Tag Archive for 'Education'

A techie busts a science seminar racket

The racket was exposed after two fake papers submitted by Dr Navin Kabra to the Institute of Research and Journals were accepted. “One paper has references to the Hindi movie, Sholay, and an entire section contains dialogues from a hit Hollywood film, My Cousin Vinny,” Kabra writes on his blog:

We submitted to two fake papers to this conference – one was complete gibberish auto-generated by using the online fake paper generator at SCIGen, while the other was auto-generated gibberish interspersed with completely ridiculous statements, movie dialogues, and other random things. Both these papers where accepted by this conference. We paid the conference registration fee for one of the papers, and that was published in the conference proceedings, and we did not pay the registration fee for the other paper, so that paper was not published by them. The conference fee is Rs. 6000 for M.Tech. students (but we managed to get a 50% discount just by haggling with them in the same way we haggle with vegetable vendors).

Note: the paper that actually got published is such that anyone reading past paragraph #2 of the paper will realize it is complete nonsense. More:

And below. the story in Mid-Day:

Navin Kabra, who graduated from Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, and later completed his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin in the United States before returning to India, submitted the two fake papers to the International Conference on Recent Innovations in Engineering, Science &Technology (ICRIEST) which was held in Pune on December 29. The conference was organized by the “Institute of Research and Journals” (IRAJ).

Both papers were auto-generated using freely-available online software. In fact, one paper has references to the Hindi movie, Sholay, and an entire section contains dialogues from a hit Hollywood film, My Cousin Vinny. 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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

The Asian mind

Shamik Bag in Mint Lounge on the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore:

In the middle of the cricket World Cup, that concluded last month, a small newspaper report appeared amid the cricket clutter. This too was on cricket, but it mentioned Rabindranath Tagore in the headline: Odd bedfellows, it seemed, considering that the Nobel laureate had died over four decades before India’s first World Cup win at Lord’s in 1983. Tagore, the report went on to mention, was enjoying an unprecedented omnipresence in World Cup matches involving three countries.

While it is well known that the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh were composed by Tagore, every time the Sri Lankans took to the field, Tagore made a roundabout entry, having inspired the creation of the Sri Lankan national anthem, Sri Lanka Matha.

“Jana Gana Mana and the Sri Lankan national anthem are based on the same raga too,” explains Supriya Roy, who is curating an exhibition of photographs, text, poems and manuscripts titled Rabindranath Tagore: Pilgrimages to the East, which opens on Monday to coincide with Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary. A letter from Ananda Samarakoon, the composer of the Sri Lankan anthem, to Tagore is in the possession of the Tagore archives of Visva-Bharati University, Roy says.

In it, Samarakoon—a former student at Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan who was moved by Rabindrasangeet to create the modern Geeta Sahitya music style in Sri Lanka—expresses gratitude to Tagore and hopes the Sri Lankan song “pleases” him. More:


Quality of life: India vs. China

Amartya Sen in The New York Review of Books:

The steadily rising rate of economic growth in India has recently been around 8 percent per year (it is expected to be 9 percent this year), and there is much speculation about whether and when India may catch up with and surpass China’s over 10 percent growth rate. Despite the evident excitement that this subject seems to cause in India and abroad, it is surely rather silly to be obsessed about India’s overtaking China in the rate of growth of GNP, while not comparing India with China in other respects, like education, basic health, or life expectancy. Economic growth can, of course, be enormously helpful in advancing living standards and in battling poverty. But there is little cause for taking the growth of GNP to be an end in itself, rather than seeing it as an important means for achieving things we value.

It could, however, be asked why this distinction should make much difference, since economic growth does enhance our ability to improve living standards. The central point to appreciate here is that while economic growth is important for enhancing living conditions, its reach and impact depend greatly on what we do with the increased income. The relation between economic growth and the advancement of living standards depends on many factors, including economic and social inequality and, no less importantly, on what the government does with the public revenue that is generated by economic growth.

