Archive for the 'Education' Category

Degrees of desperation

Ramachandra Guha in Hindustan Times:

Among public universities in India, the University of Delhi stands out, and for at least seven reasons:

First, it has an integrated campus, with undergraduate colleges and graduate faculties in the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, law, and even fine arts;

Second, it has an all-India catchment, with students coming in large numbers from Bihar and Orissa, from the south, and from the North-east;

Third, it has consistently had some of the best colleges and postgraduate faculties in India and even Asia;

Fourth, the campus has always been hospitable to all political tendencies. Unlike some other Indian universities, it has not been a Marxist or Hindutva stronghold;

Fifth, this pluralism is intellectual as well as ideological. In the departments I myself know best, such as history and economics, students are not force-fed a single way of studying the subject (as they would in some other universities), but acquainted with diverse theories and approaches;

Sixth, although women students and faculty are still not fully free or equal, compared to other universities in India DU has more consistently encouraged women to excel in scholarly pursuits;

Seventh, although it is a residential university, it is closely integrated with the city, since it has a large number of day scholars. Unlike the IITs and IIMs, here students can get a good education without being distanced from Indian society as a whole. More:

Academic excellence and St. Stephen’s College

A guest post by Thane Richard in Kafila:

 I recently read an article in Kafila – more like an angry, reflective rant – written by some students from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. To quickly summarize, the piece criticized the draconian views of the Principal of St. Stephen’s College regarding curfews on women’s dormitories and his stymying of his students’ democratic ideals of discussion, protest, and open criticism. More broadly, though, the article’s writers seemed to be speaking about the larger stagnant institution of Indian higher education, overseen by a class of rigid administrators represented by this sexist and bigoted Principal, as described by the students. The students’ frustration was palpable in the text and their story felt to me like a perfect example of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Except Indian students are not an unstoppable force. Not even close.

In 2007 I was a student at St. Stephen’s College for seven months as part of a study abroad program offered by my home institution, Brown University. In as many ways as possible, I tried to become a Stephanian: I joined the football (soccer) team, acted in a school play written and directed by an Indian peer, performed in the school talent show, was a member of the Honors Economics Society, and went to several student events on and off campus. More importantly, though, I was a frequenter of the school’s cafe and enjoyed endless chai’s and butter toasts with my Indian peers under the monotonous relief of the fans spinning overhead. Most of my friends were 3rd years, like me, and all of them were obviously very bright. I was curious about what their plans were after they graduated. With only a few exceptions, they were planning on pursuing second undergraduate degrees at foreign universities.

“Wait, what?! You are studying here for three years just so you can go do it again for four more years?” I could not grasp the logic of this. What changed my understanding was when I started taking classes at St. Stephen’s College. Except for one, they were horrible.  More:

Asians: Too smart for their own good?

Carolyn Chen in IHT:

AT the end of this month, high school seniors will submit their college applications and begin waiting to hear where they will spend the next four years of their lives. More than they might realize, the outcome will depend on race. If you are Asian, your chances of getting into the most selective colleges and universities will almost certainly be lower than if you are white.

Asian-Americans constitute 5.6 percent of the nation’s population but 12 to 18 percent of the student body at Ivy League schools. But if judged on their merits — grades, test scores, academic honors and extracurricular activities — Asian-Americans are underrepresented at these schools. Consider that Asians make up anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of the student population at top public high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science in New York City, Lowell in San Francisco and Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, Va., where admissions are largely based on exams and grades.

In a 2009 study of more than 9,000 students who applied to selective universities, the sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that white students were three times more likely to be admitted than Asians with the same academic record. More:

At the Ivies, Asians are the new Jews

Charles Murray in AEIdeas:

It has been documented for some time that Asian applicants to the Ivies face a stiff test-score penalty in the admissions process—Asians have to get higher SAT scores than members of other races to have an equal chance of admission. But it’s one thing to have a higher bar for Asians. It’s still worse to have an Asian quota.

