2-3 vs a billion

A fellow in dark glasses and uniquely-Indian bow-tie took potshots at our courts and got away with it. And I was like why so much noise over it? Go ahead with IIM admissions, and admit ‘quota’ students later if and when courts have a final verdict. The new students may miss a quarter or so, but so what – how does that matter? When you have anyway lowered the admission bar, can lower the bar for graduation as well: “Must complete 6 of 8 quarters to get the degree”!

On serious note, to me, fighting for reservations in IITs, IIMs, private-sector jobs or engineering colleges is like government announcing a 20% subsidy for OBCs to buy BMW and Mercedes cars to solve Bangalore’s transportation woes. A newspaper page long announcement would have photos of dark-glassed or rupa-baniyan-wearing gray-haired heroes with this claim: this policy will help OBCs quickly get to places they couldn’t have.

Sounds stupid or not? If you want masses to go places, you invest in public transport – subsidized public transport. Thats kind of like your subsidized primary education.

If you found the analogy a stretch, let me refer you back to some stats I deduced last year:

Out of 100 that start, only 6 students make it past Class 12. Assuming that 30% of these go on to graduate, the graduation rate will be 2%. Let us assume that half of the 12th class pass outs will be interested in studying further. Then, it means that all this reservation noise is nothing but fight amongst the 3% of people who are fit and lucky enough to feel the need for higher and professional education.

Even if I got some numbers wrong, and you double the final figure to 6%, you can still see how wrong our dark-glassed hero is in talking up the fate of a billion people. If you got guts MK, push the courts and central government to:

  1. Make primary education a fundamental right
  2. Raise standard of primary public schools
  3. Ban expensive (primary) private schools, or force reservations there

Can you, MK?

PS: On the IIM admissions issue, on a serious note. A way out of the impasse would be for IIMs to play nice and just take in a few extra OBC candidates to send out a signal – its not that they don’t care. That would have kept the politicians quiet.


19 Responses

  1. 1. Make primary education a fundamental right
    2. Raise standard of primary public schools
    3. Ban expensive private schools, or force reservations there

    I Agree. Vehemently, Violently Agree. To each & every point I agree.
    I think you are the first person I have read who has explicitly stated that the only way out of ‘reservation’ is through more directed & more rationalized & more focussed ‘reservation’.
    a truely & genuinely universalized education upto class 12.
    A lot of people have done the ‘basic education imporove karo’ bhajane, but that does not go nearly as far enough as ‘Ban expensive private schools, or force reservations there’. Now that is insight.

  2. Agree to all the points SB. Would like to add a few. A key metric in the education sector is the faculty student ratio. Its alarming in all institutes whether they are primary schools or centers of higher learning. No point setting up 10000 schools or 1000 universities when there are no teachers to teach. And we are not talking about teachers who consider this as a convenient job. But teachers who are passionate about education. Passionate about R&D. Where are the policies being designed for that? Arjun Singh (what is the reason to fear taking the name?) and the likes are history. Their ideas are archaic and they wont be able to withstand the pressure we middle class people can put on politicians like him. But first we have to be willing to put pressure on them. Are WE ready?

  3. I read your blog most often when i want to know things happening in and around bangalore. I appreciate your thoughts on most of the issues. I have a different opinion on the issue stated above.I am not taking stands on obc quota or cauvery issue. But if you would like to voice your opinion on some judgements how you go about it. If the judges are above criticism or opinion then what about “wearing dark glasses and indian bow tie” remark on an elected CM.
    Your comments

  4. Tarle, IM thanks for the support.

    IM, forget R&D, passion etc. First thing is to recognize education as the greatest and only equalizer, and treating it as “infrastructure” that all must have. The reservation debates should shift down to primary levels, all this IIM/IIT talk is sheer waste right now.

    That brings me to your comment Badluck. Thanks for reading, and if you have been reading, I dont play those “all the politicians suck” types. They all have their place, they reflect “us” (didn’t drop from heavens), and they carry forward their group’s interests. Whether we like it or not they provide the balance in our unique society that has extreme ranges of everything.

