Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Indian Universities- Need Immediate Attention

 “As long as we discourage young talent, encourage an obsolete examination system and remain indifferent to research, we will continue to lag behind the West.”
Former President Pranab Mukherjee has given a significant statement reflecting upon the education system of our country. While addressing the faculty and students in an event in Chittagong university he said that the renowned institutes like IIT are producing professionals who are turning out to be salesmen, working for MNCs. Emphasizing on research in higher education, he said that it’s time that South Asian Universities reflect on and analyse their goals and vision. When it comes to global reputation, Indian universities continue to fail to make it to the top 100 list. Since its launch in 2011, not a single Indian university has ever made it to the THE ( Times Higher Education top 100 world reputation rankings, including the recently released ranking.
Let us tread a little in the long lost lanes of history. It is a historical fact that the first university in the world was established sometime in the 7th century B.C. at Taxila (then in India and now in Pakistan). The original name of the place was ‘Takshashila’ which means ‘carved stone’. Taxila university was followed by the second university founded in Nalanda in India in the 5th century B.C. Taxila’s glory ended with its total destruction by the Huns after functioning as a great educational centre for more than ten centuries. It taught some of the most illustrious students like Chanakya, well-known Sanskrit grammarian Panini and Patanjali, the great Yoga exponent. Nalanda was destroyed in an Afghan attack in 1193, shortly after the beginning of the Oxford University and just before the initiation of the Cambridge University. Had Nalanda not been destroyed and had it managed to survive to our time, it would be, by a long margin, the oldest university in the world.
Nalanda’s aim was to create the most intellectually and spiritually mature individuals who would become qualified to contribute to every aspect of society for its overall being. Admission to Nalanda was strictly based on merit and the aptitude of the student. In spite of this hard and rigid test, at its heyday Nalanda had on its role nearly 10,000 students from all over the world. The teacher student ratio was 1:5. According to both Hsuan-Tsang and I-Tsing, even though there were several men and women in the University and belonging to different nations, there was not even a single case of misbehaviour or breach of rules and regulations. This exhibits the high moral fibre of the students who studied at Nalanda. The curriculum included both sacred and secular learning. According to Hsuan-Tsang, “Two hundred villages in and around Nalanda University contributed freely the requirements of ghee, butter, milk and such other daily provisions to the entire population of the University”. (Source: The Speaking Tree)
What has happened to this beautiful culture of education in our country? Instead of focusing on research, Indian Universities are producing men and women suitable for mass recruitments in MNCs. Instead of scholars they are producing breadwinners.
Now, let’s look into the problems faced by Indian universities which are making it difficult for us to attain the glorious global reputation our universities once possessed.

Lack of faculty and basic facilities: A prominent TV journalist and activist Ravish, in his very popular and thought provoking “university series” has tried to expose the diseased and treacherous University System of our country. He revealed that under Tarin committee, JAK Tarin gave recommendation andguidelines for universities, which included student-teacher ratio also for various courses in universities. In UG and PG courses there should be one teacher for 25 students for science stream and one teacher for 30 students for social sciences. But the university system has become a mere joke in our country as there are a few universities functioning at present, which have ZERO permanent teachers for over 1900 students. There is also one university that has 10,000 students and 65 teachers with no maintenance of classrooms and washrooms. Some universities have become centre of politics only and destroyed self. There are colleges where students can be seen studying on their own, seated on the ground with no basic facilities, with no guides but mere ‘guidelines’.
Giving an example of another such university, Ravish mocked the Indian university system. There is one university which has 1500 students enrolled for the subject- History and there is only ONE permanent teacher to teach them. He says that in a country where history as a subject stands as such a joke, what issues do you expect the future generations to be fighting on and rallying and protesting about? The question arises- How are these universities even given UGC affiliation and grading by NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council)? It’s a shame that our universities are being carried forward by ad-hoc teachers. None of the community or politician is talking about this horrible state of universities? Switch on your television and read newspapers, we are still discussing issues which are 300 years old. (NDTV: UNIVERSITY SERIES)
Lack of endowment culture: In the US and Europe, alumni give back to their university in the form of grants, donations and sometimes their entire property after death (if they are a loner). This money is harvested in hedge funds, start-ups and other investment avenues make it constantly grow. Harvard alone has $32 Billion in its endowments. Stanford has about $16 billion, Yale about $19 billion. This money funds new infrastructure, research and faculty.
In contrast, entire expenditure on higher education in India by the government is about $3 billion/year and all expenses on all education is about $10 billion.

