The miles to go before I sleep...

  • Start teaching science at school and incorporate demo
  • Research, design, implement comprehensive teaching module on science, civic sense
  • Interview social change agents working @ ground level
  • Pilot peer-to-peer teaching programme

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mr. Role model IAS

The offshoot of the fast growing economy and getting-rich-fast middle class is not only the fast increasing consumerism, but also fast increasing social consciousness among the young-and-the-restless. Consequently, the government apathy and corruption seems to dominate the hot debate, be it in the media or overtea.

But are all those in the government corrupt? Or all of them callous towards their duty? Over the last few month I have come across some surprising encounters that demonstrated extra ordinary commitment public interest amongst a few bureaucrats (IAS officers) who, in their flesh and blood, walk the surface of India (this is a partial lift-off from Einstein's famous mention about Bapuji).

Here is quick mention of three of them

Mr. M.N. Vijaykumar, IAS (Bangalore, Karnataka)

He has been a crusader against corruption among his colleagues and politicians in the state of Karnataka for the past 25 years. He had once tried to introduce a transparent systems by which files related to public works are freely available online at (link broken), but three days before the site became operational, he got transferred with immediate effect. That was just one of the six-times he was transferred for either blowing the whistle or trying to make the system more transparent. His wife maintains a frequently updated blog in which she claims harrassment and threats by his own higher-ups and attempts on his life. She also has a forum for people to participate.

Dr. Santhosh Babu, IAS (Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu)
He has made news for his success in bringing school kids to where they belong - school!. In his back2school program he partners with Sarva Shikha Abiyan and AID India, uses computer technology to track kids who don't show up for school, and send a Village Volunteer force (VVF) track them down, find out the reason (usually the necessity to work), solve their respective problems and bring the kids back to school.

To show the scale and effectiveness of this program, let me provide two quotes from Business Standard here
"The effort involves a 10,000-Village Volunteer Force (VVF) consisting of child volunteers, panchayat presidents and headmasters of the 1,700-odd schools in the district."
"Using software aptly named, back2school, developed by Chennai-based Arbiter, the district administration monitors each schoolgoing child daily. And the results are showing: 8,000 of the 8,867 school dropouts are back in school."
And this is just one of the slew of his educational initiatives such as Ariviyal Anandam (Joy of science) program provides science kits and trains teachers to use them to teach children in about 10 districts of Krishnagiri, and Padippum Inikkum ("Education is interesting too") initiative to use trained volunteers of AID India and SSA help teachers and students to improve the reading ability of the kids by way personal attention and in-class demonstration.

Dr. Kushal Pathak, IAS India Post
A medical doctor by education and an avid web-developer by hobby he has harnessed his passion and profession to create not just one, but two useful platforms for the general public who may need help on social issues and issues related to handling the government. is a forum of citizens to help his/her fellow citizens on any problems he/she may face, from drinking problem, getting a ration card or filing a police complaint.

He has also created another web-portal dedicated to Right to information in which he has comprehensive information database and discussion forum for procedural and legal aspects exclusive RTI.

India has a lot of people and limited available resources. This leads to competition and inevitably forces people to bend or break the rules for survival. Given that, it is easy for anyone (not just a government official) with a secure job to step down from his/her ideological stance and settle for an easier way of earning his/her life (by way of corruption or simply shunning responsibility). In this scenario, the live example provided by these three extraordinary gentlemen (and I am sure a numerous others unknown to the general public) upholds the faith that good governance and justice do have place outside the
law books and among the society. It is just a matter of will.

Full credits to where it is due.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indian media

For over half a decade now we are used to the rhetoric about the emerging superpowers India and China and how India, though much smaller and slower than China, has the democratic setup and independent journalism to its advantage.

While hypocrisy rules in the name of democracy, the so-called independent media is too weak and naive to be the watchdog that guards or restores the democratic values. The role of the media is all the more crucial when the masses are not enlightened enough to understand the complexities of the issues that will end up affecting their everyday life (eg. the union budget). But the Indian media has proven to be immature and incompetent so far. The article in India Together by Ramachandra Guha highlights the current status very well. But it doesn't really take Ramachandra Guha to point all this out. All we have to do is to watch the news channels and the writing is on the wall - big, bold, underlined and in uppercase.

For example, take the Indo-US nuclear deal. Now what would be the questions you and I want answered by the proponents if we are to decide for or against the deal? I thought about it for a few minutes, prepared a list of questions and tried to find some answers. Ideally these are the questions that the so-called distinguished media-men like Karan Thapar, Rajdeep Sardesai are supposed to ask the politicians when they manage to get them to the hot seat.
  1. Reports suggest that the most nuclear power would do Rediff: 8% TOI: 7%. Given that how can you justify the nuclear deal to be crucial?
  2. What would be costs in terms of natural resources used? Water, electricity etc..
  3. How will the consequent increase in the requirement of technical workforce (nuclear scientists, technicians etc) be addressed?
  4. Each nuclear plant is estimated to cost a lot and takes a long time to complete. What is the expenditure? How many nuclear plants will be constructed? How are the expenditure justified provided the return is insignificant and unguaranteed?
  5. What is the plan to dispose the nuclear waste safely?
  6. What is the estimated price of electricity when the nuclear power becomes operational? Will it increase, decrease, stay the same?
In other words, how will the deal help people?

Now when I searched for relevant interviews and articles to find out if any of them addresses the above questions, I found that most revolve around the political angle and focused on "how do you address what XYZ party's accusation" and "how do you react to abc minister's comments?". For example, An interview with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji
CNN-IBN: Devil's Advocate - Pranab Mukherjee (pdf)

CNN-IBN's Indepth section on Indo-US Nuclear deal provides for the best example of the Indian journalism's lack of a sense of purpose. It is nothing but a collection of "Breaking news" that talks about a politician or a party . A few articles from the section..

