Sunday, July 24, 2011

Teachers, Students, Textbooks – A Sad Tale of Higher Education in India

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It is more than a year now that we returned back to India and during the last one year we had a lot of chances to visit engineering and management schools in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. With the “quantity” of engineering colleges around, “quality” was what was missing from most of the colleges we visited. Here are three incidents that come to my mind.
I was invited to deliver a lecture for three hours in one of the colleges in Coimbatore for a Faculty Development Program (FDP) funded by All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). For teachers of those colleges affiliated to AICTE it is mandatory to attend fifteen days of such training once in two years.
My presentation was supposed to start at 9:00 AM. I was there in the college by 8:00 AM. One of the organizers welcomed me to the college and took me around the college. There was not much to walk around in that two building college. As the time was getting close to 9:00AM I told him that we can now go to the lecture hall so that I can set up my laptop for the presentation. The organizer told me that we have lot of time as the participants won’t be coming before 9:30 AM. Anyways I reached the lecture hall by 9:00AM and there was no one in the room. First participant came when the time was 9.25 AM and by the time 10 out of the 15 participants came it was 9.45 AM.
Now the main organizer with whom I talked over phone (he is a professor in that college) made his appearance. After exchanging pleasantries he told me to wind up the three hour talk in 90 minutes. He told me that most of the participants want to leave by noon and so if I finish my talk in 90 minutes, the three hour afternoon session can also be squeezed in the morning slot and all of them can leave by 1:00 PM. Waiting for that 1 hour had already drained all my enthusiasm and I agreed to it.
So I started this lecture. I designed the three hour lecture such a way that it was full of interactive sessions. Five minutes into presentation I understood that I am talking to twenty odd people whose physical body is inside the room and mind is somewhere. They just want me to complete the presentation and leave the stage so that they can get that days’ participation certificate and leave.
That day I understood something – organizers like those conduct such events so that they can put those in their resume and participants attend those just because they have to. No “faculty development” actually happens here. The money spent by the government who pays for all the expenses of the participants goes to drain. Just imagine what quality education these faculties can impart to the students they teach.
Now the second incident – I was going through some of the engineering books and one book caught my attention. On the front cover it was written “tailor made for Anna University”. I opened the book to see the contents and was shocked. The text book is like question and answer type that covers the enter syllabus of Anna University. After seeing this book I talked to a few students studying in various engineering colleges in Anna University. I was told that they need to learn just that text book and don’t have to refer any other text books. Teachers teach from the same text books and dictates notes from the same text book.
A Textbook Of Control Systems Engineering (As Per Latest Syllabus Of Anna University, Chennai, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli And Trichy)Also at the end of these text books there will be solved answer sheets of previous five years question papers. The students were telling me that most of the time questions very similar to previous years appear for exam. If one could learn all the five years question papers by heart a day before the exam, you could clear the exam with very good marks. In short just buy the book that says “tailor made for XXX”, by heart previous question papers, clear the exams and move ahead. So for such students when they graduate can we expect any quality output from them?
Third incident - my wife was invited to a college in Trichy to conduct a one day workshop. There were over 50 participants and majority of them were students into their final year of their MBA program. These students will be graduating in another three months with specialization in Marketing and Human Resources. My wife asked these students to come to the stage and introduce themselves. Most of the students who will soon be awarded Masters were scared to death to speak in front of the audience, majority of who were their own class mates. If students like this with no ability to speak in front of few people are graduating with an MBA degree where is the quality in these graduates?
Yes we are producing thousands of engineers and management graduates every year but do all of them have necessary qualities of engineers or management graduates? From what I have seen in the last one year, answer to that question is a big NO. What do you think?
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Monday, July 18, 2011