Top Indian institutions are young: Almost all reputed universities in the UK and US are over a century old. Oxford was founded in 1167 AD, Cambridge in 1209, Harvard in 1636, Yale in 1701, etc. That means they have an accumulated benefit of centuries of wisdom, alumni, infrastructure and international reputation. It takes time to build your name and alumni. India's top institutions are only decades old (first IIT came in 1951). 

Focus on professional education. India's top priority when it comes to higher education is to educate enough of engineers, doctors and managers. This is because we need enough nation builders given our state of the economy. At this stage of development (with a per-capita income hovering around $1200/person/year) it is wise to put our money on educating professionals than research (can be a super-expensive game in many fields that needs a bigger chunk of our meagre budget). But we must now encourage and reward the one who spend time in research. If Indian educated students can be core part of the research elsewhere then if given an opportunity, why not in India.

Poor school education. Given a better schooling system, the undergraduates in good US universities come better prepared and get better resources. Indian institutions often get underprepared students from our poorer schools and it takes a lot of effort on the part of our professors to make many of them realize their potential.

Poor payment to faculty. In India, being a professor is not that attractive a job. A good software engineer could earn 4X of what a faculty at IIT earns. Given the poor payment and horrible politics, people tend to assume that you had no other option before you joined as a faculty. This self-fulfilling vicious cycle provides us poor faculty (both in payments and quality) although I know of plenty of really committed teachers who stand out and are still committed to give their 100%, come what may. (Source: Quora)

The Hindu also raised this issue through one of its articles and brought up four critical differences between universities of the western world and ours, stating the reasons why our universities are lagging behind.
1.    The first is that they (western universities) do all they can, when they recruit young faculty, to make way for excellence. We do everything to block its entry. We start discouraging talent early, but a few bright youngsters manage to come up despite our best efforts. They are the ones who face the greatest resistance from our institutions at the time of selection for vacancies. In our case, the initial criteria applied are purely mechanical. Any hint of trans-disciplinary interest means that the candidate loses the chance to be interviewed. And those who somehow escape this fate are ultimately sized up at the time of interview in terms of the lobbies they might belong to.

2.    The second major difference between our universities and the western ones relates to the concept of teaching. We calculate teaching in terms of periods taken. The Radhakrishnan Commission had bemoaned the fact that our colleges work like higher secondary schools. More than six decades after the commission gave its report; life in our undergraduate colleges is just the same. The UGC demands 18 periods of teaching per week from an assistant professor. “Isn’t that reasonable?” one might ask. Of course, it is, if you ignore what the word “teaching” means.
In India, we worry about attendance records to keep the student under pressure to attend classes that may be altogether devoid of intellectual stimulation. Despite attendance norms being stringent, there are classes without much attendance. There are also numerous cases of attendance without class. An obsolete system of examination helps teachers who miss classes and make no effort to relate to students. There are many who take the number of periods required, but their classes have no soul or spark.

3.    The third critical difference between life in an Indian university and a university in the West arises out of the concept of knowledge embedded in the system. In the West, curriculum and pedagogy both follow the teacher’s own research interests. Even smaller universities with limited resources attempt to cultivate a research environment. Topics of research reflect the university’s concern for the social and natural world surrounding it. Research is seen as an inquiry to solve problems as well as to induct the young into a community of inquiries. To keep their research interests alive and popular, senior professors engage with young undergraduates who bring fresh questions and perspectives to on-going inquiries.
In India, we stop teaching undergraduate classes as soon as you attain professorial status. Teaching and research are seen as two separate activities. While teaching is perceived as institutional work, research is viewed as a personal agenda for moving forward in one’s career. Not surprisingly, infrastructure and administrative procedures that might facilitate research do not exist. Obstacles do, and the teachers who make the mistake of initiating a research project has to struggle all the way to its completion and the ritual of report submission to the funding agency.

