Education and Institution
Forty seven white and grey haired folks walked into the seventh standard class room at 11 a.m and sat in free seating format. Three of them sat in the podium. One of them started reading about last year’s similar event. The audience sat in attention listening to the recital.
What were forty seven old men doing in a seventh standard class room? Well, it was a Sunday morning and all these persons were members of the organization running the School and it was the Annual General Meeting. The meeting started, as said above, with reading out last year’s minutes. Why anyone should be interested in what happened a year back? Beats me. We Indians love our past (rich heritage, glory, culture & so on) more than the present or future. So we should read last year’s minutes religiously at all such meetings.
The School is several decades and was started by persons from our community- first generation emigrants to Mumbai from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Institution expanded to cater to the various cultural needs of our community across all age groups- oral and instrumental music, dance, and religious classes for older generation. The infrastructure was and is put to use during the maximum portion of the day including holidays. It is an impressive use of available infrastructure with typical middle class thrift.
The President took the audience through the year’s achievements which were several. All the senior and senior looking citizens dutifully clapped. He explained the difficulty in getting good teachers. He pointed out with heartfelt feeling about the lack of student applications from our community. He exhorted the members to increase the percentage of participation from our community. In many ways, this represents the mobility of our community as immigrants in this beautiful city. More of this later.
I believe that the mike kept near the elevated stage fascinates certain types of human beings. An ordinary human being becomes a tiger. One gentleman derived great pleasure pointing out his right to speak on each of the Report – and then spoke on most of them. Some of them were trivial and others of some importance. Most speakers reveled in exhibiting their knowledge of accounts or past affiliation to the Institution. Human attention span is short and flits from one place to another like butter fly. I felt it would be better to focus on few vital points rather than go all over the place
Two points were quite interesting. First is about participation from our community which has declined over the years. The waves of emigration to metros started in 1930s- during the recession. There was no looking back thereafter. The first generation emigrants (like my father) held close to their background, culture and environment and tried to re-create it around their life. Also economically, they were just surviving. This institution met the needs of this class.
The next generation grew up trying to understand a cultural ethos which they were experiencing more by parental example rather than thru the society in they lived. So the outlook broadened and aspirations started getting modified. Convent schools represented a cosmopolitan, English speaking milieu and became more attractive. Today, schools have become big business. Government grants are passé. There are enough parents to shell out a few lakhs per annum as school fees. The emigration wave from our community has ceased long back. South India is equally or even more attractive destination for life or work or both. So who would go to an aided school? This is something today’s parents have to answer.
My two children studied in this Institution.
The second interesting issue is teachers. The Government requirement is quixotic. The first three years remuneration for teachers is fixed at Rs. 3000. Thereafter they are fixed in a grade which is attractive. The Rs. 3,000 limit continues till the teacher attains an experience of twelve years. Then lateral induction would ensure seniority. Another aspect I learnt was that earlier seniority was subjected wise, now it is related to date of joining. This creates heart burn and litigation. I asked the President why not move away from the aid and seek market linked fees and get the best teachers. He replied, surprisingly, that – yes, that is possible. The primary school fees – which is unregulated- is market linked and is increased by ten percent each year.
Education – especially school education- is big business. The notion that education is a gift from God and teachers should have that view is quite antiquated. Teachers live in the same society as ourselves and have the same aspirations for themselves and their family. It is ridiculous to expect that we would have an LCD TV and that a school teacher would buy a second hand 29” flat TV at lower price or retain an old black and white mobile phone for at least six years. We have to pay for good education. Otherwise, we pay for tuition, guide books (Navneet Guides are still around; they have a huge printing press in Gujarat). So the total cost of good education attains a certain level.
Next, subsidies have to be targeted. My son paid fees of Rs. 10 for tenth standard and my daughter paid nothing as girls do not have to pay fees. I did not need this subsidy.
Market linked education fees has its drawbacks as is witnessed by the increasing parental resistance in Mumbai for fee hikes by some schools. This has resulted in some Governmental/ judicial intervention.
Another aspect is equating a same or similar kind of education based on different levels of numerical and literary skills and little else. A vast and diverse country like India needs a proper amalgam of basic formal education beyond which a person can chose between further formal education (which is expensive in real terms) and a trade or vocation based education. There is need for both sets of persons. I do not understand the logic of every one having to choose between science, commerce or arts (in that order). The good news is that a newer pattern where vocational/ trade education is becoming relevant is emerging.
Going back to the basic point, one question I ask many parents is that whether they would like their children to aspire to be a school teacher? No one has said yes to me.
What about the IIT Professors. Do they draw more that what their students get as their starting pay? Don’t we all see this contradiction? IIT is now falling short of faculty. It goes back to the basic point that we have to pay (or someone has to pay) to get a good quality education.
IIMS, Harvard and Stanford attract the best of talents. IIM gets 1.60 lacs or more application for around 2600 seats from within India and Harvard/Stanford attracts six to eight applications per seat (as compared to several thousand per seat for IIM) from all over the world. The latter charge a fortune to complete a two year MBA (over Rs. One crore at least), the former – few lakhs. Whey IIMs wanted to raise it by some decent percentage; several players jumped into the fray and torpedoed the idea. Net result, there are only few IIMs and IITs and thousands of applications per seats. It goes back to the basic issue of any worthwhile endeavor has to be self sustaining. Charity and subsidy can go only this far and no further.
Does this mean that only the rich can afford good education? Certainly not. Instead of subsidizing all the 3000 or so IIM students, only those who need support need to be subsidized. The same amount of funds can go much farther. One example of wrong kind of subsidy which is visible to us (but ignored) on a daily basis is diesel price. The cost of diesel which is charged for a BMW or Audi or Bentley is same as that paid by a poor farmer. The popularity of diesel vehicles in India is due to this wrongly targeted subsidy.
The biggest irony I found in the whole exercise was that a school with 3500 students (up to 12th standard) was run by mostly retired persons who were dedicated to the institution. The Committee members and students represented two opposite ends of the spectrum of life with the oldest persons running an Institution for the society’s youngest members. It is a tribute to the Indian society that mostly unknown and very ordinary persons create, nurture and sustain the most important institution of a society- a school. This is true not only of this Institution, but many others spread across the country.