Prof. Yash Pal says "I didn't say that", but the mess continues

Yesterday, Prof. Yash Pal, of The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education fame, spoke up against Kapil Sibal's proposal to remove State Education Boards. Prof. Yash Pal...
...the man behind these announcements, said he was not responsible for all the recommendations. Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal had proposed on Thursday that the Class X board exam be scrapped and that the state boards be done away with to bring about parity in the education system.
In a welcome statement, the professor clarified that he didn't recommend doing away with state boards:

Though I had suggested a uniform examination pattern throughout the country, I did not recommend doing away with the state boards. The state boards can function alongside.
While it's easy to see that Kapil Sibal could have conjured up such nonsense himself, we'd like to point out that the Yash Pal Committee is no less a party to this whole mess. The Committee's statements on School Education are very confusing, incomplete, superficial, incorrect, and totally disconnected from ground reality - especially in Karnataka.

The report does actually talk of needing to "rethink on the need to continue" with state boards. Here's an extract from pages 42-43 of the Committee report - what we described as a disappointing "brief commentary on School Education" (this paragraph is about all the report has to say about School Education):

National tests like GRE should be organized round the year and students from all over the India aspiring to enter universities should be allowed to take these tests as many times as they like. Their best test score can then be sent to the universities of their choice which can admit them if they satisfy other criteria set up be the universities. This requires a rethinking on the need to continue with State Boards of Secondary Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) which are instruments for normalizing school level competencies – a purpose equally accomplished by the national tests mentioned here – and seriously think of reviving our faith in each school and its teachers to credibly evaluate its own students.
Firstly, the committee talks about so-called State Boards of Secondary Education. If there is anything resembling that in Karnataka, it's the Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board or the KSEEB which conducts the Secondary School Leaving Certificate or SSLC examination, after which (surprise!) students don't go to Universities! They go instead to the Pre-University stage where they spend 2 more years. So what Karnataka calls as Secondary Education is not what Prof. Yash Pal understands. In fact, he's talking about PUC here - but neglecting Karnataka's system. That's disconnect number one for you.

Now to disconnect number two. The body overseeing Pre-University Education in Karnataka is the Department of Pre-University Education - a state department which does a lot more than simply conduct examinations or "normalize school level competencies". It is nonsense to talk about any examination replacing this department. The department, for example, sets the syllabus for PU education in PU colleges (not schools, mind you!). The last time we checked the Oxford Dictionary of English, examinations don't do that.

We also ask whether the Committee has sufficiently analyzed the consequences of having a test like the GRE as the gating examination for university entrance in India. What steps will be taken to ensure that PU colleges in Karnataka don't gear up to become "GRE tuition centres"? What will ensure that PU students don't spend their lives solving Shakuntala Devi's puzzles and mugging up English dictionaries (on the role of language in education, more later) instead of studying Kinematics, Calculus, Demand-Supply theory and Cell-Biology?

What the hell is going on here? Who gave these Yash Pals and Kapil Sibals the authority to mess with Karnataka's schools and colleges? And we haven't even got to the importance of Kannada-medium and the inability of jokers in New Delhi to even recall the names of half the scheduled languages of India (without going to Wikipedia, we mean).

What should Mr. Kapil Sibal do now?

Last week has been abuzz with Indian HRD Minister Kapil Sibal's controversial proposals for School Reform and Higher Education Reform. Mr. Sibal's proposals are said to be based on the recommendations of a committee headed by a Prof. Yashpal - officially called The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education. The committee's report is available on The Hindu's website, while apparently no Govt. website has deemed it necessary to host it.

At BANAVASI BALAGA, we studied the Yashpal committee report in detail. We have come to the conclusion that the recommendations of the committee, if implemented, may show temporary improvement in Higher Education but the new system will run out of steam or even backfire in the long run. In any case, Higher Education will certainly remain un-reachable to most of India if the proposed reforms are implemented; they will also do nothing to remove class divisions which the committee itself is rightly concerned about. This is because the committee has displayed the much-too-common Indian disability to fathom Higher Education in a language other than the language of our erstwhile colonizer, i.e., English. Hence, we urge Mr. Kapil Sibal to form a new committee to come up with ways of making Higher Education in Indian Languages possible. Such a move would be towards a far more sustainable, wide-reaching, inclusive, efficient and uplifting system. This committee too, should focus on decentralized administration: centralized planning will drive India towards self-destruction and undo whatever development the little decentralization has brought till now.

