Mounting threat of money in education business!

Private sector enters with a vengeance. Who doesn’t know that the Indian education sector is undergoing a radical transformation, for good or bad? From the very start from LKG to primary and secondary education, why, even afterwards and perhaps with much more vengeance the entry into any collegiate education there is stiff competition all the way. The education sector is becoming highly commercial and the trend is to encourage and push it that way. No day passes, why no moment passes when you see ads everywhere, on the TV screens and on the pages of all news items, even full scale ads on admissions to some specialized courses like aeronautical engineering course. The ads say- don’t go for such courses to other countries, you can have it here itself. We saw from our own neighborhood in the village an ad such as this one! In fact, once a sleepy, a very poor and undeveloped village is now surrounded with three engineering colleges and one ayurvedic centre etc. and we get more workers for the farmers as the women now enjoy the choices of the 100 days work or assistants at the nearby ayurvedic treatment location!

We can’t of course share too much of the mysteries of self-financing colleges and there are any number of ways to get a degree certificate from a university stamp! So, the bad side of the story is that these days you have any number of degree holders! One person having a number of M.As and other degrees and certificates are earning multiple degrees. The other day we saw a full-page supplement of private engineering
college with their founder’s photos holding forth on the benefits of getting a degree from one of their colleges. It was found later it was a marketing feature! So, you are faced with the mounting threat of money. Education is fast becoming a flourishing business.

The government is still in the vast field of education the dominant player; the government schools are still imparting education to millions of children. The poor are no more denied of an education opportunity. Yet, the emerging threat is from the creative innovators in education and they have been milking the innocent or the weak to get insecure in the face of the billions of dollar funds and other players in specialized exam-based for which alone the older war horses in the private sector now concentrate.

Who can reform or reconstruct the education sector?

It looks that an unconcerned government if delays reforms of the fast deteriorating sector, very soon might completely give way to the private sector. More private universities might enter where there is a vast potential. Our concern is that at least the private sector takes over and makes India, namely, the Indian universities a destination for foreign students. Now, even China has emerged as a destination for foreign students. So instead, Indian students can save the costs and mental agony of not searching for high cost US, UK, Canadian Universities. Let them at least enter into the very quality Indian private sector universities for quality degrees. But even here we need the government to wake up to the market realities and try to draw up some wise policies and regulate the education sector. Without a regulatory framework you can’t ensure a reliable quality in education. There are so many problems multiplying for lack of action on the government front. So, don’t create a sense of insecurity and even panic (now there is a sort of mild panic given the middle class considerations for educating their kids and youngsters).

There is already a sort of panic in discussing the various EMIs etc. So, let us not make education sector a sick one, creating so many conflicts. The present status of the Universities is giving worry, considering the various low quality activities, from selecting the VCs to the various academic staff to other ills. We request the public to ponder over our concerns and let us create a process of dialogue and discussion.

One more distressing development is the very commercialization of education, the very pressure to get into fancy schools, be it pre-school, LKG to prestigious secondary school, IIT etc. the irrational pressure built on the children and parents. Parents too fall victim to this materialistic over-ambition. Please don’t put pressure on the kids to perform; the 5-10 year olds and even beyond. Please also tech them mother tongue, music and arts. The Central government, the HRD ministry must fix high-power educationist to frame a policy to reduce stress on children in this so-called competitive society.