Ron Unz took the evidence of discrimination against Asians to a new level in a long article in the current issue of American Conservative, “The Myth of American Meritocracy.” As Steve Sailer has noted, Unz’s findings have received astonishingly little coverage. “Astonishingly,” because Unz has documented what looks very much like a tacitly common policy on the part of the Ivies to cap Asian admissions at about 16% of undergraduates, give or take a few percentage points, no matter what the quality of Asian applicants might be.That’s a strong statement, but consider the data that Unz has assembled.

From 1980 through the early 1990s, Asian enrollment increased at all the Ivy League colleges. It subsequently continued to rise at the schools with the lowest Asian enrollment, Dartmouth and Princeton. Elsewhere, Asian enrollment hit its peak in 1993 for Columbia and Harvard, 1995 for Cornell, 1996 for Brown and Yale, and 2001 for Penn. What’s more, Asian representation at all eight of the Ivies has converged on a narrow range. In the most recent five years, the average percentage of Asians in the eight Ivies has been 15.7%, and the difference between the highest and lowest percentage of Asians in the eight Ivies has averaged just 3.7 percentage points. Call it the 16±2% solution. The convergence of the Ivies is vividly shown in this figure, using Unz’s data. More:

Yale draws flak for its Singapore university

Ishaan Tharoor in Time:

A much discussed venture into Singapore proceeds apace: the Yale–National University of Singapore (NUS) College is set to open its doors to students in August 2013. Yale’s administrators have touted it as one of Asia’s first liberal-arts colleges, an institution that emphasizes “critical thinking and classroom interaction.” University President Richard Levin trumpeted last year: “Just as Yale shaped liberal-arts education in the U.S. in the 19th century, we believe the new Yale-NUS College can play a pivotal role in shaping the many liberal-arts colleges likely to be built in Asia in the coming decades.”

But there are some pronounced wrinkles in this happy narrative. A Wall Street Journal article from earlier this week quoted Pericles Lewis, the splendidly named Yale professor of English who will be Yale-NUS’s first president, admitting that students on the Singapore campus would not be able to stage political protests or form political parties. That acquiescence to Singapore’s laws regarding political assembly compelled New York–based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) to issue a statement on July 19 criticizing Yale for kowtowing to the city-state, which is bankrolling the venture. “Yale is betraying the spirit of the university as a center of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. More

In NYT, Yale defends Singapore venture

Rohinton Mistry’s convocation speech

Indian-born Canadian novelist Rohinton Mistry delivered the convocation speech to graduates at Ryerson University in Toronto, in the form of a fairy-tale based on A Christmas Carol. The Globe and Mail has a transcript and an (unembeddable) video:

Once was a time, in the country of Acadan, the oldest and wisest professor at the University of Acadan was feeling quite miserable.

The season of convocation was upon the land; excitement and optimism wafted like fragrance in the Acadanian air. For students and faculty alike, it was a time of hope, of great expectations. But for the oldest and wisest professor, loved and admired by all, it brought only unhappiness.

Every year at this time, when words like “gowns,” “mortar-boards,” “limousines,” and “parties” were trending on Twitter, while others such as “student loans,” “unemployment,” and “recession” were in temporary abeyance, doubt and dejection would descend upon the good professor. Did I do all I could for my students, was the question tormenting him. Was I Socratic enough, did I encourage dialogue and debate? Or did I just keep droning on? Did I demonstrate that it was not so much a matter of learning to think, as it was of learning not to think rubbish?

This year, however, something other than the usual doubt was disturbing him. His being endured restless days and sleepless nights, racked by an anguish he could not name. The haggard face and dark circles around his eyes began to cause his wife grave concern. More:

From terror suspect to college grad

Amitava Kumar in The Daily Beast

He will be graduating this Sunday from Trinity College in Connecticut. He is not a very good student. His GPA is only 2.7. Once he was even threatened with expulsion because he had been quarrelling with his wife and had missed classes. He surprised me a few days ago by saying that he wanted to give a speech at his graduation ceremony. Would I read the draft he had written?

There was a further surprise. In what he had sent me, there was mention of his incarceration, in a federal prison in upstate New York, a few months after the events of 9/11. He was suspected of being a terrorist. I had known of this, but I had also found him taciturn and secretive; I was surprised that he was prepared to stand in his blue and gold robes at graduation and read aloud about having been put behind bars.

