Tuesday, September 04, 2012

For your reading pleasure

A veritable rant about India's college and university teachers by Justice Markandey Katju (though he bashes school teachers as well). There are many words to describe the article, and vacuous and confused seem the least offensive.

Here's a teaser:

I posed them another question: the test of every system is one simple question. Does it raise the standard of living of the masses or not? I said that the huge amount of money being spent on higher education in India is not raising the standard of living of the Indian masses because over 75 per cent of Indians live in dire poverty. There is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, huge problems of health care, housing, etc.

Apart from that, I asked them how many Nobel laureates have our universities and other institutes of higher education produced. Hardly any.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Not a rhetorical question but an ordinary one: Are justices in India supposed or allowed to carry their titles even after retirement?

    One relevant American parallel is this: Until "recently" ('70s or so), former presidents of the USA would _not_ be addressed "Mr. President" in speeches, or called President of USA in writing. The practice to call, e.g. a Clinton or a Bush a President seems to have simply sneaked in, some media commentator had observed a while ago. Another practice many (esp. those in India) seemed to have given up these days is to add "(Retd.)" immediately after the rank of the retired defence services personnel. These days, the clarifying adjective often goes at the end of a name, not immediately after the rank, and, in newspaper stories, sometimes it is even entirely absent---you can make out that the person has retired only from the context.

    Coming back to his article. ... Vacuous? No. Confused? It seems more like it. ...

    The one word to strike me as soon as I finished browsing through the piece was: berserk. ... I mean, you don't have to try and boil his central argument down to essentials---there is none. At best, there are a few unrelated (and often wrong) positions. So, even if he throws a lot of (sometimes valid) darts here and there, the issue of engaging into "serious debates" of his "views" simply cannot arise.

    Unless, of course, he means the issue of infinity.


  2. Harisankar H said...

    Can you give a detailed argument on where exactly are the mistakes in facts or reasoning ?

    I didn't check the numbers cited, but on the first look the claims doesn't look totally unfounded.

  3. gaddeswarup said...

    "Can you give a detailed argument on where exactly are the mistakes in facts or reasoning ?"
    The author says "In my usual blunt way I said, “How has this benefited the Indian masses? It seems that the huge funds being ploughed into higher education in India are for the benefit of foreign countries and to give you professors huge salaries and fine houses to live in rather than to benefit the Indian people.”"
    This seems to be a policy decision as Edward Berman points this out in http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/oss/ideologyofphilanthropy.htm
    and the role of teachers is not clear to me. Teachers like other groups took the opportunities available to them.
    Also the comment about one zero and infinity seems a bit off. Such things are used often symbolically when the numerator and denominator tend to certain values.
    There is much that is unsatisfactory about the education system; just pointing out some of the
    deficiencies without suggestions for improvements does not lead anywhere.
    Perhaps there are no simple solutions. It seems to me that internet and online courses offer some hope. There are group learning techniques (hole in the wall studies) of Sugata Mitra, one lap top for each child described before which is supposed to be working in some places. A variety of tweaking the system and which were where studies are needed, I think.

  4. KRK said...

    Money is not required for research.Do theoretical work. Enjoy math. IISc is controlled by experimental mafia. HRI Allahabad is better than IIsc. NANO and BIO-Tech should be kicked out of India.

  5. Ungrateful Alive said...

    Hard to grace this with a response. In one breath Katju says the only role of education is to improve the average quality of life, in the next he wistfully counts Nobel prizes. Prosperity of a nation may lead to large numbers of Nobel prizes won by its citizens, but Nobel prizes are by no means necessary for a society to thrive in basic terms (health, education, productivity). Perhaps Katju could have instead commented, with more expertise, on the rule of law and its salutary effect on the prosperity of societies. Especially that arduous job of keeping the ill-gotten gains of the political class under control in a fourth-rate nation.

  6. Arunn said...

    Here is another response in the next day's Letters to the Editor:

    [response begin]
    In his article “Professor, teach thyself” (Sept. 3), Chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, has cited an incident that took place when he was a judge of the Allahabad High Court. He says he chided a mathematics lecturer, whose case he was hearing, and told him that he was not fit to be even a teacher because he (the lecturer) said one divided by zero was infinity. Justice Katju claims that anything divided by zero is indeterminate. He is wrong and the lecturer was right because any non-zero number divided by zero is infinity. It is zero divided by zero that is indeterminate.

    While I can understand the plight of the poor lecturer who did not have the courage to correct the judge hearing his case, I am appalled at the timidity of “some of the top senior academicians” of Jawaharlal Nehru University, to whom Justice Katju narrated the incident. I wonder why they let his fallacy pass unchallenged. Justice Katju must seek out the mathematics lecturer and apologise to him.

