July 2, 2009


I write this with a sense of unfulfilled hopes. Last time, when Congress came to power, I was very excited to get a call from Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia one fine day, asking me if I was ok in becoming an advisor to the Education and Social Sector Consultative Committee being set up by the Planning Commission of India. A couple of days later, even before I received any official confirmation from them on the same, I read in the papers that I was indeed a part of it! As an educationist myself, as well as a passionate social sector thinker, I started preparing the suggestions I wanted the government to implement. However, as was the case with the entire Congress regime last time, very soon the blackmailing CPM created a huge noise on how could people from multinational consulting firms be part of the Indian planning process – and the consultative committees had to be abandoned! My suggestions remained with myself, though through my televised alternative budgets every year, in any case I have been trying to give those suggestions to the governments for the last nine years!

As the new government starts off with an unbelievable enthusiasm – this time free of any blackmailing forces – one of the areas where the action is perhaps highest is the education sector. And thank god for that. Unlike in the past – the less said about it the better – here we have this time an honest and educated minister at the helm of the ministry who means business (his interview in the next few pages will prove that)! And thus, with huge hopes, as someone who is in the field of education, first before anything else, I thought of summing up the key recommendations for him in ten simple points! And here they go...
  1. Sir, I need not tell you that after the right to health – a right which guarantees life – and the right to employment that guarantees living, it is right to education that is the most important duty of the government, as it guarantees the right to life and living with dignity. And thus, it is a must that the right to education is something that should be implemented in reality. Every child born in India should have access to good schooling and should have access to the means required to get educated. If there is anything that accounts for a level playing ground, it is education, education and education. An educated man is any day a more worthwhile resource for an economy than an uneducated man, and education, it must be said, is the cheapest service that any government can provide its citizens. And education has nothing to do with poverty. A poorer Kerala has almost double the literacy rate than a far richer Punjab; as is the case with a poorer Vietnam when compared to India. Sir, do make the right to education and access to it, a reality and not mere lip service.

  2. In your reform agenda, the topmost priority should be for primary education. Because what is important in achieving higher literacy rates in a nation is not just teaching a man how to sign his name. But giving functional literacy. That means the poor man should be educated enough so that he can be functionally literate. That means that he can, for example, read the instructions on a fertilizer pack – or for that matter the headlines of a newspaper – and understand it... And for this, it is primary education which is of prime importance. It is this that has, however, been most neglected in this country. While about 96 percent kids officially enroll for schools, 40 percent drop out even before the age of ten, with the dropout percentage being much higher in the case of women. Around 75,000 schools in India don’t have a single classroom, while another 100,000 schools have just a single class room. And that makes about 15 percent of total schools. Teacher absenteeism in the rest of the schools ranges between 15 percent in Maharashtra to 42 percent in Jharkhand. More than 15 percent of schools still don’t have more than two teachers. And UP struggles to provide even one teacher per school to 900 schools! The money being allocated to education as a percentage of GDP is 3.5%; this can obviously go up to 6. But let me tell you that even the current allocation is great. The problem is that the allocation is being mainly used to pay salaries to teachers who are never in school and are busy earning through private tuitions. Sir, you must change these ground level realities and it should be your first priority.

  3. While you do this sir, of course, it will be great if you can take – but in stages as the system improves – the money allocation of education to 6% of GDP. Even a capitalist America spends 5.3% of GDP on education at this high stage of development. And at our low levels of development, 6% is only the bare minimum. This additional resource shouldn’t go to higher education but to making a robust primary education system in this country.

  4. Sir, the primary education system suffers from India's immense poverty. So despite creating schools, you might see parents not sending their children to school or taking them out in the first few years itself. Also, these poor children suffer from the problem of illiteracy in the family and their upbringing is not conducive to studying at home. I would go till the extent of suggesting that every child sent to school should be accompanied by a compensation to the family through various incentives. However, the biggest incentive for education is giving free hostel accommodation to poor students in schools. This will guarantee a conducive atmosphere to poor children to study – though, as a father, I am quite against sending my son to a hostel, if given a choice. However, the situation in poor families is quite the reverse. The cost of providing free hostels is again quite minimal, as I – along with Dr. Malay Chaudhuri – had worked out in my book, The Great Indian Dream.