    But the point here is only about one particular action of MK. The fact that he can take the luxury and get away with contempt of highest court in the country with an irresponsible comment like that *ANGERS* me. The picture I paint via words reflect that, nothing more.

    On the issue itself, note that I am for deflecting it to the right focus area. If you must hear it from me, I am FOR reservations.

    Just curious – why did you bring Cauvery in here!? What is the link!?


  5. Silkboard – Thanks for writing this wonderful blog.I read it as often as I can.
    I am surprised to know that you are for reservation.Surely this cannot be without any caveats.
    My opionion is that the issue of reservation will disappear automatically if the demand for seats meets the supply.I think this is the reason we dont have reservation in the schools. We somehow need to make it viable for private players to open more educational institutes of higher learning.The quality will be tough to maintain in the begining but market forces should take care of that.
    I know that India still has a long way to go before it catches up with the more developed countries in the percentage of population with higher degrees.
    I guess the milion dollar question is can we make laws and the environment viable for private players to get into the “education business” for profit.

  6. And about MK.I cannot stand this guy. I probably do not agree with him on anything. But are we Indians too sensitive to criticism of the courts? My opinion is that may be we have advanced as a nation to a point where criticism of even judges is ok as long as the verdict is honored.

  7. Goutham, thanks for dropping by. I am for reservations, but only at primary or secondary school levels, and the criteria should be mostly economic (in urban areas), and perhaps caste based (in some semi-urban and rural areas). I will tell you why.

    I look at my maid’s, gardener’s children, and I wonder what are the chances of them closing the gap with my children when they all grow up. Situation is not that bad, they go to government schools. But the school in a village off Kanakapura or xyz-Halli is mostly for namesake. As their children climb classes, cost of books etc go up. And every year, especially for their girl children, they fickle if there is value in letting them continue in school.

    Basic education in poor quality schools itself is a struggle for so many, and I see the lucky ones, including myself send children to schools that charge amounts higher than per capita income of the nation. [The ‘guilt’ makes me fund my maid/gardener/nanny’s children’s education – it is a perk I have to retain them]

    Forget socialist, capitalist and all that for a minute, just think for a while – how the hell can the ‘gaps’ close? In our country where education is the only possible equalizer, primary education must be run by the state – much like they build the roads alike for all drivers rich or poor.

    Look at telecom. There is stress for rural areas. Private players pay a ‘charge’ to BSNL so that BSNL can run its rural services. Same must be done for primary schools – they could pump part of their profits to find schools elsewhere.

    Another angle. When private schools charging 30-50K a student are aplenty (in big cities), why on earth will good teachers want to work in govt run schools that cant pay them well?

    These are my un-organized thoughts – point being, primary education needs some attention. I will follow up with a better organized post on the subject. Soon :)

    Next, MK like guy (a popular elected leader) criticizing courts’ verdicts is a problem. Tomorrow, his followers will do the same for a verdict and refuse to toe the line. You think you will be able to use the police to control lakhs of crazy followers? You and me criticizing a verdict is one thing, popular leaders doing that is another.

  8. Not sure if people have heard about the flip side of this. Many OBCs or SCs or STs get rejected at the job application stage itself, because the employer can make out what caste a person belongs to just by his/her surname. A bit of a Catch-22 isn’t it? Private sector is not just MNCs. Biases still persist. How does one build an inclusive society?

    Take my company itself. It is one of the best run companies globally. It is as “meritocratic” as they come. But diversity is a big measure on every GM’s scorecard. How many women are there at senior management level matters to the CEO. In our own office, we have employees from South East Asia who cannot speak great English or write great memos. But all of us are measured on how diverse a group we build. Believe me, it works. You cannot take the easy way out and hire all Indians or Australians (arguably the smartest of the lot).

    Merit cannot be seen in isolation. I am “merited” only because I come from a family that is both economically and socially well off. And high marks or cracking CAT does not make a great manager.

