India is exciting. Despite all the gloom and doom, mainly because of the stalled economy and the broken expectations, that pervade the media in London and New York, life is getting better in India. Yes, despite the corruption, the still creaking infrastructure, the never fully completed projects: The life has got better for most people, in absolute terms, and it is getting better. This is one thing I noticed, traveling around Indian cities, after a gap of more than a year. Indeed, one could argue that the life has NOT got better as much as it COULD HAVE BEEN, but the explosion of opportunities is real, the better roads are better than yesterday's, the cinema halls are more glitzy, films are slicker, there is a greater choice of newspapers and TV channels, there are more seats to study engineering and management, and more jobs, than there has ever been.
This is no attempt to hide the failure. We can indeed endlessly talk about wasted opportunities, and indeed there were plenty of them. The political leadership is abysmal, and there is no end in sight as most smart people flee politics. There is a large disenfranchised population which has taken up arms against the Indian state and has been waging war for almost two decades, and this has gotten worse and gone out of hand, primarily because of opportunistic political leadership. But, while the small incremental improvements in urban life hardly makes prime-time news, the confidence of average Indian is noticeable: The opportunities are all real, the ascendancy of middle classes are all real, and the aspirations are all real.
The real debate, therefore, is not whether India is getting worse - no one seems to think it is - but how to keep moving forward faster. One present and clear danger is the Middle Income Trap, that life gets better for a while but then stops, something that the media fears that India has already got into. Indeed, the costs have become higher, particularly wages and real estate, and some of the backoffice jobs are now being sent to lower cost locations in Indonesia and the Phillipines: This may eventually wipe away India's fabled advantages in services, and cause urban poverty yet again. However, there is no real evidence that this has happened just yet - yes, some jobs have gone to Manila but hardly for reasons of cost - and the magic formula for continued prosperity should be sought elsewhere.
One persistent theme throughout my visit to India was the observation how people are not interested in doing a good job. We may celebrate Jugaad innovation and the resilience that this represents: However, some urban Indians seem to be indulging in Jugaad not because they don't have a choice, but because they can get away with it. There are too many people doing a mediocre job, without pride or ambition. One perceptive policy-maker pointed out to me that most people hate the job they do: The man driving a taxi hates driving a taxi, and wants to have nothing to do with it. A software company boss talked about how programmers do not like to programme, and would rather become managers as quickly as they can. One parent complained to me about his son being a salesman, which he did not consider to be a gentlemanly job. This, rather than the rising costs, may pose a greater danger to India's competitiveness.
I shall argue that India has experienced, in the recent years, a decline of the professions. In the eighties and nineties, even when the economy was stalling, there was great prestige for various professions: The Chartered Accountants ruled supreme, the Lawyers were still respected, the Doctors were well loved and often famous, the teachers were still the gurus. Even the Development Officers of the Life Insurance Corporation, India's state-owned insurance giant, and the officers of state-owned banks, had a professional halo: These were difficult positions to get, it bestowed privileges but also demanded certain responsibility of action. However, the rapid expansion of professions since then had a detrimental effect: Not just the magic of bank career or a Development Officer job is lost, but also the solid traditional professions, the Accountants, the Lawyers, even the Doctors, have lost the reputation of competence and responsibility, somewhat justly. The gurus have surely fallen, just as the academic expansion has reached an unprecedented scale, may be because of that. The free-for-all, Jugaad culture of the last decade lowered the professional prestige and premium, and eroded the incentives to do a good job: This may be Ivan Illich's idyll, but hardly the road to a stable, prosperous, growing society. I shall argue that the greatest threat to India's continued prosperity will come from its weak professional society, and conversely, the guarantee of prosperity lies in professionalising society.
Surely, this is not about another socialist scheme of government bureaucrats and fat-cat businessmen cooking up some evil scheme, though we can't rule out the government and the businesses if a professional society has to emerge. It starts with a consensus about doing a good job, respecting and loving the professions that one is in, an educational endeavour more than anything else. However, this does not happen in isolation, and the other parts of the society, the administration, the businesses, must subscribe to the same values and accept the value of expertise, to create incentive for professionals to emerge. Growing bigger faster is fine, but it can't come at the cost of dilution of professional standards, as it happened in India.
I shall sign off in this note: My visit to India has now ended. I believed that the creation of a professional society is the biggest challenge, and the greatest opportunity, facing the country. There is a lot of conversation about higher education, and a lot of money being spent in vocational education, but without the concerted effort that it takes to create the professions. So, anyone can teach, despite the fact that the government is spending money on training teachers. Instead of creation of new professional classes, marketers, HR practitioners, it is being de-professionalised, with anyone pretending to have marketing experience assuming the teaching and practitioner positions. The professional associations are absent, primarily because of the lack of government patronage: However, there is great demand for professional qualifications from UK, USA or Australia, but often serviced by dubious organisations from these countries who are in it for a quick buck. This is where the efforts of employers and administrators must now be directed, because the waning of professional competence is the surest sign of a long term decline of India, Indian businesses and its people.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.