Let more people, politicians and experts and thinkers debate and discuss!
As elections near, farmers are getting forgotten!
Farmers as vote-banks are a different category of people!
From being debtors and litigants farmers become pampered for short periods!

agriYou see in a democratic country like India where periodic elections every five years and in many recent instances States Assembly
elections too intervene ,as for instance the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu would also see elections to 21 Assembly seats  and that makes for further complications. In India at any  rate, periodic elections mean a great deal of diversion of attention, elections mean for voters a time to earn some money. The so-called freebies include more ready-cash, plus lots of other goods including food packets, free travel to the polling booths and also other perks for all of which this time the Election Commission has  fixed prices and the candidates have to give account of his or her expenses.
So, the vote-banks get consolidated and farmers make up a sizeable commodity and vote banks!  So, agriculture in India is getting transformed every now and then and  it all depends who speaks about farmers and where one is placed when you hear his or her sermons on farmers!
Now, more attention is grabbed by spokespersons on TV news channels and given the fact of India having an estimated 400 TV news
channels, there are enough spokespersons for the agri sector and related rural distress we have enough attention-grabbing power for
this sector.

What is the current priority in agriculture?

Obviously, farm loan waivers! The subject gets priority attention and when such leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks the whole nation listens. More so the prime time TV grabs much attention and diversion too!
What is the progress for instance in one such new farm schemes introduced by the Prime Minister with much fanfare?
We mean the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana(PMKSNY)?

I think it was introduced in few states, in particular in Gujarat and in  few other states. One of the current issues in policy making be it employment, jobs and other schemes, we don’t seem to have enough data. Why even it is alleged that much of three NSS surveys-were leaked after they were approved by the National Statistical Commission  and two highly rated autonomous body’s experts chose to resign half way. Unusually those who know how the government departments work these days, it is very unusual and even bold to see such highly rated experts chose to leave the autonomous body. So, what was alleged and what was suspected for long that the government is not doing an honest job and instead of taking the public into confidence, the government has done the opposite. It is now widely alleged and also believed that the unemployment rate in India is at a 45 year high!
How to believe the government’s many claims, critics ask.

There are many such schemes too, like for instance the Budget announced Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandham which promised for the unorganised sector workers  a direct income transfer. As far as Indian agri sector is concerned we have a very peculiar official mindset.

We have never for the past five years  had seen or heard what the Minister for Agriculture has in mind .Neither he had spoken nor had his deputies in the ministry shown their faces. It was not even often some small time bureaucrat had said some brief messages.

We do not know even now at the time of electioneering any major policy pronouncements. There is an all Indian insurance company, you know?
Anybody knows what is its work so far?  No, none at all?

How the agricultural insurance, the crop insurance scheme or schemes have performed?

It is the  absence of data, now one of the biggest scams, or scam-level allegations are flaying thick and fast that are dulling the minds and even the interest of those interested and involved in the farming programmes.  Let us know that agriculture is now a world-wide concern, food has to be produced, foods have to be distributed all over the world, there are still countries in the South American geography and also in North Korea where there is a food shortage and the governments are scurrying for help. And fortunately, the very international community, the world bodies, like the UN,FAO and the WTO are all heavily committed to improving agriculture and the food production.

Unfortunately in India agri sector is marked by farmer’s suicides. This is one back spot in the Indian government’s agriculture policy making.
Unfortunately, the humanist tragedy of hard working farmers committing suicides is very  superficially dealt with and in this one area both the ruling party and the Opposition parties are equally guilty of heartlessness and sheer utter insensitivity.
Then comes the average Indian farmer’s profile.

He is more often uneducated, poor and owning one of even less acre of land as agricultural property and also the landless labour, often
doubling as tenant farmer and also landless and we are all planning agri polices on the basis of this utterly unviable livelihood  economics!
We need an utterly new agriculture vision document, we have to face the brutal realities. We have to relax the many of the antiquated land legislation laws. Relax the tenancy security law that neigh urges the tenant to pay rent and cultivate or leave the land so that the market forces
determine the viability of farming based on somewhat market forces.

Now, the litigation legacy is also old as the British colonial administration. Sciences have to play a decisive role. New seeds, biotech
applications, the world is now flooded with 80 percent of GM crops. New generation farm families are abandoning farming, urbanisation is
helping many poverty-ridden families to migrate to towns. This is welcome and inevitable.
Already Indian agriculture where 80 percent of land is rain-fed, so too in the outside world. Let us turn food shortages into food surpluses.

