Category Archives: perspectives

our daughters, education, choices

Ross Douthat has written an essay (hat tip to Sriram Naganathan, for the article) – The secrets of Princeton. This is a reaction to the essay that an ex-Princetonian Susan Patton wrote: Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had.

I would request all readers of this blog to read the above two articles – as they have a solid bearing and have valuable insights. Ross’ has more incite than insight, that is – but in the name of preservation of perverse diversity and promotion of Armed Chair Intellectualism, I would give Ross his due too, though I want him to get his just desserts.

My warped opinion follows:  The articles are an interesting read. They confirm my suspicions. Susan Patton’s essay is cool, honest & genuine.

I believe in meritocracy, elitism and all those politically incorrect & inconvenient terminologies – and of course in the basic ideas of that dismal science – economics.

I don’t much care for equality of opportunity (it exists anyway) but I care for the creation of equality of status.

I also believe that each child / adult can be (and SHOULD be) elitist in more ways than one. It is important for self preservation, especially in these times of the meteoric rise of mediocrity and continual institutionalization of sheer lumpen stupidity.

MartinLK always comes in handy – as he says ““If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

HONEY-AllLaborHasDigni_fmt

It is a fantastic idea to be an elite sweeper, as our Bapuji (also) was.

But am digressing, as is my wont, and let me get back to the Susan Patton ammunition.

When I talk to my village girls (they are in their 9-12th grades) – this is what I tell them. You are bright, superior children. You are the elite! You should go out and construct your own splendid lives. It is possible. Don’t settle for anything less than an equal. Go out and meet with boys and girls from the rest of the multiple worlds that we inhabit, who are your intellectual equals  And you make a choice. Don’t get hitched to a random useless drunken boor of a joker who has got nothing better than a perennial whine and thundering idiocy to boot.

In fact, we (wifey & I) are going to give the kind of advice that Susan would have given her daughter is she had one – to our daughter.

Thanks Susan, for your bold take on the subject.

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a handout for my lovely pupils… (and to myself!)

Generally, I deal with batches of adolescents from a few schools these days – as part of the game of a double edged sword called ‘education.’

The subjects that I pretend to teach range from history to sciences to choir music to computer programming. It has been fun.

Following is the sample text of a handout that I dish out to any given fresher to my sessions, for your edification.

=-=-=-=-=

I believe…

that you are a smart cookie.

For that matter, any and every individual is very smart, there is no exception whatsoever to this rule… of course, I am not being factitious here!

One may be bored or tired or lazy or whatever, but the fact is that every child / boy / girl is smart & super intelligent…

Why do I believe so? Why should we believe so??

Remember? In the first session we talked a little bit about the various parts of the brain, and the fact that all of have, more or less, the same amount of brain cells and that all of us at sometime or the other use 100% of our brain capacity (as opposed to the funny urban legends about most of us using only 5% of the brain) etc etc.

but we focused on a part of our fore-brain called Cerebrum.

  • This is the seat of our consciousness.
  • It is the center of mental activity.
  • It receives messages from the sense organs and enables us to observe our environment through them.
  • The information gained through the sense organs is stored in memory / cerebral cells (we all have the same number of them) – and are used when necessary; we commonly refer to it as the ‘memory power.’

The most important aspect of this cerebrum is that it is the seat of:

  1. Intelligence – all of us have the same amount – irrespective of what urban legends say.
  2. Emotions – all of us are capable emoting normally, with a few genetically wired exceptions.
  3. Reasoning power – we all have oodles of it!
  4. Imagination – ah, this is where some of us lack depth – but we can learn to imagine!
  5. Will power – and yeah, some of us may not be persistent cookies – but we can always train ourselves to enhance our will power.

So, it is the lack of the last two – the imagination and the will power – that largely makes us & molds us into mediocrity and poor performance – whereas all of us can be great models of excellence in our chosen fields…

In other words, there are no ‘born geniuses’ – the genius in us is always, without exception, brought out by the continuous application of our imagination and will power.

First things first…

There are some quotes in this section – for us to reflect on and internalize…

Ricki Riscorla (The principle of 7Ps)

Proper prior planning & preparation prevents poor performance.”

[Ricki was a much decorated US marine and a great leader, doer & and a humanitarian – he believed in planning and training and leaving nothing to chance]

Richard Feynman (on knowing and problem solving)

… you do not know anything until you have practiced.”