4. The fourth critical difference lies in the library. In the West, even in the most ordinary universities, the library forms the centre of life, both for teachers and students. Librarians enjoy a high status as their contribution to academic life cuts across academic disciplines. They work closely with teachers and students in the various tasks involved in procurement of books and journals, keeping the library quiet and friendly, and ensuring speedy access. Our case is the opposite. The library exists on the margins of the classroom. In many universities, undergraduate students are not allowed to use the university library. Book acquisition has been saturated with petty corruption and a crowd of spurious publishers has thrived on the outskirts of the academia.

With so many problems and shortcomings at hand, it becomes difficult to suggest a set of solutions to come out of this situation but as the first and the most important step, our universities will have to change their vision. They will have to stop claiming to be factories of mass production of well suited employees. They will have to claim and work hard in the direction of sculpting and chiselling promising scholars who have the capacity to become promising citizens, who would not only take up research but would also look forward to inventions and discoveries. The faculty should be as enthusiastic and promising as the students and learning will have to become research based rather than theoretical.  Also, government must expedite the faculty recruitment as we have plenty of qualified post graduates who are NET qualified and willing to work with commitment and enthusiasm.

Though it may seem like a joke but the truth is that top universities of the world have the teacher pupil ration ranging from 1:4 (best) to 1:10 (worst) but government must try to make it as 1:25 or 1:30. Some people may not agree with Mr Ravish’s point of view on different issues but the responsible people must go through what he showed in his ‘universities series’ episodes and take corrective measures.

Let’s hope for a better future as we still have some good news to celebrate. Although we lag behind in the overall world ranking but IITs still rank among top 50 engineering institutes and Delhi University stays in top 20 for English Literature and Linguistics. Universities are the last step of formal learning before one takes a plunge in the professional world. Like school education even universities should work in the moral fibre, keeping in mind the necessity of learning that results into holistic development of a student’s personality.