I will call him Khalid Farooq. He is 34 years old, and grew up in Abbotabad in Pakistan. He arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 5, 2001. Over the year that I have now known him, Khalid had mentioned his arrests—the first only a few days after the September attacks—but the details I was now reading were new to me. He had written that one early morning in 2002, he was taken out of his apartment and asked to sit in a car. Then, one of the Joint Terrorism Task Force officers came back and pulled Khalid out. He wanted to take pictures of him being handcuffed. Khalid was ordered to hold his head up. more

Saving the classroom from the political class

Are politicians ready for a textbook that encourages young citizens to think seriously about politics asks former NCERT advisor Suhas Palshikar who resigned in the aftermath of the political row over a cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar in class XI textbooks. From The Hindu.

When an emotional issue erupts in the public domain, argument becomes difficult and secondary to decision-making. That is what happened over the controversy regarding the inclusion of a cartoon depicting Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in a class XI textbook. One self-proclaimed inheritor and interpreter of Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy ensured the debate could not even enter the realm of reason by comparing him to the Prophet. Such persons have done immense harm to the Ambedkar legacy of critique — remember that he not only sought to critique and demolish Hinduism or Gandhi’s ideas; he even sought to critique and recreate Buddhism when he chose to embrace the Buddha. But now the controversy has become wider in its scope. When the Parliament of the country, almost in one voice, reprimands the inclusion of cartoons in political science textbooks, is there any scope for reason? Thus, in either case, argument is the casualty. more

Previously on AW: Does this Cartoon Offend You?

Also read:

Copy of the resignation letter sent by Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav: “Our duty to dissent”

Yogendra Yadav on the dangers of deletion

How do you build an international university from scratch? Cases in India

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Poised to become the most populous country in the world by 2030, India is facing tremendous challenges in addressing the educational needs of its citizens. To put into context the magnitude of the educational challenge that confronts India, there are more than 370 million Indian school-age citizens (ages 6-23) representing a cohort larger than the entire population of the U.S. and three times the total population of Mexico.

Considering the fertility rates in India, this number will remain unchanged for the next 40 years. By comparison, the college-age population in China will be reduced an estimated 23 percent over the same period. Currently, for each preschool student in the U.S., there are four in India, and the number of elementary education students in India is almost six times larger than in the U.S. How can India cope with such great demand? The Indian government has estimated that it will be necessary to build 1,000 new universities and 50,000 colleges by 2020 in order to accommodate expected demand. Just think about the need to build an average of 125 new universities and 6,250 new colleges per year.

Among the many universities being built in India, I will discuss two interesting cases. More:

Does this cartoon offend you?

On Friday, India’s Lok Sabha was disrupted by MPs protesting a 60-year-old cartoon drawn by Shankar that shows B.R. Ambedkar, Pandit Nehru and the Constitution. So great was the furore over the cartoon which has featured in class XI NCERT text books since 2006, that Human Resources Development minister Kapil Sibal had to issue an apology. By the end of the day two senior NCERT advisors, Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar had resigned. But no one had an answer to the question: what exactly is so offensive about this cartoon?

Hitting the RTE note

Despite its other flaws, the Right to Education with its promise of a more inclusive education is a good thing for the children of the two Indias, says Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times

As the final bell goes off in my daughter’s school, a ripple of anticipation runs through a group of children waiting at the gate. Tiny hands stretch through eager to touch those on the other side. For an instant, a single handshake seems to bridge an insurmountable distance, the meeting of the children of the two Indias: one that is elite, entitled and exclusive and the other that is deprived, marginalised and often invisible. Then the gates open.

Like many private schools, this one runs an outreach programme where children from the neighbouring slum come and interact with the school’s senior students. Most of the children are enrolled in government schools: some want help with homework, others want to paint, the boys head off to the football field. But first, every single child rushes to the toilet.