"Yes", "No" & "OK" - In India and US

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(This blog post is written by Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach settled now in India. Originally from US, she did her Masters in Social Work from Madras Christian College in Chennai. Here she shares one of the cross cultural differences she experienced while doing Masters in India.)
As the professor gives directions and instructions, the student will nod his or her head back and forth and say "OK" or "YES" ("Yes Sir/Ma'am"). As an American this behavior really confused me when I came to study in India. I kept thinking "These instructions are complicated, but my classmate says OK and YES. Does he or she really understand that?".Of course in many cases my classmate may not have understood it or understood it partially. So, why was the person saying "OK" and "YES"? 
Just being around this behavior for months on end, I picked it up instinctively. But, when I said "OK" and "YES" I also realized I was not saying those things because I agreed. So why say it if I don't agree or understand? 
In these situations "OK" and "YES" are generally said when the professor pauses in their speech, the abruptly continues. The "OK" and "YES" have no real meaning except to show that the student is listening and that he or she is trying to keep the conversation going. In fact, in talking with many Indians, they get confused when I am silent for a long time asking me if I am paying attention or listening. So then I will start saying "OK" or "YES" to let them know I am still there and listening. I may not agree to anything or understand what they are talking about, just encouraging the other person to continue talking. 
Because Americans think "OK" and "YES" mean agreement and understanding - not a way to keep conversation going, it's good advice for Indians who have this behavior to try to stop this in USA. So how do you overcome this?
  1. Stay silent while the other person is talking. If there is silence for too long say "Is there anything else important for me to know?" (Direct the question toward yourself; it'd be rude to say something like, "What else do you want to tell me?") 
  2. Observe the etiquette - verbals and non-verbals of your American classmates/coworkers in interacting with bosses/professors. How do they interact, respond and keep the conversation going? How is that different than in India? How is it the same? How do you see changing to help you be understood better in an American situation? 
  3. When the professor or boss is done talking about the directions or instructions he or she may ask if you have any questions. Use this opportunity to your best advantage. Don't say NO if you actually do. Two of many possible ways to broach questions:
  • "Yes, actually I do have a question. I need to do XYZ for the project. This was given in your directions. But I don't know how to do this. This is something new for me. How can I get help to learn how to do this?" When asking the question, the tip is to direct the question to something specific the teacher has mentioned. This shows you have been listening and you have picked out exactly what you don't understand. This way you aren't wasting the teacher's time and he can pin point your problem and give ideas to help you with it much quicker.
  • If you don't know what you want to ask, you can say "I have noted what I need to do, and I know I will have questions. Let me start the assignment and can I ask you the questions after I started the project? What is the best way to approach you by e-mail, telephone, during office hours or in class?" (Ask for contact information if the professor says  by phone or e-mail and you don't have it.) 
These are just a few tips on managing cross-cultural communication when you move to US for studies or work from India. As I learn more tips, I will be sharing them here.
Thanks for reading. This tip is inspired by the training - "Secrets of Success on An American College Campus”.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Looking Forward to Scoring as Many Centuries as Possible – Abhishek Hegde

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Abhishek with D V Subba Rao Trophy and
Man of the Match Award
An interview with Abhishek Hegde, opening batsman of Kerala cricket team. In the last one year Abhishek has become an integral part of the Kerala cricket team. 
Abhishek, Welcome to the interview.Let me start the interview with your name – Abhishek M Hegde does not sound a Malayali name. I know you were born in Hyderabad. How did you end up playing for Kerala?
My father got a new job and we moved to Kochi 13 years back since then I have been living in Kerala and playing for Kerala. 
When did you decide that you are going to choose cricket as a career? 
When I made my Ranji debut at the age of 17. 
In cricket who is your role model?
Not one but many like Sachin, Dravid, Pointing, Hayden, Dhoni…… 
Kerala team that won D V Subba Rao Trophy
You were part of the Kerala team that won the D V Subba Rao Trophy recently. This may be the first time Kerala team is winning a national cricket tournament. How do you rate this victory?
Very high as we won convincingly and lots of youngsters performed really well… 
Will this victory in D V Subba Rao Trophy act as a catalyst for the rise of Kerala as a force in domestic first class cricket in India?
Sure it will… 
Now coming to Kerala cricket – after the Ranji Trophy format was changed to Elite and Plate group Kerala qualified for the the Elite group just once. What according to you ails Kerala cricket?
Lack of good practice facilities, good turf wickets and good grounds. 
There is a huge gap between first class cricket and international cricket. IPL has reduced the gap a lot but that gap still exists. How do you see this gap?
There is a small gap which will go in a few years time as the domestic Indian players play along the foreign players. 
Sreesanth and Abhishek
You have shared dressing room with Indian fast bowler Sreesanth. Any memorable experience playing with him?
Sree got his  hatrick on my Ranji debut. 
Kerala team captain Raiphi Gomez and Prashanth Parameshwaran made a mark in the last edition of IPL. Do you see yourself playing in the next IPL team for any of the teams?
Ya sure…Will keep working hard and leave the rest to God. 
You are yet to score a century in Ranji trophy but scored a century (121) in the Vijay Hazare Trophy early this year. How important that century for you and can we hope to see more of that in the future?
That century was very important for me as I was making my come back and it brought back all the confidence that I had lost for some time. I am definitely looking forward scoring as many centuries as possible. 
When you heard the news for the first time that Kerala is going to have an IPL team what was your initial reaction?
I was really excited and was hoping to get a place in the squad. 
Abhishek with fellow Kerala openor Jagadeesh VA
Tinu Yohannan and now Sreesanth, two Kerala players to play for India. Whom do you think will be the next three if you have to make a guess.
Right now only Sanju V Samson comes to my mind as he keeps scoring tons of runs every year. 
Now the next first class season is going to start. Ranji Trophy will start by October. Now have you set any personal goals for this upcoming season?
Just want to be a consistent performer. 
What do you think is the prospect of Kerala coming season? Last season, Rajasthan went all the way from Plate group to win Ranji Trophy. Do you think Kerala can pull a Rajasthan this season?
Yes hopefully with the grace of God we will be able to put in all the effort and dedication to reach the elite group. 
Rajasthan’s victory last session was mainly due to the performance of professional players like Akash Chopra and Hrishikesh Kanitkar. Do you think Kerala also needs to use the service of few professional players from outside state that can strengthen the team?
No I don’t think so as we have quality players.its just the matter of everyone clicking together. 
One more thing I have noticed – Kerala has performed better while playing outside the state than in home grounds. Why is it so?
Cant give  a specific reason,probably there is less pressure outside. 
Now next season, four out of your five matches are in Kerala. Will it be advantageous or disadvantageous for the team?
Like everyone coin has two sides to it, it can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage, hope it turns out to be an advantage. 
What is your dream as a cricketer?
My dream like every other cricketer is to represent the country and do well for the country. 
Advice to young kids who want to take up cricket as a career
Advice is to keep it simple, keep working hard, go through the process of reaching the goal rather than just thinking of the goal and enjoy what ever you are doing.
Thanks Abhishek for you time. Hope you have a successful career in cricket and wishing you all the best.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Proposal to Limit Cooking Gas Cylinders to Four – A Welcome Move