Some statistics about China and India, drawn mainly from the World Bank and the United Nations, are relevant here. Life expectancy at birth in China is 73.5 years; in India it is 64.4 years. The infant mortality rate is fifty per thousand in India, compared with just seventeen in China; the mortality rate for children under five is sixty-six per thousand for Indians and nineteen for the Chinese; and the maternal mortality rate is 230 per 100,000 live births in India and thirty-eight in China. The mean years of schooling in India were estimated to be 4.4 years, compared with 7.5 years in China. China’s adult literacy rate is 94 percent, compared with India’s 74 percent according to the preliminary tables of the 2011 census. More:

Nalanda and the pursuit of science

Nalanda stood for the passion of propagating knowledge and understanding says Amartya Sen in his keynote address at the 98th Indian Science Congress in Chennai [via The Hindu]

The subject of this talk is Nalanda and the pursuit of science, but before I go into that rather complex issue, I must say something about Nalanda itself, since it is still an obscure entity for most people in the world. Since the university is being, right now, re-established under a joint Asian initiative, the fact that Nalanda was a very ancient university is becoming better known. But how does it compare with other old universities in the world?

Well, what is the oldest university in the world? In answering this question, one’s mind turns to Bologna, initiated in 1088, to Paris in 1091, and to other old citadels of learning, including of course Oxford University which was established in 1167, and Cambridge in 1209. Where does Nalanda fit into this picture? “Nowhere” is the short answer if we are looking for a university in continuous existence. more

At top university, a fight for Pakistan’s future

An attack on a professor revealed a power struggle between an educated class and those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam. Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times:

Lahore: The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.

Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.

The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.

But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.

The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors. More:

Tired of grading all those student papers? Outsource to Bangalore

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Lori Whisenant knows that one way to improve the writing skills of undergraduates is to make them write more. But as each student in her course in business law and ethics at the University of Houston began to crank out—often awkwardly—nearly 5,000 words a semester, it became clear to her that what would really help them was consistent, detailed feedback.

Her seven teaching assistants, some of whom did not have much experience, couldn’t deliver. Their workload was staggering: About 1,000 juniors and seniors enroll in the course each year. “Our graders were great,” she says, “but they were not experts in providing feedback.”

That shortcoming led Ms. Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at Houston, to a novel solution last fall. She outsourced assignment grading to a company whose employees are mostly in Asia.

Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc., took over. The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task—and even, the company says, to do it better than TA’s can. More:

India’s decade

The Indian Express-Indicus Analytics study on how India will look in 2020:

The good:

* Fifty million more households in India will join the ranks of the middle class — defined by those earning between Rs 75,000 a year to Rs 10 lakh a year.

* The households-in-middle class number will jump from less than 120 million now to almost 170 million. Taking the accepted multiple of five people per household, this means that roughly 800 million Indians will be middle class out of an end-of-decade population of 1.3-plus billion.

And not-so-good (if there are no significant reforms):

By end-2019, UP’s standard of living will be what Pakistan’s was in 2005. And Bihar at the end of the decade will offer a standard of living comparable to what prevailed in Djibouti in 2005. MP in 2020? Like Republic of Congo in 2005.

Click here for the full story:

Outsourcing homework to India

Saritha Rai from Bangalore in GlobalPost:

Six days a week in the wee hours of the morning, Saswati Patnaik logs into her home computer.

The homemaker — and tutor for a Bangalore company called TutorVista — rises early to help American high school students write English term papers, prepare S.A.T. essays or finish homework assignments.

Outsourcing, of course, started as a way for American companies to lower costs by shifting work to cheaper locations. After nearly two decades, that practice has become so mainstream that hundreds of U.S. businesses — from Wall Street banks to law firms, architects and others — routinely outsource to India.

But now a growing number of individual Americans are following in the footsteps of businesses — and outsourcing homework.

