Teacher Absenteeism in the Desh

A few months back, I pointed mutineers at a new book – The Beautiful Tree – which documented the surprising success of very low cost, unchartered, private schools in India. Although some charged as little as $1-$2 per child, per month and they solidly outperformed their government counterparts –

It ain’t pretty but it works…

The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. That is, children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!), while children in recognized private schools scored over 19 percentage points more than children in government schools (a 79 percent advantage).

In a blog post over at the ever-excellent Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok provides some detail on one of the reasons for the utterly poor government school performance, teacher absenteeism –

Spot checks by the World Bank, for example, indicate that on a typical day 11% of teachers are absent in Peru, 16% are absent in Bangladesh, 27% in Uganda and 25% in India.

Even when teachers are present they are often not teaching. In India, where a quarter of the teachers are absent on any particular day, only about half of those present are actually teaching.

<

p>The reason they are able to get away with this is a, uh, textbook case of public choice economics — when teacher’s paychecks are determined by bureaucrats and politicians, their energy shifts from teaching towards politicking & lobbying -

The problem is not low salaries. Salaries for public school teachers in India are above the norm for that country.

…Teachers are literate and they vote so they are a powerful political force especially where teacher unions are strong. As if this were not enough, in India, the teachers have historically had a guarantee of representation in the state Legislative Councils so political power has often flowed to teachers far in excess of their numbers. As a result, it’s virtually impossible to fire a teacher for absenteeism.

<

p>For comparison, private teacher salaries clock in at “one-fifth to one-tenth of government salary levels.”

<

p>Still, I’d argue that the real secret to private school success isn’t simply the lower cost, it’s the local accountability and competition that’s intrinsic to parents directly purchasing services from local, entrepreneurially run schools.

[previous posts on education in the Desh: 1, 2, and 3]

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by vinod. Bookmark the permalink.

44 thoughts on “Teacher Absenteeism in the Desh

  1. Interesting.

    I wanted to see if it was a cultural thing and a quick sanity check seems to confirm that MR was right. Unions can cause harm even in places where there is a very high respect for education — it turns out that Communist Bengal and Kerala schools are failing despite having highly literate societies.

    Unsurprisingly Bihar had high rates, but surprisingly the BIMARU state of MP has low Teacher Absenteeism rates http://infochangeindia.org/200606054925/Education/News/25-of-Indian-teachers-bunking-school-World-Bank-report.html

    The article below mentions that even when they turn up, half the Bengali teachers do not teach http://prospectjournal.ucsd.edu/index.php/2009/05/ashapal-primary-school-education-in-west-bengal/

  2. Regarding teachers’ attitudes there’s multiple aspects. Most prominent is the fact that their jobs are secure, and the senior officers don’t really push for action against an errant teacher.Since they don’t have the fear of losing their jobs, they just don’t care. Their lives are made easier by students who too feel happy when there is not teacher and they get to have some more time to themselves.

    Private schools will pay a pittance of a salary, but like you said they will make the teachers accountable.

    Then of course there’s the caste politics at work, with a mix of reserved/general teachers and officers, and little groups that seek to promote their own.

    And then, lets not forget the fact that private schools get to choose their students. If you have a good batch coming in, you don’t really need to worry about the results. But govt schools cannot do that, which obviously plays a big role in their performance.

    Of course, i generalize here. Not all teachers are lazy. There are some great teachers working in govt schools who genuinely like their job and consistently deliver good results.

  3. when teacher’s paychecks are determined by bureaucrats and politicians, their energy shifts from teaching towards politicking & lobbying -

    accountability, anyone? read about duflo’s research on making teachers in india accountable, and how it fixed absenteeism without changing anything else in the system. teacher’s unions are a big deal in the us too, but the public school education doesnt suffer from the rampant absenteeism that india does, after all…

  4. oh, btw, isn’t the beautiful tree a book by the cato institute? for me, personally, it would be interesting to actually look at the details of the study and how it derived its samples and results before making grandiose conclusions, although i guess ymmv, since hacks and dogmatists do love to feed off each other.

  5. There’s that great bit in The White Tiger where Balram expresses admiration for his teacher for continuing to not show up, or to refuse to teach. There is an element of that in Indian society, where people are kind of admired for bucking the system.

  6. There’s that great bit in The White Tiger where Balram expresses admiration for his teacher for continuing to not show up, or to refuse to teach. There is an element of that in Indian society, where people are kind of admired for bucking the system.

