On one hand, we have the famed IIMs and IITs being built up as world brands. In pursuit of that, faculty and students course through not only international business phenomena, but even home grown success stories such as the spectacular turnaround of the Indian Railways which has moved from a money guzzling loss maker to a contributor to the exchequer.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the non-functional schools across thousands of villages and urban clusters where all sorts of malpractices take place.
On the one hand is the fact that products of the Indian education system have made themselves indispensable in every arena in every country they have set up shop in; and on the other is the fact that we have millions of illiterate unemployables we do not know how to handle, leaving them fodder for anti social elements.
This fact comes to mind with the recent revelations of a startling new study on education levels, which reveals a serious gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslim community is the largest minority group in India. Given the current tensions being raised around Islam around the world, it is indeed cause for worry for the people and state of India that a large minority group allows its young people to drop out of school long before the high school stage. This is a startling come down from the era when it was the Muslim community, which played a lead role in education in India.
One recalls the rise of the Ahmedabad don, Abdul Latif, who started his career as a delivery boy for liquor peddlers in prohibition bound Gujarat. His rise to the top of the heap as the Don saw a whole generation drop out of school to take petty jobs which brought in that 'dus ki patti' (Rs.10.00) at the end of the day. The 'dus ki patti' graduated to bees (20), then pachas (50) and sau (100), with parents happily taking it in with nary a thought to the future prospects of gun-totting ignoramus. The sole token towards education was the cursory round through the madrassas which teach the reading of the Koran and other religious percepts.
Increasingly, it has been found that many parents refuse to invest in the education of their children; many opt for the madrassas and their religious education as an alternative. Are they unaware of the unemployability that renders their children?
The Indian government is making a belated effort to introduce secular and scientific subjects in the curriculum of the madrassas. Will the move be effective and how long before it begins to yield results? For unless the youth entering the job market finds paying jobs and has a stake in keeping the peace, violence will continue to be endemic, for the vaguest of excuses.
What comes to mind is the reaction to the speech of the Pope. Here was the head of the Vatican Church with its own notorious record of savage Inquisitions and killing and violent conversions, casting aspersion on another religion.
No one pointed out this irony to counter the Pope's statement and shut up the Vatican. Instead violence was unleashed and a whole lot of bombastic statements made ' how dare he' etc. To what purpose? What sagacity did any of the leaders exhibit in dealing with the situation before unleashing their human canon fodder? Did the rejection of the apology serve any purpose? Other than to leave the door open for another round of violence worldwide.
At the another end of the spectrum comes another religious minority in India, this one renowned for its unique record in education, the Christians like everyone else, also plagued by black sheep within.
Christian nuns have an enviable record in education in India, which makes the gross violation by a nun who is principal of a prestigious school all the more reprehensible. Thirty years as an educationist, and the lady in the wimple had not learnt how to mould girls into honorable women.
She was the principal of the leading girls' school in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan. And her instant reaction when she saw the applicant, a young 11 year old who was tall, obese and dark, was to practically jump up and down in her chair, haranguing the parents 'how dare you bring this child for admission in my school?'
When pressed, she insisted that the other girls would be cruel to this plump dark skinned child and therefore she did not want to admit her. Never mind that the child, then approaching age 12 and Std. 7, had the sunniest of dispositions, a bright smile in her eyes and cheery replies to set off her minuses.
Since when, I thought, did convent schools function merely to turn out endless rows of Indian Barbie dolls? Is that the sole function of the missionary schools?
I would like to use this column to thank that nun for not accepting my adopted daughter in her school. Thank God she was not pressed into the confines of assembly line Barbies. She has shed her puppy fat and adolescent tan and is shaping up as an attractive and well spoken young woman in a boarding school run by educationists, better qualified than that self proclaimed missionary nun. Perhaps her disgusting reaction was on account of her personal experiences, which landed her in a nunnery?
Let us move to mainstream education. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to decry the standards of education in India. Yet there is a continuous ongoing battle to improve standards and practices; witness the exercises of the NCERT and the CBSE in making changes in the syllabus and formats, such as the recent decisions of introduce vocational streams at the +2 levels and the attempt to help students to overcome the Math bugbear.
While there is no escaping the shocking slippages that take place at the rural and municipal school levels, especially in the hinterlands, one has to accept that there is something going for Indian educational standards. For it is from this bedrock that planeloads of our young people every year propel themselves into foreign lands and capture the commanding heights in those respective countries and their economies. Should we not be studying that phenomenon and seeking to replicate it as the levels where education is flagging at the rural and municipal levels.