Monday, January 15, 2018


While our nation has always hailed the values of freedom and democracy, it is sad to say that their meaning have been misinterpreted in recent past. It is unfortunate to see the youth of the nation questioning the integrity of the tradition and values of our nation, its constitution, its glorious past and governance. All this has been done on the pretext of the ‘freedom of speech’. In the last few years the idea of freedom of speech and expression has been used in more negative sense than positive. It is disheartening to see that the youth of the nation is using this freedom only to criticize and blame our nation. This freedom has given right to anyone to blabber anything they want and feel. I agree that it is good to have an opinion but is it possible that nothing positive is happening which could be praised and appreciated? Is freedom of expression only available to demean and ridicule our own nation? Unfortunately, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
We call ourselves Indians with pride and Indians we are. This is our identity which gives us a sense of belonging. Was it easy to attain this identity? No. We human beings first emerged as individuals, then came the idea of relationship, then developed family which later came together to make communities and then came the concept of state which ultimately formed country. Once we become a part of a society we have certain norms, rules and regulations to follow and abide by. These norms and traditions define our culture and make us unique. Patience and sacrifice have been a part of our rich culture. These values have been beautifully intertwined in our tradition. Our myths and legends carry inspiring tales of sacrifices on the part of son for the society (Rama), son for the parents (Shrawana), brothers for each other (Bharat and Laxman for Rama), wife for husband (Sita and Urmila) and there are many more such examples. We have so many examples in the present times also where a son left a very good job in a metro city and came back to his small town to look after his old parents.
But unfortunately,in the recent times our beautiful and rich culture is being marred by atrocious incidents which showcase death of humanity and relationships. 1 out of 10 senior citizens in the world live in India. By 2050, India will have 300 million elderly citizens. India is ageing, but do we care? There are incidents where old parents are being beaten, tortured, harassed and thrown in the old age homes where they helplessly wait for death because no loved one ever comes for them. Children have started questioning their parents instead of appreciating them. It is heart breaking to observe the quick rise in the number of old age homes in our country. If not that then there are cases where a mother was thrown off the terrace because she was not keeping well and in another case the parents were forced out of the house in severe cold. What is this if the children force the parents to move out of their house (home) which they built with lot of struggles. On May 2016, in Delhi, an 85 year old woman was beaten by her 65 year old daughter. In 2014, 50% of elders in India reported abuse. Rakhi, caretaker at an old age home in Gurugram says that there are some families who don’t come even if their parents die.
Why are the values disappearing? Why are we failing to transfer them in our kids? Why aren’t these values being promoted? Why is the youth allowed to misuse the freedom and democracy which was earned with lots of hard work and sacrifice? Why are we becoming selfish and inhuman to the extent that we can sacrifice anyone for our personal gains? It would be unfair to blame one agency for this sad state of affairs. We as a nation should take the blame and a sense of responsibility to rise above this situation. In the name of bringing change and embracing the life of development and luxury we have made ourselves and our kids materialistic. We no more thrive on relationships and bonds rather we need things to survive. Things that were once our wants have become our needs. We have promoted this materialism in the name of advancement and comfort. Instead of becoming easy, life has become devoid of emotions. Youth of today is going far away from the problems of the real world and emotional bonds and is comfortable with the fast track virtual world and its short lived happiness. We have taken away these emotions by confining our kids to nuclear families and to their personal spaces full of facilities. They are growing up fully aware of what they want and how can they acquire it as a part of their right but have no insight of what are their duties and responsibilities as a growing individual of the nation and family.
It is high time that we seek solution and sensitize our youth by emotionally bonding with them instead of overloading them with unnecessary facilities. Let us not suffocate their emotion under materialism. Let us make them realize how to use their freedom judiciously. Before they could smartly and intelligently exercise their freedom of speech and expression they should be made aware of their duties. Let us have conversation with our kids, let us indulge in prolific communication and discussions with them about life and familial bonds. Let us invest our time in them more than our money. Once you do this it will come to you as a surprise that “as you sow, so shall you reap”.
According to Vandana Sehgal, a Personality Enhancement Trainer, parents and teachers play a dominant role in molding the attitude and approach of the children, by imparting moral values. Here are a few easy steps to improve your skill-set in this area.
1.      Narrate patriotic, religious or ethical stories. Question them about the lesson they have learned.
2.      Be polite, respectful and considerate towards others.
3.      Media exposure plays a major role in our life. While watching the news or even a movie discuss the different aspects and ask the child what he/she would have done in that situation? This will develop a sense of reasoning in children.
4.      Listen respectfully to your child’s ideas and wherever required correct them. This will boost their self-confidence.
5.      Spend quality time with children. The quality of time that you spend with your children has a close effect on what they grow up into.
6.      Provide opportunities for your children to help others. This will instill in them generosity.
7.      Involve your child in community service. It will generate an attitude of serving.
8.      Tell your child about the people you admire and why. It will silently inculcate good qualities.
9.      Comment on compassionate behavior. Let your child know that caring is an important moral value.

With the above mentioned values being inculcated, kids will be able to analyze any situation before reacting. Also remember that it is the responsibility of all young parents to look after their parents well and set an example for their kids. I read a short story a few days back in which a young couple was discussing about sending the parents to old age home and their child overheard the conversation and asked what they were discussing. The husband and wife looked at each other and told the child that his grandparents were being sent to a place where they would get people of their own age and would enjoy with them. The child innocently said that he would also find such a place and send them there when they grow old. This was a lesson to the young parents and thereafter they decided against sending the old couple to old age home and rather looked after them well and the same was emulated by their son.
We have been trying to sensitize our children in the school regarding the importance of elders and their contribution and sacrifice in providing all possible facilities to the youngsters. We celebrate “Sanskaar Divas” or “Grandparent’s Day” with zeal and enthusiasm at the school level. On this day the elderly guardians and grandparents of the kids are invited to the school and kids get a chance to perform in front of them and show love and respect. This makes one wonder that why kids can’t be given a chance and platform at home too, to interact for an hour or so with their parents and grandparents where all can sit together and discuss each other’s life and other important social issues on a daily basis.

