April 17, 2008

NScAI : National School Authority of India

I have always been fascinated by the possibility of high volume education delivery and the immense potential this has to transform the country ... without taking recourse to divisive tactics like reservation.

My first attempt to articulate this was in 1999 when I participated in the CSIR sponsored New Millenium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative and proposed the idea of Shikshaajaal. The proposal, like most proposals sent to the government went -- i suppose -- straight into some bureaucratic dustbin.

My second attempt was in the CII Eastern Region Meeting on Talent Management in 2007 where I delivered the keynote address and presented the idea once again ... but all to no avail. The distinguished delegates, had their lunch, dozed through the lecture and went back to their mundane existence.

My third attempt was directed at

Big Idea Contest
that asked participants to send in ONE Big Idea that can change the face of the country and to articulate this in less than 50 words

My ideas was as follows : Modelled on NHAI, the National Schools Authority of India, will raise finance through tax-free bonds, and build a network of primary schools in every district of the country. After construction, the schools will be leased out to local entities through transparent bidding and operated as franchisees of NSAI.

This idea has been adjudged by the FE panel as the best idea and the results were announced in the paper on 11 April 2008. New Delhi Edition, Page 2 - International section.

I am unable to find the link but here is an imagefile of the news :

Financial Express has kindly promised to present me with an HCL Laptop computer for which I am very grateful but will this idea go anywhere after this ? I hope it does but am also very sceptical ... If you like this idea please spread the word.

April 11, 2008

In Search of IRRELEVANCE : IITs and IIMs

Mediocrity has finally triumphed over Merit. The Supreme Court of India -- led by the Chief Justice who has been a direct beneficiary of the politics of reservation -- has sided with our politicians and have declared that in India, the search for Excellence is over. From now on we should be in search of Irrelevance. The IITs and IIMs, that last, albeit shaky bastion, of the intellectual elite has fallen to the powers of the Dark Lord of Venal Populism ... from the depths of despair the citizen cries out What Next ?

For all such anguished souls ... all that we can say is Take Heart. This is not the first and shall certainly not be the last ... Let us go back in time and reexamine the painful journey that the people of this hapless land have had to travel .. and how they have fared.

Those of you who have been born and brought up in Calcutta in the late sixties and early seventies may recollect an organisation called Haringhata Diary, owned and mismanaged by the Government of West Bengal. As the sole supplier of milk to the city, it was a paragon of high-handedness but citizens had no option but to literally beg for the milk cards that were the only source of milk for the population. But with the arrival of Amul, Metro and a host of other suppliers this once haughty and arrogant organisation is now a ghost of its former self ... its once imperious employees now reduced to sitting on the footpaths to offer their shoddy wares. Such is the invisible hand of the free market.

Fast forward to the nineties and ditto is the case with Department of Telephones ( or in its new avatar, BSNL) and Indian Airlines ( now simply Indian ). With Airtel, Vodaphone, Reliance and Tata Teleservices offering telephone connections in 30 minutes flat ... only the insane will go searching for a BSNL phone. So is the case with Indian Airlines .. now reserved for and serving only sarkari babus. Such is the invisible hand of the free market.

So would BE the case in Life Insurance and Banks in the next few years. Those of you who are reading this blog would hardly have any interest in any of these government organisations.

In a larger sense, so is the case with all government provided goods and services. Including jobs -- which is seen as a public service or charity to be doled out to the population. V.P. "Mandal" Singh might have reserved 50% government jobs for his constituency of so called backward classes, but today, do we really care ? Does anybody really care for jobs in nationalised banks ? in the railways ? as BDOs in the state government ? even in the so-called mighty IAS ? No sir. Thanks, but no thanks. We are better off looking for jobs in Tata Motors, Arcellor Mittal, Wipro, Larsen & Toubro or in any of multinational entities opening shop in India.

What does this mean in the Education Sector ? What it means is that the days of IITs and IIMs are numbered. As more and more private colleges open out ... it is these that will attract the best marketing talent, the best faculty, the best recruiters and so the best students. Do any one of our children go to government sponsored primary and secondary schools any more ? Certainly not. Shall any of our children go to these anaemic government colleges any more ? For the next five years, possibly and regrettably yes ... but then ? What then ? Stanford, Harvard and MIT are all private organisations that have served as benchmarks of excellence ... so would be the private colleges started by industrialists and businessmen ( even corrupt businessmen ) in India.

And then who will care about the levels of reservation in IITs and IIMs ? They will simply drop out of view ... out of sight, out of mind ... just like Haringhata Dairy, BSNL, Indian Airlines, LIC and United Bank of India !! and good riddance.

So relax and enjoy yourself ... at least for the time being.

But is this picture all that rosy ? Is there not the hint of dark shadow lurking in the background of this otherwise rosy picture ? Do the forces of darkness not realise that this irrelevance is just a matter of time ? Of course they are. And what are they doing about this ?

There is a move afoot to introduce reservations in both private sector businesses and in private ( and un-aided) colleges and deemed universities. Should that happen -- and it is certainly not impossible, given the powers of populism ranged against those of good sense -- then it will only lead to an even greater irrelevance ... The irrelevance of India itself in a globalised world.

Just as we have stopped caring for Haringhata milk, the world will stop caring for Indian goods and services. Now that is a serious problem for which -- alas -- I have no solution at the moment.

Or do I have a solution ? If you have the inclination and the time, read my book The Road to pSingularity ... or if you do not have the time, read this last chapter .. The Contours of the Eternal. It may make you feel just a little bit better.