget on education and reduce its defence expenditure. Healthcare also needs massive investments given the status of Government-run Hospitals, but that is a separate discussion ! Something like USD 50 to 70B of annual investments in educational infrastructure and quality is called for.

Private investments are required, and the Public-Private Partnership model will produce a better quality result than the government of India itself.

Serious and urgent discussions are required in this sphere to arrest the decline and reverse the trend.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
22nd June 2013

Two Great Stories


Courtesy: Anu, my IIM-B Classmate

Two Great Stories with Brilliant Ending

YOU NEED TO READ BOTH STORIES

STORY NUMBER ONE

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago . Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason.. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal manoeuvre kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends, as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day….. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block……….

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him.

Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object.

And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; he couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example….

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done.He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified.

Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street .. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he would ever pay.. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine.

The poem read:

“The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.”

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare.

He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank.

He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese Aircraft was speeding its way toward the American Fleet.

The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenceless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet.

Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes.. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent.

Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So, the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?

Butch O’Hare was “Easy Eddie’s” son……….

Courtesy: Anu, my IIM-B Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
16th Feb 2013
Mumbai

Why Planning is important?


Courtesy: Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate

One Night 4 college students were playing till late night and could not study for the test which was scheduled for the next day.

In the morning they thought of a plan. They made themselves look dirty with grease and dirt. They then went up to the Dean and said that they had gone out to a wedding last night and on their return the tire of their car burst and they had to push the car all the way back and that they were in no condition to appear for the test.
So the Dean said they could have the re-test after 3 days. They thanked him and said they would be ready by that time.

On the third day they appeared before the Dean. The Dean said that as this was a Special Condition Test, all four were required to sit in separate classrooms for the test. They all agreed as they had prepared well in the last 3 days.
.

.
.
The Test consisted of 2 questions with a total of 100 Marks.

See Below for the question Paper:

Q.1. Name of the car??
……….. ………… ……… (2 MARKS)

Q.2. which tire burst? (98 MARKS)

a) Front Left b) Front Right
c) Back Left d) Back Right

True story from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay…. a world class Technology university located in Mumbai, India.

Courtesy: Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
8th January 2012
Mumbai