    OK, I can contemplate the possibility that the whole system is so screwed up that it seems OK to just take the $ and run, but–we ARE talking about the education of the less well-developed (in terms of economic outcomes) portions of society here, right? It’s pretty inexcusable that ANY society that hasn’t just been through a major war can’t have close to 100% literacy–we know how to reach that goal, and it’s not that expensive. So, the question is, why aren’t we arranging our institutions to make sure we do reach that goal? I personally can’t see a good excuse. I’m not buying blaming it on the Mughals or the Britishers. It’s 2009. What, so X (security for ministers, $ for trips for ministers to Europe, $ for these bad people who are working as state teachers but not coming to work) is done instead? How important is X, compared to making sure our sons and daughters can read and write? It’s a real shame, but one we can help ameliorate. No way Desh will keep up with China if we leave so many people behind on such fundamentals as literacy. It makes me ashamed.

  7. yes accountability is definitely a big concern with not just education in general, but I would argue ANY government funded job. Police officers, IS officers, etc…. there is very little in the way of ‘checks and balances’ on behavior and performance in most of these positions… that’s why government jobs are so highly coveted, once you’re in, you’re in for ever. That, combined with the benefits (housing allowances, etc) make those sort of jobs highly prized.

    In terms of education, there is another concern that is not mentioned here…. now first of all, I don’t know where these statistics of teachers in India being “well paid” is from… I didn’t see any numbers, but it is my impression that teachers are NOT well paid in India. Yes, government school teachers are paid more than private school, but it is still not really a good salary, from my impression (mind you, I don’t have the numbers, so perhaps I am wrong) teachers, especially primary school teachers really make very little. They are also often teaching HUGE mixed level classes, with something like 50 children. So, a lot of these teachers (in government and private, I do believe) often pad their pockets with money from tuitions. Some actively do not teach in class but then have students come after school and pay extra to go over the material. Since the whole Indian system is “teaching to the test” this works out pretty well for them…

    And also, in terms of pass rates… does that study include how many children in private vs. government school go to after school tuitions? From my experience, children passing in many places has a lot more to do with their outside tutoring classes than school in general…

  8. I agree with saying teacher accountability is important. A teacher should get fired for gross absenteeism. The salary may not be as much as it should, but there probably are plenty of people who would go for the job and do the work, if the absentee teacher was removed. I don’t see the salary improving in the near future, nor do I see teaching to the test ending either, so in the meantime you have to have other methods of improving the performance.

  9. I am proud of the fact that India provides access to free education to millions of poor children. I am also proud that the government has the foresight to pay its teachers relatively well. Of course, absenteeism is bad at any level, but the solution as you imply is not to hand over all schools to the private sector. Thats a sure-fire way to exclude millions of poor children from basic, if not perfect, primary education.

  10. I agree that low salary is not the real reason! I am also against private schools. I am happy to say in Canada we have private schools but that is only for Christian schools where still the syllabus is same as for Public School except they teach religion Christianity in Private Schools – and I guess that justifies too! But in US it is mere a status symbol for parents when they say my kids go to Private Schools created by those Indians who want to show off! I have witnessed an American Family who choose to take their kid out of Private School as the kid was getting pressured and started behaving very differently. True in Private School even Parents have homework :) and lot of activity to do. In todays era if Parents have time to teach their kid then what difference does it make whether its Private or Public?

    I think those days were different when a teacher had a moral responsibility towards their student and hence they were respected and worshiped as Guru – ‘Guru bramha Guru Vishu, Gurur Devo Maheshwara, Gurur Sakshat Para Bramha Tasmaye shri guruve namaha’ – After God the next place given was to Teachers.

    Today it’s all materialistic and selfishness – hence we see teachers going away from their responsibilities. But all are not same and still we have some teachers who understand their responsibilities and duty towards their society and the community.

    This is an interesting topic where even a book will be less to describe :) Cheers

  11. I tend to disagree with some of the statements espoused here. The education system in the United States is highly disproportionate as well, mainly because the public school system’s funding are based on property taxes and zoning. Therefore a public school in a suburban upper-class area, is vastly different from the education in a urban inner-city school. All of this is based on funding and structurally institutional problems. I was able to spend 3 months in south India this past year, where I saw the process of petitioning for a government school that various villages had to go through. The widespread corruption in the bureaucratic sector is probably the main obstacle to the desh’s success. India’s strength lies in the extremely large young population that exists, however if the education system fails to give some sort of basic education to the masses, I feel like all of that potential will remain untapped. And yes, china will win. Not that, the fact that China would potentially win, should at all be any sort of motivation for strengthening a necessary social component of a society.