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The Indian Oil Ministry has proposed to the ministerial panel on fuels to limit the number of subsidized cooking gas cylinders to four per year per family and charge Rs 800 for usage over four cylinders including those below poverty line. Even though it is at the proposal stage only, this proposal has attracted criticism from so many corners. But I feel this is a move in the right direction. Let me tell you why.
An average household needs anywhere from five to eight gas cylinders per year. Assume all families need eight cylinders, which means every family has to buy four cylinders in the non-subsidized rate of eight hundred rupees (Rs 800). Now the people who may be affected the most by this plan falls under the category of Below Poverty Line (BPL). BPL people can ill afford to buy gas cylinders at this rate. But at the same time one has to remember that every BPL family is given over 10 to 15 liters (depending on the state) of kerosene at a very subsidized rate. With four gas cylinders at subsidized rate and 120 liters of kerosene per year – a BPL family should be able to survive without buying any more gas cylinders.
The subsidized kerosene that was supposed to be used by BPL people now reaches the black market thus enabling few to make so much money at the expense of government subsidy. Implement this rule and black market of kerosene will be a thing of the past.
Now coming to working class. – four cylinders at four hundred rupees (Rs 400) and another four at eight hundred rupees (Rs 800) will cost you one thousand six hundred rupees (Rs 1600) extra that works out to be less than five rupees per day per family. This may not be a substantial amount for a middle class family but when these subsidies adds up that will be a huge savings for government of India. Government in turn can use this money for developmental activities like constructing another golden quadrilateral or interconnecting of rivers or for Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) that can really impact the life of each and every Indian.
We all must understand one thing – if we as a nation has to progress, subsidies of all forms must be phased out. I cannot understand the logic of providing subsidy to even those families who takes home a monthly pay check of over one lakh Indian rupees.
Like to know your views on this issue of providing subsidy to everyone without any plan in place to phase out these subsidies.
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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Lokpal - Some Questions That Need Clear Answers

This post is written by my friend and guest blogger Karthikeyan Chandran. He blogs at Glocal View 
The disgust and anger what everyone of us felt towards our corrupt politicians and bureaucrats manifested itself into unconditional support for Anna Hazare’s fast. The overwhelming support even forced the government into forming a joint committee to draft the Lokpal bill. The story until this point has all the bearings of a triumph for people power. Subsequent events towards drafting the bill has become acrimonious and a lot of noise has been made by both sides. I have been following this closely for obvious reasons.

