In Which I Avoid a Trap Set By Nilu

Nilu says that I do not address a certain argument in favour of government schools. The argument has something to do with poor people having the vote. If that is supposed to mean that the poor can vote themselves better schools, Nilu should know that it is nonsense. One vote every five years is simply inadequate as an attention-getting tactic, when citizens have a hundred issues on which to draw their rulers’ attention. Presumably Nilu does know that, so he modifies the argument with something else that is still nonsensical.

I think that he is saying that the rich will improve their own schools, and the poor will use the vote to ensure that the fruits of the school improvement are passed on to them.  Now, education is not a manufactured commodity, but a service. It is much tougher to ensure consistent quality in a service. Improvement in quality of a school in an IAS officers’ colony will do little to improve the quality of the school in a village 100 km from the district headquarters. This is more so because India’s rich, when they need better government services, do not go about fighting for structural improvements in them. They make phone calls and use their influence with the appropriate minister. Or they create separate institutions like KVs and IITs which are insulated from the representatives of the poor[1]. 

I’d have thought that these things were obvious or could have been easily gleaned from what I wrote. If I had explained all this, it would have been long and painful and would have severely dented my reputation for concise writing. I suspect Nilu was leading me on to a trap so that he can grant me one of those bad writing awards.

[1] Note that I am not blaming them for this.  We know what happens when the representatives of the poor grab those institutions.

40 thoughts on “In Which I Avoid a Trap Set By Nilu

  1. Yeah what’s up with this repeated reference to IAS officers’ colony with regards to the KVs?

    KVs are the least elitist of all CBSE schools in India. This is true all over the country. You will see a chaprasi’s son sitting next to an IAS officer’s son in a KV. Moreover, there was not much of a difference between the middle class and the upper class in India. Things might have changed now. As far as private schools are concerned, I have seen two types of private schools in Indian cities, one that cater to the rich (educated and uneducated rich) and another for the middle class. KVs were the only schools where students from different class backgrounds mixed.

  2. By Indian standards, Central government employees, just by virtue of being central government employees, are rich. We can argue over whether they come in the top 10% or top 20% of the population, but the argument is essentially irrelevant.

  3. Agreed that central government employees are a pampered lot.

    But in my days in KVs, I have seen war widows’ children, children of the handicapped (not necessarily central government employees), children of class 4 workers who are not corrupt etc. People with very little to no money who were my classmates. Some came from outright broken homes. All of them were allowed to sit in the 10th standard exam without any questions.

    In private schools, I know of friends who were asked not to sit in the 10th standard exams because their performance was not good and it might affect the 100% pass rate of their respective private schools. This is how private schools manipulate their performance for advertisement which you make a big case for. The fact is that many of these friends of mine simply couldn’t join a KV because they were not children of government employees. Of course, they had the choice to study. But I think it is probably illegal to stop students from writing graduation exams. Yet it happens.

    I once visited a private school catering to the middle class for some function. In a classroom, I happened upon the diary of girl studying in 5th standard. I noticed that every page and for every three days, she was supposed to bring a minimum of Rs 5 to Rs 10 for something or the other. None of my poor classmates in KV could have afforded that. Maybe not even me. In fact in north India, I can assure you that if not for access to KV (and the fee waiver), they would never have gone to school.

    Again, just my anecdotes but just goes to show that a lot of things need to change before utopia can be brought about. Maybe we could start with good enforcement of the law.

  4. Which means

    a. You don’t have any idea what rich connotes.

    b. Or you don’t have that much idea about central govt employees.

    c. Or you are letting your love for govt. employees get better of your judgment.

  5. I know what rich connotes to a person in the 15th percentile when ordered by wealth. I just wanted to point out that from the point of view of a person in the 80th percentile, the difference between someone in the 15th and the 5th is irrelevant. Whatever access to political levers that person might wish for, both have it and he doesn’t.

  6. I doubt that is true, However since I (and neither I assume you) have never been unfortunate enough to be in 80%, it is moot.

    By the what has political lever in India to do with wealth (unless someone is “really” rich, as supposed to being “statistically” rich )

  7. Gaurav,

    I am hesitant to generalise anecdotes from Delhi and Punjab to the entire country – but for what it’s worth, here is the correlation between wealth and political leverage as I have seen in these states.

    Political party officials will usually be from families where the family occupation is wholesale trading, large-scale agriculture, or labour-intensive, low-tech manufacturing which generate large cash flows which can be deployed into party politics for building the organisation (or, if you’re being more blunt, buying voting blocs). These are the people who are plugged into political/ bureaucratic networks, and can pull these levers of influence. Other rich people will be related to them.