[We direct those who ask "Very nice! Why is this blog in English then?" to the right sidebar of this blog where we explain the reason.]

The committee's brief commentary on School Education is even more disappointing. It lacks serious thinking and stinks of centralized planning (which is a bad-word for a mind-bogglingly diverse country such as India). The Yashpal committee mindlessly neglects the fact that nearly 90% of India's children attend Indian Language schools which are run in atleast 20 different languages and administered by the states even to this day. These schools cannot and must not be administered by a central body. Nor can they or must they be converted to English or Hindi medium schools. Mr. Kapil Sibal's statements on School Education seem unfortunately to be inspired by the Yashpal Committee report which bases itself on such mindless assumptions. Mr. Sibal should reject the committee's statements in this regard in the interest of the future of India.

We should also mention that Mr. Sibal's behavior in this respect resembles that of a colonial master rather than that of a servant of a federal government of a free country. This nearly dictatorial behavior has already drawn flak from many state governments - Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa, Rajasthan - to name a few. You're in a federal setup, Mr. Sibal, and you should behave accordingly. And yes, next time - before you go to press, we urge you to upload your proposals on Govt. websites and also seek advice from state-governments before making decisions. In a federal setup, you don't tell the states. You ask 'em. In a federal setup, you don't make decisions. You federate 'em.

We do agree that School Education in India needs a revamp. But not the kind of mindless destructive revamp being talked about by the Yashpal Committee. We do agree that Higher Education needs a revamp. But the Yashpal Committee's recommendations don't look like a revamp; they merely seek to restructure the same old vamp.

It is a pity that Education is placed in the concurrent list - making room for all this nonsense. Education should be made an entirely state subject, leaving the center with subjects such as defense and maintaining one currency.

We will post follow-up articles on the Yashpal Committee report. Keep reading.

Cross-posted in Kannada on ENGURU and KALIKEYU.

Karnataka & Italy: "Natural Partners"

There were times when India was compared with itsy bitsy European states for everything ranging from linguistic diversity (grossly erroneous) to economic prowess (grossly humiliating). But in not the first such development, Subir Hari Singh, Principal Secretary, Commerce and Industry calls Italy as Karnataka's "natural partner" because of complementary skills and resources:
As Karnataka’s strong areas of expertise are complementary to that of Italy’s, the state and Italy have a lot of areas to explore.

Bangalore, apart from being a leading IT hub, is also the aerospace and Space capital of India which Italy can explore. Bangalore is a major supplier of automobile components while Italy is famous for its precision engineering with very well known brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Fiat. This provides an excellent opportunity where we can work together
.
Way to go, Karnataka!

Aside: This post is not about migrants not learning Kannada, but consider this: Mr. Subir Hari Singh calls Karnataka home, but knows no Kannada. So do you see the point that Karnataka is "complementary to Italy" even here? Italian bureaucrats can't run scot free claiming to know no Italian!

Dr. Singh's unnecessarily poked nose

In a sudden lapse of reason, the UPA government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh is seeking to centralize bureaucratic appointments and transfers all over India. If enacted, this law will further curb state powers and make the system all the more corrupt and inefficient. And of course, this is a classic example of anti-federalism. Reports Rediff.com:
It's a sure fire recipe for a head-on confrontation between the Centre and the states with the Centre preparing to centralise the entire gamut of bureaucratic appointments and transfers, and the states likely to see red as it would encroach upon their authority and jurisdiction.

The United Progressive Alliance is in the process of finalising a draft legislation of the Civil Services Act 2009, which would seek to bring in sweeping reforms in administration, give independence to the bureaucracy and at the same time de-link the administration from political control.

Union minister Prithviraj Chavan said the government is finalising the draft after which it would be put in the public domain to invite reactions and suggestions, before it is brought before the parliament to be enacted as a law.