  12. Indian economic growth is going to hit the glass ceiling very soon. There simply isn’t enough talent to sustain the exponential need for skilled grads in the knowledge sector forget about feeding the putative manufacturing and infrastructure growth. All the momentum that could be squeezed out of the ‘IT boom’ is in place – sorry but nothing more is left. There is far too much nepotism, corruption, inefficiency and IGNORANCE. India’s big league dreams are going to fall flat because its an inequitable country that prefers democracy and bollywood shenanigans to sincerely uplifting its poor. Also, the Elite would hate the ‘kaale’ and ‘chamar’ stragglers at traffic signals to prosper and their rural India being transformed because it would rob it of the exotic value, how would they impress their white hosts at five star parties in the Rambagh Palace? Sorry but game over. It is too late to catch up with China, let alone the West.

  13. “I am proud of the fact that India provides access to free education to millions of poor children. I am also proud that the government has the foresight to pay its teachers relatively well. Of course, absenteeism is bad at any level, but the solution as you imply is not to hand over all schools to the private sector.”

    SR, having chronically low expectations and low threshold for national pride is a problem that affects all Indians. We just don’t have high expectations in the first place, and that fragile self-esteem expresses itself in terms of brutal suppression of Tribals and other dissenters against the State. One solution is jailing teachers who don’t show up at work or send them to correction camps as Stalin did.

  14. My sister got a double promotion in a government school (she skipped her 1st grade and went to 2nd grade directly!) because one of the teacher thought that she was too tall to sit in 1st grade.

    I hated most of my teachers in desh. They did all the other things except teaching. In high school they enforced our repressive society theme by making the boys to call their other classmates(girls) as ‘sister’. This was done so that the boys & girls won’t develop any love interests. Then in my undergrad there were a wave of dress code sanctions pushed by these morons to stop the chicks from waring tank-tops and short skirts. I finally found my freedom when I came to US to do my grad, great professors and I started to listen to lectures for the first time.

    But in US it is mere a status symbol for parents when they say my kids go to Private Schools created by those Indians who want to show off!

    Ya, right! People go to Carnegie Mellon just to show off.

  15. Hate to break it to you Purvi, but China has already won. At least in regards to education. I’m always amused when people, desi or otherwise, tout India’s educational system as superior or even something to be emulated. I can’t decide which cause; delusional ignorance, jingoistic self-deception, or farcical joke ultimately leads people to make such a statement.

    http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/OP218/

    Spending less as a percentage of GDP than India, China enrolls more students, has more students complete their educations, has smaller class sizes, more qualified teachers, and has more equitable distribution of education across class, gender, and ethnicity. These trends hold true from pre-school to graduate school. Not to mention the superior continuing adult education and vocational training programs.

    There is no one stop fix for India’s education woes, but there are many other better alternatives to India’s existing educational policies. Some of which are quite easy and simple to implement and could have a profound impact. Such as a simple roll call each morning for teachers. So simple in fact that the sad lesson drawn from the fact that they haven’t been fixed as of yesterday is that they likely won’t be fixed anytime soon. Unfortunately fixing education in India is like a fat man trying to lose weight. The problems are known, the solutions are known, the remedies are quite simple, but if there is no will by those in a position of influence then there is no way in hell anything is going to get done. The chalta hai chai biskoot attitude that emerges whenever you get n+1 Indians together in any sort of organizational structure precludes any real change from happening. Too pessimistic perhaps, it might be better off to pretend that the 0.01% of Indians from well off families who can afford a slew of private tutors that manage to attend IIT and graduate schools in Gorastan are representative of India’s educational system as a whole. They can then proceed to pen editorials from their svelte air conditioned offices to the NYT about India’s potential or perhaps even write a feel good book (I’m looking at you here Nandan)!

  16. And yes, china will win.

    Not according to Conrad Barwa. Here are his exact words:

    China remains a potential strategic adversary but has huge internal problems of its own, namely its own democratic transition (or lack thereof) frankly I am more worried about China’s impending crisis than I am over any Indian internal problem.
  17. “The chalta hai chai biskoot attitude that emerges whenever you get n+1 Indians together in any sort of organizational structure precludes any real change from happening.”

