Monday, July 10, 2006

The Great Tragedy of Higher Education

The greatest tragedy of Indian higher education is that young brains are rendered completely useless. Our youth go to college, full of dreams, ready to take on the world, become an enterpreneur, but they emerge out good for nothing, an absolute waste of four years, they get a degree certificate as good as a $3 bill, after a bit of training by dumb IT companies they can do copy paste coding and call center jobs. This is the greatest tragedy of Indian Education and we can’t fix any other problem of India without fixing this first.

Premise: Men Drive the Nation. The Momentum is directly proportional to the number of Men. And of course, orientation. It is the number of brains that are being effectively utilized in core areas that matters.

To be used effectively, the brain must be trained properly.

Every human’s intellect can be summarized as “information processing”. Every human gathers information continuously, finds some variables, some constants and solves the equation. This ability to process information increases as increasing amounts of information is thrown at the mind. When in school, the information is limited, just a few books, and the information processing divide is not that significant.

In India, the best 2000 brains go to IITs, a few hundred go to AIIMS, become doctors. Now, lets not worry about these doctor chaps, they do not create large companies, in small groups, they form Nursing Homes and Small Hospitals.

However, there are people of all sorts of intelligence. Only in the IITs do we find slightly better teaching.

It is at the undergraduate level, the brain is exposed to massive amounts of information, add to that the excellent quality of teachers, competition that pricks the ego and drives humans to new levels of information processing abilities.

Now, these IITians have the ability to understand a lot of things with this information processing abilities, and most of them land up in good jobs in US, a large number of them become tenure track professors, some CIO/CTO/CFO, a minor fraction start their own firms. The very few (about 1%) who stay in India go to IIMs/IAS stream where they land up in a good company or work for the Govt. Both of these are dead ends. Those who go to US are dead ends too. Don’t believe anyone who says it is not brain drain. It is!!! At the very least, it is a resource drain. Dr. Dey estimates it at $100K. I guess he is just using the cost of education. But, this is just the investment till now. The return on investment on education is several hundred to several thousand times. If we do the math, the numbers will be mind-boggling.

Lets take a look at the rest of the Indians who go to other colleges.

The kids who didn’t get into the IITs inspite of the tremendous effort they put in, what would their output be? An ex-IITian estimates that “There is practically little distinction in terms of merit between the top 2000 students in the JEE and the next 2000 or even the next 5000.” I’d extend this further and say that, there are at least 30,000 people who have just as much or maybe 10% less merit. I’m not going to argue whether this is a good indicator of merit, that’s another topic. Another 30,000 or so with maybe 10% less merit and so on and so forth.

We are all aware of the tremendous impact the IITs have on the world. The other blokes who didn’t cut it, could have made similar impacts, of a slightly lesser magnitude, had they been trained properly. However, because of the ridiculously low quality of education, their potential is misused.

From my own experience, I was admitted into CBIT, which was among the top five engineering colleges in AP. The less I speak about the quality of teachers, the better. Most of them couldn’t comprehend a flowchart. At the undergraduate level, we actually need people who understand and make the students fall in love with the subjects. The system kills the spirit of all these people, forcing them to learn the last two years papers, using the syllabus from a Triassic age, killing whatever spark of life is left.

As always, there are outliers, for example a miniscule 0.00001% are lucky.

At the end of undergraduate, there is a insurmountable divide of potential, IITians potential growing at an exponential rate, that of the rest flattening out and going lower, it goes lower as there is no *challenge* and that reduces the rest of Indians to menial jobs while the IITians go on to achieve greater(??) things.

Currently, this is my only grievance with the Govt of India. By not unleashing the potential of all these people, by denying us the exponential growth of potential that rightfully belongs to us, the country is in a state of perpetual misery. The thousand or so IITians, run away from the country, become CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, tenure track professors, giving nothing back to the country, other than some funds to IITs which perpetuates the cycle of massive brain drain.

Every other country realizes the distinction between men and tries its best to maximize everyone’s potential. It is men that drive a nation and not vice versa. In US, if one can’t get into MIT or CalTech, there is Princeton, if not Harvard (the name is not tarnished even though Bush graduated from there), Yale, and finally University of Mississippi for the dumbest of them. No one’s potential is wasted. Everyone’s brain is optimally utilized. Anyone who was lazy and has changed now, can join the highest, which is not the case in India.

This, I believe is the first step we must take. Build centers of learning that unleash the potential of these people. Instead of lamenting on the lack of primary education, literacy, health and all those things, we should first learn how to utilize what we have on our hand. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

From my understand, the best of the best brains are totally interested in research and a lot of other people work on applications of that research. Assuming that the best brains go to IITs and a majority would be interested in pure research, the people who can develop applications of cutting-edge research, monetize that research, a large majority of those potential enterpreneurs, would be going to other colleges.
You might ask, why should we do this now?