In the end I would like to say that if we want our kids to use freedom in the correct manner, we should develop in them the ability to empathize, speculate and understand before taking any action. And for this we need to set examples which are worth emulating. Always remember these words of Lillian Gordy Carter, “Sure, I am for helping and taking care of the elderly. I am going to be old myself someday…” Kids will have to take care of the fact that the freedom that we enjoy today was a gift to us and we cannot take it for granted. We will have to give back all the love and care which is being showered on us today because Karma tells us, “What goes around, comes around.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Define Your Own Success

 “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer
With board exams at hand, the expectations of the parents and teachers are touching new heights. In this world of never ending competition, good scores and academic excellence play a key role in determining an individual’s success. It cannot be denied that parenting as well as education system has evolved with time but intellect and academic caliber is still judged through marks which creates a lot of pressure on students during exam time. I have discussed this issue time and again that, although good academic performance is not something wrong to expect but it should not be the only criteria to measure success. Academic scores, degrees and qualifications are a good proxy for the skills and knowledge that young people need but we should think of them as stepping stones to a bright and successful future for those who achieve them. But they do not and never will define the holistic development which a good education ought to provide. “Of course exams are important hurdle to get over. But odd as it may sound, the best way to do that may be to see them for what they are; a good indicator for your knowledge at one point in time, rather than the final word. Resilience, creativity, ethical values and an ability to work effectively with others are the vital outcomes of a rounded education and they enable success in life.” A brilliant academic score and an elite degree might not ensure these qualities. These are inculcated by a healthy, value based environment.
I would like to share a few examples that I came across recently, which prove that if you are happy doing something in life and it is constructive and humanitarian then you are successful even if doesn’t include a college degree or professional qualification. Let’s talk about K Rajeev in this context.
Originally from Palakkad (Kerala), Rajeev came to Chennai as an aspiring medical student at the age of 17, in 1997. After having to drop out of college, he began his first tea stall at the hostel of Madras Medical College, with the encouragement of the students there — who often themselves preferred simple natural concoctions over tablets to cure their common colds. “Doctors do so much for us, and so I wanted to give back,” he says. His tea stall, ‘Diya Snacks’ thrives in the bustling midst of city life. Located near Chennai Central Station, the shack-like ‘chai’ stall is a welcoming gateway into the city. Rajeev cites his grandmother as his biggest inspiration. He says, “My interest in herbal tea as medicine started at an early age when I would help my grandmother, who often provided people with home remedies and herbal cures for mild ailments like coughs and colds.” His dedication to the art of serving tea is impressive, which is why Diya Snacks transcends much beyond a tea stall. To choose, handle and serve varieties of tea regularly can be a demanding task, but years of practice have given him a level of expertise, to the extent that he says he is now working on a book detailing the recipes and health benefits of herbal teas.
“For providing 100 varieties of tea, which are not normal, but an amalgamation of taste and health, I was constantly working on finding more herbs that could help with common ailments,” informs Rajeev. He adds that he also provides training to people interested in starting similar ventures, guiding them with recipes. The stall is next to the railway office, making it a popular hangout among railway employees, particularly post lunch. “The choice of this location wasn’t my decision. In 2012, the corporation had to move my stall from Medical College to this place due to space constraints,” he says, adding, “This stall is registered under the Municipal Corporation and I pay rent. I feel the move that happened in 2012 to this place today is for the better. I have more customers here because of the Government office, railway station and bus stand.” The tea stall, on an average, uses 50 to 60 litres of milk a day and herbs are used judiciously. Although Rajeev earns around ₹20,000 to ₹30,000 a day on an average, he says that he still does not make a profit as he keeps prices low so his tea is accessible to everyone. (SOURCE: THE HINDU)