“It’s amazing how we take things for granted,” the school’s headmistress tells me. “For these kids, running water is a luxury.” So is a clean available toilet. more

India’s creamy layer

In Business Standard Mihir S Sharma questions the elitism of India’s middle class

India is the most elitist, exclusive, unequal and stratified country in the world, and we don’t even know it. The Indian elite – which smugly calls itself the “middle class”, since it alone benchmarks itself globally – has constructed walls of privilege for itself that are all the more powerful for being invisible to many eyes. And if not invisible, then concealed behind other words — “culture” and “merit”, for example.

Three pieces of recent news have helped make these mental and metaphorical walls a little more visible. The first was the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Right to Education (RTE) Act’s requirement that all private schools reserve free seats for students from the neighbourhood who can’t afford to pay tuition fees. Yes, this will raise costs and be difficult to implement. But it is an essential step towards breaking the first social wall elite Indians experience: the walls keeping other classes, castes and creeds out of their unimpeachably upper-crust schools. The “best” schools are also literally exclusive — and thence begins the life-long confusion of unearned advantage and “merit” that so defines our lumpenelite. more

Craving Middleness

This came to us from Anjum Altaf of The South Asian Idea. He says the author, Maryam Sakeenah, is a school teacher in Lahore, “with the unique experience of teaching in both a secular and a religious school”:

I travel across two worlds in my 20-minute commuting distance between both my workplaces: a modern religious school and a private grammar school where scions of Pakistan’s moneyed elite are privileged with quality education in tune with modern needs. The mindsets I deal with, the attitudes I encounter make for interesting comparison. At the religious school, the concepts of the sacred and the profane as defined by absolute religious morality are the framework for all thought-patterns and behaviour. Fidelity to the sacred is the highest value promoted and readily accepted – at least ostensibly – in an environment designed to actively encourage it. At the grammar school, the central value is free thinking and critical inquiry rigorously promoted by the administration. The curriculum is built around and disseminates post Enlightenment Western perspectives and metanarratives, with the fundamental premise being that of morality being relative, and of individual liberty being the highest value to be protected and safeguarded. Students are taught to invariably seek answers and explanations through logic, and question where the logical basis for an assumption seems unsatisfactory. While the tendency is generally positive, its universal and indiscriminate application may in fact be reminiscent of the cold, rock-hard post-Enlightenment Rationalism that post-Modernist thought struggles to throw overboard for some of the infamous disasters attributed to it.

It strikes me each time in my Religious Studies class I raise a point from within the Islamic tradition that requires acceptance through faithful submission. While the classes are delightfully interactive and invigorating with questions, debate and discussion, the same may also at times afford a glimpse into a stark, gaping abyss that lurks at the heart of this kind of education that carries the baggage of post Enlightenment thought. More:

Academics in India get higher salary than those in U.S.

From Inside Higher ED:

A new analysis of faculty salaries at public universities worldwide — designed to make comparisons possible by focusing on purchasing power, not pure salaries — finds that Canada offers the best faculty pay among 28 countries analyzed.

Canada comes out on top for those newly entering the academic profession, average salaries among all professors and those at the senior levels. In terms of average faculty salaries based on purchasing power, the United States ranks fifth, behind not only its northern neighbor, but also Italy, South Africa and India.

Monthly average salaries of public higher education faculty — using U.S. PPP Dollars:

Lessons from Berkeley for India

Samar Halarnkar in Hindustan Times:

Last month I met a Berkeley scientist, head of a typically multi-disciplinary team of neurologists, psychologists, engineers and statisticians that has converted brain waves into videos. Just back from his first visit to India and an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) — I won’t name him or the IIT, so he won’t be embarrassed — he was perplexed by the intellectual atmosphere. “It was only my first visit, but it seemed so much like a military institution, so hierarchical,” he said. I think his larger point is that to excel, to be truly world class, universities, their students and professors must imbibe and dispense independent thought and action and learn to be leaders not followers.

Higher education has defined emerging India, but, equally, its failures threaten to imperil future growth.