    Kanan Vihari Jaswal,
    [response ends]

  7. Harisankar H said...

    Though the tone of the article is impolite and there is the issue with 1/0(and bringing up the self-defeating issue of Nobel prize), some points raised need some substantiated answers.

    Isn't the proportion of govt. money spent on higher education from the total educational budget too high? Shouldn't we initially focus on primary education than spending money on the elite institutes? (was the policy of the central govt. for the last 60 years wrong in this respect?)

    And related, is the money spent on the elite institutes(particularly for undergraduate education) justifiable as most of the graduates show no commitment for the country?

  8. Arunn said...

    "Though the tone of the article is impolite"

    Would you then respond to it, if it were addressed to you?

    "there is the issue with 1/0"

    Not "issue"; it is a mistake, made by one who has the power to pass verdicts, and who proceeds nevertheless to pass on verdicts on another "toothless minority".

    "(and bringing up the self-defeating issue of Nobel prize)"

    If producing Nobel laureates is a mandate of IIXs (which it is not) then the GOI can tell it in as many words to the IIXs. And let us all live with the results.

    But deriding a "silent minority" for not having delivered on the sweeping self-imposed visions of individuals get us no where.

    "Isn't the proportion of govt. money spent on higher education from the total educational budget too high?"

    Citizens who feel this way can instruct the government by any means possible and stop it.

    "Shouldn't we initially focus on primary education than spending money on the elite institutes? (was the policy of the central govt. for the last 60 years wrong in this respect?)"

    Again, which of the "teachers and professors" are actually stopping this from happening?

    "is the money spent on the elite institutes(particularly for undergraduate education) justifiable as most of the graduates show no commitment for the country?"

    So shouldn't these questions be asked to those who spend it on them? Or to those who use the money to get educated and seek their own wealth elsewhere? Why pronounce verdicts on the "silent minority" as if they got the stash from the GOI, and in this thankless process, divided it among themselves?

    We all can go on and on on issues like this.

    This is a country where the teachers pass on knowledge to kids who graduate to earn more than them the next day. The teachers get derided for their "lack of sacrifice"!

    How many of us are ready to take up a primary school teacher job? Yesterday was Teachers' day. How many of us called up our primary school teachers and thanked them for what we are today?

    In places where self-contradictory rants are recognized as progressive criticisms, when incompetence is recognized as intelligence, strength (silence from a passionate minority) also would be misinterpreted as weakness (tacit acceptance).

    [This response I did because I think Hari was one of my students or a student reader of my earlier blog. I won't be responding anymore on this post. Just sitting idle and comfy; and need a lot to learn as a professor.]


  9. Harisankar H said...

    Thanks for the reply.

    The questions regarding proportion of educational budget spent on higher education and the return of investment to the country from funding undergraduate education in elite institutes are govt.'s policy matters. Teachers cannot be blamed for that. Hence, the ire in the article is directed at the wrong set(and brings up the issues of 1/0, Nobel laureates, class room sizes, appointment criteria etc. which are not directly related and mostly generally applicable to all fields in India).

    But, the article starts off with saying that the author made an argument against the budgetary policy(of course in a cheeky manner). Some professors disputed it and they had a debate. Govt. policy matters should be guided on public opinion and facts. Opinions of the learned professors should ideally be given lot of importance here. So, whether the article is written in a manner deserving a scholarly reply or not, the opinion of those(both students and professors) from the elite institutes will be a good input in this question for forming public opinion hopefully affecting policy decisions.

    I asked the questions hoping to get more data or pointers regarding the budgetary allocations, impact of IIX graduates in India like percentage employed in government sector, state-wise comparisons etc. to have a better idea. For example, the states(e.g., Kerala) which massively improved their primary education post independence are currently faring well in human development, even though the same states do not have lot of elite higher educational institutes( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_states_and_territories_by_Human_Development_Index ).

    And just a minor point, I won't call the teaching fraternity toothless or silent. Anyone can write an op-ed article and I see professors occasionally writing them in The Hindu. A scholarly evaluation of the (few)worthwhile points in the article is badly needed. In addition to affection govt. policy, it will also help people in making better career choices.

    [I am not a student of yours(PhD student in CS at IIT-M) though I have been following this blog(nanopolitan) for a long time and find it very interesting and relevant.]

  10. gaddeswarup said...

    I too find it hard to get numbers on allocations to primary education apart from service delivery problems. Kuffir at
    may have some statistics or suggestions as to how to find them. There is of course Jean Dreze.