    Reservations or affirmative action is still important. Creamy layers need to be excluded. Criteria need to be refined. But the concept itself is not flawed. I could argue that someone who scores 50/100 after coming from a socially and economically backward family has done a pretty good job. Women have suffered centuries of bias and domination. Glass ceilings exist in even the most modern MNCs and banks.

    Take the case of aboriginals in Australia. they have been just brutalized and not even given a chance to compete. How do you get them up socially. Or the native black population in South Africa?

    Many of us must have played badminton, tennis, etc. Just see how our game lifts when we play with a better player. Imagine if all tennis players wanted to play with only better players. Would be logically impossible.

    “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it” – Voltaire :)


  9. I agree with Pranav on reservations in the early years rather than later…those are the foundation years…

    However I am not sure if teachers will ever be well paid if the Government controls the purse strings…

  10. Sri,
    I think pranav’s point was about universality of education.
    There are all sorts of disparities. the division is simultaneously along class, caste, medium & location axes.
    there are ultra high end schools, high end schools, schools & sheds & trees. the average kid in ultra highend bangalore school has much better prospects than the brightest kid in arkalgud , irrespective of caste.

  11. srivathsa:

    i agree with pranav and tarle.

    “Many of us must have played badminton, tennis, etc. Just see how our game lifts when we play with a better player. Imagine if all tennis players wanted to play with only better players. Would be logically impossible.”

    if you – as captain – take tennis players into your team based on affirmative action instead of skills, the better ones will soon become mediocre instead of improving their skills, i.e., the skills of your team will tend to level off at the average. is this what you want to happen as you lead your team into a competition? heck, we have recently had a very good example of a “affirmative action” based (on region) team in action *scratching my head* but i forget which team that was! ;-)

    on the other hand, you might want to ensure that adequate training is provided to the less fortunate folks (whatever their caste/creed/religion be) and make sure that everyone benefits from the start. when it comes time for team formation, pick the best team, again ignore the reservation policy.

    – s.b.

  12. Some body,

    I’ll leave aside a tennis and cricket team selection for now. Your arguments are fair, but I will try to come out with a counter argument later.

    My point was not about cricket or tennis per se, but that unless a person is put in an environment that demands excellence, the chances that he or she will excel is unlikely. My belief is that people will rise to the challenge. None of the work we do is so intellectually demanding that it requires a Ph.D. On the contrary corporations will try to dumb down work as much as possible for their long term sustainability depends on that.

    When it comes to an IIT seat or an IIM seat or an Infosys job, somebody please convince me that only the best get in today. Or that the entrance tests/ criteria truly judge merit. I have been to an IIM. I cannot honestly say that CAT tested merit. It simply tests your ability to do high school maths quickly and judge what questions not to attempt. Hardly the predictor of future managerial ability. The course work was heavily biased in favour of “quanti” – stats, OR, economics. Students were not forced to think for themselves. One had to only vomit out the material taught to get good grades.

    My other point is that unless there is some pain in the system, things won’t change. Let;s say that I put in a legislation that Infosys (the delicious irony of it all) has to hire a 100 people from backward castes. I am sure they will

    a) Find good people from there
    b) Train them to do the work.
    c) demand the same excellence from them

    I doubt if Infosys will go down the tube because of this.


    P.S. I use Infosys not out of anything against the people working there, but because their chairman is a great proponent of meritocracy and an unabashed supporter of LEe Kuan Yew. The latter actually ran a eugenics project in Singapore.

  13. srivathsa:

    “When it comes to an IIT seat or an IIM seat or an Infosys job, somebody please convince me that only the best get in today.”

    i don’t think i said this. any test, when there is such a diparity between supply and demand, will be unable to get the exactly best 200 or 2000 or whatever. and while there is a reasonably good chance that #10000 in the exam is not as good as the #100 on the exam, the same cannot be said about #2000 (who got in) vs. #2001 (who did not!). so, obviously, there is a bunch of folks outside of iit and iim who will be on par with iit/iim grads. on the other hand, there is a very high likelihood someone who has done computer science or electrical (the top 200 or so from the jee)at iit will be better than a graduate from outside iit. caveat: don’t forget that on any given day, a well prepared bangladesh/ireland can beat a more talented but latent india/pakistan!