    It is not so much a rich v/s poor issue as a rich-traders-and-farmers v/s emerging-middle-class-professional and the poor issue.

  8. Aadisht,

    I am sure that what you said holds for other parts of India also. Again my basic thirst is same as your conclusion, while I do not hold any brief for govt. employees (even thought my whole khandan is employed in sucking India dry), it doesn’t hold political levers on account of its wealth. On the other hand, it does have access to political level in form of employee unions.

  9. Gaurav,

    perhaps we should wait for Ravikiran to clarify whether he meant purely political party levers, or levers within the administrative process. In either case, a member of the middle-class is probabilistically more likely to have access to levers than a member of the 80th percentile.

  10. Aadhist,

    On administrative level I can agree. However on electoral/political level, I am reasonably sure that a member of middle class as middle class has no advantage over other demography/identity group with sole exception of Delhi ,for obvious reasons.

  11. Gaurav,

    I said mostly the same thing in my reply to HiAgain in the other post.

    Delhi, yes. Probably some other urban constituencies also.

  12. In response to HiAgain’s comment:

    But in my days in KVs, I have seen war widows’ children, children of the handicapped (not necessarily central government employees), children of class 4 workers who are not corrupt etc.

    The point being made is that KVs are schools set up by the government to cater to the children of certain predecided sections of people. Cyclerickshaw drivers’ children still have to go to crappy municipal schools.

    In private schools, I know of friends who were asked not to sit in the 10th standard exams because their performance was not good and it might affect the 100% pass rate of their respective private schools. This is how private schools manipulate their performance for advertisement which you make a big case for.

    At my grad school, you are put on academic probation if you do not maintain a GPA of 3.0. Clearly, this is how the American education system manipulates its performance for advertisement.

    But I think it is probably illegal to stop students from writing graduation exams.

    Yes, it is.

    Yet it happens.

    No, it does not. Schools stop children from appearing for exams through the school. No one can stop them appearing externally.

    I once visited a private school catering to the middle class for some function. In a classroom, I happened upon the diary of girl studying in 5th standard.

    You read a little girl’s diary???

    I noticed that every page and for every three days, she was supposed to bring a minimum of Rs 5 to Rs 10 for something or the other. None of my poor classmates in KV could have afforded that.

    No one is talking about sending poor children to Bombay Scottish. There are private schools that cater to poor children, which are presumably affordable, seeing as poor people actually go there.

    In fact in north India, I can assure you that if not for access to KV (and the fee waiver), they would never have gone to school.

    Presumably, millions of poor children did not actually go to school for this reason. Because there did not exist a network of private schools catering to poor children that they could have gone to.

    Again, just my anecdotes but just goes to show that a lot of things need to change before utopia can be brought about.

    Although that is true I fail to see what, if anything your anecdotes show.

    >>Maybe we could start with good enforcement of the law.

    Good law enforcement is always good. What it has to do with the things you spoke about, I have absolutely no idea.

  13. Summer Glau, maybe you are not aware of the ground situation in India and hence you have posted those replies based on some naive assumptions.
    .
    .
    .
    Why did I post about good enforcement of law in India? Because it is not just government institutions/government employees that misuse their position to extort money out of people in need. The same applies to private institutions and private individuals in positions of advantage. If they have an opportunity, they will exploit you.
    .
    .
    .
    The point about private schools extorting money from families that cannot send their children to KVs is a good example. The families are indeed making a choice between sending their children to free municipal schools or to a private schools (not necessarily Bombay Scottish which I think is akin to sending someone to a prep school). Private schools know that families that want a good education for their children are in no position to complain. They suck money out of middle class families with the threat of expelling children (or affecting them some other way) if the parents don’t pay up. In KVs, neither the parents are scared of the institution nor does the institution have much of a leverage in telling students what to do.
    .
    .
    .
    Regarding denial of opportunity for writing exams, again you show your naivete. The denial to write the exam comes late in the day and the student has to register in a different way. Most of the time, its too late. I know such people personally who lost a year because of such dirty tactics applied by their private schools. God forbid you fall ill and do badly in your model exams (which are conducted late enough for you to not get a chance to sit privately). Again, the mendacity and extorting mentality of the people in our country is for everyone to see.
    .
    .
    .
    Finally, don’t compare your grad school with passing SSLC or CBSE 10th. A better comparison is High School/GED in the US. In some ways it is a necessary qualification to at least get a mediocre job, bank loan (used to be) and basically at least lead a fairly average life. Grad school is more of a choice to get bigger salaries/position/better life. (I am sure, considering how much of a pampered lot you guys are, some will start telling me how necessary it is.)
    .
    .
    .
    The only thing that will keep extortion and other illegal activities in check is good and fair law enforcement. Until then, the poor will keep bearing the brunt and I will trust a government institution with set rules more than private individuals that make their rules as they go and indulge in goondaism. It is better to concentrate on improving the already established network of government schools and extending this network and access to all. It will be cheaper and fairer. The money can come from cutting expenditure of useless weapons and eliminating subsidies for star industrialists and financiers.