    Yes that seems to happen. ‘Games Indians Play’ is a good read about that. I think beyond the extended family we are incompetent and under motivated without external incentives as we lack the kind of regimentation and discipline that all the successful societies seem to posses: Germans, Japs, Chinese etc. One way to offset this social disorder is to embrace the free market as Indians beneath the veneer are quite materialistic and manna seeking – it drove LN Mittal to the top. Need to create/show fortune at the bottom of the pyramid so that it appears a viable business model. Career Launcher, and India based coaching and IIT/MBA prep ‘Franchise’ has already invested in such schools. Ofcourse to expect execution of social projects on such enormous scale as this from the corrupt nepotist Bharat Sarkar is a wet dream. The only way is to make sure there is LESS government not more, as the impetus to study for upward mobility in India is rabid across castes (Even the Muslims insist on educating their girls these days) and the demand is there. And we know, demand creates supply, as long as sarkari middlemen and suckers are not there to mess up the calculus.

  18. Also, the Elite would hate the ‘kaale’ and ‘chamar’ stragglers at traffic signals to prosper and their rural India being transformed because it would rob it of the exotic value, how would they impress their white hosts at five star parties in the Rambagh Palace?

    KNT, the traffic signal cohort that you mentioned is an urban problem. And rural India is immensely more diverse that your White Tiger stereotype.The Elite in the modern India are not exclusively either fair skinned, or high caste. The reason for the appalling development is endemic corruption. It is not the monopoly of any one cast group. A cursory glance at Mayavati or Laloo’s political careers will be quite educational. And frankly, you grossly overestimate the importance of the white hosts. That ship has sailed. Ask BCCI.

    Sorry but game over. It is too late to catch up with China, let alone the West.

    No, the game has just begun. But it is prudent for us to play it wisely, and utilise the hand that we have been dealt optimally. Can you compare the India of 2009 with the India of 1989? I am actually happy that at least a large number of educated Indians realise the problem and worry about it.

    When we write pessimistic analyses about how undisciplined the Indian society generally is, and how we are never going to catch up with the west, I see a country brutally raped by colonialism, with a literacy rate of 12.2% at Independence becoming 61% or so literate today. Wiki quotes India’s youth literacy rate as 82%. And despite our corruption and incompetence at various levels, we have done it without a bloody revolution or a China style authoritarian regime. I remain optimistic that the trend will continue, and at some point in the distant future, the country will catch up, when things reach a critical momentum. The pace will be frustrating, but we are probably not built for sprints.

  19. “I agree that low salary is not the real reason! I am also against private schools. I am happy to say in Canada we have private schools but that is only for Christian schools where still the syllabus is same as for Public School except they teach religion Christianity in Private Schools – and I guess that justifies too! But in US it is mere a status symbol for parents when they say my kids go to Private Schools created by those Indians who want to show off! I have witnessed an American Family who choose to take their kid out of Private School as the kid was getting pressured and started behaving very differently. True in Private School even Parents have homework :) and lot of activity to do. In todays era if Parents have time to teach their kid then what difference does it make whether its Private or Public?”

    Actually, Canada has plenty of private schools that are secular, and others that are Jewish, Islamic, etc. Conversely, it also has publicly-funded Catholic schools. Private schools are not confined to the same syllabus as public schools — they have more autonomy.

  20. I’m not sure I agree with his reasoning. Public choice economics gets a lot of shit wrong because they frame everything under the rational choice assumption. But people don’t respond to all incentives rationally. It’s pretty well established that people respond much more readily to short term incentives than ones that aren’t readily visible. Same thing with disincentives – surmountable but recurring hurdles (like a long commute) have a disproportionate negative impact on motivation compared to big hurdles like promotions.

    Even the report MR links says

    Teacher absence is more correlated with daily incentives to attend work: teachers are less likely to be absent at schools that have been inspected recently, that have better infrastructure, and that are closer to a paved road
  21. Thank you friends for some of your comments based on my response.

    I feel lucky to study in India as when I was in School my teachers cared for me and made sure I get good marks and the same way in College and Universities…! Todays basic need in some part of the country is ‘Getting Education’.

    My daughter goes to a Public School and I don’t see any less effort in the teachers in teaching or helping the students to score better. As Teachers are also evaluated based on the students performance in that particular school. This holds a lot and specially in this economy any one being absent for salary structure – is very strange. I know teachers go on strike but that is during weekends when they want to convey their message – a peace march. But lot of unnecessary things take place when the system has corruption and other loop holes.

    At the same time we can’t blame teachers alone as the future of every child is also her/his parents responsibility too. Cheers

  22. “When we write pessimistic analyses about how undisciplined the Indian society generally is, and how we are never going to catch up with the west, I see a country brutally raped by colonialism, with a literacy rate of 12.2% at Independence becoming 61% or so literate today.”

