Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hey Teacher! Leave us Kids Alone!

It is with great consternation that over the past few days there are a series of disturbing news of events happening in schools, on the way to schools and also preparing for school.

A cursory search in google news throws up a series of articles related to the rape of a child in Bangalore, About 18 students dying in a horrific train crash in Telangana. Finally a 3 year old child being tortured in the name of tutoring.

These incidents that are happening hundreds of kilometers apart are linked in a  ugly and subterranean manner. The simple word is callousness. Utter callousness on the part of Schools, educational boards and Political authorities.

I named this article from a song from Pink Floyds The Wall, a song which I heard in my youth and liked a lot. The lyrics of this great song are awesome and is an utter rejection of the system of education. When the entire "SYSTEM" is focussed on output in the form of completed curriculum, student ranks in the examination, number of highest ranks, number of students in IIT, CA, Medical colleges and on and on, The students are put on a treadmill from day one. Start from home travelling on rickety buses or hanging on on Dad`s motorcycle or scooter. Go to school where teachers are particular on daily curriculum movements. regurgitate the stuff on the paper, pass exam and then enter a career and then live on the salary till retirement and then...... This is the dream a very Indian dream.

Callousness happens at every spot. It is said that today in the South African mines we cannot pick a Cullinan diamond- the reason? Mining in the olden days was done on hand and diamonds were literally picked off the tunnels. Today huge machines in the tunnels crush the mud and with it diamonds into small pieces. No Cullinan diamonds only solitaires for your engagement. This metaphor is not far from the truth in the education system. The political authority is focused on quantity and not on quality. Well why have ten IITs when  you can have twenty at twice the cost (this is a modified line from the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster). The number of licenses given to open educational institutions is stupendous. This is the callousness of poor quality

The schools are looking for fast gain in the shortest time. Though they are supposed to be non profits, their financial goals are very big. So the second type of callous - of viewing students as consumers. Consumers who cost money and so have to be made money from. The number of institutions charging heavy messing charges, Hostel fees that run in the lakhs of rupees. School fees per year that cost what an earlier generation would have spent for their entire educational life.

The recent incident from Kolkata where a supposed tutor trashed a student and traumatized her parents is another form of callousness- interruption. Of teachers who view their pupils as interruptions in their lives. Teachers these days are getting paid absolutely low salaries. They carry poor self esteem. The institute they teach at insists on retaining the teachers original educational certificates. Their pay is low and one can see boredom. One just has to look at government teachers to understand the boredom.

So a student of today is caught in the callousness of poor quality education, High costs and Carelessness. 

Who is going to change this?? Can a mindset change help?

As parents we have to change our mindset about education. When we stop viewing our children as unbranded goods who will take the brand of the school/ college/IIT etc, we give our children a breather.

When we know that education means to bring out the best of the children and not in stuffing them with information, we as parents cultivate our children.

Let us not have too many high hopes on the educational "SYSTEM" and let us focus on giving our children happiness and hope. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Demographic Dividend and Population Policy in India- Population Pyramid from an inverted triangle

Population Pyramid- Triangle
Population Pyramid- Triangle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recent News articles are celebrating the development of the new Indian economy and more particularly the demographic dividend that India and China are enjoying. A number of leaders see this as an indication of a public policy success.

The demographic dividend is simply the historical fact that we are seeing in our life time. As the economies of the north are saddled with ageing populations, the big Asian economies are seeing their populations entering the job markets.

Can the public policy in India and the politicians take credit for this positive development? Does public policy have any contribution to make in this area? As we know the aggregate population in the nation is actually the reflection of family size decisions made a generation ago by each individual family. This provides the context to discuss the public policy angle of the demographic dividend.

A generation ago the emergency and the population policies of the then political class can be illustrated by the famous inverted triangle and the slogan that followed, We two ours one. This was the perfect strategy to reduce the population by half in a generations time. Why did this policy fail? Was this the lack of communication? The population policy of that time has been studied in depth and we can find studies on the diffusion of the means of population reduction. One of the earliest marketing PhDs from IIM Ahmadabad had done work on this.

The compelling view is that population policy in the 1980 and the 1990s has not succeeded to the extent that the government had wanted and by such failing has handed the demographic dividend.
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Friday, April 20, 2012

How to succeed with excellent customer service - 7 steps to excellence

How to succeed with excellent customer service - 7 steps to excellence The task of every business is to create a customer. Usually we in business end up creating a customer and then we start on the slippery slide with the customer to customer disservice. It is a repeated sight in organisations to see customers shouting in the hall ways and crowing employees facing off with the manager explaining the facts. At the root of such disservice is that organisations do not realise that customers usually require few answers and at the appropriate time. Usually once the customer has escalated the matter high up in the organisation, there is a deluge of information available.This deluge of information is shown as the resolution to the applause of all. Blaming systems and sometimes the customer is a poor way to handle customer service. The apt way is create excellant customer service by frontending the process and ensuring that customer is at the core of the entire process This article by michael kinsky delineates some of the findings in a Harvard business school finding. This seven path to customer service is a strategic tool.