  14. Largely agree with HiAgain.

    Re. pvt schools enforcing a 100% pass thru dubious means: This is widespread, and its not just pass but in many cases anybody they suspect will get less than 60-70%.

    Parents have to scramble to get their kids transferred in the middle of the school year, sometimes across streams (ICSE/CBSE/ state board), with some hefty donations, of course forfeiting the amount they paid up to the school that turfed their kids out.

    Plus, they have to watch out not to trip over all those fabled power levers lying around.

    But it probably serves them right: they raised dumbos that cant score 70% or more in our exam system.

    regards,
    Jai

  15. HiAgain:
    .
    First of all, read XKCD. You may wish to start with this strip: http://www.xkcd.com/406/
    .
    That said,
    .
    >>The denial to write the exam comes late in the day and the student has to register in a different way
    .
    Hmm, that must be a Delhi thing then. Where I went to school, the management decided whether or not to let you enroll for the board exam based on your 9th standard marks, so if they told you to get lost, you had plenty of time to register externally. In any case, in our board, registration for the March exam was in September/October, so after that you’d pretty much know for sure whether or not you were appearing that year.
    .
    >>Finally, don’t compare your grad school with passing SSLC or CBSE 10th.
    .
    The point being made was that the school won’t let you graduate if you don’t maintain a minimum standard. You say this is an evil specific to the Indian private schooling system. I say it is pretty darn common all over.
    .
    >>and I will trust a government institution with set rules more than private individuals
    .
    I am sorry, we’re still talking about the Indian government here, right?
    .
    >>It is better to concentrate on improving the already established network of government schools and extending this network and access to all.
    .
    You mean better than simply allowing private schools to function? Better than investing in government schooling and a freer rein to private schools? Better than private schools with governments paying fees? Really? So you think the major problem with Indian education for the past 61 years has been that we weren’t concentrating enough?
    .
    >>The money can come from cutting expenditure of useless weapons and eliminating subsidies for star industrialists and financiers.
    .
    Or from scrapping loan waivers. Or the NREGA. Or from selling PSUs. Sadly, none of that is going to happen.

  16. Kunal, you are so cool man! And so clever! You get your cues from xkcd! You are the DUDE! I am in awe of your cleverness.
    .
    I do trust the Indian government over exploitative private parties. They will suck the blood out of you. The government is a bigger beast with all kinds of people in it. So yes, I trust the “Indian” government. It’s the government of one of the least elitist and most democratic countries in the world. Though the elitist part might be changing.
    .
    That must be a Delhi thing? Why do you assume so much? If it is a Delhi thing, how does is it any less relevant?
    .
    Private schools can function wherever they want. They just have to get the right accreditation which involves many stipulations. Would you go to an unaccredited Grad school? Why does the US have so many institutional accreditations even at the school level? In a country famous for Dr. Bengalis, one has to be a little careful about fraud. Again, it brings us back to the point of good enforcement of the law. India is an incredibly poor country. Moreover, it went to several wars. So we always had a paucity of funds.
    .
    For what would happen in the Indian situation with private schools, just refer to the situation with private professional colleges. Maybe with mushrooming private schools, they might end up building a prep school-ivy league conveyor belt but something based on money only. You know, rich kid goes to rich school affiliated with a rich private college, which then offers admissions and so on?
    .
    I love it when middle-class-kids-done-good having grown fat on government subsidies complain about the government. They want to remove the very benefits that they had used. But its a smart way to eliminate new competition 😉
    .
    Cutting aid for rich people vs cutting aid for the poor? I think I know which one I would choose. It’s interesting how you equate the two.
    .
    And thanks for responding to my “stupid blog comment” (and copying my paragraph delimiting technique). Thanks for putting the effort. You are probably the coolest Summer Glau I will ever see. Keep on truckin pardner! 🙂

  17. HiAgain,
    .
    I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with people opposing the very system through which they grew up. That’s how most systems reform, in fact. Your winky-winks seem to be rather out of place in that context.
    .
    Mind elaborating on that point a bit? Why do you feel that way? And when I say elaborate, I mean a comment much shorter than your current average.
    .
    PS: Great workaround for this blog’s pathetic comment formatting. Listening, Ravi?