For $99 a month, American customers of TutorVista get unlimited coaching in English, math or science from Patnaik or one of her 1,500 fellow tutors. Similar personalized services in the United States charge about $40 an hour. More:

A school bus for Shamsia

Dexter Filkins, the author of “The Forever War,” in the New York Times Magazine:

Even before the men with acid came, the Mirwais Mena School for Girls was surrounded by enemies. It stood on the outskirts of Kandahar, barely 20 miles from the hometown of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder. Just down the road from the school, in an area known as Old Town, residents had built a shrine to Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban commander with the fiercest reputation, who made his name by massacring members of the Hazara minority. He was killed in an American-led operation in 2007. Also nearby sat the Sarposa Prison, where, in June 2008, Taliban fighters and suicide bombers attacked, freeing more than a thousand criminals and comrades. The area around the Mirwais Mena School is the Taliban heartland. Teaching girls to read was not something that would escape their notice. Across the country, the Taliban have made the destruction of schools, particularly schools for girls, a hallmark of their war.

The Mirwais Mena School – L-shaped, cement, two stories, with canvas tents donated by the United Nations – was built in 2004 with a grant from the Japanese government. A plaque out front gives the date; it hangs on the 10-foot-high cement wall built to shield the students. Kandahar’s Mirwais Mena neighborhood sits just off the national highway. A rutted mud path called Panjwai Road cuts through the center of the neighborhood and up an outcropping of bare rock that rises 500 feet. A single electrical wire runs into Mirwais Mena from a pole along the highway; no one can remember the last time it carried any current. More:

Study abroad

From The Smart Set, John Lancaster on the Pakistani Eton in the age of terror

jo_lanca_pakis_ap_001One morning earlier this year, students gathered for the weekly assembly at Aitchison College, an elite school for boys between the ages of five and 18 in the Pakistani city of Lahore. It was, as always, a dignified affair. Shuffling to their places in an outdoor amphitheater, the boys wore school ties, blazers stitched with the Aitchison crest (“Perseverance Commands Success”) and puglis — starched indigo turbans once favored by native royalty. “Aitchison College, atten-shun!” shouted the head boy, a senior, stamping his foot like a drill sergeant. The principal stepped to the microphone. A tall white-haired man in a black academic gown, he surveyed the crowd with a benevolent but short-lived smile. He glared at one of the boys. “Take your hands out of your pockets,” he snapped in clipped, lightly accented English. “It’s rude.” The youth sheepishly complied.


The Andrew Davidson interview: Azim Premji

Azim Premji built a global empire by putting business before technology at Wipro. Now he is tackling India’s birth rate. From the Sunday Times:

premjiIn a nondescript office near Paddington station, one of India’s richest men goes on the defensive. “Yes, I am going to pass over large sums of shares to my foundation,” says Azim Premji, founder of Wipro Technologies. “You will see it in due course. But write about it then, please.”

He makes a gesture, as if to say, let’s move on. He wants to talk business, but the world keeps coming back to his wealth and what he intends to do with it.

That’s because even outside business, Premji works with intensity. He is pouring money into his own educational foundation in India. One of its goals is to keep girls from poor families in school for longer, with the hope of reducing the birth rate. In a country that still remembers its government’s vasectomy campaign of the mid-1970s, it is controversial stuff.

For Premji, who owns 79% of Wipro, one of the world’s biggest software support groups, the questions are a distraction right now. Wipro, worth £7 billion by market value, is locked in battle with local rivals Tata Consulting and Infosys as India’s technology firms ride the recession, refocusing on the Middle East and Asia to compensate for falling revenues in America and Europe.

They also face fierce competition from western firms such as IBM, EDS, Cap Gemini and Accenture. Wipro has recently outstripped its local rivals in organic growth after years of underperformance. More:

The defiant poets’ society

Christina Lamb returns to Afghanistan seven years after the fall of the Taliban and finds a country still rife with the persecution of females. In the Sunday Times:

On a stony hillside overlooking the ancient city of Herat stands the graveyard of its most illustrious citizens, where every Friday local people gather for picnics. But there is one tombstone at which many women stop and genuflect. It is that of a 25-year-old woman called Nadia Anjuman, and the flowery Persian engraving describes her as a poet who risked her life to keep writing under the Taliban. What it doesn’t say is that she was killed by her own husband.