    What is the yardstick for literacy, I read somewhere a person who can sign his name is considered literate in India. The auguries look bad – because 3 out of 4 engineering and 9 out of 10 humanities students are considered unemployable. Its too late because an entire ‘demographic dividend’ has been wasted by India’s self-seeking leadership. These people are going to cause tomorrows riots. How many research papers get published in India? Why do most of our Defense projects turn out duds ? (Read Outlook: The supposed Pokhran Thermonuclear super duper test failed to damage the shaft itself) We have a Human Resource quality problem, its better to acknowledge it than bury our head in the sand. Its sad because when I meet the dark skinned chaiwallah who does myriad calculations in his head and has a photographic memory, I wonder how many like him have been kept down by India’s caste/class ceiling. The next generation of the Elites are those who benefit from higher education. That was Nehru’s plan, to favour castes like his own, thats why he built IITs (Their contribution to India is moot except in terms of forex and that is debatable too) and didn’t care a damn for primary education. Good that he ensured upper caste dominance for generations to come, because at the end in the free market economy money is relative and they have hoarded lots already and the power arbitrage conferred by that money is not going away without major social upheaval.

  23. All societies have to deal with glass ceilings. Nothing new. It is important to allow individual achievement to thrive regardless of background. Unfortunately what has happened in India is not the absence of discrimination but the change in who is discriminated. There is more to gain for a community to be considered part of the lower classes now than not. Even Brahmins have been so discriminated against (I’m not Brahmin), that they have politically more in common with dalits:

    “…Arguably, Mayawati arrived at a conclusion that the 21 per cent Dalit vote base was inadequate to install her party in UP’s political power structure, and that she needed to add another social bloc. But why only Brahmins — who in the Dalits’ collective imagery, are the historical fountainhead of India’s vicious social order?

    It does not need any great sociologist to acknowledge the fact that Brahmins have become virtual political untouchables in the Gangetic belt. Overwhelmed by the rise of the OBCs, Brahmins have become social orphans. Isolated politically, with their near 10 per cent population base in UP, Brahmins were waiting to be taken as an influential vote bank. To escape their growing political irrelevance, UP’s Brahmins found a new opportunity in Maya’s call to join hands with the Dalits. It is therefore pretty easy to decipher the Brahmins’ political predicament…” http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/mar/28chandra.htm

    Fixing India’s teacher absenteeism needs more ideas, better ideas, than the old “caste” bashing.

  24. Well Sameer I don’t buy your argument that Brahmins are “untouchables” in the Gangetic belt because I know many myself who are hogging government positions and huge tracts of ancestral land in Saharanpur. Brahmins own much of the land in the Gangetic belt as land reform has not touched these areas and ownership patterns reflect the past in which the Brahmins were privileged or handed out doles by the rulers. They are called Bhumihars after “Bhumi haran” land endowed. You might want to disassociate from caste but caste is the major causal agent in many Indian problems. For instance the lack of land reform touching the Gangetic belt, as the upper castes broke the back of any peasant revolt. UP/Bihar is still a vortex of caste mentality. Caste is also a factor in access to education and the Sachar Committee Report is clear on that.

  25. Sorry but game over. It is too late to catch up with China, let alone the West.

    Too Late? When did time run out? I thought we had at least till that “sun burns out” thing happens.

  26. What is the yardstick for literacy, I read somewhere a person who can sign his name is considered literate in India

    Here you go- United Nations Statistics Division’s literacy rates for nations. There is a short note at the bottom explaining the indicators used to define the yardstick for literacy.

    3 out of 4 engineering and 9 out of 10 humanities students are considered unemployable

    Where did you get these numbers from? And unemployable by whom? What is the yardstick of unemployability? Anyway, read this if only to amuse yourself.

    How many research papers get published in India?

    I fully agree with you that it is a system weakness that needs to be rectified with some urgency.

    I cannot understand how you see the opening of IITs as casteist conspiracy. Investment in higher education and primary education are not mutually exclusive, the competition is fairly open and with significant reservations for ‘backward’ casts. Seeing caste conspiracy theories and predicting bloody revolutions is not going to help the cause of education. It will come from a gradual attitudinal change as prosperity seeps downwards, villages are exposed to modernity, and a new middle class, having secured it’s roti-kapra-makaan develops social consciousness. As I said, the pace will be frustrating but it will come, nevertheless. Now only if we had a cleaner political system…sigh!