In the rush for profit over excellence, 80% of India’s engineering graduates are deemed unemployable without additional training. This crisis found an echo last week when the All India Council of Technical Education, the regulatory authority for technical and engineering institutions, said there could be a moratorium in some states on new institutions by 2014. Across India, as many as 65 business management colleges have announced closures due to declining demand, reports the University World News. Some-privately run colleges have done well, but India’s future rests with public institutions. More:

Plagiarism in Indian science

Rahul Siddharthan in The Hindu:

A few months ago, I helped to organise a workshop on Academic Ethics at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. It was a well-attended meeting, with many eminent participants from the sciences and social sciences, including the heads of some of our leading institutions. Over two days, several themes were emphasised relating to various forms of academic misconduct. Now that one of our leading scientists has hit the headlines over plagiarised text in some of his own publications, it seems it is time to revisit these issues and discuss them more widely.

It was widely reported in mid-February that an apology had appeared in the December 2011 issue of the journal Advanced Materials, by the authors of a paper that had been published in that journal in June 2011, for incorporating verbatim text from an earlier paper by a different set of authors. The newsworthiness of this arose from the identity of the last author: C.N.R. Rao, former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, founder of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, fellow of the Royal Society (U.K.), scientific adviser to the Prime Minister of India, and one of the most celebrated living Indian scientists.

HOW IT UNFOLDED

The initial reaction of many scientists, including myself, was that this was a non-story: the plagiarism was in the introductory section, probably committed by a junior author inadequately schooled in the ethics of writing, and unnoticed by the senior authors; it was a short passage that did not affect the reported results in the paper; and, once alerted to this transgression, the authors quickly issued an apology. And there the issue should have ended. More:

More instances of plagiarism come to light

Rethinking the Mother of All Exams

Manu Joseph at NYT:

New Delhi — For more than half a century, one aptitude test has determined the self-esteem, future and even the spouses of generations of Indian adolescents, chiefly boys. The Joint Entrance Exam of the Indian Institutes of Technology is a brooding cultural force that is visible across the nation, on signboards and newspaper advertisements, as “I.I.T.-J.E.E.,” the first abbreviation many Indian children learn. It is an ominous inevitability for millions of boys, a fate decided in their cradles, a certainty like death. Last year nearly half a million candidates took the test — one of the toughest exams in the world — to compete for about 5,000 seats in the best of the I.I.T.’s and nearly as many seats in the less sought-after institutes. Coaching for the J.E.E. is an industry valued at billions of rupees. There is so much demand that some coaching classes have their own entrance exams. But the J.E.E. is now on its way out.

It is not the only engineering entrance exam in India. Lower down the rungs, there are other colleges, which require other exams to qualify. Competition is fierce all the way. Disturbed by the number of entrance exams, the Human Resource Development Ministry has decided to devise a common exam that would govern the admission process of several engineering institutes, including the famed I.I.T.’s. The nature of the new aptitude test, which is expected to debut in 2014, would be different from the J.E.E. The selection procedure, too, would be very different from what the I.I.T.’s use today. So, the type of person who enters the I.I.T.’s in the future may be very different. Opinion is divided on whether the new I.I.T. graduate will be better or worse than current alumni. More:

The state of Indian rural education 2011

Aatish Bhatia at Empirical Zeal:

A friend of mine recently pointed me towards an incredible resource. It’s called the Annual Status of Education Report (or ASER, which means impact in Hindi). ASER is an ambitious survey of the state of Indian rural education, conducted yearly since 2005, and their 2011 report came out a few days ago.

The level of organization here is truly impressive. It’s the largest survey conducted outside the government, combining the efforts of over 25,000 young volunteers from local organizations. Together, they survey nearly 300,000 households in over 16,000 villages in all states of India, and conduct basic level reading and numeracy tests on over 700,000 children.