Nadia’s death is seen by her friends and women across Afghanistan as symbolising the betrayal by the international community of all their promises to free Afghan women – given as one of the main reasons for ousting the Taliban regime 7Å years ago. “What happened to Nadia should make the world bow its head in shame,” says her friend and fellow writer Leila Razeqi. “Your prime ministers and presidents promised freedom to us Afghan women. That someone like Nadia is under the soil and her husband walks free should make you ask what is really going on here.”

I first came across Nadia Anjuman on a bitterly cold morning in November 2001, in the exuberant first few days after the fall of the Taliban, when everyone was shaving off beards, casting off burqas and flattening Coke cans with hammers to fashion satellite dishes to watch TV – for so long banned. I was walking along Cinema Street in Herat when a sign caught my eye. It said Herat Literary Society, and beyond was a path leading to a small white bungalow.


Taleban threaten to blow up girls’ schools if they refuse to close

From the Times:

girlsThe Taleban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.


Against odds, a school in Kashmir offers hope

Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu in Mint:

DPS Srinagar principal K.K. Sharma with students. Mint

DPS Srinagar principal K.K. Sharma with students. Mint

The Srinagar DPS is equipped with modern facilities, including language labs to teach phonetics, art studios, computing facilities and libraries. And it has managed to get its share of unwelcome attention. “We do get threat calls, asking us to shut down. Their (separatists) main problem is that we are a CBSE institution. They think we are propagating Central ideas through this school,” says the school’s principal, K.K. Sharma.

“During these protests (separatist leader Syed Ali Shah) Geelani called for the school to be shut down, calling it an imperialist design of India,” says Dhar referring to a recent spate of separatist protests. “The parents asked me to talk to Geelani but I refused …(but) the parents have to be appreciated for their solid support, which kept the school open.”


Pakistan’s westward drift

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Himal:

For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula. This continental drift is not geophysical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its Southasian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the alluvium that had nurtured Muslim culture in the Indian Subcontinent for over a thousand years. A stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahhabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints.

This drift is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state pushed Islam onto its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory; floggings were carried out publicly; punishments were meted out to those who did not fast during Ramadan; selection for academic posts required that the candidates demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and the jihad was emphasised as essential for every Muslim. Today, such government intervention is no longer needed due to the spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – as yet in some amorphous and diffused form – is more popular than ever before, as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state. Across the country, there has been a spectacular increase in the power and prestige of the clerics, attendance in mosques, home prayer meetings (dars and zikr), observance of special religious festivals, and fasting during Ramadan.


At a retreat in India, lessons on yoga and life

In the International Herald Tribune, Kyle Jarrard visits Puducherry (earlier known as Pondicherry) in India:

In the old French quarter of Puducherry.

In the old French quarter of Puducherry.

The first sound in the morning is crows, right at 5. Then we hear waves off the Bay of Bengal slapping the shore. In the garden, a man meditates while walking quickly over the lawn of the ashram guest house in the dark. Along the shore, other men pace the beach in the silver jetty light. Fishing boat lanterns like stars ride the black sea south to north.

My wife and I have come to this old French comptoir (formerly Pondichéry) in southeast India mostly for the yoga. The classes used to be held in one of the many parcels of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram scattered across the colonial city. But for this retreat, there’s a new venue and to get there you have to be on Ajit Sarkar’s bus by 5:45. There are 20 or so of us, nearly all from France.

Ajit, in his 70s now, grew up in this famous ashram with his parents, who went into the retreat founded and inspired by the yogi and guru Sri Aurobindo and his vision of universal consciousness and peace. In this idyllic world, Ajit learned everything from ballet to track to gymnastics, but especially yoga, a skill he has taught with acclaim for decades both in India and in France.


Not enough students for new IIT’s quota seats

Of the 54 seats reserved for students in the scheduled tribes category in the six new IITs, only seven (that’s 12 per cent) have been filled, writes Pallavi Singh in Mint

With barely a month to go before they begin their new academic session, the six new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), launched by the government this year, are struggling to fill their incoming classes.

Against the backdrop of the government wanting to implement 27% quota for other backward classes (OBCs) in higher educational institutions, the new IITs have been unable to fill seats reserved for tribal students, who, along with scheduled castes (SCs) and OBCs, now add up to more than 50% of caste-based reservations of all available seats.