… You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

[Dick was one of the finest scientists that graced the earth – and an incredibly multifaceted one at that; besides being a Nobel laureate, he was a code decipherer, drummer, saxophonist, lock-picker, juggler and what not]

Yo-Yo Ma (on how to learn – coupez la difficulte en quatre)

When the problem is complex, you become tense, but when it is broken down into basic components, you can approach each element without stress.”

… then, when you put them all together, you do something that seems externally complex, but you don’t feel it that way… you know it from several different angles.”

[Yo-Yo is a great Brit cellist and a fantastic meta-learner]

Laura Ingalls Wilder (on perseverance and cheerfulness)

Things that have to be done, must be done cheerfully.”

[Laura was a famous American author of ‘Pioneer’ books – especially the series called Little House on the Prairie’]

Ralph Waldo Emerson (on Self-reliance)

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards… it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. “

[Of course you may already know of him! He was an American author of many other facets]

Robert A Heinlein (on the capacity of the human potential)

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

[He was an American, popular science fiction author and a great engineer among many other things]

Perhaps you can use the Internet to research and know more about these folks and much else.

=-=-=-=

The idea of this series of sessions (a few times a week) is to get an overall bearing on the basic building blocks of science & math in general – but with a particular reference to social sciences and the things around us.

The examples for the basic ideas / thoughts will mostly be from the sciences – but they are mappable to the rest of the knowledge realms.

Rules of the game:

  1. In every session a few basic ideas will be discussed – and some examples will be given.
  2. There would be some homework (not too much at all!) based on the ideas – post every session – that you will work on over the next couple of days. The submission of the homework is your feedback on what’s happening and this is important. Please give it the attention that it deserves. Non submissions will have definite consequences.
  3. Punctuality is an important attribute of life; lack of this will likely have its consequences.
  4. There would be simple but unannounced tests – and so regularity and rhythm in ‘studying’ will help a lot.
  5. Negative feedback in respect of 2, 3 and 4 will indicate your non-interest and we would need to discuss this to take some appropriate action.
  6. Look, nobody’s forcing you to ‘learn’ – and of course, nobody’s forcing me to ‘teach’ either – you and I are here, only because we want to be in this arrangement, voluntarily. If you feel that this not true, let us discuss.
  7. Believe me, learning (in terms of being curious, questioning and validating assumptions, unlearning, relearning, and thinking) is fun, if we are able to focus.

The idea of giving you these quick ref notes is to give some pointers – you may have to take your own notes to help yourself; as you see, these ref notes are not even grammatically complete! 🙂

Now… on to the rest of the notes, and to life and learning, please!

’tis elementary, sirs and madams…

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the adults (Radha and Swathi) in the lower elementary environment, today I (and many other parents and at least one grandparent) got to see the magic worked on by the children. *ganderbumps*

 

a view of the elemenary environment

a view of the elemenary environment (from the west entrance)

The adults called it an ‘open day’ – and the lower elementary parents were invited and most made it.We were lucky,

The idea was that some 16 children would prepare and very seriously present a few structured activities based on a few key montessori materials, to a visiting group of parents – and oh, it was lovely. Really… They were all in the flow of the materials and the knowledge of some of the things that are so intuitive and fantastic  in a good montessori environment.

a view of the elementary environment (from the south)

Materials such as for  pegboard, checker board, clock of eras, bead chains, grammar box, logical analysis, montessori protractor, layers of the earth, chordates & non-chordates, you are here, golden bead material (dynamic) etc etc – were presented with such aplomb and poise by children who were between 6 and 8 years of age.

I expected the children to get bored after some 10 times of presenting the same materials to the adults, but apparently they didn’t mind that. Apparently, when one child was asked “oh, it must be tiring, won’t you want to take a break and come back a little while later?”  The child replied, “I am slightly tired but have more energy. When my energy is completely spent, I will take rest…”

There was also this primary child, who gave me a surprising lesson a few years back, and ah, this child has come to elementary  – and not surprisingly, he has retained his self and intelligence – it was lovely to see him in focussed action on the peg board – he was presenting an approach to LCM to us.