Winning with successful customer service is a powerful tool. Repeat customers and word of mouth are too powerful in this age of facebook and twitter. A single sentence can see the end of a behemoth
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Could they buy salt and spices, fuel and milk, and pay rent... with Rs. 2.33 a day ?

Wonderful article from The Hindu . Continuation from the earlier discussion

Could they buy salt and spices, fuel and milk, and pay rent... with Rs. 2.33 a day ?

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My friend, Montek Singh Ahluwalia (MSA), Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission that has the responsibility of planning our future, is a very intelligent person. There is abundant evidence of his IQ being sky-high.
Unfortunately, an intelligent person is not necessarily well informed. For example, MSA does not seem to be aware that we have a scientific organisation called the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which also happens to be the oldest research body in India and one of the oldest in the world. It was set up as the Imperial Research Fund Association in 1911. The Director-General of ICMR is also the Secretary of the Department of Health Research in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The flagship laboratory of ICMR is the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) located in Hyderabad. This institution has from time to time brought out tables of minimum nutritional requirements of Indians. The last publication in this series appeared in 2010 and was titled “National Requirements and Recommended Dietary Allowance for India.” It is used as a reference book all over the world.
According to this publication, the minimum requirements of a moderately active man are 400 gm of cereals, 300 gm of vegetables, 100 gm of fruits, 30 gm of oil, 80 gm of pulses and 40 gm of sugar. In Hyderabad, which is nowhere near the costliest city in the country, the above will cost, as of today, on average, Rs.12.88, 5.22, 2.50, 1.95, 5.60 and 1.52 totalling Rs. 29.67.
MSA has said, even in a submission to the Supreme Court, that if a person spends Rs.32 in an urban area (and Rs. 26 in a rural area) a day on all his requirements, he is not poor. What I have said in the preceding para means that if a person living in an urban area takes care just of his minimum nutritional requirements (with ice cream, cake, laddu and the like totally out of bounds), he would be left with Rs.32 minus Rs.29.67 = Rs.2.33 a day (Rs.69.90 per month or approximately Rs.839 per year) to take care of his requirements of salt and spices, fuel for cooking, house rent, milk, footwear, clothing, transport, education of children, and health care, leave aside any entertainment or even a cup of tea or coffee. Would any reader agree that even for the thriftiest, it is possible to meet the above expenditure with Rs.2.33 a day — Rs.69.90 per month — anywhere in the country? A bus pass for one person for one month in Hyderabad costs Rs.555 (Rs.18.50 a day).
As there is no questioning MSA's intelligence, there is only one conclusion that we can arrive at: that he is unaware of the existence of ICMR, NIN or its publication.
(The writer is a former Vice-Chairman, National Knowledge Commission and Founder-Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. His email ID is

How employable are our graduates?

Wonderful article from todays the hindu

How employable are our graduates?