Turkish schools offer Pakistan a gentler Islam

Turkish educators are offering an alternative approach to religious schools that could reduce extremists’ influence. Sabrina Tavernise reports from Karachi in The New York Times:

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.

He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.


China launches ‘education drive’ in Lhasa

In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Chinese officials have launched an education drive, reports Chris Buckley for Reuters

China’s Communist Party has launched a political education drive in Tibet’s restive capital, Lhasa, vowing a long campaign to attack pro-independence sentiment and support for the Dalai Lama.

China has blamed recent unrest in Tibetan areas on a “clique” of the Dalai’s followers pressing for independence and seeking to upset Beijing’s preparations for the August Olympics. Over a month has passed since monk-led protests against government control gave way to deadly anti-Chinese rioting in Lhasa on March 14, but security forces have wrestled with continued unrest there and across other Tibetan areas. 

In a bid to reinforce control in Lhasa, Party authorities have launched an education drive focused on officials and Party members, the official Tibet Daily reported on Monday.


Where billions vanish

Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University, in Dawn:

Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf, aided by his trusted lieutenant and chairman of the Higher Education Commission, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, lays claim to a ‘revolutionary programme’ that has reversed the decades-old decline of Pakistan’s universities.

The higher education budget shot up from Rs3.9bn in 2001-02 to an astounding Rs33.7bn in 2006-07. But, in fact, much of this has been consumed by futile projects and mega wastage. Fantastically expensive scientific equipment, bought for research, often ends up locked away in campuses.

An example: a Pelletron accelerator worth Rs400m was ordered in 2005 with HEC funds. It eventually landed up at Quaid-i-Azam University, and was installed last month by a team of Americans from the National Electrostatics Corporation that flew in from Wisconsin. But now that it is there and fully operational, nobody – including the current director – has the slightest idea of what research to do with it. Its original proponents are curiously lacking in enthusiasm and are quietly seeking to distance themselves from the project.


Inside Islam, a woman’s roar

Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan, uses her religion to press for women’s rights – and development agencies take note. Jill Carroll in The Christian Science Monitor:


Just hours after Wazhma Frogh arrived in an isolated, conservative district in northeastern Afghanistan in 2002, the local mullah was preaching to his congregation to kill her. Ms. Frogh was meddling with their women with her plan to start a literacy program, he told the assembly.

As she walked past the mosque during noon prayers, his words caught her ear. Shocked, she marched straight into the mosque. In a flowing black chador that left her face uncovered, she strode past the male worshipers and faced the mullah. Trembling inside, she challenged him.

“Mullah, give me five minutes,” she recalls saying. “I will tell you something, and after that if you want to say I am an infidel and I am a threat to you, just kill me.”


The girl who grew up as a boy

Arti Pandey in International Herald Tribune:

I was greeted by a high school graduate dressed in men’s salwar-kameez and vest when I arrived at the school in Afghanistan’s Northern province of Faryab last July.

“You thought I was boy, didn’t you? Because I dress like boy and walk like boy – yes?” The short hair and men’s clothing contradicted a girlish voice. “I always dress like boy. People think I am boy, but I am girl. But I don’t like to be girl.”

This was my introduction to Azaada Khan, the girl who grew up as a boy under the omniscient eye of the Taliban.


Online education takes off in India

The business of distance learning on the subcontinent is becoming so big that foreign universities and venture capitalists are taking note. Nandini Lakshman in BusinessWeek:

It’s a Sunday afternoon and class time for 39-year-old IT worker Seema Shetty. Her feet curled under her in a swivel chair, she sits in front of a computer monitor, adjusts a set of headphones, and scribbles in a notebook. Shetty, who works for consulting firm Mastek in Mumbai, is in a virtual classroom in the Vile Parle suburb, where a dozen computers link students to some of India’s elite management institutions. Today’s class is a three-hour general management lecture, part of the online education course conducted by the Xavier Labor Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, in the remote northern Indian state of Jharkhand.