The Myth of Indian Education

“Indian students rank 2nd last in global test; better than only Kyrgyzstan in Math, Reading, Science” was the Times News Network (TNN) headline of 15 January 2012, after the results of an annual review (2009) of worldwide education systems was released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Of the 73 countries that participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the two states entered by India (Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) ranked second from last. China’s Shanghai province came out on top in all three categories.

Only a day after the TNN story, the Government of India released the results of its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011.  An Indian Express article dated 19 January 2012, titled “The crisis in learning,” outlines two major national trends that have emerged from this report.  First, that close to 50% of rural children (aged 9 to 14) pay for their education either in a private school or to a private tutor. (In the 5 years since ASER has been conducting the survey, private school enrollment in rural areas has gone from 18.7% to 25.6%, with some states at near 50%.) Second,  the low level of basic learning, particularly in reading and math. (It is estimated that half of all students in Standard 5 cannot read Standard 2-level text. And 40% of Standard 5 students cannot solve a 2-digit subtraction problem with borrowing.) According to the Indian Express article, these low learning results are not new.  What is disturbing is the indication that the already low levels may be declining further.

ASER looks at primary school children and PISA evaluates secondary school students (15-year olds).  What about higher education?  Set aside the famed Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) on which India’s worldwide reputation in education rest, and you will find under-educated students with low job prospects. A 19 January article in the Hindustan Times reports that a Right to Information (RTI) activist has received information that 51% (319 out of 620) of the colleges under the University of Mumbai do not have principals, including renowned colleges of law, management, commerce, arts, engineering, aviation and architecture. Lawsuits abound regarding arbitrary and high capitation fees (fees charged for admission over and above tuition and other published fees), discriminatory admissions (low test ranked students will gain admission over higher ranked students by paying a high “fee”), and institutions operating under false accreditation.  Anecdotal stories from teachers and students alike point to sham institutions, including medical schools, that are built to bilk students of capitation fees. One recently (and partially completed) medical college in Pondicherry offered an acquaintance an extremely generous salary (part of which she was directed to give back to the college) and asked her to report to the college on only two days – the days when the college was scheduled for inspection by accreditation bodies. Staff quarters were never completed because no staff was expected to live on campus.  Students, having paid so much money just to get into the school, muddle through for the degree, having learned nothing.  The same is true for the myriad of IT training institutes and universities that may have, at one time, been competent institutions of learning.  A recent acquaintance reports that a business school professor at Pondicherry University could only recommend three candidates from the entire program for a data entry job.

In an effort to exert some control over the educational institutions under its jurisdiction, the central government has directed all institutes to publish an annual balance sheet, starting 2013.  According to this LiveMint article dated 18 January 2012, India has 527 universities and more than 31,000 colleges (of which at least 60% are under private control) where approximately 15 million students pursue higher education.  This is clearly an attempt to “decommercialize” the education sector and “take care of concerns that many private institutions engage in malpractices to fleece students.”

Unless the quality of education is improved, starting from the ground (primary school), up, India will continue to lose the development race against China.

Happy Pongal

Wish You Happy Pongal

Inset of kolam featuring clay pongal pot and deepam

Pongal Tableau

Another inset of Kolam featuring the over-flowing pongal

A more linear tableau: sugar cane, pongal being cooked to over-flowing over a wood fire, the sun, and a plate of offerings

A few of the Pongal kolams drawn on two streets in Kuruchikuppam, Pondicherry

Meter-long Coffee

South Indian filter coffee is rapidly disappearing, replaced by instant coffee powder.  But whether or not these street-side coffee bars use filter or instant coffee, the “mixing” of boiled milk and coffee is still done the same way.

Cooling coffee

The coffee is generally served in a steel cup with a lip and a small, empty bowl (also with a lip) so that the customer can perform a mini version of the same process – pouring the coffee from the cup into the bowl, and vice verse, holding on to the edge of the lips of the vessels (the liquid is boiling hot!) – but this time, to cool the coffee enough to drink.

And the taste?  Like coffee candy.

Making Garlands

Garland maker on Rue Francois Martin, Kuruchikuppam

Just as onion prices have gone sky high, so have the price of garlands that South Indian women wear in their hair or drape around the necks of idols or pictures of gods (or place on the pillows of their Western guests).