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We often hear two contrasting views on the employment scenario. On the one hand, employers cry hoarse about non-availability of talent in the market and, on the other, we hear about millions of youth who are unable to find a well-paid job several years after completing engineering or other professional degrees. A recent survey suggests that over 70 per cent of the engineering graduates in India are unemployable. What ails these graduates or the so-called degree holders? Why are they not suitable for employment?
Let us understand what is meant by suitability for employment. I was transitioning a business process of a large U.K. bank to our office in Chennai during my stint with a large IT company. The process was quite simple. The bank had developed a system for analysing the financial statements of borrowers. The numbers had to be extracted from the statements submitted based on some simple rules and input into the system. The system would process the data and generate the borrower's creditworthiness in the form of a business grade. This business grade was used by the bank's relationship managers to arrive at the credit limit for the borrower or to decide whether to lend him at all.
As part of the transition process, I wanted to know the qualifications and the skill sets of the resources. The bank's project manager told me that some of the resources had completed their tenth grade and most of them were fifth graders. In India, I knew for sure that we would hire very bright commerce and accounting graduates for this process.
This is the big difference. What was being done effortlessly by a fifth grader in the U.K. needed a commerce graduate in India. And, I can't imagine a resource that has passed standard V doing this work in India. It is definitely not the question of thousands of graduates being available in the job market for taking up this job. Corporates will be more than willing to have less qualified resources for doing the job if they can deliver because that would mean a lesser salary burden. We simply cannot train a fifth grader to perform these tasks. In fact, if truth be told, even after hiring some of the brightest minds we barely managed to survive the transition pressures measured by stringent performance criteria.
Does that mean a fifth grader in the U.K. is equivalent to a graduate in India? That is also not true. It is because the Indian education system is inherently flawed due to imperfect delivery of the curricula, an archaic examination system, shortage of skilled teachers, inadequate supplementary reading and the student's inability to correlate theory and practice. “Education does not consist of passing examinations or knowing English or mathematics. It is a mental state,” said Jawaharlal Nehru. In summary, we miserably fail to elevate the thinking capacity and increase the breadth of faculty of the students while imparting education. This failure is deep-rooted and starts right from primary schools and gets compounded at institutes of higher learning.
Residual talent
Of all these issues, I would pick the shortage of quality teachers as the wrecker-in-chief. The reason is quite simple. The teaching profession, barring a few passionate individuals in the IITs, IIMs and some private institutions, is a job for the residual talent in the employment market.
The best engineering talent goes to the U.S. for higher studies and the cream of what remains is hired by the large corporates. After the small and medium enterprises complete the trawling, the leftover is looking for alternative sources of employment. Some of these people park themselves temporarily in teaching professions in private colleges or software training institutes. Over the next few months, they equip themselves with the requisite skills and look for opportunities in the mainstream employment market unless there are compelling reasons to stick to their current job.
There is nothing wrong in this approach because it would be embarrassing for a person to see his students earning two or three times his monthly salary coupled with frequent trips to foreign lands. I may sound blasphemous here, but the reality is we are left with teachers who continue in the teaching profession just because they are not able to find a job elsewhere. It is well-nigh impossible for these resources to inspire the student community in a graduate / postgraduate course. This is a sad and bitter truth confronting the education sector today.
Reading habit
I would also like to touch upon the issue of supplementary reading with a specific example. Gandhiji, during his days in England for his bar-at-law course, meets a person called Fredrick Pincutt. This meeting is sought by Gandhiji himself to ascertain his readiness for practising law. In Pincutt's evaluation, Gandhiji's general reading was very meagre. He says every Indian should know Indian history in detail. He also tells Gandhiji that although this has no connection with the practice of law, he ought to know this because knowledge of the world is a sine qua non for a lawyer. This will help him read a man's character from his face. Pincutt was also surprised that Gandhiji had not read about the First War of Indian Independence. Gandhiji immediately realises the importance of what Pincutt said and humbly accepts that he has not had much supplementary reading.
The reason for highlighting this incident from the Mahatma's autobiography is to emphasise the importance of cultivating the reading habit at a very young age to be successful in life.
I have another anecdote from my U.K. transition experience. We were designing an IT infrastructure to move scanned documents offshore and enable the processing through a workflow system. It was a complex project and we were interacting with a senior software developer to put the design together. He was around 30 and, in my opinion, one of the best software designers that money could buy. Curiosity got the better of me one day and I wanted to know his educational background. He told me that he had completed eighth grade in South Africa and migrated to the U.K. in search of employment. He was working as a courier boy for a year when he underwent software training and built his design skills. I was startled, to say the least. My team of two engineering graduates with three to four years of experience between them was no match for him. There are several such examples I can quote. None of the project managers and senior people that I met during the next two years was a college graduate.
Even after completing the transition, we were struggling to train the floor resources on Management Information (MI) and state-of-the-nation reports. The West had moved forward rapidly in operations management practices and our skill sets were woefully inadequate even for the catch-up work. And we had the floor overflowing with cost and chartered accountants, engineers and management graduates.
I am not trying to build a case for discontinuing our education methodology. Our method of teaching has the highest success percentage in the world in building literacy among people. The West has paid a heavy price for not paying attention to the delivery of education in society. My worry is we are bringing in a kind of under-employment where people do work that is much below the skill sets they are supposed to have. These resources will not be able to go up the corporate ladder and it will be very difficult to give them a career path. Ideally, we would want these graduates to upskill themselves and move up the value chain so that they don't become redundant. The government and society at large have to wake up to the reality that one day an African country might become the world's back office and IT hub and do to us what Bangalore or Chennai did to the western world. Before that, we have to make sure that our education system gets upgraded suitably and can mass produce well-rounded personalities who can take India on the path of glory.
(The writer's email is murali.pasupathy

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rs 33 and you are rich --Doctor wrong diagnosis and worse wrong medicine

Is it possible that we can ever find the easy way to define poverty? Is poverty about lack of ability or is it of lack of opportunities? Can we quantify poverty and is there a magic number that encapsulates the poverty debate?