Behind this coordinated effort is a simple and powerful idea, that effective policy needs to be based on evidence. The report takes a refreshingly no-nonsense approach. Rather than starting off with a long list of dignitaries to thank and lofty goals to implement, ASER gets right down to the point, with figures and tables. They focus on two basic goals. How many children are enrolled in schools (and what kind of school)? And are these children learning the very basics of reading and numeracy? By comparing trends of schooling and learning in different states, they have put together the most detailed picture so far of what’s working and what isn’t in rural education. The general picture that is emerging is one of rising enrollment but declining learning outcomes, from levels that were already low. More:

Three hundred Ramayanas – Delhi University and the purging of Ramanujan

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

When I studied history as an undergraduate in Delhi University in the mid-1970s, A.K. Ramanujan’s essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas”, hadn’t been written and therefore couldn’t be read. The current vice-chancellor of Delhi University, on whose watch this essay has been purged from the university’s syllabus, was a student of mathematics in the same college at the time, a contemporary of men like the writer and member of parliament, Shashi Tharoor, the writer and publisher, Rukun Advani, and the broadcaster and civil servant, Ramu Damodaran.

I mention these seemingly irrelevant details because I’ve been trying to work out why the vice-chancellor and the academic council of Delhi University chose to delete Ramanujan’s essay from the BA history course. The essay is a marvellous account of the hundreds of ways in which the Ramayana has been told, complete with examples of this narrative diversity. I can’t imagine that the vice-chancellor, a member of that urbane cohort, the Class of ’75, wanted the essay removed because he agreed with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad goons who first agitated on the issue three years ago. They did this by trashing the department of history and physically assaulting the head of the department. This happened during the tenure of the previous vice-chancellor, but no holder of this office could possibly wish to further the work of thugs who seek to violently limit the intellectual freedom of a university. So that couldn’t be the reason. More:

In The Hindu, historian Romila Thapar asks: ‘Will they bash up universities in Jakarta and other places for teaching different versions of the Ramayana?’

The shape of intolerance: AK Ramanujan’s essay must be read, not argued over, says Hartosh Singh Bal in Open.

Also in Open: Three Hundred Ramayanas

Can’t get into DU, can make it to the Ivies

Ridiculously tough admission standards in Indian universities and an ambitious middle class that won’t settle for second best has resulted in the increasing enrollment of Indian students at top American universities, reports Nida Najar in New York Times. 

Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one ofIndia’s top schools.

“Daughter now enrolled at Dartmouth!” her mother, Madhavi Chandra, wrote, updating her Facebook page. “Strange swings this admission season has shown us. Can’t get into DU, can make it to the Ivies.” more

Where is India’s Steve Jobs?

Samanmth Subramanian at India Ink/NYT:

Perhaps this is a hollow, even narcissistic, question. Brazil hasn’t produced a Steve Jobs; neither has China, the Philippines, Zambia, Australia or any one of dozens of countries around the world. We cannot even be certain that America “produced” Jobs, in the sense that a factory produces an automobile, by processing a load of raw material into a finished specimen; Jobs may have been entirely sui generis and only coincidentally American. But I put the question anyway to Aditya Dev Sood, the founder and chief executive of the Center for Knowledge Societies, a consulting firm that works in what may be considered Jobs’ pet areas: user experience design and innovation management.

The question of innovation has been weighing particularly heavily on Mr. Sood’s mind because, later this week in Bangalore, his firm will host Design Public, a conference on innovation and the public interest. Mr. Sood’s first thought, unsurprisingly, concerned the Indian education system, “which prepares us for society by a series of instrumental grading mechanisms that treat us like chickens in a hatchery.” This is, he contended, a legacy of colonization, and although Thomas Babington Macaulay’s infamous Minute of 1835 is now deep in India’s past, it still lays out colonial sentiments on education vividly. More:

Girls not allowed

In Aligarh, students of the Women’s College fight for a basic right — use of the library at AMU. Smriti Kak Ramachandran reports for The Hindu

Even as Raisa Ahmed, a final year B.A. student of the Women’s College in Aligarh, prepares for the examinations which will determine the course of her life, she is facing an epic struggle — getting through the gates of the university library.

Lodged in the heavily secured, almost sequestered Abdullah Hall, of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Ms. Ahmed is one of several thousand young women who are fighting for equal rights — not, like their peers in other universities and hostels, for night-outs and other such non-academic pursuits, here the quest is for something simple: reach the library.