While I was a staunch supporter of Anna Hazare’s movement early on, the subsequent policy discussions have made me sit up and think. Some of the points that have made me quite nervous are -
  1. Should Lokpal be that all powerful body that is not accountable to anyone, of course, except the supreme court, whilst having Judiciary under its radar?
  2. How and from where would Lokpal get all its personnel who are far from all the systemic corruption that plagues our country?
    1.  Are they going to recruit people completely new? 
    2. Are they going to recruit through the Civil Services and IPS? if so, how is it any different from the current set?
    3. Are their pay scales going to be high enough that these new recruits wouldn't be tempted to misuse their new (seemingly) unaccountable power?
    4. How would Lokpal ensure that normal government office employees aren’t harassed by Lokpal officers? (I am sure there won’t any sympathizers right now on this count, but what has happened in India is either misuse of power or negligence of duty. We have to make sure that Lokpal isn’t another avenue for the same mistakes)
    5. What additional laws/regulations are going to be passed so that the avenues for existing corruption is closed (or atleast reduced)? 
  3. Must the office of PM be under the Lokpal? Should 7 unelected, arbitrarily selected (remember only the consent of 7 of 11 members are needed) members be capable of filing a case against the PM while he is in office? (Note – I am completely against this for various reasons.)
  4. How are the 11 member committee going to be selected? If it is some arbitrary qualification like impeccable public record, what does that mean? 
There are many more questions that keep popping in my mind while I wait anxiously trying to get as much info and see how the details are being ironed out. But what I see is not truly encouraging. Anna’s team, while having brought up many good points seem to be hung up on a few points where I think they are being naïve.

And the middle class which watches the English news channels and has a romanticized view of the world (while not taking any responsibility) expects an avatar (read Anna Hazare. it was funny the same crowd fell for someone like Baba Ramdev) to come and save them their own elected overlords. And as always, we want to have it both ways – We want to shout to anyone who would listen how great our democracy is while hating our politics and politicians. We like to badmouth our babus but don’t think how different would a new bureaucracy be with all its new power. We want all the powerful to be accountable and are ready to create an unaccountable coterie to do that.

I am keeping my eyes and ears open to hear all this issues discussed and debated in detail before Lokpal bill is passed. But one thing is for sure. There is no hope for our country until critical thinking is part of our curriculum.
Originally published
here
.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Some Flight-Time Stories