I can go on and on and on about every child, but…

a view of the elementary materials room

With another child an adult had an interesting interaction. This child was with the  ‘you are here’ material. This is a set of concentric oval shaped sheets, with increasing average radii, and the idea was to say that individuals are recursively part of bigger entities, and the context goes all the way to the universe (from home, street, city, nation, earth, solar system, milkyway galzxy and then on to the local group and…). The child kept asking ‘where are you now’ eliciting answers. But,, when she reached the solar system and asked where you are now, and adult (not a teacher, thankfully) couldn’t control himself and said perhaps in a rather uncalled for  jocular vein,  ‘I am in galaxy, on MG Road’ – the child was flummoxed for a second but recovered. I didn’t. That’s because, I am a Suppandi.

Sometimes, I feel that we adults inhabit different universes – and mostly our universes are intentionally limited by us to only a few realms of possibilities. Whereas some of us adults limit our universes to MG Road, the children soar high, being very ‘centered’ that they are, they reach impossibly fantastic heights…  They may even do some inter-universal travel in their life times…

Therein lies the hope, I suppose.

Also, I find it impossible that the idea (nay, a dream) called nammashaale is able to exist! Long live the dream. I frankly do not want to wake up…

(Thanks again, children! That was lovely!!)

a view of a part of the elementary library

battle hymn of a chinese (=Indian) mom

Every once a while, these kinds of news reach my mostly unread mailbox, and I get an immediate urge to respond. But I have noticed (thankfully) that someone or the other of sane people out there, would always respond with solid data / emotions / intelligence to the nonsensical and banal  – the stuff that Amy Chuas are made of…

Oh the powers of distributed computing and ranting…

Anyway, my long suffering friend Azfar forwarded this tiger mom’s book (Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother) extract published by WSJ – and asked for my rabid comments. This was a while back.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:onXNCQ0mvlMJ:online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html+amy+chua+WSJ&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Another copy of the same content: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html?mod=ITP_review_0

I was frankly too horrified about the cocky surefootedness of this mom but generally mumbled something like ‘each unto his/her own’ etc etc. I thought I would eventually write a rejoinder, but realize that, of course, I can’t do a better job than Christine Carter, definitely…

How to raise an unhappy child
http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2011/01/20/how-to-raise-an-unhappy-child/

Lovely. Thanks Christine.

You may be interested in knowing about our desi editions of Helicopter Parents.

adam osborne – the idea of (NRI) Indianness

This post continues from – adam osborne – the man…

There is no jingoism here. There is only a suggestion of a reasonable pride about relevant parts in our history, our collective pasts and the present. Of course, there are certain parts that we need to introspect on too!

There is no suggestion of an empty glorification of the past. Just a few pertinent and plain questions – to make us think.

I have personally met quite a few of our NRIs (non resident Indians) and RNIs (resident non Indians) – and I am sure, you have too – who have these kinds of attitudes – observed so ably by Adam.

” A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants. “

— Macaulay.

How long do we hold on to the coat tails of the likes of Thomas Babington Macaulay? May be, we shall overcome, in spite of all the corruption and unrest and – am ashamed to admit to it  – in spite of my fellow Tamilians such as Raja and Karunanidhi. May be this too shall pass?

Here goes, the text of Adam’s April 1991 dataquest aricle:

I was raised in Tamil Nadu in South India, in the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharishi, of an English father and a Polish mother. Both were dedicated followers of Sri Ramana Maharishi. Therefore as a child growing up in the small town of Tiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu. I was fluent in Tamil and was surrounded by Indians who were proud of their nationality and heritage, and believed they had a lot to teach us Europeans.

I still speak enough Tamil to get by, and feel that my roots are indeed in India. I must be only professed “vellackaaren” Tamilian in America. After all, how could anyone, even an English boy, grown up in Tiruvannamalai, in the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharishi, and not acquire a pride in his roots? It is therefore with some misgivings that today I find myself dealing with Indians, many of whom do not feel proud of their Indianness.

Indian Americans represent the most affluent minority in America, ahead of Jewish Americans and Japanese americans. This is a statistic and not an opinion. Indians swarm all over the Silicon valley, where they are an integral part of most product development teams: be they teams developing new semiconductor chips, software packages or computers. Indians are recognized throughout America as technically superior. No Indian in America has to explain his educational background, or apologize for his technical training.

And yet, as a group, though Indian Americans are quick to acknowledge their caste, religion or family, they lack national pride. Indians are not proud of their nationality as Indians, something I realized many years ago. Something that puzzled me Recently, talking before Indian audiences on the lecture circuit, I have frequently talked to Indians of their lack of national pride, with telling results. Invariably, after making this assertion from the lecture podium, I find myself surrounded by Indians: Engineers, Scientists, doctors, even lawyers, all asserting the correctness of my observations,”You are correct,” they will assert. “I am not proud that I am an Indian.”

Is the reasons India’s colonial heritage? Who knows? But whatever the reason, it is a pity since the day Indians learn pride, India will rapidly move out of its third world status to become one of the world’s industrial powers. Today I work with an Indian American, trying to help him make his dream come true. And in the process, make my own dream come true, since I have hitched my dream to his. Then, with my dream realized, I will return to India, to preach Indian pride: not pride in being a Hindu, or practising Islam or being a Parsee, or a Sikh: not pride in being a Tamilian, or a telugu, or a punjabi, or a marwari; not pride in being a Brahmin rather than a lesser caste. These are all divisive differences that India would be better off without. But I will preach that Indians must learn to be proud of being Indians just as Singapore nationals are proud of their nationality, irrespective of their race or their religion. Then there will be no more shoddy Indian products, since every worker will generate output with the stamp of a proud man on it. With self-evident quality that screams out:”That is the work of an Indian!”

And corruption will decline. For, although bribes are solicited by greedy, dishonest men, as well as by men who do not earn enough to feed themselves and their families, and even though these root causes of corruption transcend the bases of lack of Indian pride of which I speak, nevertheless a proud man will pause, more than a man without pride, before extending his hand to receive a bribe.

And a proud Indian will try harder to be responsible for products and services that others will praise. And it is in that praise that India’s future Industrial greatness lies.

– – Adam Osborne

At one level, Adam fills me with hope.

— END —

adam osborne, the man…

I do not know how many of us remember Adam, I mean THE Adam.

A few days back, I was talking to Christopher Quilkey (the editor of the journal Mountain Path – published by Ramanashramam) – who visited Bangalore and us on some personal errand. Apparently he spent some 5 years personally tending to his ailing friend Adam – and Chris must have shared in the grief and sorrow of  witnessing the gradual and irreversible deterioration of a beautiful, straight-thinking and innovative brain.

But, some of us may not know Adam.

” The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect. “

— Adam Osborne

He was the guy who spent his childhood in Tiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu, prided himself for being the ‘only vellaikara tamil’ (the only white tamil) – and after a rather roller-coaster ride through life (and silicon valley),  finally breathed his last in 2003, in Kodaikanal in Tamilnadu.

These biographical details perhaps, are not that important. But, I personally admire him for three reasons:

1. He was a true pioneer of the relentless drive for making usable personal computers really economically. (thusly innovating in the area much before the other respectable guy,  Steve Jobs – am not even talking about Bill Gates) I would say that he was the first true PC entrepreneur.

2. Him being the first successful publisher of useful, affordable, very well designed computer books – in addition to being a very good author.

3. The fact that he talked persistently about the inferiority complex of many of us ‘learned’ Indians. (In this context, he even wrote a simple and hard hitting article in a computer trade magazine DataQuest, way back in 1991 – that is reproduced in the next blog entry)

… Chris shared  a few poignant details about the final years of Adam, and the human condition. One suddenly felt rather numb.

Chris is also a sensitive and fine raconteur of ideas – and of course, we then moved on to other common interests such as the dogs being very sentient, films etc etc. Such is life.

But I thought, I will share my admiration of Adam and that of his article which was making rounds on the USENET a couple of decades or so ago… It is worth reflecting on…

prof ved prakash of UGC

It is not often times that one gets to listen to fantastic and committed people, individuals with a burning passion, who walk their talk.

Sometimes such people may not have the gift of communication skills – but still manage to have an impact.

Some other times, good scientists and academicians get more and more senior in their respective hierarchies –  go up the echelons of power  and in the process, lose out on the perspectives I would call ‘earthworm’s views.’ Their talks and views no more have passion in them!

But, in a few few cases, some illustrious & accomplished souls also have the power of communication at their disposal and make incredible impact on the minds of audience, if the latter are open, that is!

In my opinion, great communicators are those, who don’t require visual  cues and random mnemonics to help them out with their presentation. Ah, the powerpointlessness is actually close to  nirvana!

So, it was a great pleasure to listen to Prof Ved Prakash, who held forth for nearly 1.5 hours (without any props) at a meeting organized at HP Labs India, by Dr Ramani. The fact that this event happened on 2nd August, 2005 does not matter. It still is 100% relevant.