  27. when I meet the dark skinned chaiwallah who does myriad calculations in his head and has a photographic memory, I wonder how many like him have been kept down by India’s caste/class ceiling

    Here is a picture of the Chandrayan team. Please notice the skin complexion of the gentlemen in the picture.

  28. 3 out of 4 engineering and 9 out of 10 humanities students are considered unemployable Where did you get these numbers from? And unemployable by whom? What is the yardstick of unemployability? Anyway, read this if only to amuse yourself.

    These are NASSCOM stats. Tehelka also carried a piece on it. Please look it up yourself.

    Too Late? When did time run out? I thought we had at least till that “sun burns out” thing happens.

    Its too late considering that the economic juggernaut needs just-in-time trained manpower to keep the momentum or risk fizzling out. ‘Indian’ IT companies are already beefing up presence in Eastern Europe, Ireland, China and the Philippines with that in mind. If fewer skilled people are available it will cause wage inflation to near western levels and that erodes the cost arbitrage advantage that gives India the advantage in the first place. It is too late also because China is investing a lot and catching up fast in the English language skills. Once that happens and given their history of execution we won’t catch up. Its kaput. Also, there is little guarantee that the socio-political milieu that has helped us avoid expensive wars and conflicts and appear a safe destination for foreign investment will continue. Lets also take into account internal strife like Naxalism that is going to make it costly keeping India together. Either you race to the top or you lose the mover advantage. The sun doesn’t shine for all time.

  29. Nair, Annadurai are upper castes. So whats your point exactly regarding inclusiveness in the Chandrayaan team. Hats off to them though.

  30. KolaNutTechie: You appear to be saying that its too late because the alleged lack of supply (of IT professionals) will lead to inflation in India and then of course to a bust (since their prices will be too high), while simultaneously saying its too late because of competition from china– who is on the cusp of supplying the very professionals whose alleged scarcity was the trigger for the bust in the first place.

  31. Nair, Annadurai are upper castes. So whats your point exactly regarding inclusiveness in the Chandrayaan team. Hats off to them though

    My point was that you have repeatedly mentioned skin colour as an indicator of one’s caste, and as a marker of serious educational discrimination.The picture shows dark skinned guys, some of whom are upper caste, and all of whom are educational achievers. Your dark skinned chaiwallah could very well be a poor upper caste boy.

    It is too late also because China is investing a lot and catching up fast in the English language skills. Once that happens and given their history of execution we won’t catch up. Its kaput

    What is the end point here? they can’t achieve more than 100% literacy, can they? Civilisational histories span thousands of years. Nations rise and fall, and rise again. To think that the events of the last few decades represent a kind of final countdown is quite myopic. It is but a nanosecond in a day of Brahma.

  32. Too Late? When did time run out? I thought we had at least till that “sun burns out” thing happens.

    Saying India will catch up with China is as laughable as saying that Pakistan will catch up with India. If you have happened to visit China, you will easily know that they are leaps and bounds ahead of India in both planning and execution! The infrastructure is almost comparable to US (For example, I went to Shenzen and there were like a four lane highway with one more dedicated lane for Military). My Chinese ex-colleagues who came to Bangalore were making fun of the roads as ‘In Bangalore the roads are like noodles thrown on the city whereas the roads in Shenzen are drawn with a ruler’. India won’t even have the spine to have a population policy which China has implemented long back.

    Ya, nations raise and fall, but what matters for an Individual is how it performs during his lifetime.

  33. Saying India will catch up with China is as laughable as saying that Pakistan will catch up with India

    Or till a couple of decades ago saying that China will catch up with the West.

    India won’t even have the spine to have a population policy which China has implemented long back.

    Akash, I don’t want to get into a China v/s India argument here, as it does nothing for the thread under discussion, but I am glad that we didn’t have a Chairman subjecting us to hair brained great leaps. I am glad for the freedoms we enjoy, but never seem to appreciate. I am glad that the state generally tolerates dissenting voices, and intellectuals are not killed for criticising the government. Of course, we marvel at the pace at which things happen, the seeming efficiency with which infrastructure is being created, and focused(though thoroughly unscrupulous) nationalist vision. We know nothing about what we are not shown. Would the citizens of India have tolerated it if, say, Sanjay Gandhi had lived, converted the Congress party into a kind of authoritarian fiefdom, demolished slums and sent the dwellers back to the villages, forcibly stopped migration into the cities, sterilised millions of ‘non productive’ citizens, crushed the independent media and suppressed religion? I guess not. We have our own system, which is not as efficient, but has it’s own advantages. These advantages play out over longer time scales.

    what matters for an Individual is how it performs during his lifetime.