  5. As you give greater access to primary education to the children of India, you must have a proper policy to phase out the reservation system in India. Reservations are required only till the time the playing field is not level. Good primary education will guarantee a level playing field; and then, students must compete on merit. And assuming you take two years to set the system right, then reservation should be out of the Indian economic system in the 12 years post that. Because students, after 14 years hereon, would be passing out with equal opportunities at primary level and be ready to compete properly with others in a healthy manner. However, till then, reservations – which should have ideally been done away with within the first fifteen years after independence – will be required without debate.

  6. Your suggestions around scrapping the tenth board exams are brilliant and just mindboggling. I would go to the extent of suggesting that you open additional debates, not just about scrapping the twelfth boards as well, but even about scrapping the concept of class twelfth being the final school year (and instead, making class tenth the final school year). As a teacher and student, I have realised that the way we repeat the curriculum from 6th to 8th, then from 9th to 10th, and then 11th and 12th is a joke. By studying Newton’s law four times, the law doesn’t change for heaven’s sake!!! The current generation of children are ahead of our times by at least two to three years. Make the current graduation compressed into two years and call it high school, if you may. And make graduation studies more serious, unlike the flippant way it is taken currently – a three year picnic time where one goes to college to have fun and not attend classes. It will also make a huge psychological difference to poorer people who can afford education only till tenth, as they would then be ‘school-pass’, and it will reduce the entire cost of schooling straightaway by about 20 percent. I know I might be sounding extreme, but you have shown the courage to speak out radical concepts, so as an educationist, I thought this was a radical idea at least worth sharing. It’s something that the Think Tank at IIPM has been working upon.

  7. Your suggestion for allowing FDI into higher education and privatisation are more than welcome; and so is the super idea of scrapping UGC and AICTE. At IIPM, we have been very proud that we were never a part of that system that we never believed in and were openly highly critical about. However Sir, it is important that you see to it that the new body of accreditation is truly a competent body of literates who share your vision for education in this country; and not another form of a corrupt, illiterate body like AICTE. I am sure you knew that AICTE and UGC had almost fixed rates for various forms of recognitions on sale through their agents, depending upon the state and location of the institute/university. When someone would refuse to be a part of their corrupt system, they specialised in sending illegal and clearly false notices to such institutes in order to extract money from them. You can’t have privatisation with this kind of corruption. I do hope you make the new body totally transparent so that even someone like me feels motivated to be part of the system, than be proud to be away from it.

  8. It is a must that you break the false monopoly of government supported institutions like the IITs and IIMs.. While in IIMs, the education imparted is at least of a world class level, the fact is that in IITs, the education standards are no way comparable to the best in the world. The idea of having any government backed institution at a higher level is two folds. One is to provide world class education – else the government need not be present in this sector, having once given great education at the primary level. And the second motive is to see to it that the maximum number of students get access to this kind of subsidised education. The idea should not be to make elitist hubs where a few get admission and enjoy the public money to make a false snob value around themselves. The best case is that of the IIMs. It imparts basic, commonsense education that can be imparted to almost anyone after class twelfth. But instead of reaching out to masses, it teaches only an average of 150-200 students in its 70-100 acre campus on an average. This is such a shame. And the only reason to limit this commonsense education is to create a snob value around it, through garnering higher packages for their students. The fact is that even if they were to increase the number of seats they have, to 300 on an average, their packages will come crashing down to about Rs.6 lacs on an average from their current Rs. 9 lacs. The idea is not to provide a few higher packages at the cost of giving education to many more.

  9. Nor should the idea be to have a massive waste of resources at the IIT level, where students don’t become engineers but join management. And then again, investing so much at the IIMs where students look for foreign jobs instead of helping India grow. At every stage, people changing their fields must be made to pay back to the country what the country invested on them. And those leaving the country should be made to pay back to the country again or impart service to the public and government sector for a stipulated minimum number of years before going abroad. The current system of subsidising higher education in India though elitist institutions is nothing but a waste of public money to create a bunch of semi-educated primarily unpatriotic selfish snobs that the system unknowingly makes out of the students studying there.