“The Maulana Azad Library [MAL] is one of the biggest and the best, but girls from non-professional undergraduate programmes, who are enrolled in the Women’s College, are not allowed in. We have a library inside the Abdullah Hall, but the quality and the quantity of books is inadequate and worse still, we have to get past officials who are not just rude, but plain unhelpful,” complained Ms. Ahmed. more

Schooled in elitism

School talk that hints of pedigree continues to be an acceptable form of elitism, writes Amulya Gopalakrishnan in The Indian Express

Mani Shankar Aiyar’s now-famous diss of his colleague Ajay Maken being merely “BA Pass from Hansraj College” drew so much attention only because school snobbery is all around us, but rarely so visible and audible, and rarely wielded as calculated insult.

In India, people who would never dream of talking about how big their house is or how much their car cost, or even people explicitly committed to egalitarian ideals, think it’s perfectly acceptable to brag about their schools. It might look like affection and team spirit, but school talk is often just an oblique way of hinting at pedigree.

We know this is a credential-mongering country. In every new social interaction, you can see the antennae quivering, alert for status signals. We sort people by class, last name, neighbourhood, accent, and whatever other subtle codes govern our little social groupings. more

IIT goes to New York?

As Parliament prepares to discuss the foreign universities bill, an Indian institution, IIT (Bombay) is looking to set up a campus in New York. Mihika Basu has the story in The Indian Express

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, could be the first Indian institution to have a campus in the United States.  The institute has submitted an “initial proposal to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)” for setting up a campus in New York City. The initiative by NYCEDC, launched in December 2010, seeks a university, institution or consortium to develop and operate a new or expanded campus in NYC.

IIT-Bombay plans to start post-graduate programmes in five disciplines at the proposed campus.

“Having a campus there will make a huge difference. We will be able to engage with US universities on a closer basis and they too will be able to see our capabilities first hand,” said A Q Contractor, Dean of Alumni and Corporate Relations, IIT-Bombay. Officials said a detailed proposal will be submitted by October-end. more

Whatever happened to India’s $35 laptop?

In July 2010 the Indian government proudly unveiled the prototype of a $35 laptop. Over a year later there’s still no sign of India’s ‘answer to MIT’s $100 laptop’ says Pamposh Raina in NYT

The Indian government promised the world a $35 laptop a year ago. In a few weeks it will deliver, said Kapil Sibal, minister for human resource development. “All the naysayers will be unpleasantly surprised,” Mr. Sibal said during an interview in his New Delhi office. He said he already has a version of the dirt-cheap laptop. What’s it look like? Well, unfortunately, it was at home, not in the office, he said. “I must be able to work on it.” Unveiling the prototype of the laptop a year ago, Mr. Sibal flaunted the gadget as his answer to Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (O.L.P.C.) project, which aspires to develop a $100 laptop. Currently there are three million children across 41 countries using the XO laptop developed by O.L.P.C., said Satish Jha, the India head of the project. But the current price of each laptop hovers around $200, he said. more

Eulogies for bin Laden, shrouded in mystery

Who are the secret sponsors of a poetry and essay contest eulogizing Osama bin Laden at Pakistan’s largest university? Salman Masood in The New York Times:

Lahore — The posters were plastered around the campus of Pakistan’s largest university last month, inviting students to enter a poetry and essay contest eulogizing a major historical figure who spent his last years living in seclusion in this nation.

The subject of such an outpouring of praise? Osama bin Laden.

The contest may have seemed out of place here at the University of the Punjab, a century-old prestigious institution in this eastern city, known as the artistic and cultural capital of the country. After all, there had been no campus protests denouncing the death of Bin Laden, who was killed in a nighttime raid by United States Navy Seal commandos in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad.

But the big surprise was not the contest itself, at least not in a nation where 63 percent of the people disapprove of the operation that killed Bin Laden, according to a June survey by the Pew Research Center.

Indeed, the big surprise was just the opposite: that the contest organizers chose to remain anonymous, providing nothing more than an e-mail address to send submissions. More:

The importance of being earnest — and Amitabh Bachchan

Anant Rangaswami in First Post

In his forthcoming film ‘Aarakshan‘, Amitabh Bachchan plays an idealist teacher who despises the caste system, but questions the pertinence of reservations, says The Times of India.

