Sunday, 11 September 2016

FB Discussions - 15 year olds, IITs, and the relevence and irrelevence.

Aparna Krishnan  
September 12, 2015 at 3:42pm ·
My daughter, 15 years, asks me, "You say that people study in IITs at public expense and go abroad. You say that the money spent on them by a poor country is money the country could ill afford, and replaying that with sweat and toil to the country is their primary duty. You say they default. You also studied in IISc, and then went to a village. Didnt you also waste public money."
It led to a long conversation. That sometimes one enters these places with dreams that one can work for a better, fairer country, and realizes afterwards that what one learns there is of no use as far as addressing the plight of the poorer and disadvantaged goes.
"But you and father did use and waste public money ?"
"Yes, we did. But were we to have used it by working in computer industries, we would not have helped the poorest towards any struggle for justice or a better future. The IITs and IISc are structured with a learning that cannot and will not help the poorest. We had no idea of all this when we were in our 11th and 12th."
... I do not know how much she understood, but she did understand something. And 15 years is a grown up age - it is the verge of adulthood when clarity needs to build, and the ability to take clear, hard choices has to be learnt. And that life is greys, and parents also make errors, and face them, and backtrack and correct.

Rahul Banerjee When one works to improve the livelihoods and rights of the under privileged then one repays the public money that was spent on one's education many times over. just because one has studied to be an engineer does not mean that one has to work as an engineer. there is more of a need for people to work for sustainability and equity than for creating goods and services for the rich that eventually jeopardise human existence. If you quantify in monetary terms the many benefits that the people have received because of your public action over the years, then you will certainly find that it is much more than what has been spent on your education. 

Sreekanth Kocharlakota Aparna, There are exceptions, Magsaysay awardee, IITian from Kharagpur and who did his masters and PhD abroad told to us on NRI Samay that he used the subsidy provided by the govt, which in turn is the money from poor and citizens of our country, he returned back home after studying abroad and installed solar lights in a total 115,000 households (numbers are back from 2011-12, not sure now). Founded SELCO in 1995, Harish Hande and team are busy in finding solutions that the country’s poor use and need. He says Poverty alleviation is tied to power, water along with other important aspects. Each of the amazing folks should pick up their area of interest and ensure they are addressing the core issue of poverty! It can even be computers if it works wonders! 

Rahul Banerjee its not just technical solutions that should be quantified as in this case but more importantly the political and social solutions that activists provide. for instance there were many technologists who fought against the Narmada dams and some are continuing to do so and the value of their work in societal terms is immense. in fact some of us will say that the value of a technologist fighting to deglamourise technology is much more than that of using technology to provide solutions to problems!!! 

Aparna Krishnan thats all the IITs and co. are useful for - to question all that they were trained in. (And that if they stay honest and clear thinking - otherwise they can keep thinking they are cream of the nation.) And for that, thats a lot of money for a country with many crying priorities. Anyway thats a statement on the times. 

Aparna Krishnan Rahul Banerjee, I think the question was whether the village work needed the highly subsidised training (that was taken as a birthright because one passed some exam !). It did not. But the thing is that this and other such centers only train one up for becoming a cog in the industrial centralized mechanisim - and it is these centers that are flawed essentially and need to be dismantled. As one believes that the centralized industrial world is fundamentally exploitative, and in no way helps restoring village based livlihoods, these are meaningless in that fundamental sense. The govt subsidy here is a subsidy towards the capitalist industrial world - and needs to be questioned at base. 

Aparna Krishnan Sreekanth Kocharlakota, my basic understanding is as above. Fundamentally the sustainable and employment creating livlihoods which is what this country needs are not catered to by IITs. They exist in villages, and are disappearing at an alarming rate. And the problems to poverty alleviation are not technical, but are political and moral in a very fundamental sense. Yes, sometimes some stray uses can be found for technology. 

Sreekanth Kocharlakota I totally agree!  
Rahul Banerjee technological training does help in village work also. I have used my technological training to solve many problems but the point is that it is my political and social work that has made more of an impact and provided space for me to be able to use my technological training for the benefit of the poor. 

Aparna Krishnan would you need IIT training for that. I see village people turning out far better practical engineering solutions that the one IIT trained engineer in our village. And as for skills like GIS, the village people pick it up in no time. I really see little worth of the training in IITs and similar setups from real purposes. 