This is the only larger perspective in new have to plan our agricultural strategy.

Is there time to think of agriculture and farmers?
Yes, much has been talked about farmers, their own tales of woe and tonnes of promises to help them etc.
Rahul Gandhi has promised the moon, all farmers’ loans he promises to wipe out!

indexAs for the BJP, the Prime Minister has vowed to protect farmers, he is the chowkidar and the country is safe in his hands. As we said this is election time and you can believe or disbelieve as you want.

But one thing is fundamental. Agriculture is to stay here and agriculture would matter who is in power or out of power. Agriculture and food production are intertwined.  Only when there is enough food in the country the country is safe. Once food shortages arise then everything goes wrong.

Unfortunately, there is a series of issues, drought, climate change; uncertain rains and water crisis, from drinking water to water for irrigation are all coming increasingly to our day to day deliberation’s we write, this is world water day!

And remember the place of agriculture is now at the very centre stage of international attention. Agriculture is first and foremost and international topic, on agriculture production, export and trade international diplomacy revolves!

So, the current issues of agriculture have a long history. For a change we can discuss the history of agriculture and the world population is also bringing agriculture to our attention. World population is 9 billion; this would be in about the next few years, by 2050, hardly one generation. An estimate says that in 2013, it was 2,700 calories for each of the 7 billion people on the earth and  by 2050 2,000 calories per head is adequate for survival.

Even as we write there are food shortages in South America and also in North Korea.

There are already many international agencies, from UN to FAO and other bodies to reach out the hungry and ill-fed. However, there are road blocks, trade barriers, US and China are at almost war over trade issues and we don’t know how the equitable distribution of food would contribute to world peace and human contentment.

There are also many trade blocs, European bloc being the world’s most important food importer and with the British exit, there could be many more rules change. Poverty is still there developing countries and India, now a reasonably self-sufficient country in food requirements but scenarios can change drastically.

Unfortunately, Indian farmers are more neglected and more exploited and there is an unbridgeable divide between the urban and rural peoples’ welfare and security.  The Indian farmer is a big tragic figure, he is either a debtor or a litigant. He is the most insecure citizen and he is being pampered by the politicians for the simple reason in India fifty percent of the population is still dependent upon farming as a source of employment.

And the divide between rural India and the urban India is widening and no adequate answer, less a grand vision for India’s future agriculture is in sight. We need more and more powerful farm lobbies, as we have in the USA and UK. A powerful agriculture lobby is critical and only then we can get the farming community to get the needed subsidies and protection as enjoyed in advanced countries.

Our farmers lobbies must travel abroad, more and more to advanced agriculture economies and see how the agri subsidies work there. May be our government too is coming round to see new policies needed. Like basic universal incomes, a sort of minimum social security.

Unfortunately, there is now a type of mindset on the part of policy makers to take Indian farmers indolence as passivity. Change must be invoked in every farmers mind and farmer’s power has to be reused.

We need good and committed farmers leader and election time is the right time to pressure the politicians. There is a range of farm issues, from developed countries like USA and UK where big farms survives, in the USA 80% of farm output comes from 10% of the big farms, whereas, as in India, why even in the most backward Maasai pastrolists in Tanzania where small farmers believe they want to inherit the farms from their parents and they in turn want to hand over the farms to their successors. So too in certain manner in India too the farmers’ future depends upon how tradition and history would govern the farmers families and their inheritance.

Farm sizes is another big issues. In India, the British rule and their ryotwari system of ownership and also the creation of Zamindari, from the Mughal times’s mansabdari system and Taluqdars, there is a strong tradition of feudalism. This you can wipe out even in one generation.

That is one more reason why litigation, the pending of court cases relating to land is so persistent. Also the fact you can’t have equal land size however much you strengthen the land reform laws, land tenancy laws.