In this talk, he touched upon various topics that concern education in India, such as the literacy levels, state of higher education & research, broadbasing education, the impact of books and libraries etc etc…  His passion and commitment shone through as also his impassioned plea to the researchers to do what is right, whatever one can, to help spread the idea of education around and empower others…

Frankly, I don’ t know whether it had  any impact at all (in most of the audience there in the room, at least!) as I knew even then that many of the minds there not really prepared to handle the information. I am of the opinion that, any (self) perceived  avant garde research lab, by and large indulges in hifalutin’ stuff, with little relevance to the problems at hand – and many of the researchers that populate the lab, have this incredible meta-cognitive state of suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. This malady is much more, if the labs happens to be an arm of some biggie big MNC.

May be this is a big & heartless waste of scarce resources, but I would say that all these ‘investments’ increase the GNP. They are useful, after all. Anyway…

Thanks to my ex-colleague Rama Vennelakanti, I had a copy of the recording of Prof Ved Prakash’s speech which I have now uploaded to rapidshare.

Please download all the four parts (split archives) and unrar then using the winrar utility. They contain a mp3 file:  ‘Dr Ved Prakash – HPLabsIndiaTalk – 02082005.mp3’

Do listen to it, and if possible, reflect on it. It is worth the effort.

3 x 19 MB + 18.5 MB =  75.5 MB

http://rapidshare.com/files/408588284/Dr_Ved_Prakash_-_speech_-_the_state_of_education__learning.part1.rar (MD5: 0843B25BC2B58BE3014D066FE66501B8)

http://rapidshare.com/files/408591572/Dr_Ved_Prakash_-_speech_-_the_state_of_education__learning.part2.rar (MD5: EF537B170938E77CBF2E821A762078C7)

http://rapidshare.com/files/408596118/Dr_Ved_Prakash_-_speech_-_the_state_of_education__learning.part3.rar (MD5: 9E7A0BF5957369CC41083C0E607F4DAE)

http://rapidshare.com/files/408596716/Dr_Ved_Prakash_-_speech_-_the_state_of_education__learning.part4.rar (MD5: 17F93020A2C438101F430EE5B8377FC3)

(This audio file is being shared with permission from Dr Ramani. Thanks sire!)

— END —

arun karuppaswamy (of IISc) fires a salvo…

This is a very fine essay titled ‘the six myths about engineering that you should know‘  – a MUST read for all the desperate & demon possessed parents who want their children (most of whom, unfortunately & firmly are still tucked into the wombs of their mothers, reluctant to be born, very understandable too, given the helicopters) to become a dokutor or an ingineeer or (god forbid) an IT goofball; they want their wards to start preparing for IIT JEE (thru FightJEE, DieJEE, RamJEE, whatever) the moment the hapless children get delivered! These parents obviously know that a valuable 9 months’ time has been completely squandered by their children, while they were rotting in the womb, doing nothing but floating around and generously kicking their mothers! grrr

And, these children grow up and eventually become ingineeers (without the ability to differentiate between nuts (not their  parents, sorry) and bolts) or combuter pogromers – if they don’t all become very busy serial killers, not a slim chance though! Yes. The world is soon ending! Thank you.

And ah, here’s that fine article. May young Arun write more such stuff, demythologizing the sacred faiths.

The six myths about Engineering you should know
Arun Karuppaswamy

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article454102.ece

In spite of my rabid, anti ‘The Hindu’ sentiment, I must admit that the newspaper continues to surprise me with gems such as these!

May the good work of Arun (and that of ‘The Hindu’) continue…

the right to education ‘act’ (2009)

Though the act is generally incorrectly abbreviated to RTE act, the correct phrase is: The Right of Children to Free And Compulsory Education Act, 2009. It should probably be called ‘Right to Elementary Education act,’ say REE, by us – which is at least closer to the content of the act… However, I would use the incorrect, but unfortunately a  popular abbreviation – RTE act! Sorry.

Some of my friends and I have been having some tentative discussions & have been jotting down personal notes on the subject and were circulating them ‘privately’ – that is, comprising among others,  some of our opinions, readings, misreadings, gross-misunderstandings etc etc on the RTE act.

