Showing posts from May, 2014

India 2014: Assessing India's Opportunity

Hope has made a comeback in India. The grand yet sombre swearing in of the new Prime Minister yesterday made an impression; at least one Western commentator, John Eliot, wondered whether Mr Modi will become a transformational leader like Nehru ( see here ). The assemblage of South Asian leaders, specially invited for the occasion, also ignited hope of peace, stability and freedom of movement in South Asia, which will, in turn, make India's prosperity stronger and sustainable. Besides, the spectacle itself, that a new Prime Minister from outside the ruling elite is being sworn in, is a sign of how strongly embedded democracy has become in India (though as I argued elsewhere , it should never be taken for granted). The hope for India's prospects rests primarily upon the electoral fact that first time in thirty years, India has a majority government. The successive coalition governments, held at ransom by India's regional parties, struggled to move forward and respond to

Indian Higher Education: A Map to El Dorado

India is the world's most exciting Higher Education market. One may receive this with a tinge of skepticism, simply because one has heard this before. But it would be wrong to think that India was always the world's most exciting Higher Education market. That would have been China in the past, and America before that: India's moment is coming now. Part of it is simple demography: National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 ( see here ) highlights some of the fundamentals. In terms of what it calls the Demographic Window of Opportunity - the years when the proportion of Children (0 - 15 years) is less than 30% and the proportion of the seniors (65 years and above) is less than 15% - India arrives now: Its DWO stretches from 2015 to 2050 (see page 24). This closes in Russia and the United States in 2015, and China, which remains a relatively youthful country, has only 10 years left (till 2025). The other exciting demographic opportunities may be much smaller

UKIP: Figuring Out Britain

The earthquake in British Politics is here and UKIP has indeed become the lion that roared, at least once.  Though the party spokeswoman, Suzanne Evans, tried hard to distance UKIP from the 'extremist' parties, such as National Front of Marine Le Pen in France, their anti-immigration rhetoric did it for them. This may be either be about plain nastiness or calculated cynicism, but UKIP's earthquake is all about shifting the political tectonic plate to an extreme position, or soon will be. This is a point worth pondering about. UKIP isn't the same as the English Defence League, and it has no record of violence. Led by its showman leader, who employs the typical city bluster to make mountains out of everything, it is perhaps even slightly comical, but an usual political party. But its opportunistic rhetoric, shaped by suave thoughts about political positioning, tries to play on people's fears, their aversion of globalisation, their discomfort of breaking of c

Reflections and Interests: The New Classroom

I am trying to build a new kind of classroom. This should look like a start-up company. In fact, I am trying to make it a start-up company. So, here is the idea: I build something where studying means working in a start-up.  I have been exploring competence-based education for a while, and one thing I learnt that there is a lot of difference between the rhetoric and the practice. The competence based courses become, all too often, about studying the marketing of the local deli or creating strategies for the cash-and-carry, the problem being that none of these businesses are interested in what the student is doing. They see no value, and for the student, it becomes an uninteresting paperwork to complete. In this form, it is worse than mass-manufactured degrees, because the student does not feel so bad. But, then, there is little point in mass-manufactured degrees. They are so disconnected from everything else that goes on in the world. They are hardly about anything recent

Developing Global Societies

The essential tension of our age is turning out to be between Democracy and Globalisation. Globalisation is winning, riding over the powerful technologies and ideas feeding its energies. Democracy, after a century of being the harbinger of good life, is suddenly like the old Uncle with irrelevant stories, sweet but slightly annoying.  This is not the way we thought it would turn out. The principal dialectic could have been between globalisation and the nation states: The global forces of technology and trade could have undone the nation state boundaries and reconfigured our world. It was a clear prognosis which so many people signed up to. Instead, it turned out to be the other way around: Nation states turned out to be stronger, not weaker. Democracy is the one which degenerated into 'drama-cracy', the politics of talking but not listening, of considered positions without consideration, of blaming the others without knowing the other. This senile democracy is indeed now

Living With Democratic Deficit

Just as we seem to have agreed that democracy is the panacea to all of our problems, democracy seems to be losing popularity. From the modest claim of Winston Churchill, that democracy is the worst form of government except all others have been tried, we have come a long way with George W Bush's "Jihad for Democracy". And, duly, it seems, it is backfiring. It is not just about the Generals quietly taking over Thailand, where democracy has roundly failed. It is also not about the statistic of how democracy is doing, which seems dire at this time. More sinister perhaps is the death of centrism, the gentle art of debate and dialogue, of flexible views and pragmatic politics that stood for democracy: Rather, we have seen the rise of 'dramacracy', the art of demagogy and damnation, of extreme positions and intolerance, the politics of blaming the others and promising the earth. This, ominously, not confronts but subverts the democracy; the latter's own life-f

Education Innovation in India: A Conversation

I am scheduled to speak in an event on Innovation in India in a couple of weeks time. The subject I am supposed to speak on is whether Indian Higher Education system is sufficiently equipped to spur innovative mindset. In a way, this is an interesting topic to speak on, given my own work on what kind of education system we may need as the labour markets change drastically. And, for me, innovation is not a subject to be taught in a classroom, but a practice one needs to be embedded into, so there is no 'Innovation Education' without 'Education Innovation' at the same time. India does badly in terms of Education Innovation, even considering the various crown jewels of Indian Education System, like the IITs. In the past, I have described the Indian Education providers as 'sleepwalkers', as they are mostly preparing for a future that does not exist: Despite this sounding rather extreme - and I admit there are exceptions - this description perhaps sums up best what

Does Private Higher Ed solve Development Problem?

The conventional wisdom is that developing societies must tap private capital to build their Higher Education capacity.  The reasons are pretty clear. First, the governments may be indebted and have the money to build universities. Second, the developed countries are increasingly allowing private Higher Education, and therefore, this must be a good model. Third, private Higher Ed is supposed to be more focused on practical and employment orientated education, so must be good for countries struggling with skills and employment.  But, in this discussion, several other issues remain unsaid. For example, in a developing country, the government's job is development. Not subsidies, not fighting wars, development first and foremost! And, the reality of these countries will tell any observer that the first two things that the governments need to do for development is health and education. Indeed, the business friendly rhetoric that the governments are just needed to build the roa

Reflections and Interests: Old Priorities, New Commitments

No particular reasons, but I am feeling confident and happy: As they say, a good summer may have lifted my mood.  Or, may be this is something more substantial. It would perhaps be right to admit that I drifted along a bit, particularly through the last few months of the last year, when I was hard put to see how I can move my life forward. I staked it all to get the business going, but the progress was, as with most start-ups with limited capital, slow and often dependent on other people. I had this feeling of powerlessness, not being able to do anything myself - not a nice place to be! Something has changed since then. Actually, several things! I took on more training work, primarily because of economic necessity, though I hated it and wanted to get out of the routine commitments as soon as I can. But this, counting the flights of stairs every day as I climbed them, promising to myself that I won't be doing it indefinitely (truth be told, I wanted to do this till June, a

India 2014: The Post-Independence Amnesia

Narendra Modi made a big point when speaking in Varanasi after his election win: That his administration will represent the first in India's history to be led by someone born after India's independence in 1947. Voted in by voters mostly born after independence, this is an unsurprising claim. What goes unsaid is that one factor that helped him most also comes from the post-Independence mentality: That his voters have taken India, and its democracy, for granted. Narendra Modi's elevation as India's Prime Minister shows how well we have managed to wipe any historical memory. Indeed, BJP talked a lot about the historic injustice done by the Mughal Emperors, particularly Babar, whose eponymous Masjid was the party's rallying point, but it choose to be silent about India's struggle for Independence: This goes well with a generation which will rather read the fictionalised accounts of the exploits of the mythical Shiva, rather than spending time reading about the

India 2014: Endings and Beginnings

There are many remarkable things about the Indian Elections 2014. Many in the country believe that this will mark an end and a beginning: Which end and which beginning are being contested, though. It may be the end of the unipolar politics of Congress versus the others, but then only to be replaced by Hindu Nationalists versus the other politics. It may be the decline of India's most prominent political family, the Gandhis, which is drawing most attention: The family scion, Rahul Gandhi, has been comprehensively rejected by the Indian voters. This may also be the end of the Indian Republic as conceived by its founding fathers, and what comes next can be reasonably called the Second Republic.  That may mark a new beginning. Indian Second Republic may not have any of the indecisiveness of the French. Duke of Wellington mused during the Second Republic "France needs a Napoleon and I can't yet see him", but India has its Bonaparte now.  This election marks a firm ch

Indian Election 2014: Seven Fragmented Thoughts

1.  Rahul Gandhi must have read Lincoln, "I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chances will come". Instead, he should have followed, "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." Lincoln, again! 2. There are three kinds of people in politics, Self-Made, Never-Made and Self-Destroyed. Good that there is never a category called 'Born Into" in democratic politics. 3.  Larry Summers had a brilliant idea in the 1980s. He suggested all the polluting industries should be relocated from the First World to the Third World because the life costs less in the latter. They just did that with Organised Political Marketing. 4.  I was reading about the world's luckiest man, Frano Selak . Prakash Karat will somewhat come near him if he still survives this election being at the helm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).   Perhaps he knows how to do what this man in video is doing. 5. India w

Should Companies Accredit Education?