Left accuses PM of telling 'blatant lies' in Parliament
Advani put personal gain above N-deal: Kapil Sibal

Not a single article really goes "in depth" into the deal, analyzes the 123 agreement or any other related document, interprets it and comes out with answering the question a common man would have.

The print media seems to do a better job than the television. Few artciles like this one in Times of India and this on in Hindu Business Line bother to expose people to some analysis. However, the larger fact still remains. The politicians get away with what they want to do and are not subjected to answering the questions that they are supposed to answer.

How exactly do we consider the Indian media to be an advantage?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The largest hypocricy

"Son, what’s your name?"

"Good…nice name.

"Father’s name?" "Anvar Rasheed".

"Mother’s name?"

"Lakshmi Devi".
The headmaster looked at the parents and asked: "Which religion should we note"?

"No need to note any. Please mention ‘no religion’."

"Caste?" "

The same."
The headmaster leaned back on his chair and asked rather gravely: "What
if he feels the need for a religion when he grows up?"

"He can choose his religion if and when he feels so."

Rather progressive, probably to the extent that if it happens in India, I would have guessed that it would only be in the movies. But it so happens that his has happened in the 7th std. social studies books of the Kerala state board. But this piece of text has blown-up into a controversy engulfing the entire state.

Just like how Indian movies have a monotonous mix of six songs, poor dialogues, scantily clad heroines and an ill-fitting comedy track, I find that such controversies have their own formulae. Look for a reformative work, cook up a controversy and blow it out of proportion, take to the streets in protest without proper permission, throw stones at the police, burn a bus or two, call for a bandh, force the government to thwart the reform, wait till the next work of reform to pop-up.

M.F. Hussain's paitings, Parzania, Tasleema Nasreen, Khushboo, Kashmir land transfer and the list goes on, but the story is the same. This is the best we can do in exercising democracy. Vandalize public property that was built with our own money. Paralize public life and incur losses that will come back to bite us. Thwart reform that would one day make us a tolerant society. Amidst all this the parties concerned (M.F. Hussein, Tasleema Nasreen, Kushboo) are often conveniently forgotten. The learning curve is absolutely flat.

I find perverse amusement to see the striking similarity between the poor wisdom of us Indians in understanding the quality of movies as well as democratic values. But that is who we are. A bunch of morons who can play cricket, write software, but somehow simply can't learn to resolve differences by proper democratic channels. If we say that we are the largest democracy, we actually become the largest hypocricy.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bridging gap between academia and industry - One step closer?

I remember the days from undergraduate college when I would attend the computer lab session once a week, sit in front of a dying black-and-white computer monitor with nothing but MS-DOS and copying FORTRAN program from the "observation notebook".

I also remember that right after college, I used to go to TULEC - A TATA Infotech computer education center which charged Rs.40000/- for its software courses.

Looking back I can't but wonder if the courses that were offered to me in TULEC should ideally be part of my college curriculum. After all, all the software companies needed the skill and the century or so old University of Madras still had syllabus that was also probably as old and badly needed upgradation anyway. Couldn't the former push the latter for its own good? It seems the stakeholders, the companies and the government have finally turned that corner. FINALLY!

Addressing the Fifth annual NASSCOM HR Summit 2008 in Chennai (July 3-4), Dr. Chandramouli, IT Secretary of Tamil Nadu said that 'IT finishing schools' that "would act as a pre-employment training centre to hone the skills of both engineering and non-engineering students to make them readily employable" [The Hindu - July 4] would start functioning within a month's time. In this is public-private partnership training center would be up and running in all the districts of Tamil Nadu. Each centre would have about 25 computers and students will go through a 3-month training program designed and conducted by the participating companies.

An ICT Academy of Tamil Nadu (ICTACT) is also setup for training the faculty, apparently to allow the cutting-edge industry knowledge to percolate into classrooms directly.

Prima facie, the stakeholders (mainly the government) are serious about this initiative, given that the ICTACT is autonomous, with board of directors represented by the state government, academic and industry (it would be good to know who they are) and a research and training headquarters would be set up in Chennai.[ Business Standard - July 4]

But the scary part is, a search on ICTACT in Google or Tamil Nadu's IT department website comes up with nothing. I guess one has to wait just a little longer to see the bridge across the abyss that separates the academia and the industry, but hopefully only a little longer.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hitting the Road:Teaching module - Draft 1

Idea generated for schools so far
  • Teach kids to make their own notebooks.
  • Teach kids to make chalk piece

How does this help?
    • non-availability of free notebooks @ govt schools
    • Relevant vocational training
    • potential means to earn
  • Teach kids of appropriate age about technologies related to clean energy like solar energy
    • How tap solar energy
    • How the market is growing etc
How does this help?
    • creating experts in a market of demand for the future
  • All the soft-skills appreciated in a corporate environment
    • committing to a task of reasonable difficulty and completing it on time
    • being regular with work taken up and establishing proper communication about updates/possible delays
How does this help?
    • time-management, probably study better while being good at extra-curricular
    • develops proper attitude and work-ethics and improves job-prospects
  • Safety
    • Basic fire-safety
    • First-aid and emergency response
    • Details of phone numbers, addresses of hospitals in vicinity.
How does this help?
    • Duhh......!
  • Community activity
    • Some kind of an activity that sensitized them
  • Community activity
    • Some kind of an activity that sensitized them to importance of sanitation, public health, environment etc.