Aparna Krishnan Anyway those who believe that 'modern development' and more cars and more electricity (environmental sustainability and social justice be damned) is what this country needs - for them questioning IITs could be heresy. But otherwise we need to face squarely that were one to practise what one learns in the IITs, one will only devastate further an already sadly torn earth. The skills we need today are will the villages, and not in the portals of any acclaimed institute. 

SreeHarsha Thanneru Aparna Krishnan agree on what you said. But instead of a steady shock to them when they reach the whole engineering scene (IITS or whatever) . I think the seeds have to be sown much earlier. I see lot of folks trying alternative schools, community schooling etc. But there are innumerable folks going through the same old system and now a days it's a fashion to pay premium for the same. 

Aparna Krishnan @gram swaraj. 

Rahul Banerjee technological training and critical thinking do help in doing things better. at least i have benefited from the training i received in IIT in tackling both technological and social problems in my work. in addition to the technological courses there are humanities and social science courses also in the curriculum. if one takes the latter seriously as I did then one can learn a lot about other things than technology in IIT. I did extra curricular reading both in technology and humanities and social sciences during my stay in IIT and also followed it up with practical work in the latter field which eventually led to my critically evaluating the IIT education and choosing to do what I have in my later life after graduating. Why only IITs and technology colleges, those studying in other colleges too are mostly buttressing the present system of modern industrial development and resource extraction. So unless there is a radical overhaul of the overall system of industrial production just blaming the IITs is not going to help. 

Aparna Krishnan I see critical thinking the the village people that can match and better that of the non-locals in the village, one trained in IIT, and two in Delhi School of Economics ! Yes, we understand the urban polity and system we grew in better, and that we can analyse better i suppose. 

Rahul Banerjee No doubt but that does not mean that an IIT education is useless. it can be useful for a person who wants to use it for the benefit of society rather than for perpetuating the present system. 

Aparna Krishnan You think so ? I  dont know. Insofar as challengeing the system and exposing it  maybe. Because as for meaningful sustainable technology I believe it resides in the villages. The 'educated' can only reduce ... and i feel all the green and alternative technologies they offer are not worth as much as a single honest call to reduce their burden both on the earth, and on the villages.

(1 year later)

Narayana Sarma Gandhi was not anybody- He was the son of a (prime) minister (may be of a very small kingdom, no problem), studied and worked abroad in those days when not many Indians have even heard of those places, he moved and fitted with the richest of people in India, quite comfortably. Studying in IITs and IIScs and working in big places tends to give one such an aura of intelligence, power and stuff; which may be useful in pushing the points that- are, well, totally unconnected to engineering, but still- you want to make. It is basically like Gandhi telling people about weaving, when any ordinary weaver is actually better at weaving than Gandhi. .. Or Abdul Kalam talking about children.. : I like to classify this essentially as 'politics of engagement' - It actually IS untruth and wrong in principle; but some people may like to use it to advantage. I don't do that, could be my problem- it could be just that I have problem in using that particular tag. // The important thing that IITs teach- to those who are willing to learn- I guess is that all the Codes that we follow in life are made by 'us', and we ACTUALLY are part of those 'us'. They give you courage to feel that you are okay- that whatever you are thinking is not rubbish. Once that principle is learned, you can do anything- it is as good as IITs having taught you their bit- (and your having learned yours). Sad that other instituions in India do not leave people with such feeling. May be you should tell Turiya this- IITs are not to make engineers, they are there to teach you the best. And when you are there, you get exposed to the best, and get to take a part of it. And that part remains with you whatever you do and wherever you go. Nothing goes waste ever.