Because, because, we are going to lose what little of IT income we get. I know that IT is insignificant, Atanu put it so aptly, mole on an elephant, I’d say it is a pebble on a planet. But, still it is one of those that we have a slightly advantageous position and we should strengthen it as much as we can. At the very least, we should be able to protect whatever inroads we’ve made till now.

We need to work on our strengths, strengthen ourselves to such a fine degree that we can deliver knockout punches to our weaknesses. If we start working on weaknesses, like primary education, we get bogged down. Neither would we have developed our strengths, by which time, someone else would have made inroads into our strengths.

IT jobs will move from India to other countries

It is my belief that a lot of outsourcing is going to happen. Because, a lot of countries realized that it is easy to learn tech skills and get projects.

Don’t even think that there are always tech jobs in India that we can go back to. Remember the previous downturn, lots of people were axed in India and the situation was worse than here. Ten years down the line, almost all the tech jobs will go to China, Eastern Europe, Brazil, Vietnam and a hundred other countries that want a piece of the pie.

Why China? Because they have 100 top-notch at least IIT level Universities and they are unleashing the potential of so many people as opposed to just a 1000 skilled tech workers (IITs) in India. And they are investing heavily on English language skills. English is a stupid language that anyone can learn. It is perhaps the dumbest language. I don’t think it can be considered an obstacle. Look at some of the things that they are collaborating on. The sheer number and the vast difference in quality of education is going to mass migrate all the tech projects.

Indian companies are opening shops in China and will continue to do so, as they are the first people to realize these tremendous advantage. Corporations go where they can exploit resources. They are least bothered about developing them. Slowly, the Chinese will take over. Dealing with Amerians is nothing new to them. Why did Mittal go and build a steel empire elsewhere? Why did the Birlas start a lot of companies in other countries? They are least bothered about developing the internal strength. They will not stand and put up a fight. They are too greedy and short sighted to do that.

Corporations in US take their social responsibility seriously. They fund a lot of research, give scholarships, assistantships, partner with academia. In spite of their overwhelming tech prowess, they still lament that the skills are not upto par and prod the Govt to take steps, they themselves taking initiative in writing the education policies and giving the country direction. Indian Corporations, on the other hand, have learnt a thing or two from the Govt. Their rapaciousness is only matched by that of the Govt. Have you ever seen a single internship opportunity for an eager student? They only want to milk the people, and grumble all the time that the skills are not upto par. Could it be more ridiculous than this?

America is not new to China and vice versa. Tremendous amounts of money has been pouring into China since the past decade. While we have been getting $5 billion (now at 6.5) per year since the past 5 years, China has been getting more than $50 billion every year. They have captured the manufacturing sector. They will proceed to capture IT as well.

Those Russians and Europeans have pretty good brains and are extremely well educated. All the phishing scams, viruses, things that require intelligence are done there. Soon, they will realize that it is better to do regular IT work than try to eke out a living using the software exploits. Brazil has a Govt that is building technology and Open Source into its DNA. Look at the masterly way a mere congressman took a stance against Microsoft and for open source. The situation is the same in all of South America, where there are building up tremendous tech skills.

Ireland, out of nowhere, established itself as one of the players in this field, mostly in areas that require better skills.

And Vietnam and dozens of other countries have realized that is pretty easy to teach tech skills to people. I’m certain that ya’ll are aware how ridiculously easy it is to learn tech skills. Buy a J2EE or ASP.NET for dummies, create a resume and you get a job. Even the African countries can do it. And Middle East too, with their IQ of 80.

My goal is not to depress you with a not so rosy forecast, but look at things realistically and reevaluate our current path, change its orientation if needed and strategically position ourselves so that we don’t have to deal with a job worry later on.

The thing that worries most Americans, outsourcing, is very real and it will affect us too. Gentlemen, there are 100+ countries out there looking for a piece of the action. If we don’t fix our quality now, we will lose that pebble on the planet. There is a saying, Vinashakale Vipareetha Buddhi.

India could lose 45% of market share by 2007. An opposite view: Reality Bites, Part Two: Is It Really China vs. India?

What is going to happen is, our IT companies, with their optimized processes, are going to move a lot of their operations to China, taking advantage of the low cost and high quality labor there. The story of IT then becomes just like manufacturing, booming without any employment.

But, what’s the way out?

Left to the reader as an exercise in clear thinking grounded in reality.