Garland supplies, Goubert Market, Pondicherry

Women sit on the ground or on makeshift tables and make garlands from morning to evening in long strands that they then break into different lengths depending on customer desires.

Garland maker at Goubert Market

The garlands are sold by the “arm”  – that is, the length from the tips of your fingers to your elbow.  An “arm” of sweet-smelling jasmine used to cost Rs. 5 to 10 two years ago.  Now, they are Rs. 15 to 20, depending on the season.

The video below is a short clip of the garland maker pictured in the red sari on Rue Francois Martin in Kuruchikuppam, Pondicherry.

Women sit on the ground or on makeshift tables and make garlands from morning to evening in long strands that they then break into different lengths depending on customer desires.

Fishing Village at Pillaichavady, Pondicherry

Fishing boats at Pillaichavady, Pondicherry

Mending nets

Mending nets on the beach

Boat motor

Dwelling, Pillaichavady

Running water tap

Older sister

Younger sister

India Imports Onions from Pakistan

The astonishingly high price of onions throughout India has pushed the local topic of conversation away from the mega corruption scandals of the day (the Commonwealth Games (CWG), Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society, the give-away of the 2G telecommunications spectrum, etc.) to the lowly onion, an indispensable ingredient in Indian cooking.  Nationwide, prices are around Rs. 60 to 80 per kilo.  In Pondicherry, it is Rs. 80 ($1.82 at Rs. 44 to U.S. $1).

India exported onions until April 2010.  Prolongued rains in the onion growing areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and South India resulted in the current shortages.  Effective yesterday, 21 December 2010, the Price Fixation Advisory Committee (PFAC) of the Ministry of Agriculture issued a decision to “voluntarily suspend issuance of NOCs [no objection certificates] for export of onion by NAFED [National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India], NCCF [National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India], and other STEs [I assume this stands for State Trading Enterpises]…” and that NAFED and NCCF would sell onions at Rs. 35-40 through their retail outlets. Wholesale prices in Nasik, one of the major growing areas, came down 35% based on the announcement.  The same day, in a complete reversal, India imported onions from Pakistan. (The cost of onions from Pakistan, including customs duty, cess, transportation and handling chareges, is Rs. 18-20/kg.)  Now, prices in Pakistan are expected to go up 25-30%.

How is the common wo/man affected?  In Pondicherry, street vendors are adding cabbage as filler to supplement onions.  A Times of India Poll:  Will you continue to buy onions? currently stands at 48% (Yes) to 52% (No).  One “no” voter blames the price rise on the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.  This article claims that onion prices will threaten India’s growth and government, and a Facebook comment states:  “Give me my bonus in onions.”

My Father’s Father – Part Two – “Loving Paradise”

My Father’s Stories: Number Six – His Father, Part Two.

It is to be expected that as my father begins to write about his immediate family, his stories will get longer.  This story of his father includes a bit of history to put the story into context, as well as a fairly comprehensive recollection of his father’s various career moves as a pastor.

I’m surprised, no, stunned actually, to learn that my grandfather lived as long as he did – he died at the age of 65.  I always remembered my grandfather as having died at a young age (reasons cited were his temper and high blood pressure).  In fact, I thought that my father had to support his entire family after he graduated from medical school,  after the end of the Korean War in the mid-1950s, because his father had already passed away.  But my grandfather lived until 1966!

Clearly, the important people in my father’s life were his mother and grandmother.  There is no mention of love or attachment between the eldest son (my father) and his father, the eldest son of a son who broke three generations of son-lessness.

There was a leprosy sanatorium called “Ae-Rak-Won” which literally means “loving paradise.” I am not sure whether it was run by the Provincial Presbyterian Church Commission, the provincial government or the central government. I’m also not sure whether the pastor of West-Gate church recommended that my father to go to this place or whether my father volunteered. Nevertheless, my father went there as a Sanatorium Pastor together with the whole family – my mother, grand mo, my elder sister Kun-Ok, myself, my younger sister Song-Ja. At that time I was probably in the middle of my first year at Sou-Boo primary school. In Korea, we go to school at the Korean age of 6. The school was located in the north western direction from the center of the city, and the Sanatorium was located in the south western direction and distance between those two was around 4 – 5 miles apart. My elder sister’s school was also in a similar direction and slightly closer than my school. We, my sister and I, walked to school. May be a mile or so before each school, my sister and I had to take different paths.