Narayana Sarma And btw RBI Governer is an IIT alumnus. What has RBI to do with engineering, eh?
Aparna Krishnan Yes, these gorgeous walls house gorgeous people !! The bluff has to be called. That is when the Siddiahs and Eashwarammas and Lakshmiahs will claim their own space. I am nowadays only waiting for the day when they take charge. The educated in their arrogance and ignorance have created enough havoc.
Aparna Krishnan No Narayana. You (and I) may have stepped out of the 'glamour' of IIT (or IISc), and refused that tag. Using that tag, while it may be 'useful' in the short run, actually keeps perpetuating that superiority, and the other side of the coin of superiority, is inferiority elsewhere. Every farmer in India today apologetically introduces himself as ' only a farmer'. Its all connected. So these white elephants are best unmasked. That people who go there learn a confidence is also because they feel they made it to the 'best', and so they are the best. That is only a certian arrogance I am afraid. I have walked all those roads of false inferiority, and false superiority, and I know ! And why should IIT give greater confidence that your learning farming with your erstwhile teacher in Paalaguttapalle, Siddiah ?
Aparna Krishnan And then about Turiya, why would I tell her that IIT and such places give 'self confidence'. if she can get her confidence from her village relationships, from learnings from Sukanya and Eashwaramma, and from her sanskrit studies, i would consider it successful teaching or parenting. If she needs IIT chaapas to give her confidence, it is only a lack of inner clarity and faith. Kaada ?
Prakash Thangavel Exactly my thoughts. All our universities are structured this way. Today's agri colleges are churning out researchers who are picked up by Monsanto and Syngenta after completion. -- //The IITs and IIScs are structured with a learning that cannot and will not help the poorest. We had no idea of all this when we were in our 11th and 12th."
Narayana Sarma To Turiya first- Learning from the masters is sometimes good, is it not? Learn Music from Balamurali AND MSSubbalakshmi AND Subha mudgal, learn art from MFHussain AND Bapu, learn writing stories from RKNarayan AND Premchand, medicine from those at AIIMS and learn engineering from the chaps at IIT, and toymaking from Arvind gupta- why not?! Come on, It is fun learning things from masters! I am somehow not sold out to the idea of everyone being equal: (yes I am willing to challenge the foundations of democracy) there indeed ARE good teachers and bad teachers. While Easwaramma can teach her the best ways of pickling tomatos, the 'theory' of picking is best learned elsewhere too, because Easwaramma can't probably teach her ways of making avkai; or someother pickle equally or more complex. And I believe teaching is an art. Turiya could aim to get into IITs and IIScs for the mere fun of interacting with good teachers- challenge me! :)
Prakash Thangavel Music does not stop with Balamurai or Subbulakshmi, I hardly understand their music. I prefer folk music found only around our region or Ilayaraja.
Narayana Sarma Pl feel free to include them in the list.. yes Ilayaraja IS included.
Narayana Sarma He is a Master, yes!
Prakash Thangavel I don't consider him a master after hearing musicians performing in open areas just with a udukkai and their voice. People usually get mesmerized and get in to the act at the end and had to be controlled. It is all gone now, only loudspeakers blaring  away obscene songs during festivals. The same way education, along with everything else has been hijacked from poor and placed on a high pedastal, which poor can only aspire.
Aparna Krishnan our village shepherd with his bamboo flute. Yes, all these stage performances, with hardsell, and self promotion and awards are the very antithesis of what art should give, and the way it should lead the world.
Narayana Sarma Well my flute has also improved much- (And I tried teaching a shepherd once! ) But that is not the point- mastering the instrument, learning everything about it that humanity has learned so far- and contributing newer insights into the art of playing flute- I doubt if all that can be taught by the shepherd at Palaguttapalli. If it can, then why, I'd say he is a Master!
Narayana Sarma Prakash Thangavel I guess there are masters everywhere, in every tradition- in scientific tradition, classical tradition, as also in folk tradition. Take for example, surgery. How many times do you trust someone unschooled in formal ways, into performing complex brain surgeries? Brain surgery involves systematic accumulation of knowledge about our nervous system, understanding machines, using modern tools as also communicating the same to the patients, bystanders and then solving complexities arising post surgery!! All this may not be obtained outside of formal structures ever. Likewise Computer science. Same with Biology, philosophy or any other 'systematised' schema of learning. If you question if at all life has to be 'compartmentalised' into such various schema, it becomes a separate discussion. Otherwise it is so, given the status of knowledge today- fragmented or othewise.
Prakash Thangavel Once we talk about masters, inequality sets in, just like rich and poor. Teaching should not be done from high pedastals and subject should be useful in life. Why to bother with cell biology in 8th std, after letting kids forget about sowing a seed and reaping them? I am re learning everyhting now and whatever I have learned until now is not helping me in my daily life, except basic english n math
Aparna Krishnan Narayana Sarma1. T's interests are very different :). IIT etc are nowhere on the horizon. And given my take on modernity and modern technology, its a good thing ! 2. Of course one needs the best teachers. The subject is what I am questioning. The best farming lessons come from Annasamy anna and Siddiah, and not IARI. The best lessons on sociology are learnt by living in a village, and not from JNU ! 3. Democracy never meant 'all are equal', at least not my flavour of democracy.
Narayana Sarma Specialization is a complex thing that has happened to society. Living in a village after tasting and not-liking city life is something very different from living there because there was no choice. Aparna Krishnan, there is something strange about wisdom in that it can not actually be communicated easily: wisdom is something that one has to try (or not try ) get for one's self. 

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