The proposed law seeks to create an authority with the power of the Election Commission under which civil servants can appeal for redressal of their grievances. The appointing authority for postings, transfers and appointments would be a panel consisting of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, the home minister and a judge of the Supreme Court. All civil servants would have fixed tenures and if this has to be changed, then reasons must be given.
The stupidity of the sight of Manmohan Singh and L. K. Advani pouring over transfer papers of civil servants from all over India apart, this is a nonsensical move which will end up reducing accountability and making the whole system slower, corrupt and inefficient than what it already is. This makes state governments further powerless, and as we've argued earlier, increases corruption and lowers the calibre of politicians at the state level. Therefore, this move must be rejected by all the states of India. Easier said than done, of course, because some state governments in India are often just too braindead to even smell dead rats in their table-drawers.

One remembers the Czech President Vaclav Klaus who, Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute at Washington D.C. reports, asked the European Parliament in the context of opposing the Lisbon Treaty which seeks to grant similar nonsensical centralized powers to the European Parliament:

Are you really convinced that every time you take a vote, you are deciding something that must be decided here in this hall and not closer to the citizens, i.e. inside the individual European states?
What about you, Dr. Singh? Are you convinced you want to oversee the transfer of every civil-servant in India? Don't you have better fish to fry?

Also read on KARNATIQUE:
Delhi Cannot Catch Traffic Defaulters In Bengaluru. Period.
India's non-central non-government

Also read by Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute:
Europe Votes … For Something

"Kannada? Sure you didn't mis-spell Canada, dad?"

If you're one of those parents trying to find an English-medium state-syllabus (SSLC) school for your son or daughter in Karnataka, there's bad news for you. Okay, it's not an event which has happened overnight, but slowly but surely, SSLC schools in Karnataka are dying an unwept, unhonoured, and unsung death. Death meaning conversion to ICSE or CBSE syllabus.

And with their death shall come the death of understanding what Karnataka is, what Kannada is, what Karnataka's history was, what the importance of Kannada, Kannadiga and Karnataka are - in the lives of your children. And with all this is coming the premature death of the great (English-educated) Kannadigas of the future who we were thinking will continune our labours and transform Karnataka into Heaven! CBSE/ICSE educated Kannadiga children won't even know that something called Karnataka existed or exists, or that their own mother-tongue is Kannada (let alone speak it)! They will be made to feel that the history of Karnataka is a desert of underachievement. They will be made to feel that real men with real balls have never treaded on this soil. It's all waiting to happen.

This year alone, we have seen atleast 5 very good English-medium state-syllabus SSLC schools in South Bengaluru alone stop offering SSLC syllabus. They have shifted to CBSE or ICSE. The reasons given by the schools are:
  • "Parents don't demand state-syllabus (SSLC)"
  • "We can't have both state-syllabus and CBSE/ICSE on the same campus by law"
There is no proof of the first statement, and the second one, if true, shows the stupidity of the policies formed by the education department. Of course, all this may be a major money-minting racket in which officials and ministers of the Govt. of Karnataka could be partners in crime. Until now, there used to be a check on the number of CBSE and ICSE schools in any state, and those schools were limited to children of direct or indirect employees of the central government. But have the corrupt, in-fighting, infefficient, stone-throwing, nauseating empty vessels of Karnataka succesfully worked out a "scheme" by which they can mint black money by signing off conversions to CBSE and ICSE?

Another question which needs to be answered is - why are school managements wanting to convert to CBSE/ICSE? Why is there such an urge to convert? The answer is obvious: there's more money to be made from CBSE/ICSE schools. We don't approve of schools turning into money-minting shops. But now that they have so turned and there doesn't seem to be any quick fix for reversing things, we are forced to seek an answer to the following question: Why can't SSLC schools make as much money? What's the cash-cow on the CBSE/ICSE side which doesn't exist on the SSLC side? Can somebody answer?

Of empty vessels and unimportance

The now out-in-the-open fissiparous tendencies in Karnataka's BJP government can make anybody question whether state politics in Karnataka can ever rise above corruption, in-fighting, inefficiency, ignorance and mindless stone-throwing. In this essay, we argue that there are two inter-related reasons for this mess, each reinforcing the other in a vicious cycle: one, the presence of lower-calibre politicians at the state level; and two, the relative unimportance of state-politics due to half-hearted federalism. We show that the way out of this mess is to have more power to the states and simultaneously for our politicians to grow up.

