BHAMY V. SHENOY

KARNATAKA’S KIDS WORSE OFF THAN BIHAR’S

Can our villages throw up another A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or K.R. Narayanan? Young boys who make it big on the world stage in spite of their rural backgrounds and their poverty? Young boys who rise and shine through the sheer weight of their schooling and learning?

We would like the answer to be “yes”.

The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “no”.

Pratham Mysore with the help of seven other NGOs and three volunteer groups covered 11 districts in Southern Karnataka for the Annual Survey on Education Report (ASER) between November 14 and December 20 last year testing about 4,500 children in 220 villages (the other 16 districts were covered by our sister organization Akshara based in Bangalore)

Some of our shocking findings are:

# In Karnataka 53% of children between the ages of 7 and 10 years attending schools in villages (private and government) cannot read even a simple small paragraph (level 1) and 72.5% cannot read a story (level 2).

# Of the same age group, 60% cannot solve numerical sums of subtraction and a whopping 91% cannot do a division (3 digits divided by 1 digit).

# In villages in Mysore district, 58% of children attending Standard V cannot read beyond level 2 (in the case of best performing district Udupi, it is only 9%) and 84% cannot solve division and subtraction problems (even for Udupi it is a dismal 39%).

Karnataka which takes pride in having the maximum number of high-tech firms in India is at the bottom of the performance tables based on tests conducted to measure reading and arithmetic abilities of children. While the all-India statistics is appalling, Karnataka’s statistics is shocking. We rank well below Bihar!

This should have made head line news in any civilized country. Surprisingly, there is neither a mention nor a statement by our state leadership.

While we want to usher in our own industrial revolution based on the knowledge industry, why is there such an indifference? We all know that the destiny of a nation is shaped in the classrooms.

Mysore may soon become the next Silicon Valley City creating high paying jobs. What does this new prosperity mean to these village children?

Umpteen high level committees have taken a look at the sorry state of affairs in our education sector over the years. Intellectually challenging reports with high sounding recommendations have been submitted by them. Still we have not made any significant improvement in universalizing education.

However, there were some bright facts revealed by ASER. Of the children between the ages of 6 and 14, only 2.9% have dropped out and 3.7% have never enrolled at all India level. Thus we have made a quantum leap in enrolling children. On this measure, Karnataka has the third highest rank with only 1.9% being out of school when the all India average being 6.6% and Bihar at 13.5%. But what about the quality of education they are receiving in the school?

India already spends Rs 60,000 crore annually towards elementary education. The Planning Commission has promised to spend more money on the latest scheme known as Sarva Sikshana Abhiyan. We wonder if spending more money by itself will solve the problem.

Today, in Karnataka teachers in government schools are paid four to six times the salary of private schools. Government school teachers are given regular training and have access to teaching resource materials. In some respects, many government school teachers hired in recent years are better qualified than teachers in private schools. Still it is difficult to find a single government teacher who would like to send his or her child to a government school.

School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) was one of the best strategies developed in recent years to improve education in our school. During our survey work, we have found out how that strategy has failed in most places because of politicization and indifference on the educated people to stay away. All of us know how our examination system is totally obsolete and corrupting the system. But we as a society have failed to come up with an alternative way.

What we need is a total revolution in our education system. To usher in such a revolution we are suggesting the four policy decisions to be adapted by our government. All of them look simple and straightforward. But we have no illusion that any of them can be implemented soon or without a lot of hard work. However if there is general awakening in the society as a result of one more survey like the one by ASER, we should be able to implement these reforms.

# There should be an independent body constituted (like NAAC for colleges) to evaluate the teacher performance at every district level. Teacher promotion and increment should be based on the evaluation by these independent bodies. Every effort should be made to keep politics as far as possible from these institutions. Karnataka government has taken a small step in starting Karnataka School Quality Assessment Organization in 2005.

# Teachers should not be transferred from place to place. Preference for appointments should be to teachers who live within a radius of 10kms from the school. The new government order of transferring teachers through a computerized system may reduce corruption, but will not solve the basic problem.