There would be one or two big land owners in every village in India. The rest would be small farmers. Can you distribute the agricultural land as in a collective, Soviet  style farming system?

These issues have to be debated openly. Indian agriculture doesn’t have a strong media space. Vadamalai Media would continue to fight for an open society, liberal economic and social policies.

And the decline of education  today!

books759India’s education sector is still running an erratic education policies. There is a vacuum of education vision and it needs an urgent attention. Yes, you may be one of the luckiest not to be bothered about the education of your youngsters! They might have gone through the hell already! But then how many can be so lucky? Every parent today is caught up with pain and dilemma! Where to educate their loved ones!

The education market in India is a very competitive market. Indian education scenario is no more what we all imagined to be so far. Today the rules of the education game had changed radically. Even this is a minor remark. Do you have an any idea of what Indian education is today? Indian education is almost a hell! There is so much money flowing in this sector. Also, there are many deeper issues of denial and deprivation. There are issues of justice in education. Has the goal of education for all achieved?

There are enormous number of  school-going age children out of school. There are many social, ethical and gender issues. The education of the girl-child is still unresolved. Under age marriage of girls is still widely prevailing. These are the issues and we need very satisfying outcomes. Then there are many new-fangled education technology tools that, on the one hand are enabling to reach all children online. This also costs money and expenses.

The role of private sector in education for a country like India is a great challenge.
We need private sector. But then there has to be some accountability. From LKG to secondary and even university education, we say, unresolved. New edutech impact on our education with all our achievements in IT don’t seem to have a socially relevant education perspective.

How to empower the people? A great question that cries for a satisfactory answer.

There are now education technology companies such as Byju’s, Talentedge, Simplilearn and Toppr, to cite only the most competitive and the most  ruthless ones that are all screaming loud about their power to change the rules of the education game! These top ‘performers’  are trying to grab a larger market share-both at home and abroad and also chasing talent to drive their growth.

Toppr, for instance which raised mind-boggling 35 million dollars three months ago, is looking  to add 1,000 employees across all functions this year. They are enhancing the EdTech platform working towards raising additional funds thorugh round D series.
Byju’s is hiring talent to develop its international product this year. Simplilearn, growing 40% year on year is planning to add 500 people this year. We have been constantly hiring fresh talent and seasoned professionals for a larger variety of roles-from sales and marketing to product, engineering and HR and finance and would continue to do so in the near future said Zishaan Hayath, CEO and co-founder of Toppr. We have just closed our series c round of funding and will be conducting series later this year. The company has grown from 400 to 1,300 employees.

Byju’s which employs 3,200 and is present in 40 locations launched its app in 2015 targeting K-12 students. Revenues in the last financial year was Rs.500 crores and it is on target to treble this year to Rs.1,400 crores, says Mrinal Mohit, the chief operating officer. Hiring talent across content, tech, media, business development and product.

Are these all just buzz words? Or, do they mean anything for the education sector?
Yes, these education imparting tech companies have their own agendas and let us believe they deliver something of value for the pursuers of their own dream goals?

But for a public observer these new education companies and their developments might not mean much. In particular, for the parents who are chasing their own dreams, these esoteric education enterprises – they and their buzz, the high power mass advertising games – these companies only add to their already existing tensions and further add to new tensions.

How can education be an esoteric game anymore? India has world’s largest democracy and world’s greatest number of children! Not an easy field. This is an India which is the world’s largest democracy where every citizen matters. We read every day students’ suicides. As we write this, there is news about a 10th standard student committing suicide in the distant Namakkal which is also a new type of education hub. We are quite accustomed to farmers suicides’. To this we have added the students suicide, one more category!