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I happened to read the article “In Fight for Better India, Best to Look Within” written by Anand Giridharadas in The New York Times. I agree with each and every word he has written in that article. I could easily relate to each example he narrates in that article. 
While reading this article I thought about all the strange behaviors I have seen of fellow Indians in the airport and in flights during my travel to US in the last 10 years. A minority of Indian travelers test the patience of airport staff and the fellow passengers like anything. Let me narrate an uncouth behavior of an Indian family I witnessed in 2009. 
We were travelling from Dubai to JFK airport in Emirates A380 aircraft that can accommodate more than 700 passengers. That particular day it was raining heavily and all the connecting flights from India landed late due to the rain. So this flight to New York waited for an additional thirty minutes so that all the passengers from connecting flights from India can board. 
We boarded our flight and took our seat. To our immediate right there were four members of the family standing on the walkway in the flight blocking the passengers who were trying to reach their seat. That family consists of a husband (H), his wife (W), her mother (M) and a five year old kid (K). They were talking loudly in their mother tongue that I could not understand but my wife could. My wife told me that they were upset because two of them were seated at one place and other two were seated in some other seats. Since they were blocking the walkway, the flight attendant (FA) came and asks them to take the seat. Here is the conversation between the flight attendant and that family. 
FA: Sir, Please take your sear so that other passengers can go to their seats
Husband: First give us all seats in one row then we will move; otherwise we are not moving.
FA: Sir, Please Sir.
Wife: We don’t care if others are waiting. It is none of our problem. Give us seats together.
FA: We will try to give you seats together. For the time being please move from the walkway so that all passengers can go to their seats.
Wife: (shouting to FA) We are not going to move till we get the seats together. 
FA having convinced that there is no point in arguing with them and asked all the passengers to take the other walkway. Now all the passengers have boarded the flight but this family refused to take their seats. The Flight Attendant (FA) now comes with the Chief Flight Attendant (CFA) to them and starts a conversation. 
FA: Sir, please take your respective seats for now; once we are air-bound we will make sure that we will give you seats together.
Wife: (shouting at FA in a voice everyone in that huge aircraft can hear) see this family or this family (pointing to other families in the aircraft); they all got to sit together; Why are you discriminating against us. I need an answer to this.
FA: Maa’m, the flight is fully booked; When you checked in, these were the only seats available. Please help us by taking your seat so that we can start moving.
Wife: Fully booked is not an excuse; we want to sit together and till you give us seats together we will stand here.
FA: Maa’m, we are already late by an hour and if we don’t start in another 15 minutes we won’t get airspace to land in JFK and will get delayed by at least 8 hours. Please take your seat.
Husband: Delay is your problem. Four of us have to sit together. My wife is eight months pregnant and her mother is travelling for the first time to US and she cannot sit alone. My five year old is scared to sit alone. So we want to sit together and we will not agree for anything other than sitting together. Let it get delayed.
Now the Chief Flight Attendant (CFA) who was listening to all these conversations stepped in.
CFA: So who is pregnant now (pointing her finger towards wife and her mother)?
Wife: I am pregnant and this is my mother.
Wife: (Now turning towards her mother) Mother, CFA thinks that you are pregnant hahaha.
CFA: So you are 8 months pregnant? Can I see the doctors’ certificate that you can travel in a flight during the 8th month of pregnancy.
Wife: We have medical certificate
CFA: Show that
Wife: here it is (opens the bag and gives a piece of paper).
CFA: (after going through that paper) This was a medical certificate issued 5 months ago when you are three months pregnant. We need a recent medical certificate.
Wife: This is all we have. If I am good to travel when I am three months pregnant why not in the eighth month with the same certificate?
CFA: Do you know that you need the most recent medical certificate if you are over seven months pregnant to travel in a flight?
Husband: (to CFA) Madam, in fact she is only 6 months pregnant; accidentally she told you she is 8 months pregnant.
CFA: (raising her voice) Sir, what do you think about yourself? Do you think that you are smart and all of us are fools? If the third month of pregnancy falls on XXX month we know what stage she is in now. Show me the medical certificate that is less than one week old or please get down from the flight.
Husband: How can you ask us to get down from the flight? We travelled from Hyderabad to Dubai and no one objected. How can you say like this?
CFA: (at the peak of her voice) Gentleman, you have 2 options now – either sit in the allocated seats or just get out of this flight. 
By that time fellow passengers also started getting impatient and started shouting at them. Finally without arguing more they went to their allocated seats. The H and K sat together and M and W sat together. 
Now about thirty minutes after take-off, husband dropped the son with his wife. This boy started running around, hitting with his leg the backside of his front seat and shouting loudly. W or M never even asked him to behave. The lady sitting in the front seat got fed up with the sound and the continuous hits on her back, she had to bear and she stood-up and blasted this kid. Again these ladies tried to argue that he is small and blah blah blah but got a stomach full from that lady. From then they were very careful to keep that boy in check. 
I thought things will end there. But it was just the beginning. The flight attendants started serving food to every one and this family was also served food of their choice. M and W just tasted the food and called the flight attendant. 
Wife: (In a very harsh tone) Food is so bland. Can you please give us some spicy food? You know Indians eat only spicy food and why are you serving such bad food? 
FA: This is all we got and this is the spice level in all the food we serve. 
Wife: Oh God Why did you make us book our tickets in this stupid airline. They gave each one of us seats somewhere and now giving us food which the dogs in my house won’t eat. Take this stupid food and eat yourself. 
She took the entire food and virtually threw it towards the flight attendant. He could get hold of some but majority of it fell down and on his dress. He gave an angry look and went away. He came back and cleaned the floor where the food has spilled. 
May be after 30 minutes, they started feeling hungry. They pressed the call button in the flight but no one turned up. Again they pressed and they turned up after 15 minutes. W wanted some food and the flight attendant told them all the food was over and you need to wait for another 3 hours for food and went back. They served them food only after 3 hours and from then on that family ate whatever they were given. A lesson learnt in a hard way. 
There were more scenes created by them when they landed in JFK that I am not mentioning here. Now I have seen such kind of characters every time I travelled from US to India and back. They are not only stubborn and rigid but have no respect for the fellow passengers and rules that need to be followed. I’d like to end this piece of blog quoting from Anand’s article “There is an idea that you, the individual, are the best judge of how the system should run, not the people whose system it is. There is an idea that rules are mere hints, to be applied when useful.
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