The high-decibel noise of empty vessels in Karnataka

A basic problem with the politics of Karnataka is that the politicians themselves are often of too low a calibre - often uneducated, corrupt and ignorant. Such politicians in the Vidhana Soudha repel higher-calibre people (who just can't match up to their level of corruption to even get elected) and attract even lower-calibre ones. Not just electoral candidates, but even the general public is repelled from state-level politics because of the bad name which the low-calibre politicians of Karnataka have brought to state-level politics.

Admittedly, state-level politics is more "hands-on" into the dirty mess of casteism and mindless largesses to a population which should ideally be better educated and taught to work instead of expecting those largesses. Karnataka's politicians have been unable to solve these issues to anybody's satisfaction, basically because they lack the necessary grey-cells for doing so. Instead of solving these issues, the inability and ignorance of our politicians makes them exploit the issues to water their own vested interests.

And of course, amidst all the high-decibel noise created by the empty vessels that Karnataka's politicians are, governance has taken the back-seat. The little that the Karnataka government has control over is also mishandled by our low-calibre politicians. With this being the performance of Karnataka governments right from 1956, hearing the word "state-politics" mentioned itself has started to become a nauseating experience.

Karnataka should look up to states like Gujarat

True federalism - as we have argued elsewhere - is the right way for India to progress, since New Delhi simply cannot run a country which has more than a billion people if it continues to poke its nose into state-level issues. New Delhi can never understand the importance of Kannada in Karnataka, or the way in which Kannadigas can progress, or what projects need to be undertaken for Karnataka to progress.

For the record, New Delhi does not speak Kannada (there are many in New Delhi who can't tell if Kannada is a language or a country in North America) - and therefore can never run Karnataka to any degree of satisfaction. Nor should it, for that would be not much different from the British ruling Karnataka - a state of slavery where Kannadigas are ruled by non-Kannadigas. Given this, while the importance of Karnataka's politics is implicit, the half-hearted federalism in India does not explicitly grant that importance to it.

Over and above this, the nauseating state-politics of Karnataka makes one come to the utterly wrong conclusion that New Delhi is better than Bengaluru when it comes to governing Karnataka. That is a disastrous feeling which is doing its rounds in the intelligentsia, and must as such be removed.

While the state-politics of Karnataka is admittedly nauseating, states like Gujarat have retained the sanctity of state-level politics by giving better governance, better utilization of state funds, encouragement given to investments and business, etc. Gujarat is not just the media babe of India, but a true example of what good leadership and high-calibre politicians can do to the very image of state-politics and federalism itself.

Today, while Gujarat is an example of a responsible state which further affirms that true federalism is the way to go, Karnataka brings down the case for true federalism because of its irresponsible, corrupt and non-delivering politicians. It is high time our own politicians grow up, stop being those empty vessels, develop some grey-cells and start delivering like the politicians in Gujarat.

Unimportance waters low-calibre

Why is it that we see less corruption, in-fighting, inefficiency, ignorance and mindless stone-throwing at the central government? Is it that we just don't get to see similar behavior (when it's present in reality)? No, it would be wrong to say so. Admittedly, politicians at the centre are of a higher-calibre than at the state-level. Why is that?

The main reason is that central politics is of relative higher importance. It's simply a better job with better challenges with better people around. The most important port-folios are held by the centre - many of which are nonsensically so held. For example, the states are left with virtually no revenue to run their states, while the centre gets a disproportionately large revenue for the little work that it does. One often sees highly productive states beg the centre for their own rightful share of central budgetary allocations. Karnataka perhaps stands foremost among states which are so cheated.

The point we're trying to make here is - the relative lower importance of state-politics is a very important factor in deciding the quality or calibre of politicians at the state-level. Today, state-level politics is not as good a job as a job at the centre for someone looking to do real work (not mint money and further one's own vested interests). State-level politics is not sufficiently empowered to attract high-calibre talent. As such, unimportance waters low-calibre.

Summary

In summary, the presence of lower-calibre politicians at the state level and the relative unimportance of state-politics due to half-hearted federalism have together resulted in a major degradation in the quality of state-politics in Karnataka. Unimportance waters low-calibre, and low-calibre waters unimportance. The way out of this mess is to have more power to the states and simultaneously for our politicians to grow up.