Thursday, December 21, 2006

Amartya Sen's guest editorship at the Economic Times

Today's edition of Economic Times was guest edited by Prof. Amartya Sen. As a result, the paper devoted nearly three full pages to many different aspects of human development (health, education, ...), with a particular emphasis on regional disparities. As usual, the ET website is so awful that not even a super-intelligent extraterrestrial being can figure out how to get the links to these articles.

What I have managed to get are a few links, including one to Sen's excellent editorial which was carried on the first page! The editorial is all about regional disparities, and about how the laggard ("learner") states have failed to learn the right lessons from the leader ("teacher") states. Do read all of it. Especially the last paragraph!

A regional disparity is a variation from which something can be learnt by the backward regions about what to do and what to avoid. But there is manifest evidence of a disinclination or inability to learn from the high performers. There is, for example, much to learn from the priorities given to school education and health care in Kerala, from which others have typically been less than willing to learn. There are lessons in agriculture from Punjab, industrialisation, commerce and finance from Maharashtra, land reform from West Bengal, use of information technology from Karnataka and the Integrated Child Development Services from Tamil Nadu. India as a whole could have been doing much better if those left behind were willing to learn more - and faster - from those who went straight ahead. [...]

Sidebar links: The ET Team has put together three fluff pieces about Amartya Sen's day at their New Delhi office. For what it's worth, here are the links:

I hate the Nobel laureate tag: Sen.

Writing time's no problem, it's the thinking time!

His pupil gives him wider vision.

* * *

The “teachers” and potential “learners”, of course, differ from field to field. For example, Kerala may still have something to learn from elsewhere on how to make better use of the market economy - defective as the process would be if that were the only thing to use (happily it is not, but the market too is certainly one thing to use). To take another example, we have good reason to worry about the terrible state of health and nutrition of the average Indian child, and yet making use of lessons from Punjab, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh or Tamil Nadu could have helped the worse-performing states do a great deal more for their own children.

In many ways, this is one of the basic challenges that India faces today. India has reason to seek what we can call “foreign education” to perform better (for example, there is still a lot to learn from China). And yet, learning - like charity - can also begin, inter alia, at home. That recognition may look like patriotism. But it is - more sensibly - seen as wisdom.