The trigger for this post is a comment on Twitter - "in the future, corporations will be better accreditation bodies for H Ed than governments". Would they? At the face of it, it may make sense. Aren't we educating ourselves for a job? And do the employers know best what is needed to get a job? For a good part of my life running For-Profit education, how often did I make a claim that the education my company offered is 'industry accredited'. In the UK, Pearson College wants to create such a degree, as they believe a FTSE 100 accrediting a degree has more weight than even a mid-ranking university. Not in the future, this should already sound like a good idea. It already happens too. We may debate about the semantic of training versus education, but as far as learning is concerned, IBM Global Services, Oracle Education, Microsoft would all be big names if we went just by numbers of students that pursue their certifications and the revenue they generate. Wh

In Search of Progressive Politics

'Progressives' are supposed to be political dinosaurs, popular a century ago but wiped out of public memory since then. Indeed, there were great progressives on both sides of the Atlantic: Teddy Roosevelt was one of the original ones, though he chose to become mainstream before becoming President. One could count the late Nineteenth Century English Liberals as somewhat equivalent, perhaps best represented in the figure of Herbert Asquith, the longest serving Prime Minister of the UK (1908 - 1916) before Margaret Thatcher broke his record. Indeed, since Asquith's departure, progressivism has declined, not unsurprisingly given the formation of Soviet Union in 1919 and various extreme forms of politics thereafter. The power of the broadcast media divided the politics into pro-state and pro-market, and left little of the Progressive ideal of harmonious Public-Private world.  I argued that the current rise of the illiberal politics, from India to the United States, is the

Inequality, Piketty and an Interesting Middle Ground

I haven't read Thomas Piketty's recent blockbuster, Capital in the Twentyfirst Century, because I am already so far behind on my reading intentions, but I intend to read it at some point of time. This 700 page economics tome has already sold 200,000 copies and caused quite a stir because of its popularity. One would hope that this will not become like its eponymous predecessor, Marx's Capital, a book popularly bought but seldom read. Like the latter, Piketty is trying to explore a great contemporary problem, inequality, and is doing so at the onset of another gilded age. The immediate trigger of this post is another post by Sudhakar Ram, whose writings on New Constructs I closely follow ( see here ). Sudhakar's response to the critique of Piketty's work - that it is no good talking about a problem if you can't solve it - is right on the money: Should I not tell you that you have cancer even if I don't know the cure for that? Besides, he also picks up o

Five Reasons Government Vocational Training Initiatives Fail

My specialist interest area is how Vocational training programmes play out in developing countries. The experiences of these programmes, despite their growing popularity in policy talk, has been mixed. There are many implementation challenges that come in the way of success, which I have written about elsewhere. However, I shall argue, that there are conceptual problems in the way these programmes are usually conceived, and unless those issues are addressed, even well implemented programmes will fail (or, one would never be able to implement a programme well). Below, I have highlighted five such 'foundational issues', which I have put in a question form, because these mostly go unanswered. 1. Is Vocational Training Valuable? The very idea that some people who are not academically capable need to be put through vocational training devalues the proposition almost immediately. It becomes second best, a route for those who are failures. The aspirational middle classes imm

Contra Macaulay: 1

Macaulay, a dead English Lord, gets more credit than he deserves in India. Some people, uneasy about the English ideas and education in India, mocks 'Macaulay's Children', the English speaking Indians, and resent the country they have built. They point to the arrogance and corruption that English speaking class has brought upon India, as well as the division and distress this caused. However, they also fail to offer an alternative except going back on time and resurrecting a mythological ancient India which may not have ever existed. The case contra Macaulay, therefore, has to be made. And, it can be made not in revivalist terms, that all truth comes from the Vedas and Indians had nothing to learn from anyone else. The case against Macaulay, and revivalism, stands simply on the premise that education needs to change when the society we live in, changes. English, in India, has so far been the language of privilege. This is the code that the elite uses to connect t

Rabindranath Tagore and India's Education

As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.

What Skills Count?

Frank Levy and Richard Murnane wrote a book called The New Division of Labor in 2004: I only caught up with it last week. But it is one of those which gets better with time: It did not appear outdated, but rather more relevant, because the changes Levy and Murnane were predicting are already here and are driving the public debate. One could treat this book as a treatise in Labour Economics and perhaps it does get treated like that. This is a tragedy, because this seems very much a book about education too. Surely, educators are somewhat weary of being lectured by the economists about education, and usually treat all the economic treatise about education with suspicion. And, as I figured out over the last year or so, this is not merely about the disciplinary difference: The disdain is political - economists are expected to focus on the 'wrong outcome', indeed economic value - and most educators tend to see this not just as an unwelcome encroachment of their territory, but

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