Our lives changed dramatically. We moved from a small, rice-straw-roofed house into a dark-grayish-slate-roofed, white-walled Sanatorium Residence for workers. The structure of the house was incomparable to the previous house. It had a hill side location, rooms and a kitchen, etc. There were seven Sanatorium Residences on the hill completely separated from the Sanatorium by a fence. Our house was a middle one. All the residences had a large back yard area which was cultivated. Our father and mother planted that yard with tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, scallions, etc. and it was real fun to pick and eat the vegetables. Although our schools were a little far for small kid like us, our schools, especially my school, was well regarded, newly built, and a good school. So, our parents did not want me to move schools and we, too were happy with those schools. The only problem with living there was that whenever my father came home from the Sanatorium, he removed and changed his clothes and washed his hand and feet meticulously with disinfectant solution and told us to be careful with those things.

Then one day, when I came home from school, a couple of Japanese detectives were in our house. They had ransacked every corner of our house, especially my father’s book cases. They combed through every page of my father’s books looking for anything inserted in between the pages. The Japanese detectives were questioning my father, and my father was answering using broken Japanese about some things I could not understand. Then, they took my father away in their jeep. My father told my mom that she should not be worried because he would be back home soon. After they left, my mother, grand mo, and even I, tried to put every thing in order, putting books back onto book shelf and cleaning up the house. Mom cooked dinner as usual and call us to eat.

The atmosphere at the dinner table was chilly and calm. No one started to talk and no one initiated picking up chop sticks or spoons. Mom said “OK children, what are you doing, lets eat now, father will be home soon.” We children picked up chop sticks and started to pick up food. However mom did not picks up chop sticks or spoon. I told mom to eat together with us. Then she said with a partly smiley face “I ate some thing late, I am not hungry right now, I will eat a little later, please go ahead, you guys eat.“ I knew she wasn’t telling the truth, but I also knew I could not do anything to help her. She was sitting at the side of the dining table. While I was eating, I looked at her face once in a while. She was watching us eating and looking at the middle of the dining table, without focus, with worried face. I guess my hate against Japan started grow at that time while I was watching my mother’s worried face. Although my father did not  stay in police custody too long ( a few days in the cell, I heard) these kinds of incidents were repeated not infrequently. Whenever these incidents were repeated and whenever I had to watch my mother’s worried face during my father’s absent, my hate against Japan grew bigger and heavier.

After Koreans lost their country, many patriotic Koreans vigorously resisted  the Japanese occupation and many were put in jail, tortured or fled to China, the US or other countries to fight against the Japanese from outside Korea. They formed a Korean provisional government in Shanghai, China. All the patriots who fled to various countries were connected to each other and they gathered together in Shanghai once in a while. They elected Rhee, Sung-Man as the first president of the provisional government of Korea. (About Rhee, Sung-Man, who escaped to the US. He enrolled in George Washington University (I think in the beginning) and became a family friend of the University President. Rhee was invited to their house whenever they had family occasions and he was introduced to a daughter (Francesca) of the Austrian royal family to marry. Rhee was also tall and big, and good looking. Later he studied more in Harvard, and then got a PhD from Princeton. After the end of World War II, he returned home together with Francesca and he became the first president of South Korea (formal name: Republic of Korea).)

Now, back to the story of many patriotic Koreans who were resisting vigorously the Japanese annexation of Korea…

At that time, many religious leaders were either directly or indirectly involved in that independence movement. That was the reason Japanese detectives were looking for some evidence to punish my father. My father stayed in Ae-Rak-Won for about three years.

Then, a church called “Kyung-San Church” invited my father to come over to be a parish Pastor in Kyung-San, which was located about 30 miles to the south of Daegu. Kyung-San was a famous apple producing town, a charming town surrounded by numerous apple orchards and reservoirs. I did not see Japanese detectives in Kyung-San. My father was young, healthy, energetic and worked hard. The Kyung-San church was pretty big but very old. The building was made of wood, and when we walked in the church hall, you would hear squeaky wooden sounds at every step. My father told the church that in order to worship god well, we need to build a real nice church with the granite which was close by. The church members, including the elders, agreed to my father‘s idea. All the church members volunteered to carry the granite stone, cut in certain sizes, carried on cow-pulled wagons or by other means to the church and placed in the church compound. Day by day, the accumulated stone mountain grew bigger and bigger. I remember that in those days, whenever I played with small, tennis-sized balls with other kids, those balls went in between the stones in the mound and no matter how hard we tried, we could not pull them out. I really don’t know how many balls we lost in that stone mound.

