Thursday, November 13, 2008

Education System of Yankees

Few years back, a co-worker friend of mine made a very interesting comment - "We have to hire people from India to make software because we Americans don't find I.T jobs very sexy".

The words 'job' and 'sexy' in same breath was striking for me. I always thought a profession like say Advertisement was a sexy job or I don't know.. movies may be. But I.T? Why would Americans want even their regular jobs to be sexy. Never mind.

In other words, either the I.T job is too geeky or not macho enough for young white kids to pursue.I told him, we Indians don't care really, whether our jobs are sexy or not. We "just do IT", Nike style. We Indians are like herds. If 5 of our friends are going in IT, we will follow. We are very communal and social. We like to travel in groups, notwithstanding the "Ekla chalo ray" theme. Then it does not matter what branch or field we come from. Mechanical,Electrical,Civil,Fisheries... doesn't matter. I.T - it is.

Actually even before we are born, our parents have decided in their minds what their sons and daughters are going to be. And they ensure to push their choices down our throats from day 1. But we can't blame them. Given the socio-economic conditions, they choose the "safest" route.

Today's article by Nicholas D Kristof is spot on.

"So let’s break for a quiz: Quick, what’s the source of America’s greatness?

Is it a tradition of market-friendly capitalism? The diligence of its people? The cornucopia of natural resources? Great presidents?

No, a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system — which, for most of our history, was the best in the world but has foundered over the last few decades."

Key words here? Yes - "has foundered over the last few decades".

Every year India's heavily subsidized education system produces a huge talent pool. A good %age of that talent pool migrates to USA because the "native talent pool" finds certain jobs non-sexy. This an amazing demand-supply paradigm. But how do we look at it? Is it America's loss and India's gain? How is it India's gain if a good %age of skill is 'brain-draining' it's own economy?

According to an estimate, Govt of India (GOI) spends about 100,000 $ via subsidies etc for a decent Engineer in India. If that Engineer happens to move to USA, and becomes productive here and creates wealth in a way, isn't that like GOI gifting USA 100 grands for free?

100,000 Indian students in USA

BUT, here's a good counter to that. Say, the Engineer X comes back to India after 10 years and starts an enterprise that creates amongst other things wealth and employment. Isn't X transferring the knowledge back to India? And 10 times more? This interesting phenomenon of shared brain-drain has compelling arguments on both sides and I don't want to get into it.

Kristof's point is American Education is decaying and needs a reinforcement of ideas . He is clearly concerned about his own country's future and rightly so. By same token we should be concerned too. I think we in India have a retrograde policy towards our education system. We need to "de-centralize" it smartly to leverage our immense talent pool for our own good. The socialist mind set of monopolizing everything including Education has proven costly. The smart thing to do is not for us to remove education subsidies but optimize it's vast advantage for our own good first. We need many Kristof's to tell this loudly to our leaders who's panacea for all problems is one word - RESERVATION.

It is important that we make sure the rich people in India, who can afford, are not subsidized. I made a simple case before. I pointed out that Indians spend 500 crore per year on educating their sons and daughters in USA. This means we "give" USA 500 crore per year to educate our kids. In a way we are 'outsourcing' our Education needs to USA. The smart thing to do was to actually keep that money back home and educate 10 times more kids in same amount of money. There is an extremely high demand for education in India. I mean people are willing to spend like crazy. Now if the GOI was smart enough, it would have sensed a perfect economic opportunity here and not allow the cash flight to USA. But alas, for every Arun Shourie we have ten Arjun Singhs. And I think that is an explanation in itself.


Post Script: Reservation is an emotional subject. I am all for "affirmative action" for economically weaker sections. But I vehemently oppose cast-based reservation. Because with caste-based system even a stinking rich person like a Lalu or a Mulayam can get his / her daughter to IIT.

1 comment:

Blue Bike said...

your line "for every arun shourie there are 10 arjun singhs" hits the spot :)