    These things change.Where one falls in this curve of development is a quirk of fate, or of random chance. For example a man living in China today may feel great if he lives in Shanghai, or crap if he is a rural poor. His grandfather in the 50s or 60s may have felt very differently about things. This is in no way condoning our weaknesses and corruption, but I don’t think the situation is as bleak and hopeless as we often like to portray. Of course you can point out grinding poverty and inequalities, but I feel things are improving, and the pace will only quicken from here.

  34. … accountability is definitely a big concern with not just education in general, but I would argue ANY government funded job.

    Except the armed forces, maybe?

    Another difference between privately and publicly funded schools, easily extrapolated from the dismal performance, is that learning is understood to be a distasteful experience in many of the government-run schools, no excitement. A private school has to sell itself, and the ability to generate excitement about the process of learning is key to marketing its offerings.

  35. 4 missed classes out of 7 used to be the norm. On a good day. And then there were days which started and ended in playgrounds. We took Vivekananda quite literally – “you will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Bhagavad Gita”, and Communist Manifesto was no Bhagavad Gita. Early exposure to Battleship Potemkim notwithstanding, the worst thing CPI(M) government ever did to the state of West Bengal, other than to kill English as second language in primary government schools, was to supplant the nationalist idealistic generation of publish school teachers, often freedom fighters of Gandhian as well as more virulent variety, with a generation of cadre hacks. Dialectical tension was quite exhilarating though, one must admit. Absent teachers were not slackers too pre-occupied with local assembly and municipal elections. Not always. They could be quite entrepreneurial in bootstrapping a private tuition empire.

  36. If China thought it was laughable to think about catching up to the West, the would never have come as far as they had. Every country has its own issues with glass ceilings/inherited class status, which it must deal with. Quality education for everyone in India has nothing to do with China or any other country. It has to do with what Indians want for our own society and for India. India may or may not become as developed as some countries. Who knows. So what. That is no reason to not bother to improve the education system.

    The end goal is that every Indian regardless of background gets a quality education, and is able to develop his/her skills and talents. What should be discussed is how to reach that. It may vary depending on the location in India, because the issues may vary. It would be better to see what is the state of the local school, what problems does that school face, and figure out solutions for that school and other schools who face similar strains. Assess the problem and brainstorm solutions. But this all begins with the desire to be better and provide better for Indians and India for no other reason than it is good for Indians and India.

  37. knt, i’ve read many bizarre things in blog comments, but the iits as nehruvian caste conspiracy must rank pretty high up there.

    your point about the lack of original research is very true, but has absolutely nothing to do with the lack of decently educated grads that would meet the needs of india’s engg and computer industries.

  38. Actual absenteeism might not be as big an issue in the US, but there is certainly an absenteeism of presence, if you will- teachers who show up but aren’t really there, doing little in the way of education. Here in the American South- I don’t know if it’s similar in the rest of the country- the worst comes from teachers who are also coaches, who usually end up “teaching” history or something similar. Granted, there are some excellent teachers who are also coaches, but there are enough cases of simply abysmal failure to instruct that the coach-as-crappy-teacher is something of an accepted element of rural Southern society… That’s just one example from my home region- I’m sure I could multiply them. For another instance, look up the recent New Yorker article on New York City public education. It made me feel rather better about the abysmal state of my native state’s public education, and that’s saying something.

    Also, in response to posters who have suggested that private education is somehow elitist- besides ignoring the fact that many private Indian schools are in fact quite inexpensive, they are also ignorant- willfully or otherwise- of the diversity of private education in the US. Again, I know of plenty of small private schools and education cooperatives here in the South whose students come from decidedly lower-middle class families, not the wealthy. Now, in some parts of the South there are private schools that are geared to the moderately wealthy white families, but they are almost indistinguishable from public schools. In most places the well-off white people have their own public schools, and the minority kids theirs.

    And finally, as far as fear of religious institutions or whatever, private education is perhaps frightening to some because it takes the organs of control out of the hands of the government and gives it to the people (as in actually giving it to the people, not State apparatchiks leftists so often confuse with the people). People can be strange, weird, awkward, etc., and if you allow for choice and freedom in education you’re going to get some strange results, possibly some troubling ones. But no more troubling than the madness of handing every single child over to the State for indoctrination and a mediocre preparation for integration as a cog in the system.