  10. Finally Mr. Sibal, in the US today, a much higher proportion of students from poorer sections are pursuing their higher education than the proportion from the richer sections. US has in the past and is now changing tomorrow’s gap between the rich and poor. It is leaving much lesser people marginalised out of the mainstream society and therefore, has ensured much lesser cases of evils like religious terrorism or extremist movements (like, say, the Naxalite movement in India). And Sir, this higher proportion of access to higher education is not just because of access to great primary education. It’s because at higher education where costs are higher, prospective students have access to education loans. Instead of talking reservations like many of uninitiated leaders of the past, the need of the hour, I again say, is great primary education; and then once everyone is able to compete, great access to education loans regardless of the financial background of the students. This is what will help poorer students finally have access to great higher education.

    And this is what will finally lead to an educated civilised India without the current humongous ill of having such mass scale illiteracy. Interestingly, this will also be the sure shot way to stay in power in the long run!

    While we thoroughly enjoyed your interview and got inspired by it, we do hope you enjoy our suggestions as much and feel they’re worth it!



avinash said...

great thought provoking post but somehow i have a bad feeling when i finished reading this article because as may be the case this will confine to you only and nothing is going to change............................

Shruti Sharma said...

Respected Sir,
I am a great fan of your blogs. I respect as much you've written in your blog. But in this blog, from beginning through end, I've been waiting for your views about reservation policies in education system. And because I respect your thoughts, I still wait for the same.

Shruti Sharma

Rudra K Roy said...


Your views specific to primary education is seriously seconded...Lets approach as per our priorities...addressing everything simultaneously will dilute the implemtation stage, which has been the the largest cause of failures, till date...
You may also like to read www.garam-chaye.blogspot.com at times. Best wishes

Shruti Sharma said...

I am a great fan of your blogs. I respect as much you've written in your blog. But in this blog, from beginning through end, I've been waiting for your views about reservation policies in education system. And because I respect your thoughts, I still wait for the same.

Purestconsciousness said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hobo ........ ........ ........ said...

I wish road/water/electricity - rest will be done automatically.

abhinav said...

hi arunidham,
i would like to rticle on technology , political and current affairs and on business for you sunday indians...how man your sunday may pay per articles....

i wud aldo like to deliver my lecutre for your iipm as permanent faculty or visiting faculty for finanace or operation manangment...

but behaves should be fuuly respective and friendly...

thanking you,abhinav kumar,
scientist working for nasa usa,prof. finanace and operation research management ,founder-director sae-international,
representative ceo, president & co-chairman hotrollin.com asia and europe region ,
and sfi delhi

Technology Journal said...

Rightly said,

Affordable education to all can remove many social distortions from Indian social system.

Rajeev Vashisht

Meera said...

Dear Sir
I truely read your blog as knowledge improving on various current issues. I second your views and I sincerely hope and pray the suggestions posted by you is well received and implemented by Mr.Sibal.
How about we common teachers having passion for teaching are welcomed by Government Schools to teach only English to schools located in various parts of the state as visiting faculty/teacher.


mad. said...

Good Thoughts but India will takes years to think beyond USA. We have been & still tryg to solve illiteracy from India. Thinking beyond IIM's is better then thinking beyond removing of illiteracy. Your thoughts are always respected in all ways btw.


Vipsa said...

whats with iit students?? Pt. 9. calling them unpatriotic snobs..and whatever...are u jealous??

Mishima Perishable said...

Arindam... Its a pity to see your comments on IIM and IIT students... As a Management Guru, you should very well know that elitists might not always end up contributing to the country's GDP directly, but they very much act as drivers in creating awareness in the youth of the Nation by proving themselves different from the masses... Its simple logic - As you sow, so shall you reap... People who work harder end up as elitists and people who work less do not... I guess its high time you acknowledge this fact as well rather than stating blatant accusations on people who are above your supported league... Have a look at the country's Corporate Sector... You shall find the apt justifications for what I have written here...

susheel_arora said...