I am planning to share some of them, in the hope that the semiformed notes would probably be useful to folks out there on the web, seeking some jaundiced information on the RTE act. (of course, the jottings will be less rabid, expunged,  and therefore slightly more readable than the original febrile discussions, I hope);  so, these are my notes and further down, my questions too! (most of this text is some weeks old – and there has been at least one formal meeting that I have since attended, thanks to Sri Ramdas and Srimathi Rama of Viswabharati Vidyodaya Trust – and so, I have become aware of more interesting and relevant points of view about the RTE act since when I first wrote the notes, but more on this in later posts!)

My notes:

One should FIRST & foremost, go through the Central gazette publication of the act, in detail. It is available off the Indian Government website – The Department of School Education and Literacy – The Right of Children to Free And Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

Next, one should go through the  notification of the act: Notification of Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act 2002 and Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This merely gives the ‘effective date’ but it is important from a legal perspective.

The third reference document would be:  Model Rules Under the Right Of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

It is also important that the notifications of the state governments are yet to happen. So, when I write ‘notification,’  it is about the (impending) State notifications, rather than the Central one.

Now,  it is very important at this juncture, to remember what  Mark Twain said once: “First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.

The RTE act  sure reads very draconian or very egalitarian depending on where one comes from. But the fact is that it is both. Very good intentions are in the right place (Kapil Sibal and all that – though he came in quite late to the scene & to the real run-up to the passing of the bill) – nobody could question this act done in good faith, but the implementation is the one that one will have to wait for (and/or take afirmative action) and then see… Anyway, the basic features of the act (my reading) are:

  • the word ‘education’ has not been defined at all – which in my opinion is puzzling
  • free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14
  • nothing to do with the primary or higher education
  • no entry or exit criteria for children apart from age
  • mandatory provision to provide 25% reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools
  • prohibits unrecognized schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission
  • no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education
  • provision for special training of school drop-outs, to bring them up to par with students of the same age
  • the Right to Education of persons with disabilities until 18 years of age has also been made a fundamental right
  • provides for the establishment of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and State Commissions for supervising proper implementation of the act, looking after complaints and protection of Child Rights
  • other provisions regarding improvement of school infrastructure, teacher-student ratio, hours of duty, working days in an year, class size etc etc
  • funding estimates: US$38.2 billion or Rs 1,71,000 crores – would be required in the next five years – but there is already a shortfall of Rs.19,000 crores off the allocated Rs.34,000 crores even for the first year!
  • funding for implementing the act would be shared in the ratio of 65:35 between the Central Government and the states, and a ratio of 90:10 for the north-eastern states; of course, the state of J&K is an exception, as usual!
  • formation of a school management committee (75% of this will be parents!) involving parents, local elected representatives etc, in every school, with significant powers
  • all schools have to be recognized by the appropriate authorities
  • 3 years timeframe for the implementation; with some provisions, it is 5 years
  • fine of Rs 1.00 lakh for contravention – with a probable Rs 10k perday for repeated contraventions!

Sheesh! It does look like a war declaration, at one level! A war declaration, NOT because of the draconian provisions which are well intentioned and aimed at curbing the growth of ‘factory’ schools with no soul or values, but because the act does not acknowledge the diverse & critical ground realities!

This could have happened, may be because certain positive facets of this beast called ‘education’ that are being adddressed by well meaning folks and organizations, are not taken cognizance of at all, by the legislative bodies or by our bureaucracy.

Perhaps this happened because, these well meaning schools, folks and philosophies are in a minority. Minority not in terms of narrow religious denominations or sects, or else, their voice would have been heard purely because of the expediencies of political mobilization and carving out of constituencies.

May be these folks did not use the available spaces for the articulation of their points of view, during the run-up to the passage of the bill.

Or, possibly these maverick educationalists were actually busy doing their work, minding their own businesses, when the legislative actions simply whizzed past them.

Or may be perhaps, these groups did not have a reasonably sufficient mindshare of the nation, given the fact that our nation is caught between the asinine IPL cricket matches and the abysmal Aamir Khan starrers, and is rather busy getting entertained.

Whatever be the reason, there are possibilities for much collateral damage due to the current provisos of the RTE act.

