Posted in Economic

Where there is no level playfield

Sometime back I read a post on difference between CBSE education and State board education.

I have these to say.

I and my friends attended only LS, the famous girls’ school in Mylapore. I still remember my 6th standard school fees. It was a total of twenty six rupees for one academic year, that’s all. It was paid by my mother in cash. In my 7th standard, we paid Rs.33/- for one whole academic year.

Finally in standard XII I guess I paid Rs.150/- as per prevailing cost of living conditions then, being annual fees. Apart from this, I guess we paid exam fees to the board of perhaps 5/-rupees nothing more, to my memory.

Look at what we paid for schooling and what the privileged kids paid for theirs. In what way today we are inferior to the CBSE school products.

My school/classmates have gone on to become medicos, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, lawyers, teachers etc in every corner of the world. My mother too was an alumnus of my school.

Dr. Shantha of the Cancer Institute of Adyar passed away today. She was a renowned alumnus of ours. Playback singer Vani Jayaram and actor Lakshmi are our proud alumna.

My education was heavily subsidized. Max fees I paid was for my math undergrad degree in private college – which came to 750 rs per annum which was deemed very expensive in those days. My PG fees was Rs.500/- pa being Univ of Madras govt dept. Through out school, I received my father’s office scholarship as he worked for central govt undertaking which came to Rs.600/- pa much more than what we paid as fees. For class 11 & 12, I received cheque for Rs. 900/- pa from my father’s office because I scored over 90% in all classes. The scholarships were awarded for scoring 90% marks in previous annual exams by the children of the employees.

My husband and his brothers attended Tamil medium schools in villages as my FIL was posted in rural Tamil Nadu. Only for class 6 they came to Madras. The boys went on to still become school toppers in English stream in state board schools and also in their respective colleges and are leading professionals in their chosen fields ever since. Until now their grammar may not be perfect but my hubby claims, he and his bros have what we call ‘technical brain’ which can understand maths and physics and chemistry effortlessly that comes by birth. The other brain is what we call the artistic brain that can enable some of us in becoming artists-artisans in creative fields such as literature, art, costume designing, performing arts such as theatre, music etc.

Until today this is the greatest plus for the brothers as I can see the same trait even in my son. To them equations and numbers and formula are too very simple and not at all confusing or complicated. But for my husband anything literary is very complex. Writing an essay or even 3-4 lines at one go is … not really a problem but never appealing if I can put it that way. Anything artistic is too out of the way so I wonder how he is reasonably a good amateur artist still. Perhaps that is why my son is a mix of both literary and math brains. Rarely we see such a combo.

I gave homeschooling to my son from 3 years to 6 years in Malaysia. I took the text books with me. Here in good old Madras, he had just started school and was starting to write alphabets.

In standard 3 at the age of 7 years he was turned down for admission by every single school in Chennai as he did not have record of formal education. Indian school system sucks!

Finally a matric school in Anna Nagar dared to give him admission as I was nearing the end of my wits running from pillar to post frantically trying to secure admit for him in any school. The correspondent of the school simply opened the school diary and asked my son to read the national pledge. My son read it fluently and comfortably. He was given spot admission. Two years later I switched school for him when the correspondent got irked. In these 2 years, I received many notifications from the school that was pulled up by state govt authorities that sought records for my son’s formal education upto class 2. We had not a single paper and I was forced to get a signed declaration from a retired teacher in Malaysia claiming that she taught him at home. Only then he was allotted an admission number. It never mattered to the board or any authority that my son was already topping the school almost having had no formal schooling at all until his 7th year.

So I wonder what is wrong with our education.

In Malaysia, our PC was my son’s blackboard and I taught him upto class 2 at home at our own leisure. I had educational CDs from ‘Pasar malams’ the famous nightmarkets of Malaysia that played a vital role in his education. We did playfully and joyfully the numbers and rhymes and even short stories. My son also did attend a play school with Malay and Chinese kids for an year but regular schooling for kids started in the south east Asian country only by 7 years. When we were back in Chennai, my son could comfortably read the latest Harry Potter over other kids who had had regular schooling right here in the city. So I guess it is merely a matter of how much your ward can absorb irrespective of what or how much you can impart. Or that is how I see it. Kids brains are like sponges. Of various levels of absorption. Some drink in more whereas some imbibe moderate. Learning can be from outside world exposure as in my son’s case.

CBSE syllabus is undoubtedly good I am not denying that, but state board kids pay far less for education compared to the central school kids. For what we paid at least in my generation, what we received in return was immense. In my opinion which stream you study is hardly important. State board kids are far more street smart. Finally it’s a question of affordability in India, which school you attend and which university you graduate from. It is very cruel to compare the better-off kids attending CBSE schools with the rural state run school attendees who have to walk miles to go to school.