  39. (as in actually giving it to the people, not State apparatchiks leftists so often confuse with the people).

    Yea, that’s about where you started to lose me.

    We know nothing about what we are not shown. Would the citizens of India have tolerated it if, say, Sanjay Gandhi had lived, converted the Congress party into a kind of authoritarian fiefdom, demolished slums and sent the dwellers back to the villages, forcibly stopped migration into the cities, sterilised millions of ‘non productive’ citizens, crushed the independent media and suppressed religion?

    It is kind of funny that the same people who rail against certain parties for being “fascist” also seem to have no problem edifying some of the most oppressive leaders around.

    This is in no way condoning our weaknesses and corruption, but I don’t think the situation is as bleak and hopeless as we often like to portray. Of course you can point out grinding poverty and inequalities, but I feel things are improving, and the pace will only quicken from here.

    The pace happens despite India’s leadership rather than because of it. While certain people with an axe to grind like to imagine caste or religious conspiracy theories, I feel the core issue is just Indian institutions being simultaneously too majoritarian and too centered on narrow patronage networks. If you’re going to have an activist government, you need a strong centralized civil service without many local connections. Local connections tend to be cliquey and breed corruption. If you want to have a strongly democratic government that is responsive to the needs of people on the ground, you can’t have the government be all that involved in micromanaging issues, because the more it gets involved in the more incentive there is for government to be captured by these narrow parochial interests.

  40. I think the Public School system in the US is a joke. People who bash private school alternatives as elitist ignore the fact that public schools are elitist. Why else do parents spend a ridiculous amount of time choosing where they live based on the school system alone??? Why shouldn’t families want to live where they want to live and still find a way to send their kids to the school of their choice? Aren’t there school boards that have vested interests which are as deterimental to the “purity” of the educational process as a profit seeking entity? If they remove the monopoly of a neighborhood based public school, you will see a lot more competition for private schools that will fill the niche of a middle class education. People like Ron Clark won’t need a movie to get them exposure and funding. There a lot of disillusioned public school educators who could run chains of public schools if given the opportunity to get funding via reasonable tuition fees which would come from the government as competition to public schools. I do not trust those studies which try to make some definitive conclusion that areas which have used private school alternatives via vouchers have not produced increased results. Those are such small samples.

  41. I just want to add that I approach this issue from a liberal POV. I know that makes me different from my usual political affiliation. But my goals in education are liberal – quality education for all(and if the government has to give scholarships for poor kids to attend a private school, so be it). If we can reform public school system(hasn’t the public school system had many decades to prove that it can reform itself?), i am open to those ideas. While the education system is still out of reach for a lot of poor kids in India, I do think their entrepeneurial spirit has led to a quality education being accessible to lower middle class studentsin bigger numbers than if the system was merely a group of government controlled schools. I say, let the parents decide which school they want their kids go to. That is different from a system where the parents are expected to somehow reform a system in the neighborhood they live in right away for their kids to get the benefits, or put up with the tyranny of the majority even if the parent doesn’t like the system. The only other option for that parent is to move to another neighborhood just based on a disagreement on education.

  42. Many of you seem to underestimate the crushing effect of bad schooling and the doors it closes on you. Indian education system is down in the gutters but India is one of the most competitive countries in the world at the secondary school level, and the competition starts right at the 10th boards. For entry into a decent B-School, which is currently the hot favorite of the brightest in the country, everything from marks in 10th upwards counts. Score below 70 in your 10th exams (or 12th) and the doors of the top 15 B-Schools close on you. For a student from an underprivileged background, it is going to be very hard to score about 70 without getting proper guidance/tutions and dedicated teachers. If your father is a rickshaw puller and your mother is a maid and you have a baby sister to attend to, its going to be very hard juggling your work with your studies. And these students do not take specialized tuition classes that the wards of elite can afford. That puts them at a permanent disadvantage, as it does not reflect well on their ‘consistency’ as a student and marks them for life. Intangibles like that ensure only children of the well-to-do get plush corporate jobs, even though they might be cognitively less able than the unfortunate poor child. Scholarships won’t help them because to qualify for one you need to have a certain amount of time and a certain type of environment. The children of the rich can blunder and debauch and still give the GMAT because their parents have deep pockets. The children of the poor are afforded no such chance to blunder. Money and social status is gathered through a process of accretion in a nepotist, corrupt society like India. And the gap is widening because the bottom is falling deeper.