My questions:

  1. Without defining the term called ‘education’  in the RTE act, how can it be made meaningful? Or is there a possibility to interpret education creatively and realistically because of this very reason,  so that grievances of genuinely affected constituencies be addressed pronto?
  2. How come no one is (mis)quoting the freedom of religion, in respect of ‘education’? I would say that my particular religion does not allow me to go to these HighYieldVariety schools as per the diktats of the act. So, can I say that my religion would allow me to go only to these schools with  ‘alternative’ ideas? Can we say that the State cannot interfere in this aspect of our lives??
  3. If one reads the preamble to our Indian constitution: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HERE BY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.” Just read the brown text again.  How come no allowance at all has been made for small community establishments, pursuing various educational philosophies and thoughts? What about the basic diversity – especially when we talk about ‘unity in diversity’ and all that?? What about ‘not profit making’ schools?
  4. Is the act going to create an yet another failed ‘green revolution’ archetype? That Indian apparatchiks could dream up a well intentioned idea (yet again) but thoroughly botch up on the implementation/fineprint aspects, thereby killing ALL the vibrant diversity and memetic pools?
  5. How is the new position reconciled with the existence of NIOS – National Institute of Open Schooling? How can one arm of the government strangle the other (a much older and wiser arm at that) and the basic ideas that basically gave rise to the wiser arm?
  6. How are the homeschoolers (not that they are even in a microscopic minority – in addition, many of them are utterly clueless, but I would say that they HAVE their right to be clueless too, like the rest of us!) – I am quite intrigued! What about the parents’ rights?? (In my Tamilnadu, there is a very grave law against parents who are not sending their children to school, think it has been around for a while – but I don’t know of even a single case of punishment. I recall that there was not even a single FIR that was filed in this context, even when the ‘law’ was a freshmint one!)
  7. Elementary and Secondary Education are EXCLUSIVELY State Subjects in the Constitution of India (not even in the concurrent list) and the Central Government can not compel the State Governments to follow the former’s diktats. So, can we bank on the karnataka BJP government to help combat the well-intentioned offtangentness on part of the central government of Congress and its cohorts (just to bring in the dirty politics angle) – at least while forming its own rules, the States do have the power of creative interpretation.
  8. Where is the money? Many state governments are already in the red! The Central Government, could it help? May be the latter will cheerfully establish more factories for printing currency??
  9. As it is, there are some 12 lakhs India-wide vacancies that are yet to be filled in our Government schools! How can one even begin the address this…
  10. The Central Government itself has set up quite a few types/genres of elite schools – such as navodaya vidyalayas, thereby depriving the normal, other government schools of due funding… How is this gap ever going to be bridged? How come this RTE act is not applicable to the Central Government’s such creations?
  11. The nation, even 60 years after Bapuji’s death, has not even understood the deep schism that exists between the ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘equality of status’ – this is really sad. Without this basic cognition, we simply go ahead and want to make cataclysmic changes! Tell me, as to how will a child from a disadvanged background, go to a court of law for enforcing its fundamental right? How can the poor child (or its parents)  engage the likes of Ram Jethmalanis to ensure the enforcement of their rights, say in the Supreme Court? Would there be a followup “Right to Engage Ram Jethmalanis” too?
  12. I feel that the Central Government should provide for at least safe and clean drinking water in all the schools first; may be usable toilets can follow later. Then, it can take up all the other ‘developmental’ issues.
  13. How can the Indian Central Government ensure that the funds that are supposedly allocated by it, will be used by corrupt and completely spoilt, mercenary State governments (like that of say, Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s Tamil Nadu) for the purposes of implementing the act? What if the said ‘governments’ use the fiund to give away free Sony PSPs to all the children? Or to give away free Fridges to all households? Or better still, what if they embezzle the whole damned fund? After all,  my fellow Tamilian friend Srimaan Karunanidhi,  has been accused by the venerated judges (of impeccable credentials and integrity) of having the ability to practise Scientific Corruption, as early as three decades back! So, the likes of  Srimaan Karunanidhi would have only become better at their acts, the dilegent students of malfeasance that they have been, for all their lives! The Central Government has lamented that the state of Tamil Nadu  for example, has not been conducting any internal audit from the year 2006 – with respect to the expenditures on education! (but am digressing)

The basic ideas of the act are closer to my heart too – but when there are so many holes, the funds mobilization is grossly inadequate, where do I even begin to interpret the act…

On the contary, may be there is hope. May be all the holes and inadequacies in the RTE act, can be rightfully and genuinely addressed. In spite of my fears to the contary, there are many, very many people who will do the right things, at the right time.

May be not all is lost. We survive on hope.

(more later…)

susan engel: playing to learn

I love this.

So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college.

This is an extract from a fine op-Ed column from NewYorkTimes – link thanks to Syed Azfar Hussain, a fine feller.

Enjoy.