Another example of success which comes from the nontraditional form of education is that of Rahul Sankrityayan (9 April 1893 – 14 April 1963), who is called the Father of Hindi Travelogue Travel literature because he is the one who played a pivotal role to give travelogue a 'literature form', was one of the most widely travelled scholars of India, spending forty-five years of his life on travels away from his home. He travelled many places and wrote many travelogues approximately in the same ratio. He is also famously known for his authentic description about his travels experiences. Interestingly, he received formal schooling at a local primary school, though he later studied and mastered numerous (36) languages independently, as well as the art of photography. His self study added a sense of originality and uniqueness to his works.
Another example is that of the IT Tycoon Azim Premji, the 3rd richest man in India. He is the chairperson of Wipro with a net worth of $11 billion. He dropped out of college because of the sudden loss of his father. He left Stanford and became the Chairperson of Wipro at the age of 21. He has successfully led the company, which has emerged as one of the biggest software industries in India. Therefore, we realize that success is not something that can be gifted to you wrapped up in a box. Education tends to give you reasonably predictive environment for you to learn and achieve solutions to formulated problems. That’s why academia spends an enormous amount time and resources trying to make learning predictable because results can be controlled. In a nutshell, you’d never be eager to take risks when you grow up in a cocooned environment. You won’t think beyond restraints that academics set up for you. You are always growing in the box and with the box, and it’s not always a good thing. Success is all about exploring yourself outside the box.
Now let’s take up a few examples of the people who have mastered the field of formal education and attained the highest of qualifications and doing extremely well in professional life. Satya Narayana Nadella (born 19 August 1967) is an Indian American business executive. He is the current Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Microsoft, succeeding Steve Ballmer in 2014. Before becoming CEO, he was Executive Vice President of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group, responsible for building and running the company's computing platforms, developer tools and cloud computing services. Nadella attended the Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet before attaining Bachelor of Engineering degree in electrical engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology (then part of Mangalore University) in 1988. Nadella subsequently traveled to the U.S. to study for a Master of Science in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, receiving his degree in 1990. Later he received his MBA degree from the University of Chicago. Nadella said he "always wanted to build things" and that "electrical engineering was a great way for me to go discover what turned out to become a passion."
Pichai Sundararajan (born 12 July 1972), also known as Sundar Pichai, is an Indian American business executive. Pichai is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Google Inc. Formerly the Product Chief of Google, Pichai's current role was announced on 10 August 2015, as part of the restructuring process that made Alphabet Inc. into Google's parent company, and he assumed the position on 2 October 2015. Pichai earned his degree from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in Metallurgical Engineering.  He holds an M.S. from Stanford University in Material Sciences and Engineering, and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
It goes without saying that formal education is important. However, if it will just ruin the privileges of a person to build his/her career through the skills and gifts given by God, then one could not vote for having complete formal education in building one’s lifetime vocation. Personalities like Nadella and Pichai set an example for us that it’s not just degrees which take you far but the values that you adhere to while moving ahead towards your goals.  Formal education is not the ultimate way to success; it depends on the person, whether he/she will be passionate in building his/her lifetime career, according to the skills, talents and adherence to values and teachings of the parents and teachers. “Success depends on the passion and diligence of an individual. Anyone can build his/her career, but only those who will labour for it will surely find success. Mere gifts and talents are not enough; these will be useless, if the person is lazy in executing his/her talents.”
Just think, when you look at a goal and see only the obstacles preventing you from accomplishing it, you’ll fail to give thought to the options that could help you achieve what you’d otherwise count as being impossible. But when you give proper thought to the number of choices that could support you in your efforts to reach a goal, you’ll grow in hope. And guess what? Your chances of succeeding will increase!
In the end I wish all the students best of learning and good performance in their examination.

“We all have possibilities we don’t know about. We can do things we don’t even dream we can do.”