Well the planning commission of India is of the opinion that poverty is the lack of cash to be exact of Rs 32/-. Well the planning commission can be so exact because they use a measure that is erroneously based on a price index set up in the 1970s which they interpreted wrongly. In essence the commission is perpetuating an error and even worse believing it. Ever heard of the doctor who made an error in diagnosis and even after knowing that it was an error ended up giving the wrong medicine because he was not ready to check his assumptions . Well the same is the case here.

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Open letter against Rs 32 as artificial poverty barrier

New Delhi: An open letter from the Right to food Campaigners to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission.
September 29th, 2011
Dear Mr Ahluwalia,
While you were abroad deliberating on global matters, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming that the "poverty line of Rs 25 and Rs 32 (rural and urban areas respectively) ensures the adequacy of private expenditure on food, health and education". The affidavit could not have come at a worse time when food inflation was pushing poor households to the wall even as 60 million tonnes of grain are piling in FCI godowns implying that the government itself is hoarding grain to increase food prices.
The affidavit filed by the Planning Commission in the Supreme Court skirted the two major issues that were raised by the highest court in the country: why there should be a poverty line that determines the BPL "caps" and, a request by the Bench to the Planning Commission to re-consider the poverty line. That the affidavit chose to skirt these two major issues, and chose instead to repeat the stand taken by the Planning Commission in its last affidavit in May 2011 is, we believe, an affront to the poor of this country and also the Supreme Court.
Subsequently, you have gone on defensively to say that the poverty line has no relationship to food subsidy. Yet, all central government allocations for programmes such as PDS, pensions etc are made based on these poverty ratios. Further, after drawing a ridiculously low poverty line you suggest caps on the BPL category as well as a 41 per cent cap on food subsidy which is a contradiction in terms. Perhaps you may explain to the lay public that is spending astronomical amounts on food and health care, what this poverty line is then relevant for, if not subsidies for basic needs.
Your public defense of the affidavit being "factually correct" needs to be examined against some other facts such as India being home to the largest number of hungry people, people without the advantage of education, and the highest maternal and infant mortality deaths in the world. It is also "factually correct" that India is ranked 67th out of 88 countries ranked by IFPRI in the Global Hunger Index and that nearly half of India's children remain under-nourished, twice as many as in sub-Saharan Africa. It also needs to be checked against the fact that the Planning Commission itself has admitted that households at this poverty line are getting 20 per cent less food than they require as per the government's own norms. After years of terming the IMF and the World Bank as the sources of all knowledge for how this country's economy is to be run, you have, we believe misinterpreted the FAO to suggest that the poor need less food than what the Indian government norms state.
Mr Ahluwalia, perhaps you need to reflect more on the fact that during your stewardship of the Planning Commission, India has fallen further behind neighboring and poorer (in terms of per capita income) Bangladesh, in terms of most of the human development indicators.
If Rs 25 for rural areas and 32 for urban areas per capita expenditure was "adequate" then it is not clear to us that why Planning Commission members are paid up to one hundred and fifteen times the amount (not counting the perks of free housing and health care and numerous other benefits that is enjoyed by you and members of the Planning Commission).
We believe that this affidavit is a document, no less historically significant than the "India Shining" campaign that brought the downfall of a previous regime, because it reflected arrogance and contempt for the poor comparable to the views held by the Planning Commission.
Even as we write to you, over the next twenty four hours, close to 3,000 Indian children will die of malnutrition related illness. The current 'revolution' in agriculture has led to nation-wide agrarian distress, and will see 47 farmers committing suicide in India in the next 24 hours. Further, despite your repeated prediction over the last two years on inflation (particularly food inflation) going down, the expertise of the Planning Commission even on that front has been proved wrong. Despite the indisputable intellectual resources at its command the Planning Commission seems to require a reality check; perhaps spending more time in the villages and slums of this country would have achieved that.
The right to food campaign challenges you and all the members of the Planning Commission to live on Rs 25 / Rs 32, a day till such time that you are able to explain to the public in simple words the basis of the statement that this amount is normatively "adequate". If it cannot be explained then the affidavit should be withdrawn or else you should resign.
The Steering group of the Right to Food Campaign:
Anjali Bhardwaj, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar, Gautam Modi and Madhuri Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for
Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Jean Dr├Ęze and VB Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign), Harsh Mander.
Representatives of Right to Food (State campaigns):
Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote(Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Arundhati Dhuru and Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh)
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