    “It simply tests your ability to do high school maths quickly and judge what questions not to attempt. Hardly the predictor of future managerial ability. The course work was heavily biased in favour of “quanti” – stats, OR, economics. Students were not forced to think for themselves. One had to only vomit out the material taught to get good grades.”

    are you saying that these $200000-like salaries that the mncs are giving to iim graduates nowadays are stupid moves, or are you saying that ability to do high school maths quickly and/or regurgitate answers/facts is sufficient to get great jobs at mncs?

    let’s say a backward category dude has had all facilities required in life; his father is a money making machine. what argument do you have that makes it rational for this dude to get one of the 100 positions that you propose for infosys vs. some poor (literally) dude from a forward category who has slaved his entire life to get to where he is, but for some reason, misses the cut (because of the 100 reserved positions)?

    – s.b.

  14. Reservation/Affirmative action if necessary has to be made on a case by case basis. The broad stroke approach of using caste as the sole basis is immoral and discriminatory. A forward caste person from a small village is more at a handicap than the daughter of a lower caste minister from Bangalore. This even if you consider the case of just social discrimination and not economic.
    This would mean that the policy of quota’s are replaced with affirmative action left to individual colleges. This would ensure that the truly needy are taken care of without discriminating against the meritorious.
    There are a number of ways in which individual colleges can be encouraged to follow the policy.
    May be the USA got it right all the time on this issue. I know that the race situation is not perfect but their approach towards alleviating race differences seems to be working.

  15. Right Goutham, caste as sole basis is not the right approach at job/college level. I think we all agree on that point.

    But my point here was about not wasting energy arguing reservation at these levels (elite colleges, IT jobs) – wont make a big difference there. The problem is primary education – 1) lack of it 2) huge range of quality and facilities depending on your affordability.

    Other way I can put it is – “equal opportunity schooling”. Once you level the playing field at primary level, it could be that you will not need reservations at higher levels.

  16. pranav:

    we can talk all we want, and waste as much energy as we want discussing this, but i seriously doubt reservations will go away.
    also, i seriously doubt that your way will prevent the politicians and their followers from continuing to demand for reservations at the college/jobs level (i.e., even if we were to implement equal opportunity 10+2/k-12 schooling).

    bottom line, all these points are moot, and maybe i should waste my time on other comments :-).

    – s.b.

  17. Pranav,

    Agree with you on the fact something radical needs to be done at the schooling level.

    If you get a chance please do visit the schools run by Parikrma Humanity Foundation. There is one near Ashoka Pillar (Jayanagar II Block) – opposite all those wedding halls.

    These are run for underprivileged children from slums, broken families, etc. The lady who started this is Shukla Bose who used to be the CEO of RCI Resorts. She quit to start this. They have 4 schools that have about 600 children. They teach in English and the schools are affiliated to the ICSE Board.

    I was most impressed (not that it matters :)) by the whole idea. I plan to spend a few hours a week teaching those children once I am back in Bangalore.

    Somebody – I will reply in a separate comment. Unless you are tired of the whole argument in general.

  18. some body, you know no blogger can have an answer to that. Intellectual entertainment or “wasting time”, we sure can’t “achieve” anything tangible here!

    But, but, what if we can join and tap all this energy us indi-bloggers have? Can we then be opinion-influencers? Will we have better chances of ‘getting heard” then?

  19. pranav/srivathsa:

    bring them (comments) on. thinking out loud that, most likely, neither of us will win the other over; while i am not a good debater, i can be as stubborn as a mule ;-). and, as well, whatever we do will be unlikely to sway the opinion of the powers that be. the indi-bloggers are going to be at loggerheads amongst themselves too.

    just like however much we (at least some of us, and i agree with most , if not all, of what he says) call the australian players racist, it will be just an opinion that we have – we will be unable to change them. and probably each and every one of us is a racist at some level or another, just that i doubt if most of us are as uncouth as some of the aussie cricketers (especially their current captain) are – that said, i still support them for the ashes!

    – s.b.

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