# It should be made mandatory that every government teacher send his or her child to government schools.

# Education management should be decentralized as envisaged by 73 and 74 amendment to the constitution. Each city, taluk or group of villages should have an autonomous education body with full financial and operating responsibilities and as well as authority to manage educational institutions under them. In other words, we need to completely dismantle the current dysfunctional top heavy and bureaucratic education system. Again the proposed new government initiative of making SDMCs subcommittees of Gram Panchayats is only a small step in the right direction.

The above four strategic policy decisions will start a chain reaction to bring about hundreds of micro-level improvements suggested by various reports automatically. However there will be fierce opposition from a small group of people including some of the teachers who are benefiting from the current status quo. However if we the citizens come forward in large numbers and demand such a change, we can bring about dramatic improvement in our education system.

(Ashvini Ranjan is managing trustee of Pratham Mysore and Bhamy V. Shenoy is a trustee. Pratham Mysore today has 143 balawadis, 131 balasakhis and 6 bridge courses to help more than 6,000 poor children in the slums of Mysore. The ASER findings covering 485 districts, 9,521 villages and 3,32,971 children were presented to Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, on Jan 17th, 2006.)

**

BANGALORE VIOLENCE WASN’T THE WORK OF EMOTIONALLY CHARGED FANS BUT THE CALCULATED WORK OF MAFIAS PAID FOR BY THE “INVISIBLE HAND”

It is almost two weeks since the death of Raj Kumar. And it is also almost two weeks since Bangalore experienced a living hell.

People have now started to talk about what is the best way of preserving Raj Kumar’s memory. But our society has already forgotten what lessons we can learn from the goondaism that followed his death.

No one has been held responsible for the nine who were killed in the mayhem. No one has taken the blame for the crores worth of property damage.

For those two days it looked as though there was no government in Bangalore.

In many respects the scene must have reminded one of what happened in Delhi soon after Indira Gandhi was gunned down in 1984. However, after many years, the culprits from the Congress Party have been found guilty though not prosecuted. The PM has asked for the apology of Sikhs.

But in the case of Bangalore, the young and inexperienced Chief Minister has only hinted at an “invisible hand”. He owes an explanation to the citizens. He needs to constitute a judiciary commission to find the guilty and punish them so that such incidents do not happen again in Karnataka.

No use of just claiming that he knows who was behind it and allowing us to start a guessing game. When will he make the next move?

Some eye-witnesses are now coming out with horrid details of those two days. Hopefully, some social activist-journalist or a concerned NGO will contact those eye witnesses to write a detailed report on what actually happened.

What has happened cannot be undone. But by learning lessons, we may be able to prevent such incidences in the future. Despite what happened after Indira Gandhi’s killing, our society failed to take preventive steps. Maybe we thought that since it was natural death, nothing would happen. In the event we have been proven wrong.

Can we be better prepared next time?

It seems there were people carrying stones in autorickshaws to hurt people. Police were mute spectators when unruly boys were torching cars and did not prevent them from hooliganism even when citizens were requesting them to interfere.

An attempt was made to damage a new cancer hospital. A hotel was burnt and several buildings torched. A resident who had purchased a new Qualis was heart broken when his dream was burnt down in few minutes.

This is not the work of emotionally charged fans but the calculated work of mafias paid for by the “invisible hand”.

It seems police had been asked not to take any action and in effect to give a free hand to the goondas. Is this true? Or it is just a wrong perception? If it is true then the Police Commissioner should take the moral responsibility and resign.

If the Police Commissioner was advised by the CM, then CM should resign. In any case we need an investigation.

Today, Raj Kumar’s fans are unnecessarily blamed for what has happened. Some are advancing the theory that it was the pent-up feeling of the poor against corruption and other ills of our society which have given rise to this sudden and unexpected chaos.

But the eye witnesses are giving a totally different picture and so also the CM. Who is going to start the ball rolling to initiate an investigation?

Let us start with a people’s report of what happened on April 12 and 13, 2006.

**

LOOK, HOW INDIANS ABROAD MUSTER SUPPORT

Dear Representative,

I am a constituent from your state, and as a member of USINPAC, an organization which promotes issues that are shaped by the emerging concerns of two million Indian Americans living in the United States, I respectfully urge you to support the civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the US and India. This historic agreement has the potential to transform US-India relations and this is why USINPAC has taken the lead in ensuring that Congress knows that this issue is of utmost importance to the Indian American community.

I strongly feel that this deal will greatly benefit America for the following reasons:

1. Great for American Businesses: Civilian nuclear cooperation will create several business opportunities in India for small, medium and large American companies. Two-way, bilateral trade between the United States and India has increased by 221% over the past 13 years from 5.6 billion in 1990 to 18.03 billion in 2003 and is expected to grow substantially. The total amount of exports that will be generated by nuclear cooperation alone could amount to upwards of $25 billion over the next few years.

2. Keeping Energy Costs Down for Ordinary Americans: India does not have the domestic energy resources to sustain its rapidly growing economy, and consequently must meet its requirements through foreign energy resources. As India consumes more energy from the world’s energy supply, the cost for energy for ordinary Americans will increase significantly. Civilian nuclear cooperation is one of the strategic options India and the US have to keep energy costs down for ordinary Americans. Currently, nuclear energy only comprises 3% of India’s energy consumption, and this number cannot increase substantially without civilian nuclear cooperation with the United States.

3. India, America’s Strongest Ally in the Region, has great concern concerning Energy Insecurity: India is already the sixth largest energy consumer in the world, but in order to maintain their strong economic growth, India’s energy consumption will need to increase by a staggering 4% in order to maintain an economic growth rate of 6-7%. Within 15 years, India will import 90% of their oil, largely from the Middle East. Within 25 years, India’s demand for electricity and coal will increase by 150% and 70%, respectively. Within 20 years, India’s natural gas consumption will be unable to be met through domestic resources and is projected to import more than 50% of its natural gas. Civilian nuclear cooperation is the only way India can stay energy secure.

For the past eight months, USINPAC has been actively engaged in Washington and India. In advance of President Bush’s trip to India and in response to Prime Minister Singh’s visit to the US, USINPAC also hosted a critical event about the agreement which was attended by key Members of Congress and India’s Ambassador Ronen Sen. In January 2006, USINPAC took a delegation to India where we met with Government leaders to further this cause.

While we are clearly aware that this agreement cannot move forward without Congressional approval, USINPAC is hopeful that you will consider the views of our community as you begin to deliberate this very serious matter. We are also hopeful that you will take into account India’s response to concerns raised by those who would oppose this agreement.

To date, India has produced a plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities much sooner than originally planned. India has committed to more than triple the number of nuclear reactors under IAEA safeguards. India will allow more detailed inspections by the IAEA as evidenced by agreeing to the Additional Protocol. India has also created a new Export Control System to further protect its nuclear technology and materials from proliferation. While India already has a stellar record of nonproliferation, it is evident by the actions India has agreed to take that global nonproliferation will be enhanced should the US Congress decide to support civil nuclear cooperation. In fact, if supported by the US Congress, the agreement reached by Prime Minister Singh and President Bush will bring India’s nuclear program into the international mainstream.

As importantly, civil nuclear cooperation will help India address its rapidly rising energy needs which will increase more than threefold over the next thirty years. By lessening India’s demand for other energy supplies, the price of fossil fuels for consumers in America and around the world also will be curbed.

Finally, India, with a population of more than one billion, is a key U.S. ally in, as The Economist labels it, “one of the world’s tougher neighbourhoods.” India is also positioned to become the world’s third largest economy. Civil nuclear cooperation as proposed by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh will bolster security and stability which is good for America, good for India, and good for you.

Again, I respectfully urge you to support civilian nuclear cooperation between the United States and India. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at 571-722-4071 or dkapoor@usinpac.com.

Sincerely,

Bhamy V Shenoy
Houston, Texas

Forget cholera, is Dutch Disease stalking Mysore?

In the past year, politicians, social activists and experts have started to question the true contribution of the IT industry to Bangalore’s development.

First, it started as a row between former prime minister H. D. Deve Gowda and the chairman of Infosys N. R. Narayana Murthy. At that stage, it was not taken seriously, since the questions raised involved land deals only.

However, as others have started to question the actual contribution of IT, the debate has turned more serious.

Now, the residents of Mysore, which is attracting increasing attention from the IT industry, have started to ask the same questions about its real benefits to the city.

Like Bangalore, is the Dutch Disease threatening Mysore?

There may be some lessons the IT industry can learn from the oil industry which produces Black Gold. Research by economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, Michael Ross of the University of California at Los Angeles, Arvind Subramanian of the IMF, among others, have shown that Black Gold has often turned into a curse for the oil rich countries rather than a blessing.

What does that mean?

With very few exceptions, every oil-rich country in the world has suffered on account of oil. These countries have been wracked by civil wars. Or the divide between the rich and poor has widened. Or there has been totalitarian rule.

For example, the poor of Nigeria, Venezuela and Mexico, which are some of the leading oil exporting countries, have yet to see the benefits from their oil resources.

This is often referred to as Dutch Disease because the curse was first felt in the Netherlands soon after the discovery of their giant Groningen gas fields in the ‘60s.

The Dutch were ecstatic when the huge gas field was discovered. They were able to export gas to other west European countries. This in turn increased their foreign earnings. The Dutch currency got very strong, but productivity of other sectors in Holland did not keep pace with such an increase.

As a result, Dutch exports of non-oil sector goods suffered and workers in those sectors lost jobs. As the gas industry is not labor intensive, Dutch unemployment increased. With that social unrest also increased. It is because of this, such a phenomenon where one industry dominates and hurts the rest of the economy is called as Dutch Disease.

The time might have now come to apply the lessons learnt from Dutch disease to Bangalore’s IT sector in some fashion. And by extrapolation to Mysore, too.

Future economic historians may refer to the crisis Bangaloreans are facing today as Bangalore Disease.

In oil rich countries like Kuwait, Norway, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc, to avoid the problems of Dutch Disease, they have established a special oil fund to be used for future generations. Some have parked their oil revenues outside their countries to prevent the strengthening of the local currency.

On the face of it, if we take a close look at the phenomenon of the IT sector in India, there are not many similarities between the oil and IT industries.

Unlike the oil industry, IT industry is labour intensive, less capital intensive and relatively requires less skill sets. Oil is based on depleting natural resource while IT is based on intellectual capital which expands with greater use.

However the one critical factor which is common to both is the ability to generate huge earnings to few lucky ones.

It is this which has given rise to Dutch Disease symptoms in Bangalore. Because of the ability to pay huge salaries, IT has been able to attract all the best talents available. As a result, all other sectors will suffer not immediately but in the course of time because of lack of good managers and professionals.

In the case of the oil industry this happened as a result of the competitive disadvantage of the local currency strengthening against the currencies of trading partners. In the case of Dutch Disease, this was the main problem.

But in the case of the Bangalore Disease, we have many other problems.

Real estate value has sky rocketed to such an extent in Bangalore that employees in other sectors and retirees just cannot afford to remain in the city. The sudden affluence of IT sector employees has skewed the demand for luxury goods and services which again can have devastating impact on the cultural and social values of Bangalore.

History has shown that extreme unequal distribution of wealth where islands of prosperity is surrounded by ocean of poverty will give rise to social unrest.

Though we do not have the conclusive proof to connect the horrific traffic problem of Bangalore with IT sector, it is tempting to look upon it as one of the contributing factors.

For IT sector employees owning a private vehicle is not a financial burden. The booming IT sector might have also given rise to sudden increase in the population of private vehicles.

Establishing a special fund and siphoning of excess funds from the economy was a simple strategy to solve Dutch Disease in the case of the oil industry.

In the ’80s, when expatriates started to spend money back home from the Gulf countries, Kerala suffered some symptoms of the Bangalore Disease. But its impact was limited since there was no concentration in one city or part of Kerala.

Karnataka instead of inviting all IT sector companies only to Bangalore should seriously think of dispersing it to all over the state and even to rural areas by providing what the President APJ Kalam often calls as PURA (Providing Urban amenities to Rural Areas).

Unlike the Dutch Disease, solving Bangalore Disease will not be easy. We need IT, BT and other knowledge-based industries to solve the employment problem and to fight poverty. All encouragement should be given to them with little government involvement.

At the same time we should also recognize the potential problems it can create as Bangalore Disease seems to be doing and take remedial steps.

The first step is to recognise and diagnose Bangalore Disease. Have we done that?

Unlike the oil industry, IT need not be a curse if we plan properly. Be it in Bangalore or Mysore.

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