'We can't afford shift to US-style education'By
"I think what's happened in America, the reason it made such an impact is that Americans have begun to realise now that there is something problematic about their system of education. For years they've been accustomed to thinking their education system is the best in the world; now they realise it has very deep problems. I've brought up two children there, they've been through the whole American educational system — and I'm happy to say that they've done very well in that system. But I certainly realise this system is riddled with terrible problems.
I also think the strengths of our system are never properly articulated. The whole world has become so battered and bullied by this constant talk about the excellence of American education by people who have no experience of it, who don't know what it is to bring up children in different places... people automatically accept there is something magnificent in that system and that our system is horrible... And it's really not true.
I've taught at Harvard and at all these places... One of the reasons I really feel relieved not to be teaching any more is that I don't think in many significant respects that the American system works...
Q. You mean in the universities or in schools as well?
A. School education, college education... From top to bottom, it just doesn't work. In some ways it's become like entertainment... When as a college teacher in America you are offering a class, the children "shop" for classes. So which are the classes they're going to take? The classes that are entertaining, the classes where they are marked very liberally. This is exactly what happens: they put their evaluations on their websites so that the students who are following know exactly who are the strict teachers, who are the not strict teachers, and they can game the system very, very well...
Education is not all fun. Education is difficult, but the idea that you have to make education fun at some point becomes self-defeating. You can't make certain kinds of mathematics fun. You can't make difficult things fun. And that's not why you are doing education. Learning poetry by heart is not fun. But it's very necessary to have that poetry in your head if you are studying English literature... I sometimes ask my children: Can you recite a poem? — and they've been to the top institutions in America — and no, they can't.
They (Americans) think that rote learning is bad... But it is such an idiotic idea — what is learning but rote learning? How can you learn the multiplication tables as though it was fun? There's nothing fun about multiplication tables... And learning is in fact 90 per cent rote learning. If you constantly attack this idea of rote learning, it's ridiculous...
If you go to American universities now, why is it that all the departments of mathematics, engineering are filled with Asian students? They come from systems where the rigour is drilled into them from a very early age. If it hasn't been drilled into you from an early age, you have to be truly exceptional. America is a country filled with very brilliant people, and many exceptional students. But the institutional structure doesn't always support them.
Q:Would you say the Indian educational system, with all its faults, still has a few lessons for America and others?
A. This is the point Amy Chua is making — in India and China and so on there is no strict dividing line between upbringing and education — it's your family that is actually providing much of the education. And that you can't reproduce elsewhere. For example, my niece in Kolkata, when she has to go through exams, the whole house shuts down. For two or three months no one will go out, (someone) will sit with her every evening, no one will turn on the TV, literally... the kind of things that every parent in India, every household in India does. Can you imagine this happening in America? It's inconceivable.
Q. There are many in India who want changes in our education system, to bring in Western ideas, an American-style education...
A. That's absolutely the wrong way to go. I'm not saying our system is without faults. There are many faults, many things wrong with it. But there's a lot of stuff which I see constantly being said — from education ministry people and so on, most of whom have no connection with education. I look at it and just laugh to myself... These people have no conception of what they're saying — they are going to destroy what's good in our system and take everything that's bad in that system and end up with the worst possible mess.
When I went from Delhi University to Oxford, I thought I was going into a place where there's so much higher learning, so much a "life of the mind" and it was exactly the opposite... My education in Delhi had been much better than anything Oxford could have provided. I was far ahead of those other students; I'd read all the books already... I knew more than my teachers there, for heaven's sake.
There were also wonderful things about Oxford. It let me explore avenues and byways I could not have done in Delhi, but that was possible because I'd been through this whole rigour... What really worries me is that they are in danger now of throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater!
One thing that is never factored into the debate here — do people even understand the level of cost involved... For each of my two children I'm paying over $50,000 a year for college education — each year for four years — so at the end on each child you spend something like a crore of rupees on their college education.
Our system is delivering an education which in many ways is competitive internationally — and at what cost? It's less than one per cent of that cost. How will our society generate this kind of money for this (American) kind of education? It's ridiculous. Even America can no longer sustain this. Everyone there is talking of the next big bubble being in American education, and I think they're absolutely right...
Do you know what they have to do to put their children through college? People don't realise this here — they take out these loans, and a staggering percentage of American children now come into life with a burden of loans which amount to $200,000-$300,000.
These loans have crippling rates of interest — they can never get rid of these loans, and they are specifically exempted even from bankruptcy claims... So if a person declares bankruptcy, even then they cannot get rid of these loans. For the first 20-30 years of their lives they are working to pay off these loans. Is such a system conceivable here? What impact will it have on the poor and all those who can't afford it?"
Rs 24,000 fee for KG in Stalin kin's schoolEven as the debate rages over the exorbitant fees collected by private schools in Tamil Nadu, the government committee, headed by Justice Raviraja Pandian, has allowed a school here to collect as much as Rs 24,000 as annual fees for kindergarten classes.
This is the highest fee fixed for any school in the state and it happens to be administered by none other than former deputy chief minister M.K. Stalin's daughter, Ms Senthamarai Sabaresan.
According to the government website, www.pallikalvi.in, Ms Sabaresan's Sunshine Montessori nursery and primary school, allowed to collect the highest fee in the state, has its office at 5, Rani street, Dr Seethapathy Nagar, Velachery.
This address also belongs to Mr Stalin as per the affidavit he filed as the DMK candidate for Kolathur constituency in the recent Assembly election.
While Mr Stalin's kin is allowed to charge the state's highest annual fee of Rs 24,000 — perhaps taking into account its high-class infrastructure and world-class facilities — some other schools have been directed to collect fees as low as Rs 1,500.
According to Mr L. Shanmugasundaram, general secretary, Tamil Nadu students-parents federation, the Raviraja Pandian committee had made its recommendations without revealing the parameters that guided its decisions.
"The committee report lacks transparency. We do not know how the committee went about fixing the fees. Some schools, backed by political honchos, managed to get hefty fees sanctioned," Mr Shanmugasun-daram said.
Efforts to contact Ms Sabaresan of Sunshine school to get her version were not successful.