Posts Tagged 'Pondicherry'

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.

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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

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.”

India’s Dying Beaches

I almost feel as though I am in Pondicherry.  The vicarious excitement and stress of trying to keep up with the sudden barrage of media stories and activities initiated by NDTV’s coverage of “The Death of India’s Beaches” has my adrenelin pumping as I try and support our colleagues at PondyCAN.

On 28 May, 2009, Probir Banerjee, PondyCAN’s President, was interviewed by Prannoy Roy of NDTV, fulfilling a promise Roy made months before to take up the issue of coastal erosion.  Realizing the magnitude of the problem, Roy initiated a state-by-state coverage of the issue in a series called “India’s Dying Beaches.”

Continue reading ‘India’s Dying Beaches’

Ayudha Puja in Pondicherry

Ayudha puja at Renaissance Workshop

Ayudha puja at Renaissance Workshop

The people of Pondicherry celebrated Ayudha Puja on 8 October 2008, the 9th day of Navaratri (30 September to 9 October this year).  Durga puja is called Ayudha puja in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Ayudha puja is “worship of the weapons” – which in common terms is translated into implements and tools.

Father and daughter washing a scooter

Father and daughter washing a scooter

People clean their houses and wash all the implements and tools of their trade, including their vehicles.

Doorway decorated with palm and banana fronds

Doorway decorated with palm and banana fronds

People decorate their homes, offices and other places of work as well as their vehicles with palm and banana leaves.  The youngest palm fronds are cut and shaped into decorations. Unfortunately, most people now also use “modern” decorations, including colored crepe paper.

Mark and I were invited to two puja celebrations – one at the carpentry and furniture refinishing workshop of a friend (where we had the best food we have had to date in Pondicherry – the carpenters/cooks were from Bihar) and the other at the Shuddham office.

Everyday Hero – C.H. Balamohan

C.H. Balamohan

C.H. Balamohan

On 30 September 2008, C.H. Balamohan retired as an Assistant in the Education Department of the Government of Puducherry (GOP). After 40 years in government service, Balamohan should have been an officer – a Director or at least a Deputy Director of the department.  However, his promotions were suppressed by the GOP because of Balamohan’s work on behalf of the government employees – he only had 2 promotions in 40 years.

Balamohan is a quiet, unprepossessing person.  He suffers from diabetes, at times bed-ridden and unable to walk.  He wears khadi and carries a cloth sachel.  He gets around town on a scooter. Yet when he sees any kind of injustice, he becomes a changed man.  Put a bullhorn in front of him and he can inspire and rally thousands of people.

In 1979, Balamohan began his fight for the rights of the government employees, forming and acting as President of the Ministerial Staff Association (he was part of the Ministerial cadre in the Education Department).  From there, he went on to help form other government employee associations in the Education Department, Health Department, etc.  At his retirement, he was Honorary President of the Confederation of Pondicherry State Government Employees’ Association, consisting of 100 employee associations.

Continue reading ‘Everyday Hero – C.H. Balamohan’


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