Just today we read one column in a mainstream newspapers – a column by Amitabh Kant, the CEO of NITI Aayog, the chief planning body of the government of India. He outlines what the government has done for “transforming the learning curve”. Since he heads the chief planning commission, we expect him to say many things of value. All we are able to learn is the NITI Aayog’s Aspirational Districts programme. How has this programme impacted the learning scenario in India? We are not clear and we could not get any clue about the main lesson from the programme. We are sure that the NITI Aayog has much feedback. But as far as the public is concerned there is this impression that Indian education has become more and more commercialised and there is much private sector engagement to bring in quality education at many levels of our education sector. Certainly, there is much buzz in secondary education sector.

There is mushrooming of capitation-feepaying colleges and self-financing universities! This is a very exploitative sector as of now! The education fees must be regulated and poor sections of students must be having a sort of quota. Unfortunately, education policy making is poor. Education policy making has been uneven. From the 1966 Kothari Commission report to recent Smriti Irani erratic education policy making by all and sundry bureaucrats led to an education emergency that still runs its course! We need big minds and big vision!

How many of us know that we live in an entirely new generation?

In education there is literally an explosion, unseen in the past years. What sort of education India envisaged? Who are making you think about education in India?

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Politicians, bureaucrats or who else? A difficult question! Certainly, politicians are the last people who care for education! They are busy with their own affairs. Yes, you see their daily utterances! We are not constrained or concerned with the current election buzz! We have to go by much more solid issues and concerns.

There are not enough thoughts on the sort of education we need. Of course, there have been great men and great minds in the past. We specially think of Raja Ram Mohan Roy who came at a critical moment in India’s history, in the early 1800s and we all know what historic shift he gave to India’s religious, social, cultural and even to the political transformation. Now, every such pivotal reformer had to pay a heavy price for their own self-consciousness and for actions.

Ram Mohan Roy paid the price and he died in a foreign country and  was for long forgotten even. I was shown the very place, just outside the Tagore mansion, Jorasanko in Kolkata from where Roy spoke and preached his Brahma Samaj messages and let us be clear at the outset, if you really speak on big subjects you have a price to pay too! By 2050 the world would have 9.3 billion people in the world? The historian Giovanni Federico calculated that the world has grown six or seven fold between 1800 and 2000.This means that we live in a generation that has seen unprecedented growth in people and India with incredible 1.3 billion souls!

That is in the next  30 years, we would have added another 3 billions of people in the world. Already, the pressure of people on the global scale is visible. More and more educated Indians, get educated and also get migrated to further progress in their lives. Migration of people, able-bodied, educated and aspirational-high people are moving out. So, what sort of education India of our generation needs? Who all can tell us these concerns? India is now in well-past post-Independence generation. Right now, India has, as they say, million mutinies and every awakened social and economic class has clear aspirations and goals.

The rich, the upper crust don’t have any goal for its own class. India has all the material security, they have all the economic and political clout so that they don’t need any well-thought-out education goal. We have seen how the one big industry house got the stamp of a centre of excellence before the institution was even started or not even named and even conceptualised!

Today’s politicians do whatever they want and the very many social ills the educated middle class thinks as right and wrong don’t apply to the upper class and their benefactors in politics. We live a democracy and that we have to rememebr. So, education for a democracy must serve the ends of democracy. Can we say this? We are not sure. Even the very middle class is bound by the democratic norms.

Elections is the biggest mark of democracy. So, with all the ills of modern democracies, we too in India must learn to live with. Corruption is the biggest threat and we have to learn to live with this evil. May be the mass of people even might not care for the so-called middle class values. So, we have to see how education policy had evolved in Independent India. Many education ministers had come and gone.

Some of them we knew in person like the great scholar, P.C.Chandra and
also politicians like Arjun Singh. Also, some great secretaries cum educators like J.P.Naik and Anil Bordia and others.

Today, we have no such talents. We have only populist politicians and very low-talents. Indian education bureaucracy is the largest in the world. So the quality of education too is very commercialised and what we have got are very indifferently-motivated. Let us at least say: our education today must serve all people and we have to learn to live with a lowest common denominator education only! Amen!