Dear Sir
I have read the coments and suggessions given by you. These are simply great. I want to you to please add one more suggession in these.
As no. of times it is mentioned by the ministers about the improvement in the higher education, we must not forget to encourage the research scholars and scientists working in different laboratories and universities. As far as my knowledge is concerned Mr. Kapil Sibbal has not taken any step for increasing scholarships like JRF, SRF etc offered by CSIR and UGC. While 6th pay commision has benifitted no. of govt. employees then why not the researchers.

alisha_k said...

Unfortunately the reforms in CBSE do not cover other boards. As the parent of a kid who gave ICSE 2009 and suffered through quotas etc, I would suggest that the disparity between the boards should be abolished. Maharashtra junior colleges follow the state board curriculum.My daughter has chosen ISC because it is more challenging and streamlined as a syllabus. This decision has caused us many sleepless nights because she will be under severe stress to secure a seat in colleges in the 12th which are overflowing with inhouse state board students. I think it is unfair that I cannot exercise a free choice because of existing partiality. ISC has a far more exhaustive curriculum and there is no recognition of the fact but there is discrimination against it. Political Might wins over Academic Right.

Another area of reform should be the introduction of interdisciplinary studies. How can a child of 16 be expected to choose a stream at this age? My daughter was interested in being a dentist, media person, architect or psychologist. We have chosen arts with maths though we feel great regret that a student like her, with 95% has no chance to change her mind later, in case she wanted to chose science. Flexibility till the 12th at least, should be a must so kids can experiment with subjects and make an informed decision.Like the USA

Why dont colleges raise their fees The amount of money pouring into coaching classes by parents from all backgrounds is astonishing. Parents would be happy to pay more to colleges if they provide quality teaching. It is a win win situation for both sides. Colleges gain more money to improve infrastructure and parents pay a small fraction of what they pay to coaching classes. Subsidise the lower income groups if need be but let the teaching be done in colleges not outside it!
We have a long long way to go.
I hope Mr Sibal is our messiah. We sure could use one!

vikram said...

hey man arindam i simply love and admire u what a great thought u have given it simply rocks. and if implmented it will a day of new begning in india

henrylow said...

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This goal-oriented way of surfing the web is largely based on short-term results. For example, finding facts to write a blog post, doing a comparison before making a purchase and reading a news site to find out what’s happening right now.

seven said...

respected sir
i am a great fan of yours andi liked ur sugessions verymuch.sir i dnt knw if i am write in saying that u should join politics bcoz it is only place from where u can change the system most otherwise ur sugessions would be taken as criticism.
sir to work at priamary level we have to make corrections in priamary levels of our system so that we will be able to nip the evil in the bud.

tychester said...

World would be always a good place without "management overhead"

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Rudrra said...

Quota system in politics is the biggest curse to the education system...and all is better said than done...

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Aashish said...

This was a great example of mediocre thoughts. I didn't read whole article because just after reading this:

'As a teacher and student, I have realised that the way we repeat the curriculum from 6th to 8th, then from 9th to 10th, and then 11th and 12th is a joke. By studying Newton’s law four times, the law doesn’t change for heaven’s sake!!! '

I stopped. Because I don't know what are you pointing at. I never came across any topic 'repeated' in any class. Newton's Law does not change in any class, but there level increases with every class(and thus its same with every topic) and thus it is need to be taught in similar manner. Plus scrapping the whole 11-12 class was just a plain ignorance at your part, because these are the classes where a student learn the specific subjects which will help them in their respective careers.

Priyaranjan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
itsallpartoftheplan said...

"It imparts basic, commonsense education that can be imparted to almost anyone after class twelfth" Nice one. Really? "Common Sense Education". Dude, you never studied at an IIM, so you have no idea what is taught here. And yeah, don't dare compare IIPM's common(non)sense education with that of an IIM. Your IIPM faculty may get away by teaching common nonsense, not IIMs.

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