Sunday, July 15, 2012

Of the 99.99%

The last couple of months had lot of discussions on IIT admissions. It is an issue that I do feel strongly about and broadly supported the stance taken by IIT Kanpur.

However, my problem with the HRD minister is not so much about what criteria are suitable for admissions to IITs - IITs can take care of them the best and most responsibly - but the real problem of India, i.e. what happens to the ones not in IITs or indeed in any professional college?

That 99.99% is barely affected by whatever decision is taken about admission to IITs. That is the real and really big problem and our ministry is doing little about it.

In fact, India has a real big problem of dealing with the vast population that is either untouched by or drops off from the system in the course of early education. Estimated at about 300 million, this population has hardly any avenue in modern India. They remain unemployed at worst and underemployed at best.

The size of any problem in India is usually so big that one wonders if individual or small scale efforts can make even a dent at all? While this is partly true I do think that most problems in India are amenable to replication and scaling. So, getting to one piece of success in a smaller scale can then be considered for replication and scaling.

I explored the possibility of doing something in my hometown of Gaya. A historic city from the poorest state of India - Bihar. I started exploring my school - Zila School, established in 1845 - and my college - Gaya College, established in 1944. Both these have a modest presence on Facebook and it was possible to interact with a few students and alumni. In my estiamte, both these institutions would have about 100,000 alumni around. Some would be quite successful in their chosen areas.

There was a general sense of frustration and gloom among current students. Their syllabi are outdated, placement records poor, faculty is barely paid, and barely fit for the responsibility. Allegations of nepotism, favoritism abound. Looking for some silver linings I started posting messages to elicit response. Some did respond.

Frustration and helplessness has caused many to be distracted, and some sound rebellious. But there is a population that explores and posts ideas and discoveries on Facebook. Alternative coaching institutes take advantage.

I have been trying to find out what can we do to make these students employable and also develop a sense of entrepreneurship among them.

As this discovery is still on I am trying to crystallize ideas and see how to cultivate the brand value of my city and its educational institutions. Sounds somewhat daunting but I remain an optimist. 

Memoirs of my journey in subsequent posts!

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