Contrary to what I read from the post on CBSE vs State schools by this friend, when my son joined engineering stream, most failures in his class were from CBSE who were overconfident. As the state board kids were learning engineering physics, chem, maths, engg drawing for the first time, they worked diligently and secured a pass.

But CBSE students definitely have the best edge in national level entrances especially when it comes to IIT, II of maths, physics, science etc. Aspirants for these streams need to take up only CBSE syllabus and nothing less.

One has to remember here that Sundar Pichchai still attended Jawahar Vidyalaya only and not PSBB even if later he went on to graduate from IIT-IIM. The other stalwart CEO of Microsoft from India, Satya Nadella, isn’t even from a pricey engineering university reportedly. Not an IITian.

Finally it is all upto the individual. How well you capitalize what resources are available to you. How well you hone your skills. How you apply your knowledge and skills acquired in 2 dimensions to a practical 3 dimension. As we say in Tamil, ‘yettu suraikkai karikku udhavaadhu.’

My husband says, whenever they secure mammoth industrial project contracts, as project head he thinks ahead by years – in 3 D – from raw material and manpower procurement and execution phase to complete profit projection. Most importantly cannot allow idling of resources which will be billed on the project. He can visualize the entire concept and finalize the designs (steel design structures) in his mind and order of phases of execution. For instance, in the case of even basic demolition, one has to start from roof top not from rock bottom. That’s how you go about things. He says for this logical thinking you have to be street smart with hands on experience. Text book knowledge is insufficient. Translating your book knowledge to field acumen is the secret. That is how filmy directors work. That is how director Shankar made his Robot starring Rajnikanth. What kind of schooling can teach you this kind of critical thinking, planning and execution.

My simple state board school had National Geographic stacked in our library and that is how I got to know of the journal in my middle-school. We were obviously subscribing to such world class editions at a time before we had satellite tvs that beamed in these foreign channels right into our living room.

My school taught me to respect elders, to be responsible, to be polite, to be humble…. and more than all I mixed with middle-class girls which is what makes me what I am today … for better or for worse. As not much came from text books, we girls learnt a lot from other outside sources, from life experiences etc.

I don’t know how good state board schools are faring presently. For the first time I believe a christian lady is HM in my girls school now which is nothing sort of a revolution. Such a Hindu school which is the main reason I was enrolled in this school. Obviously the world has come a long, long way.

It is heartless to criticize the state board kids or syllabus because they are not there by choice. They are in state board only because that’s what their families could afford.

The lapse is on part of the Indian state. Such a disparity in education. I think I have blogged on this in the past. A kid’s destiny is decided right at the time of his/her KG admission. There simply cannot be comparison between a corporation/panchayat school kid who learns in local language (Tamil) and a urban upper middle class kid attending creamy school in the metro with access to (global) English (language) text books to study materials. In which other country in the world is education so divided and unequally distributed as in India.

In Malaysia, there was only one board. You attended school that was closest to you. Admission denied in any school over 2 km range. I was stunned to see the uniformity of education there all those years back. Which is why Malaysian Indian (Tamils) community mostly as well as the Chinese community were doing so good. Admissions to universities had quota system favouring the Malays. Down at school level, everyone was on equal footing with equal opportunities available to all. Those who are questioning reservation in India today are precisely from the creamiest section ironically. Yes, you can do that provided you have the guts and honesty to enroll your kid in corporation school. Let all of us start life on equal footing. Then we will earn the moral rights to phrase and question the formulated practices of justice in the nation.

Now that brings us back to the question of NEET. This is why NEET is NOT justified in rural India where poorest rural children grow up right from the start at a disadvantage. Center expects them to compete with CBSE kids with sound economic and academic background. Whereas these creamy kids will go on to work with only Fortis and Apollo, the rural kids on quota basis who attend medical schools will go back to their native villages to work for the poorest and tribal communities. What they may lack by book knowledge, they learn with valuable hands-on experience handling hundreds of OP as well as in-patient cases every single day in their public health centers/govt hospitals. It needs no mention that the swanky city hospitals today have book-thumping medicos with not great experience. The effects of our current NEET entrance will be known after a generation or two when the present serving physicians as we know them in health care industry will take retirement. Then we will pay for the mistakes of willfully neglecting the aspirations of poor malnourished rural kids who dreamt of one day going back to their native villages to serve their local communities. After all, how many Tamil films have had this single plot for storyline ?! In their place we will have super sophisticated English speaking medical professionals over-dependent on machinations and lab test results without instinctive diagnosis skills that can come with experience alone.