Then, suddenly, when I was in sixth grade, my mom told me that we were going to move to Kim-Chon. Kim-Chon is located about 30~40 miles north of Daegu. It is a mid-sized city and my father would go to Bong-Gae church, which is located in the northern suburban region of Kim-Chon city. Why would my father want to move, leaving his ambitious, mega new church building project? My mother whispered to me the reason why we were moving. My father did not have a secondary education. Consequently, his sermons were limited in depth. As months and years went by, my father’s sermon would all be similar, with no broader knowledge. Although the majority of church members liked my father as a pastor, some of the highly educated members of the church, including some elders, started to talk about my father’s sermons.  My father, apparently, suddenly took the position: “in that case I am leaving.” Later I learned that was one of the characters my father had – if you don’t like me, that’s fine; there was no second thought, no begging, no compromise  – I am leaving. I observed that my elder sister had such a character and my younger sisters and brothers told me that I also have that character.

So, my parents, my sisters and my brothers all left, leaving behind mountains of granite stones and my lost balls in the church compound.

And also left behind were my grand mom and me. Because I was in the middle of the sixth year in primary school, I had to apply to a middle school. In order to apply to a decent middle school, it was better not to transfer to another school before graduation. My parents asked the church if we could use one side room of the pastor’s residence until a new pastor come or until I finished my primary school. That was granted. At that time, I was 12 (11 in US age). So, my grandma stayed with me to take care of everything for me until we joined our family in the northern suburban church in Kim-Chon. I went to Kim-Chon middle school for the entrance examination before graduation and entered Kim-Chon middle school. During our stay in Kim-Chon, World War II ended. We heard the news that the Japanese surrendered unconditionally to US. That was August 15, 1945 (US time 8/14/1945). On that day I heard from some of the church members that my father danced in the street waving a Korean flag. I couldn’t believe that my father danced in the street because he is not the type that would dance in a street.

A few years later, my father again moved to a church which was located in the southern region of Kim-Chon, which is where my grand mo died.

And then, we moved two more times in the Daegu area for the  same reason. Apparently, my father had no problem in moving around to different churches. Whenever he moved, they would welcome my father initially. By the way, as one of the Korean church traditions, there were annual or bi-annual church events for special spiritual revival worship for about 5 days to a week. The church would decide on a lecturing pastor first, then invite neighboring church members too. My father was pretty popular in this kind of work in smaller suburban churches. They would make reservations a few years in advance for a pastor. Whenever these churches had a vacancy for a pastor, and my father wanted to move, he would knock at these church and they would welcome my father enthusiastically because the whole church knew about my father.

His last church before he died was called Chim-San church in the northern region of Daegu city where I opened my own medical clinic after being discharged from army duty as an army medical officer. I hired a medical assistant and a nurse to run the clinic under my name (under my supervision) and I went to Dong-San (Presbyterian) hospital department of surgery as a resident. Then I went to Uganda on December 4th, 1964 together with six other doctors as a Uganda Government Medical Officer hired by the Ministry of Health, Uganda, recruited by WHO officials. When we were in Uganda, we received news that my father had died.

I know my father liked to eat meat a lot – really a lot. It was under Japanese occupation and Japan was at war with the US. No doubt it was a very difficult time for all of us. However my father apparently couldn’t live without meat for a few days. So, when, beef or pork or chicken was difficult and expensive to get, my mom got cheaper rabbit or small goat as an alternative. Whether because of this or not, he developed severe hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, hypertensive retinopathy, hypertension related heart problems, etc. Eventually his medicine did not do any good, and then he refused to take all medication, saying that he would just pray to god. He was going to leave everything to god’s hand. He went to the mountain retreat where there was a prayer house for pastors and church leaders. We heard that he passed away at that mountain retreat. That was March 31st, 1966. That was where he also scattered his mother’s ash in the same mountain valley stream. We couldn’t go to his funeral. I wired funeral expenses. Our family and relatives buried his body in a private grave yard which I purchased for my father, mother and your mom’s mother (your mother’s side grand mother) before I left for Uganda on a hill in a Daegu suburban area near where my mom’s sister lived.


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