Speaking at St Xavier’s College, Kolkata, the actor said, according to the ToI report, “Since it has been endorsed by the Supreme Court and the Parliament and sanctioned by laws, Indians have no choice but to obey and accept it. But we need to assess whether it’s really helping uplift the backward classes or widening the rift between the privileged and the have-nots. Also, we must find out if commercialisation of education is the result of a mad race for seats triggered by reservation.”

With reservation being an issue that affects the lives of every Indian, and commercialisation of education, too, of significant concern to Indians, Bachchan’s drawing attention to the issues is no small matter.

Unless, of course, he is drawing attention not to reservation and the commercialisation of education, but to the film ‘Aarakshan’, which launches on 12 August. more

The politics behind Vastanvi’s ouster

Palace politics and intrigue have a role to play in the sacking of Darul Uloom VC Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, writes Sanjeev Srivastava in FirstPost 

The case of Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the sacked “Mohtamin” (vice-chancellor) of Deoband based Darul Uloom —one of the most prestigious and influential seat of Islamic learning in the subcontinent— is another example of how certain stereotypes are bang on target.

But don’t jump the gun in terms of some not entirely accurate but widely held stereotypes about Muslims, particularly their leadership! The tale of deceit and treachery which has accounted for the summary sacking of the Darul Uloom’s VC in six months of his assuming office compares better with the stereotypes on how ruthless palace coups can be planned and executed with meticulous detail and on how warring clan members can brush aside in house hostility to combat the challenge mounted by an outsider threatening to run away with the family silver. more

Not an article of faith

Karnataka’s education minister wants the Bhagavad Gita to be taught for an hour every day in government schools. So far, the High Court has granted a stay. But does religion have any role in school instruction? Are there no redeeming features? And why not teach the Bible, Koran, Guru Granth Sahib and teachings from the Buddha and Mahavira too? Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times

Karnataka Education Minister Visheshwar Hegde Kageri wants every Indian to respect the Bhagavad Gita — or leave. “Only those who love to adopt western culture can oppose the Gita. Such persons may well quit the country,” the minister is reported to have said. The timing — just as his boss B.S. Yeddyurappa, four BJP ministers, a former chief minister and a Congress MP are being indicted for their role in illegal mining — couldn’t have been more ironic. Certainly, Karnataka’s corrupt political class would benefit most with lessons in morality.

Alas, Kageri isn’t focusing on the education of his peers. More

Class struggle: India’s experiment in schooling tests rich and poor

Geeta Anand in the Wall Street Journal:

New Delhi: Instead of playing cricket with the kids in the alleyway outside, 4-year-old Sumit Jha sweats in his family’s one-room apartment. A power cut has stilled the overhead fan. In the stifling heat, he traces and retraces the image of a goat.

In April, he enrolled in the nursery class of Shri Ram School, the most coveted private educational institution in India’s capital. Its students include the grandchildren of India’s most powerful figures—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party President Sonia Gandhi.

Sumit, on the other hand, lives in a slum.

His admission to Shri Ram is part of a grand Indian experiment to narrow the gulf between rich and poor that is widening as India’s economy expands. The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students. In Delhi, families earning less than 100,000 rupees (about $2,500 a year) qualify.

Shri Ram, a nontraditional school founded in 1988, would seem well-suited to the experiment. Rather than drill on rote learning, as many Indian schools do, Shri Ram encourages creativity by teaching through stories, songs and art. In a typical class, two teachers supervise 29 students; at public schools nearby, one teacher has more than 50. Three times a day, a gong sounds and teachers and students pause for a moment of contemplation. Above the entrance, a banner reads, “Peace.”

Yet the most notable results so far are frustration and disappointment as the separations that define Indian society—between rich and poor, employer and servant, English-speaker and Hindi-speaker—are upended. This has led even some supporters of the experiment to conclude that the chasm between the top and bottom of Indian society is too great to overcome. More: