‘Enemies of Promise’, first published in 1938, is a critical and autobiographical work written by Cyril Connolly and it has a quote that resonates every time I hear someone talk up the BRIC countries – “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising”.
For a long time running now every bullish TV and arm chair pundit here and abroad dutifully intones about India’s ‘promising demographic advantage’ at every opportunity and platform. Like our pliant national animal, the Cow, I used to reverentially believe these experts about the said promising demographic advantage till quite recently. What really shattered my ignorant igloo like a reality fireball from hell was 3 weeks of interviews I conducted for my firm to hire grads who knew just enough to do some basic transactions for a client abroad. It was NOT a pleasant 3 weeks.
Before I open the kimono on that underwhelming experience, here is the full list of the actual questions I asked people who came, in the eager hope of getting that supposedly easy meal ticket to the urban middle class lifestyle that is the BPO job in the Indian metros:
1) How many weeks are there in 1 year?
2) How many years are there in a decade?
3) How many seconds are there in 1 hour?
4) How is a leap year different from a normal year?
5) What is 25% of 800,000?
6) What is the square root of 81?
7) What is the full form of ‘ITeS’ ?
8) Where are the Olympics being held this year?
9) What is the capital of U.S.A?
10) What is the capital of Japan?
11) What is the most famous structure in Paris?
12) In which country is Paris?
13) Name any 2 cities in U.S.A?
14) What is bigger – A Galaxy or a Solar System?
15) Which galaxy are we in?
Now remember, EVERYONE who was sitting and sweating undeo’ed in front of me was a qualified graduate from a UGC accredited institute. Every single one. Ergo the Indian educational establishment had given the guy a legitimate parchment that proves to the world he is a graduate in the sense the word is meant in Boston, Belgrade or Beijing.
Of the 117 graduates I interviewed, not a single person got all the 15 answers right.
Of the 117 graduates I interviewed, less than 17 got more than 11 right (from the 15 questions)
Some of the more interesting answers are below :
Where are the Olympics being held this year? – Meerut, Greater Noida, Delhi, Khel Gaon
What is the capital of U.S.A? – London, Canada, America, Beijing
What is the capital of Japan? – Singapore, London
What is the most famous structure in Paris? – Pyramids
In which country is Paris? – Africa
Name any 2 cities in U.S.A? – Most common answer: CANADA (WTF!?!?!), London
Which galaxy are we in? – Most common answer: EARTH, “woh, woh sir…doodh wala galaxy!”
My friends on Facebook could not just believe these answers were real. Hell, sometimes I could not believe it. From a college graduate. Few would disagree if I posit that I can get most of the answers from a 12 year old enrolled in a good public school in Delhi, Bangalore, Singapore or Helsinki. Even if, shockingly, your own schooling missed any of this, just how insulated or incurious do you have to be NOT to know the answers to the above questions ? It is said ‘Bad decisions make Good memories’. Well, these people must have a lotttt of good memories.
David Wallace in a commencement speech had this caveated parable for the listeners “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys! How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is ‘water’?”……The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about”
Dear reader, if you were bought up in India, you have NO idea how good you actually have it.
Till recently I sort of knew in a vague ‘Africa is BIG and malnourished, India is mostly agrarian and illiterate’ kind of unverified growing-up-trivia that the education in the schools my two brothers and I did end up going to was NOT the norm in this huge country. Since we three didn’t have the luxury of an education from Eton or Oxford, I always thought most of the people ‘around here’ got similar education as we brothers did, i.e CBSE standard’ish, basic, more than enough to help you navigate the adult world. The vanilla fundamental 3 R’s: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, in the literal sense.
How off and wrong I was (…Am?)
I’ll repeat this, dear blog reader; you have NO idea how good you actually have it, esp esp if you have an Indian passport. Most of us were lucky our dice here in India rolled a double six. And the sad thing is, we don’t even know it did that. If we did, truly did, most of us would just get up now, head over to our parents’ house, knock and hug them for the advantages they gave us, at the cost of a ‘kids first’ life.
These pitiful 117 washouts I met in the interviews are the true slice and example of what mostly passes off as ‘education’ in India. To these washouts, CBSE English medium education IS ETON/G20 ! Look at these 15 questions again. Am I wrong in thinking it does not call for an advanced understanding of anything really, just a pulse and rudimentary awareness of the planet and life in it (20% of 800K, name of our galaxy). To not even know THAT calls for some spectacular mass hallucination and some very very low standards by the UGC and everyone else who is part of the state educational complex (scam?) in India.
All these thoughts landed into my troubled cranium and took hold of me and near well depressed my closeted patriotism, but after a while also compelled me to look around for the answer to just how bad is the rot? Or was it that I somehow was unlucky enough to meet the bottom of the barrel ?
Bless Google and twitter. I found the answer or at least some powerful clues.
Don’t read further until you have clicked and read the linked page. This blog will make little sense if you skip the link.
Done ? Well…There you have it. The answer to just how bad it all is.
A snippet from the link to cheer up Satyamev Jayate lovers out there: “PISA, introduced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development (OCED), is an internationally standardised assessment that tests 15-year-olds in the domains of reading, mathematical science and science literacy. PISA 2009 was originally held with 64 economies, after which 10 more participated in PISA 2009+. The PISA report released last week includes the scores of all 74. India’s debut at the prestigious Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) saw some 16,000 15-year-olds from schools in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu taking part. They ranked near the bottom in all categories, outscoring only Kyrgyzstan”.
I have written again and again and again about what a bloody scam and sham the education scene here at all levels in India actually is. PISA only visibly validates the rot that starts at the bottom and intensifies on its insidious trajectory upwards. Rakesh Mani, an ex-Teach India Fellow, has written a very good article on how the rot starts early too.
In short, an entire generation has been lost to us.
I challenge you to read the above PISA link and not go “HOLY TASTY COW!” (Of course the Indian HRD ministry would claim “Woohoo!! We are better than Kyrgyzstan! Someone give someone a Bharat Ratna”)
If this is India’s promising demographic advantage then I am Batman.
I am not and you there should now be immediately looking at emigration norms as soon as possible for you and esp your kids, before the ‘revolutionary’ riots starts. For I’ll tell you what this ‘promising demographic advantage’ really is : This is the mob that will be unemployed soon, angry, broke and vacuumed by self-serving political and criminal organizations (did I juxtapose two synonyms unnecessarily ) and shortly unleashed into a thousand Babri Mosque and Gujrat Godhra incidents near you. When our national motto officially changes to “My happy place is your happy place…burning to the ground”. No one will have the courage to remind them in this competitive global economy sometimes you have to forget what you want and remember what you deserve. You want a high paying job ‘Mr.fake graduate but real rioter’ ? Or the truth ? The truth is you deserve unemployment. Too harsh ? Sir, You may want to take that unexploded Molotov in your hand to your university campus over there and save the next generation.
Winter may not be coming down here but the riots surely are. How long will they just keep tapping at our car windows by the traffic lights begging for a chance at the opportunities they think they too should have ? Aristotle warned that the educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead. But atleast an illiterate man can console himself that he is poor and unemployed in 2012 India because he is illiterate but can you imagine the fury of a unemployed, unemployable ‘graduate’ from a uni in a cowbelt state who is for all real purposes no better than the first guy, no different from the dead, but is ‘credentially’ a qualified graduate in his head and in his university’s records ? Will he give up on his post graduation dreams only to see them crushed to bits ? Someone had it right when he warned ‘Don’t hang around people who have given up on their dreams because they are coming after yours next’
My advice : Time to pack your bags and head to a safer place, like maybe the capital of U.S.A. You can choose between London, Canada or Beijing. And don’t worry. They are all capitals of the U.S.A.