Jul 25, 2011

Singapore shows the way again (Private colleges)

There was a time when education was sacred in India - the 'Gurukula' system of students living with the teacher, learning, for the most part, free of charge and worshiping their teachers almost like God is very well known. The story of Ekalavya who was ready to chop off his thumb at the command of his teacher is also popular - today the students (or their parents) do give an arm and leg, not just thumbs - to get themselves educated.

If the crass commercialisation of education (and that is not the only sacred thing that has been commercialised, ....topic for another day) is bad enough, what is even worse is the proliferation of crooks and looters who start colleges and schools as a short cut to financial nirvana and bring all their genius for cheating and dishonesty and thuggery to the education market. When I was in pre-uni school a private institution run by a 'trust', there was this small strip of land about a fourth of the size of a tennis court next to the boy's toilet. The joke among students was that the land was kept reserved for constructing an 'engineering college'.

Those were the innocent 80s. Today it is not a joke, it is not even reality. Because reality is far worse. You are lucky if your college has a campus at all. Newspaper reports and media in India have exposed private 'universities' operating out of a single room in run down commercial buildings without any teacher let alone campus and class rooms.

No wonder the students coming out of such universities are no better off than an illiterate brick layer or construction worker in terms of academic knowledge and are ironically far worse off in terms of useful marketable skills. That is why automobile, IT and other companies are forced to spend months training campus recruits when the hires are supposed to be trained. Some of them are pro-actively working with good universities to solve this problem at the source. This is not surprising because they anyway have to build roads, generate their own power, run water treatment plants, sewage systems, hotels and provide their own pooled bus or taxi transportation to their staff, all of which the government or the city is supposed to provide at reasonable rates.

Though far better off, Singapore too had its share of runaway colleges that scoot with students money, scam operators and fake degrees. But then the Government has clamped down hard, come out with a set of tough conditions for starting or running private colleges. More important - they have set even higher standards for private colleges admitting foreign students, to ensure that the bad apples do not spoil Singapore's reputation. As a result, the number of such 'colleges' have dropped from about 1000 to 300 and will drop further to about 100. And they will be of good quality.

At one time, Chattisgarh state in India, more famous for leftist violence and backwardness, had 100+ private universities many operating out of hole in the wall offices!

It is time GOI learns from Singapore and regulates the looters and plunderers pretending to be academics in India. Of course, regulation does not mean another 50,000 parasites getting appointed who will demand bribes from colleges and harass students. The state can and should provide quality primary and secondary education free of charge and university education at reasonable cost to anyone and everyone so that there is not much room for scam operators to fleece the public.

The 'rich' can do their part by sending their kids not to US, Singapore or Europe but to local schools and colleges so that there is pressure on them to improve. It is ridiculous to find Indian students spending thousands of dollars learning skills they can easily learn at home for much less cost, and not getting themselves abused, cheated and even murdered as in places like Australia.

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