Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
India's employment crisis
An infographic in Indian media
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all developing economies (see here) and this has the making of a huge crisis.
Indeed, as Rutger Bregman would argue, going by its root word, crisis should signify a point of departure. But this is not the case in India, as no one is really looking to change anything - and hence, the right word may indeed be 'coma', a deep dreamless sleep. The youth inactivity is somewhat encouraged by various political parties across India and the some state governments have even made it a point to make annual grants to local youth associations, encouraging mid-day television watching or card plays against political volunteering at the time of elections. While this has resulted in, as expected, different kinds of social problems - drug abuse, mistreatment of women, petty crimes and cow vigilantism - the political advantage of unemployment has been cynically exploited by all political parties in India.
And, not just that: The Indian middle classes, the key beneficiaries of globalisation, worked as 'Dream Hoarders', cornering government benefits and social infrastructure for their own benefit and to exclude everyone else. Unlike an 'emerging' economy - the world of 'white tigers' - social mobility in India has become more difficult. The deterioration of public education, proliferation of bad colleges, predatory health care system and poor quality jobs have all contributed to closing of the gates of opportunity, rather than opening it.
The current situation is indeed a far cry from the enthusiastic portrayal of development made in 2014, when Prime Minister Modi came to power. So much has changed since those heady days, when India was to become the magnet of foreign investment and the manufacturing capital of the world, dethroning China. Part of it is inept handling of the economy: An ailing Finance Minister who meddled freely with the Central Bank ran the economy to the ground. Part of it is self-inflicted: Narendra Modi's politically motivated demonetisation was the price the Indian economy had to pay for his ambition to dominate the Indian politics. But much of it is a failure of strategy - the Indian government was sleepwalking into disaster and have no idea how to get the youth back to work.
With another election around the corner, the Government is in no mood to do critical analysis of what has gone wrong. Instead of substantive conversations, its strategy is bluster - the beating up of Pakistan hoping that it would translate into votes. Every month the government - in fact, governments, as the governments of various Indian states are equally responsible - sleeps on the job though, India is adding more than a million people to the army of job-seekers. Its demographic dividend is quickly turning into a demographic disaster.
In more ways than one, this Indian problem is also a global problem. Young Indians are a significant part of the 'out of poverty' claim that globalisation's advocates make. Indians are also one of the staunchest supporters of the Globalisation 90s style, not surprising as they indeed have been its major beneficiary. However, one could argue that India's current troubles are direct outcomes of its premature liberalisation, its very success in global service industry before the social and infrastructural issues were sorted out. India's education is a mess, and while the country's rulers may have expected that economic prosperity would lift its standards, poor educational attainment of Indian workers have become a significant barrier to productivity growth and moving up the global value chain. Its efforts to simplify red tape - with its focus on Ease of Doing Business rankings - only meant big companies could crush small companies and lax environmental control gives its cities one of worst air qualities in the world. And, finally, its IT services industry, successful as it is, crowded out other industries and enterprises which would have had longer term impact. In summary, unless the unemployment problems are quickly solved, India promises to be the ultimate basket case of neo-liberal economics.
The government has tried to deal with this complete failure of neo-liberal economics with a greater dose of neo-liberal economics. Therefore, it has started distributing free money to create 'incubators', with a teary-eyed dream of creating 'Start-up India'. This has had predictable outcomes: This has become another conduit to make the rich richer, and poor poorer. There are more incubators than start-ups in India, as they represent an additional source of rent for the college owners with empty classrooms. Similarly, its abysmally inefficient, poorly planned efforts of skills training has gone nowhere, becoming another source of corruption and cronyism and not the path of redemption it was once touted to be. These failures, however, are also evidence of limitations of neo-liberal thinking: That start-ups don't appear out of thin air because the government has said so, people don't become skilled because centres have opened.
Finally, then, it's quite dire without any clear answers. So, it's best to conclude with a question. When Soviet Union succumbed under the dead-weight of its demography, we celebrated the death of communism. As India heads to general chaos and unrest, and perhaps even a war, as its muddle-headed leaders bring the genie out of the bottle all too often, it's worth asking this question: What's at stake here? If India fails to emerge, and if globalisation has made even one of its direct beneficiaries so miserable, what's got to give?
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
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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
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.
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
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,
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
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
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis