Inequality in Indian Education

Farmer on-going protests

Before I start with the education system in India which I have talked about many times in the past, first let me share couple of pieces about the farmer movement which is still at Sanghu Delhi border.

<Manjeet Kaur,62 at farmer protest with her friends.

The above picture became somewhat viral as it showed Manjeet Kaur, who drove down from Patiala, Punjab to Sanghu border along with her friends to take part in the on-going protests. The picture not only shares how the women are part and parcel of this protest but also they are independently taking part in the protest.

The other were two articles I read today, first was an article in tribune which questions that if the policy worked, why it didn’t work in the state of Bihar. The other by a young law student who had to go from Chandigarh to Delhi with family for some work and her experience with the ongoing protest. In fact, an interesting observation was made by the CJI in the many suits against farmer protests in the SC. This makes for much more interesting read when you see an RTI query filed by Saket Gokhale to NHAI , a Central Govt. agency which is supposed to be independent and asks if they had filed an FIR and asked compensation from Haryana State and Haryana State Police which had dug up National Highway 44 and if any permission was asked for the same from NHAI. And NHAI unable to take any action for the same. If this isn’t shameful, I dunno what is –

Saket Gokhale’s RTI query on digging up NH44
NHAI response to Saket Gokhale’s query.

Sadly, the way the response has been worded makes it impossible for NHAI to discharge its own responsibilities and this becomes a precedent for other states now that know that NHAI is vulnerable. A pretty sad turn on events.

Indian Education can’t go online

There was a recent article on scroll which shared how Indian education can’t go online as only a few have computers with decent netlink speeds as well as other factors which are needed for online education. But there are also many things that the article doesn’t take into account which actually make the task more difficult and raise the boundary more.

Now in most schools and colleges, the number of students to teacher ratio could be anywhere between 70-150 or even more. In the last few years, a lot of schools have been closed down by various Governments, including and not limited to the ruling Govt. They have in fact intensified closures of public schools wherever their Govt. has been in power. Closing to 5000+ schools in one state in a year is a dramatic shift and such has been happening time and again. In fact, the rising costs of Indian education has made many to leave Indian shores and do studies abroad. And once they do their masters or whatever, the chances of them coming back to India become more and more remote. In India the costs have been becoming so bad that NBFC’s have started products targeting the same. How NBFC and Banks have (both public and private) have fared with respect to Indian consumers needs its own blog post but one word to describe it is ‘bad’. But as shared above, needs its own blog post.

Coming to the Indian context though, what has not been captured in that article is that the responsibility of making new content also raises huge barriers for teachers. My own experience in teacher’s trainings for ICT usage has shown that most teachers do not know and use internet effectively both to sustain their own curiosity as well as their students. Part of which is whether you are private employee or a public school teacher, the teacher is not paid enough. I have had multiple conversations with friends over the years who are teachers who shared that they get 50% salary in-hand while they sign for 100%. This is more in the case or private schools though. In Govt. schools, the teachers apart from their regular administrative duties apart from teaching duties are also unpaid labor for Govt. policy. Take the recent covid crisis, it was the teachers who for months together went from door-to-door asking if they had a covid patient. This was all over India. Even for voter registration, census, polio and various other immunization efforts, the teachers are roped in. So apart from that, they somehow have to figure out how to make ends meet and also boost student morale. Hence the attention is only limited to the first couple of benches rather than the whole as a 45-minute to an hr. session is just not enough to go through a class of 70-150 school students giving individual attention. And this is when for most teachers, teaching is a means to an end and not the end itself.

I am going to take one example of science and sort of break-it-down in multiple steps and how I would have approached that topic for say the 5th-6th standard students in say a public school in Pune and especially if Covid would not have been an issue so you have face-to-face meetup.

There was recent news about a mysterious radio signal which came from one of our closest galactic neighbors Proxima Centauri. Now let’s say there was a class I was teaching/sharing which I had shared before and there already is trust formed.

So before coming to the news, I would tell the students about frequency and more generally the notation of why we like to measure things and how we measure things. There is so much beautiful history which could be acted and enacted which can show and remains in mind why measurement is needed. Once that is understood, discussed and an underpinning is established, we could move to human perception or the lack of it. We know that humans have lots of limits in almost everything, whether it is talking, touching, hearing, all of our five senses are pretty limited with what we know of spectrum available in the immediate family kingdom as well as in the Universe. I would start with how far can a person throw his voice and be heard without using any other means. There does come a point where they need to use anything from a megaphone to a loudspeaker and what it actually does.

The other thing I would then talk is about the radio and ask the students to find more about the internals of a radio. If possible to bring an old radio to school where it could be disassembled. After they are familiar with some names of the electronic components and what they do, take them to the electronics market where they try to source all the things needed to make a radio and whatever they encounter. This would allow the students to try and do bargain shopping as well as learn from where to source things. Some might even get a copy or two of electronic projects where the shop themselves sell blueprints to hobbyists so that they can tinker.

If there is a place in the school where soldering can be done, then all can try and sooner or later we come to know if something works or not. There is also possibility of talking about noise cancellation and then the topic of ITU can also be bought up and how they do frequency allocation. Last but not the least then the topic can be approached about an alien civilization and an unknown radio signal and what it means and what it can mean.

Now if just one topic can give such a wide range of things to do and develop an understanding about not the subject itself but surrounding subjects as well I see no reason why teachers can’t do this except they are handcuffed to lot of policy as well as real-life constraints.

For e.g. I remember in my school days, we used to go out once or twice a year and that used to be either a school picnic or something similar. The only other I know is going to Mumbai for Nehru planetarium and Nehru science Centre. Unfortunately, I didn’t go at that time because the school was taking students via air and the tickets were super costly at the time and that too for a 10 minute journey between the two cities. Those were different days, today you can’t have a direct flight between the two cities as it doesn’t make an economic sense. It makes more sense to go to Mumbai via train or bus as you will reach Mumbai in about couple of hrs. Of course, Pune does have its own planetarium at New English school and there are a few amateur astronomy clubs in Pune but nothing on the scale that what Mumbai has, but then this is getting off-topic.

Now, again in an online world could this be done? Not without both the teacher and the student both spending lot of resources online and even then will be a lower understanding as both the hands-on experience as well as interacting with other students and learning from other students (aping) would be hugely limited. Even the social skills that students develop in a school setting will be rusted. My own social skills probably have weakened and rusted as I have very limited interaction with people over the past few months due to Covid fears and would be at least for the next few years till a large enough population is not vaccinated.

The Constitution of Knowledge

Truth, Untruths and Education in India.

I read this somewhat disturbing and yet pretty raw truth from foreign affairs. It took me quite a few days to not only digest but also say yes and see the same situation playing out in India. I have been seeing the discourse on Twitter and while a part of it is the equivalent of road rage, a huge part is a disconnect to not acknowledge and be civil. We may come to different conclusions from the same data but being civil seems to be difficult for a lot of people. One part is of course ego, where nobody wants to lose, but more than that are the plain comprehension issues. Most of the literature, good literature is unfortunately based in English.

And while we can have differing opinions of what constitutes good literature, for me it’s books like Battle of Belonging,The:On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What it Means – Shashi Tharoor. From what little I have understood, the book makes the case of civic nationalism which is far more inclusive than the narrow confines of patriotism. Now this begs the question when you have such books and many books which do tell you about different aspects of social, political and knowledge, why are so many people prone to disinformation in India similar to U.S. and probably other countries as well. One of the biggest reasons per-se is lack of education and quality education. When the number of graduates is less than five percent how do you expect that population to be able to take decisions in their economic self-interest? So sadly the understanding is ingrained from WhatsApp and there is no need to check from alternate sources. And just like Mr. Trump followers, they believe those versions to be the unvarnished truth. I do understand that no truth is immutable except for life and death. All others are imperfect unless it is validated by some sort of scientific validation behind it. At the same time, these truths may themselves be invalidated if a stronger scientific evidence establishes itself. This is the reason why hypothesis and facts themselves are challenged again and again. Sharing couple of examples below.

Nationalization of Banking, RERA and RCEP

Most of the people want freedom of the banks i.e. private banking don’t really know that private banking existed at a time in free India before they were nationalized and these banks failed at surprisingly regular intervals. Now it isn’t as if this fact is hidden but it is not as popular as maybe some other facts or ideas. Now the Government in the center obviously doesn’t want to share these facts as they want corporates in banking. And if that fact is known by many people it will be a huge setback to their plans. RBI failures have been to many to count. Even recent legislations like RERA and others which were supposed to bring relief to millions of potential homeowners has become a pawn in the hands of builders and this has been known.

One of the interesting points of RCEP which is not so much in public domain is that RCEP would have a mere 4.5% duty on most products which will go down to 1.5% over a 20 year period. Now with India staying out of it, we have done two things. We have said that we will not be competitive even after 20 years of this which is the more damning part. And we will not take part in the growth that other countries will have due to this.

Contempt Proceedings against Comic Artist because she has an opinion on SC

The fall in SC and constitutional values grows day by day. The AG today consented to have contempt proceedings against a comic artist saying she insulted the SC. Gone are the days when an artist made fun of the PM, and she gave him a Padam Shri (one of the highest civilian honors) for his contributions. Then, even dissent or being cynical was looked as being a contribution to the national effort rather than today. This is the reason why India has been continuously falling in the Global Freedom of Expression Index. I have seen censoring many a time here. I, myself has been locked out of Wikipedia many times. Can you imagine, being locked out of Wikipedia which is perhaps one of the more neutral sites on the web. And then there was this wikibio thing, such a sad thing to happen. Guessing this is the future of the Indian interweb. 😦

Stick figure by Sanitary Panels on SC

Depression, Harrapa, Space program

I was and had been depressed mostly when the election results were out. I was expecting like many others that Congress will come into power, but it didn’t . With that, came one bad after other, whether it was on politics (Jammu and Kashmir, Assam) both of which from my POV are inhumane not just on citizenship but even simply on humane levels. How people can behave like this with each other is beyond me. On the Economic Front, the less said the better. We are in midst of a prolonged recession and don’t see things turning out for the better any time soon. But as we have to come to terms with it and somehow live day-to-day, we are living. Because of the web, came to know there are so many countries where it is happening right now, whether it is Britian (Brexit), South Africa, Brazil. In fact, the West Papu thing is similar in many ways to what happened in Kashmir. Of course each region has its own complexities but this can be safely said that such events are happening all over. In every incident, one way ‘The Other’ is demonized. This has happened in all of the above incidents.

One question I have often asked and have had no clear answers. If Germany knew that Israel would be big and strong as it is now, would they have done what they did ? Had they known that Einstein, A Jew would go on to change the face of Science. Would America have been great without Einstein to such a degree ? I was flabbergasted when I saw ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort‘ which is based on real life done by Mossad as shared in the pictures after the movie.

Even among such blackness, I do see some hope. One thing which has good has been the rise of independant media. While the mainstream media has become completely ridiculous and instead of questioning the Government is toeing its line, independant media is trying to do what mainstream media should have been doing all along. I wouldn’t say much about this otherwise the whole blog post would be about independant India only. Maybe some other day 🙂

Harrapan Civilization

One of the more interesting things, videos has been the gamification of Evolution. There is a game called ‘Ancestors, the Humankind Odyssey‘ . While sadly the game is only on Epic Games Store, I have been following the gameplay as shared by GameRiotArmy . While almost all the people who are playing the game have divorced it from their personal beliefs because of the whole evolution, natural selection vs creationism debate, the game itself feeds on the evolution and natural selection bits. The game is open-world in nature. The only quibble I have is it should have started with the big bang but then it probably would have been too long a game perhaps. I am sure for many people, even this gameplay when the game would be complete would be at least 20-30 episodes .

The Harrappan bit comes in when the following bits came onto twitter . While looking into it, saw this also. I think most of the libraries for it are already in Debian. The papers they are presenting can be found at this link for those interested. What is/was interesting is that the ancient DNA they found is supposed to be Dravidian. As can be seen from the atlantic piece it is pretty political in nature hence the researchers are trying to just do their job. It does make for some interesting reading though.

Space, Chandrayaan 2 and Mars-sim

As far as space is concerned, it has been an eventful week. India crash-landed Chandrayaan 2. While it is too early to say what has gone wrong and we are waiting for the scientists to confirm exactly what went wrong, it came to the fore for the wrong reasons. The images with Mr. Modi and how he reacted before and after became the story rather than what Chandrayaan 2 will be doing. Also it came to the fore that ISRO’s scientists salaries have been cut which is a saddening affair. I had already spoken before how I had spoken to some ISRO scientists for merch. and how they had shared, that merchandising only happens in Gujarat. It really seems sad.

The only thing we know as of date is that we lost communications when it was two and half kilometers before touching the surface of the moon. I do hope there are lots of sensors which have captured but do also understand they can’t put many due to problems like cross-talk as well as power issues probably. I do hope that the lander is able to communicate with the orbiter and soon the lander starts on its wheels. Even if it does not, there is lots the orbiter will be able to do as shared by this twitter thread. I shared the unroll from threadreaderapp. Although I do hope it does start talking and takes baby steps.

As far as mars-sim is concerned, a game I am helping in my spare-time, it is going to take lot of time. We are hoping kotlin comes soon. I am thankful to the Java-team and hopefully the packages which are in NEW come to Debian archive soonish and we have kotlin in Debian. I know this will help with update to gradle as well, which is the reason that kotlin is coming in.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

First of all I would like to share about a video which I should have talked or added about in the ‘Celebrating National Science Day at GMRT‘ blog post. It’s a documentary called ‘The Most Unknown‘ . It’s a great documentary as it gives you a glimpse of how much is there yet to discover. The reason I shared this is I have seen lot of money being removed from Government Research and put god knows where. Just a fair warning, it would be somewhat of a long conversation.

Almost all of IIT’s are in bad shape, in fact IIT Mumbai which I know and have often had the privilege to associate myself with has been going through tough times. This is when institutes such as IIT Mumbai, NCRA, GMRT, FTII and all such institutions have made loads of contributions in creating awareness and has given the public the ability to question rather than just ‘believe’ . For any innovation to happen, you have to question, investigate, prove, share the findings and the way you have done things so it could be reproduced.

Even Social Sciences as shared in the Documentary and my brief learnings and takeaways from TISS has been the same. The reason is even they are in somewhat dire-straits. I was just sharing or having a conversation with another friend few days back who is into higher education that IISER Pune where the recent Wordcamp happened had to commercialize and open its doors to events in order to sustain itself. While I and perhaps all wordcampers would forever be grateful for sharing with us such a great place as well as a studios vibe which also influenced how Wordcamp was held, I did feel sad that we intruded in their study areas which should be meant for IISER’s only.

Before I get too carried away, I should point to people that people should look at Ian Cheney’s some of the old documentaries as well (the one who just did the most Unknown) and has found his previous work compelling as well. The City Dark is a beautiful masterpiece and shares lot of insights about light pollution which India could use well to improve both our lighting as well as reduce light pollution in the atmosphere.

Meeting with Bhakts and ‘Good intentions’

The reason I shared the above was also keeping in mind the conversations I have whenever I meet Bhakts. The term bhakt comes from bhakti in Sanskrit which at one time meant spirituality and purity although now in politics it means one who choose to believe in the leader and the party absolutely. Whenever a bhakt starts losing an logical argument, one of the argument that is often meted out is whatever you say you cannot doubt Mr. Narendra Modi’s intentions which is the reason why I took the often used proverb to prove the same point and is the heading of the blog post. The problem with the whole ‘good intentions’ part is, it’s pretty much a strawman argument. The problem with intentions is everybody can either say or mask their intentions. Even ISIS says that they want to bring back the golden phase of Islam. We have seen their actions, should we believe what they say ? Or even Hitler who said ‘One people, one empire, one leader’ who claimed that the Aryans were superior to the Jewish people while history has gone to show the exact opposite. Israel, today is the eight-biggest arms supplier in the world, our military is the second-biggest buyer of arms from them as well as far more prosperous than us and many other countries. Their work on drip-irrigation and water retention, agricultural techniques, there is much we could learn from them. Same thing about manning borders and such. While I could give many such examples the easiest example to share in context of good intentions gone wrong is Demonetisation in India which deserves its own paragraph.


Demonetisation was heralded by Mr. Modi with great fanfare . It was supposed to take out black money. While we learned later that black money didn’t get wiped out but has become more into your face. This we learned later was debunked by the earlier R.B.I. Governor Raghuram Rajan and then now from R.B.I. itself. This is before Mr. Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. Sharing below an excerpt from the Freakonomics Radio show which has Mr. Rajan’s interview. Makes for interesting reading or listening as the case may be.

DUBNER: Now, shortly after your departure as governor of the R.B.I., Prime Minister Modi executed a sudden, controversial plan to abolish 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes, hoping to crack down on the shadow economy and tax evasion. I understand you had not been in favor of that idea, correct? p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

RAJAN: Absolutely. It didn’t make sense. I was asked for my opinion, and I said, “Look, it is taking away money that people use in transactions. It’s going to create enormous disruption unless we replace it overnight with freshly printed money.” And it’s very important that we have all that in place, difficult to maintain secrecy, and then the fundamental sort of objective of this, which was to get people to bring out the money that they hoarded in their basements and pay taxes on them — I said, “That’s probably not going to work out, because they’re going to find ways to infuse the money back into the system without paying those taxes.”

DUBNER: It’s been roughly two years now. What have been the effects of this demonetization?

RAJAN: Well, I think more than the numbers suggest, because India was growing at that time. And we had numbers which were in the 7.5 percent growth range at that point, at a time, in 2016, when the world was actually growing quite slowly. When growth picked up in 2017, instead of going along with the world, which we typically do and we exceed world growth significantly, we went down. That suggests it had a tremendous effect on growth, but that, the numbers don’t capture it all, because what actually got killed was the informal sector — the people who were doing work with notes rather than with checks, who didn’t have formal bank accounts. And when you look at the job numbers that some private-sector people estimate 10, 12 million jobs were lost in that episode. And, of course, we haven’t recovered them yet. It was one of those places where more economic thinking would have helped.

DUBNER: Was it a coincidence that Prime Minister Modi went ahead with the plan only after you’d left?

RAJAN: Well, I can’t speak on that. I can only say that I made my objections very, very clear.

Freakonomics Podcast Stephen J. Dubner interviewing Mr. Raghuram Rajan, RBI Governor 5th September 2013 – 5th September 2017. Aired on 6th February 2019 .

I would urge people to listen to Freakonomics Radio as there are lots of pearls of wisdom in there. There is also the Good ideas are not enough podcast which is very relevant to the topic at hand but would digress about the Freakonomics radio for now.

The interesting part to ask from the details known from R.B.I. are –

a. Why did Mr. Narendra Modi feel the need to have the permission of R.B.I. after 38 days ?

b. If Mr. Modi were confident of the end-result then shouldn’t he have instead of asking permission and have the PMO have taken all the responsibility.

In any case, as was seen from R.B.I. counting only 0.3% of the money did not come even though many people’s valid claims were thrown out and the expense in the whole exercise was much more than the shortfall. R.B.I. didn’t get INR 10k crore while it spent INR 13k crore for the new currency. Does anybody see any saving here ?

The bhakts counter-argument is that the bankers were bad, if everybody had done their work, then it would have all worked out as Mr. Modi wanted. The statement itself implies that they didn’t know the reality. Even if we take the statement at face-value that all the bankers were cheaters (which I don’t agree with at all) , didn’t they know it when they were the opposition. Where was the party’s economic intelligence, didn’t it tell them so many years they were in Opposition. This is what the Opposition should be doing and knowing about the state of the Economy and know the workings to say the least.

There is also this

These are minutes obtained by Venkatesh Nayak under the RTI tool.

To rub salt to the wounds, now the IPP is at low of 1.7 percent as well 😦 . As always, I’m sure BJP will say these are not the final numbers.

I am curious to know what RSS people would think or make of this video –

The other terminology people do use when they are unable to win an argument is I don’t know in detail, why don’t you come to the shaaka and meet our ‘prachaarak’ . Pracharaak while a hindi word used to mean a wise man disseminating knowledge but in RSS-speak he is a political spinner. In style, mannerisms they are very close to how born again Jesuists or Missionaries do, the ones who are forceful, don’t want to have a meaningful conversation. The most interesting video on this topic can be seen on twitter

Important Legislations which need Public Scrutiny

The other interesting development or regression which I and probably many tech-savvy Indians would probably noted is the total lack of comments on any of the new regulations by Mozilla about Internet, whether it is the News and Draft Intermedairy rules, the Aadhar Amendment Bill, 2019 which was passed recently, the Draft E-commerce Bill , Data Protection Bill, all of which are important pieces of legislation which need and needed careful study. While the Government of India isn’t going to do anything apart from asking comments, people should have come forward and made better systems. One of the things that any social group could do is either have Stet or a co-ment instance so it could capture people comments and also mail it from their to Meity .

The BJP Site hack

Last and not the least was the BJP site hack which is now in ninth day where it is still under maintainance . It was a hack because there was a meme which went viral on the web. Elliot in his inimitable style also shared how they should have backed up their site . In an un-related event I was attending devops event where how web apps, websites should be done was shared. It’s not rocket science, even if one of the people had looked at ‘high-availability’ they would have got loads of web-pages and links which tell how to be secure and still serve content. Apparently, they just did not take BJP site data but probably also donor data (people who have donated wealth to BJP) . There is a high possibility if it’s a real hack that crackers, foreign agents could put BJP to ransom and have dominion on India if BJP comes back to power. While I do hope such a scenario doesn’t play out you never know. I would probably share about the devops event some other time as there was much happening there and deserves its own blog post.

On the other hand, it could be a ploy to tell to EC (Election Commission) we don’t have the data, our website got hacked when EC asks from where you got the funding for the Elections.

In either way it doesn’t seem a good time for either BJP or even India as a whole if it has such weak I.T. Government 😦

Frankly speaking, when I first heard it, I was thinking hopefully they wouldn’t have put their donor details on the same server and they probably would be taking backups. I chided myself for thinking such stupid thoughts. A guy like me could be screwy with his backups due to time, budget constraints but a political party like BJP which has unbridled wealth wouldn’t do such rookie mistakes and would have the best technical talent available. Many BJP well-wishers were thinking they would be able to punish the culprit and I had to tell them he could use any number of tools to hide his real identity. You could use VPN, tor or even plain old IP spoofing. The possibilities are just endless. This is just when I’m a infosec rookie or baby.

The other interesting part of this hack is till date BJP has neither acknowledged the hack, nor have they shared what went wrong. I think we have been to comfortable and been used to hacks on reddit, gmail, twitter where the developers feel that the users should know the extent of the hack, what was lost and not lost, what they are doing to recover and till when we can expect services to start and then later a full disclosure report as to what they could determine. Of course, there could be disinformation in such information as well but that would have been a better response method than how the BJP IT Cell has responded. Not something I would expect from a well-oiled structure.

Update – 14/03/19 – Seems fb, instagram, whatsapp is down . Also see how fb responded on twitter . Also Indian Express ran an article on the recent BJP hack. We will know what happens hopefully in the next few days .