  18. The only thing that will keep extortion and other illegal activities in check is good and fair law enforcement.
    .
    HiAgain,
    .
    Not really. Large-scale competition amongst private schools wherein expelling a student is not a credible threat also works. Between that, and demanding that law-enforcement be extended to monitor private schools (difficult, expensive, creates avenues for corruption, and take resources away from stuff like solving murders and rapes), competition seems to be the lesser evil.

  19. HiAgain, opposing the system that made us rich is a more honourable course than what you are doing. You are supporting a system that keeps competition for your job low and your salary high. It is understandable that you are doing so, but don’t try to justify it using any principle other than self-interest.

  20. Your are really funny Gult. Doesn’t understand what you are talking about. Education as service!!!!!
    God save India from these rats.

  21. Ravikiran, from a practical perspective I want proactive ways to bring social churn. That would mean affirmative action on the basis of not just caste but class as well. Anecdotally, I can say that the Indian system has created better social mobility than even the American one. I want this to not just continue but improve.

    Opposing the system that made you rich so that others cannot get rich is not an honourable way. You no longer need the system that helped you get to where you are but others do need it. I can assure you that without the current system in place, I would have been part of a plutocracy. But I want a fairer society because in the longer term only a fair society sustains itself intact thus ensuring the survival of my people and my culture. It is self-interest but with a very long-term perspective and yes it sounds a bit crazy considering the priorities.

  22. HiAgain, all of what you are saying is an eyewash to cover up your true motive. You want to keep the vast majority of the country poor, so that they do not compete with you for jobs.

  23. >>Kunal, you are so cool man! And so clever! You get your cues from xkcd! You are the DUDE! I am in awe of your cleverness.

    Of course. After all, I can kill you with my brain.

    >>It’s the government of one of the least elitist and most democratic countries in the world. Though the elitist part might be changing.

    Other way.

    >>Private schools can function wherever they want. They just have to get the right accreditation which involves many stipulation

    Sure, accreditation is definitely a good thing. Nothing wrong with that.

    >>Again, it brings us back to the point of good enforcement of the law. India is an incredibly poor country. Moreover, it went to several wars. So we always had a paucity of funds.

    Sorry, what?

    >>And thanks for responding to my “stupid blog comment”

    Didn’t call it that.

    >>and copying my paragraph delimiting technique

    What, you want royalties?

    >>Anecdotally, I can say that the Indian system has created better social mobility than even the American one.

    Surely you jest. I mean, surely.

  24. Of course, your “paragraph delimiting technique” is clearly superior to mine, as the failure of my comment above amply demonstrates. Ravi, is there really no way to fix this?

  25. I can say that the Indian system has created better social mobility than even the American one.

    This sentence shows that the Indian system is enabling better access to quality hallucinogens than the American one.

  26. I made the mistake of calling economic mobility ‘social mobility’. But I consider the former a precursor for the latter.

    The commonly held view is that economic mobility is high in developing countries. Most of the studies I can find are either from the 90s or use data that date back to the 90s. So they do not include the massive growth seen in developing countries (especially in India).

    Countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Chile have much better economic mobility than developed countries. Others like Peru and Ecuador don’t do that badly.

    Here are a few links:
    http://www.pegnet.ifw-kiel.de/papers/workshop-2006/asadullah.pdf

    http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=fQC7Pdr5FLMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA58&dq=%22Grawe%22+%22Intergenerational+Mobility+for+Whom%3F+The+Experience+of+…%22+&ots=7miw28Pnq8&sig=HeegbU_e35vvR32mWyiIONjh0nk#PPA85,M1

    http://www.iserp.columbia.edu/news/articles/mexico_mobility.html

    http://www.economicmobility.org/assets/pdfs/EMP_InternationalComparisons_ChapterIII.pdf

    It is sort of logical anyway.

  27. Spoken like a true elitist. You are the beneficiary of a system that prevents millions of your countrymen get a better education and rise through life. But because you have managed to rise a few notches through life, you manage to declare that anecdotal evidence tells you that India has better economic mobility than the US.

Comments are closed.