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India shining has Mr Joshi worried
February 21, 2004
The Honourable minister for education, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi is feeling left out. The parliamentary elections are going to be held in a few weeks and the question in the BJP camp will be "what have you done for me lately".
The weather Gods have helped the economy so the mandir types feel vindicated -- they have done their bit for Mr Vajpayee's reelection.
The India shining team can take credit for bringing to the attention of the people that the good weather is indeed beneficial for crops, and incomes. The rain helps alleviate the heat and the hunger; not clear that you need a multi-crore advertising campaign to know the obvious, but hey, that is what election campaigns are all about.
(Just look at the alternative -- the leading opposition party Congress's slogan is: Elect us, because we have a Gandhi as a leader).
What is Mr Joshi to do? He cannot claim that the economy is booming because he has decided to introduce astrology into the college curriculum; unless such courses help explain the behaviour of the rain Gods they are useless for a (modern) India shining.
Nor can he claim that the rewriting of books concerning events a 1000 years ago makes the US buy more computer software from India. Nor can he claim that increasing emphasis on an ancient language, Sanskrit, increases the 'feel good' factor among young, upwardly mobile Indians. At this rate, and with this record, Mr. Joshi is unlikely to get a ticket to contest, let alone get a ministry to rule.
Since nothing that Joshi has done has helped India shine, he has decided to go for the impossible dream: he has decided to make pigs fly. And done so by borrowing a defunct slogan from a has been political party -- garibi hatao, offered by Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1971, at a time when per capita income in India was a third of the level today.
If this slogan is still relevant, then Mr Joshi would be on a collision course with the India shining slogan of his bosses. But Mr Joshi is an honourable and astute politician -- so very smartly, he is talking about future poverty and future inequality.
Thinking ahead, as the stars mandate us to do. Hence, the brainwave -- decrease tuition at the elite graduate schools like the Indian Institutes of Management so that ordinary poor folks can also attend and benefit from progress.
Surely, this policy is likely to ensure victory for BJP in the forthcoming election. The poor of India would want to vote for the party, which has substantially decreased tuition fees at elite schools.
The poor will correctly see that in the future, they will be able to afford (and attend) the elite management schools and thereby become rich. Must vote the BJP in so that Mr Joshi can continue with his pro-poor education policy. The BJP bosses will take note of this appeal, and Mr. Joshi's political career will likely fly.
Or will it? There is a minor hitch in Mr Joshi's logic. One needs to graduate from college in order to attend a graduate school. So fees in colleges should be low. Here, Mr Joshi has done his homework.
The socialists in the Congress party of yesteryear made sure that the poor would be able to afford college education so they made it free. Yes, this is true -- a poor (and rich) person can attend the prestigious Delhi University for the same amount of money today as fifty years ago i.e. Rs 20 a month.
So where is the hitch? Well, one needs to graduate from high school to get into college, and one needs to graduate from middle school.… This is where the poor lose out, in India and everywhere else that humans live.
They obtain lower quality education, and being poor, need to work to supplement family earnings. Hence, drop-out rates are higher than average.
So in a typical college going cohort, the rich (top 20 per cent of the population) constitute over 80 per cent of the college entrants; in graduate school (like the IIMs) children of the top 5 per cent constitute more than 80 per cent of the students.
This hitch means that Joshi's pig is likely to crash on take-off. The elite of India are not looking to learn Sanskrit, or astrology, and are desirous of obtaining international quality level education.
The reduction of fees in IIMs will only increase the control of government in education, something that is likely to plummet the quality of education, and with it the prospect of India shining graduates. No votes here for Mr Joshi, especially not from the BJP.
There is something Mr Joshi can do for India's future. He should note that unfairly, the rich of India have the best of all possible worlds. They send their kids to elite private secondary schools, in order that they can get the ability to enter the free universities of Joshi's unshining India.
It is doubtful whether there is any country in the world, which has as regressive an education policy as India. This needs to be changed. What also needs to be changed is the monopoly that the state sector has in providing college education -- this should be opened up to all providers, public and profit making private firms.
The education minister should recommend that "market clearing" fees be charged at all levels of education, and students made to pay on the basis of a "means" test. And students should be allowed to enter a school or college of their choice (via modern voucher systems).
But what about the poor student? The money earned by charging fees from the rich should go towards a two-tier voucher system for the poor -- scholarship for the fees and living expenses. Finally, for girl students, at all levels, the scholarship is higher.There were five years during which Mr Joshi could have implemented these policies, implementation, which would have guaranteed him a place among the great reformers of India. Instead, the education minister chose to waste his time. It is too late to make a mark now, especially with a policy, which can best be described as stupendously stupid.
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