Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Jun 12, 2006
Industry & Economy - Education
Columns - Vision 2020
The importance of nurturing talent
P. V. Indiresan
A country's success depends on how well it nurtures talent. Had the reservation policy been applied at the primary school stage, as many backward caste children as from forward castes would have performed creditably, and joined the best institutions without crutches. But that is not to be. Proposals for shifting special privileges to the primary school level have been shot down by successive governments, says P. V. INDIRESAN.
Will I have rainbows day after day?
From a song in the film, The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The song went on to say "que sera, sera," whatever will be, will be. An equally famous Hindi film song said, "mutti me hai kismat hamaari" the future is in our hands. It is interesting the Hollywood song was fatalistic; the Bollywood one was optimistic. Normally, the expectation would be the other way round.
According to economic scholars, what success a country achieves depends not on its physical resources, nor on its human talent, not even on capital availability let alone on technological prowess; instead, it depends on its political culture. It does not need much thought to appreciate why.
Many rich countries of today had none of the four basic components of economic production resources, not much of an educated force, little capital and little technology and yet they have succeeded. That is because their leaders were proud of their country, and encouraged talent wherever it was found.
We are different. We are amused, and are even proud that we have the crab mentality we pull down anyone who tries to escape from bondage of poverty, ignorance or whatever. In particular, we are fond of the Common Minimum Programme.
Difficult to agree on
The CMP is like four persons going to a fancy restaurant with a precondition they will order only what everyone agrees on. As they find nothing to agree upon, they came back after drinking a glass of water. In contrast, another set decided to let each one enjoy the best: A variety of dishes was ordered, and every one shared every thing. Can we imagine our diverse political parties agreeing to let others enjoy, and share each others' joys?
The CMP is a state of mind. It pervades our thinking everywhere. One such instance is advanced education.
Over the years, our politicians have systematically destroyed quality in university education; now they are targeting the Indian Institutes of Technology. IIT directors are apparently under pressure to lower standards to the common minimum, so that everyone will pass with credit.
This downward pressure on quality that is widely prevalent among our politicians and do-gooders is like insisting that cricket should be played with a tennis ball because some people are scared to face the regular one.
The insistence goes still further; no one should be allowed to play with the regular cricket ball.
We can understand, and even appreciate, that some people should be given special help. But it is stretching the idea of fairness too far to say that everyone should be brought down the level of the Common Minimum. Can we have rainbows day after day when no one is allowed to reach to the skies? Can we compete internationally when no one is allowed to attempt international level of challenge?
A formal proposal has been made that the IITs be allowed to offer two levels of degrees: An international quality one and another less exacting one for those who cannot handle abstract concepts. That will offer space for the talented without excluding the others.
Unfortunately, there is vigorous opposition even to that alternative: our political leaders want every one to play with the soft ball even if that means we will no longer be able to compete internationally.
Faced with the kind of disparity we have today, the politicians had two choices: Raise the standards of the backward or lower the standards of the forward. Our political culture being what it is, we have chosen the latter.
A southern State is cited as an example of success of the reservation policy. That is both true and false. It is true for the reason its policy helped backward people to better their lives. It is false for the reason it prevented really great minds from flourishing.
Statistically, talent is equally distributed among all communities and classes. The final success depends on how well the talent is nurtured. If the reservation policy had been applied at the primary school stage to support talented children, as many from backward castes as from forward castes would have performed creditably; they would have taken their places in the best institutions without crutches, with their held high.
Unfortunately, that is not being allowed. Proposals for shifting special privileges to the primary school level have been shot down by successive governments.
The Chinese way
The difference between the Chinese culture and the Indian over this issue is as different as chalk is from cheese. The Chinese celebrate talent wherever it is found. They systematically search for talented children in every sphere, and provide every possible support right from childhood.
That is how they are dominating in so many types of sport, in technology, in manufacture and in economy. We are the opposite; merit is a bad word in India; it is a term of abuse.
Thirty years ago, a western State was progressing so fast that it was predicted to become the most industrialised in the country. Then, with an eye on elections, a political grouping was formed that largely excluded the educated classes.
The State never saw the end of the rainbow.According to folklore of Karnataka, dogs pray for more and more children in the family so that tidbits made for the children will be available for them also. In contrast, cats are said to pray there be no children in the house so that they can have all the milk.
Like the dogs that prayed for more children, Chinese politicians cultivate more and more talented children.
Like the cats that wanted no children at all, we have influential politicians who want to exclude the talented. India is the only country where the ambition is to be classified as backward.
George Santayana said that those who do not learn from the past will be condemned to repeat it. India is poised to take a lead over China.
India can do it. It will almost definitely do it if our politicians learn from what happened in that western State. If they don't, the country will regress.
(The author is a former Director of IIT Madras. Response may be sent to: email@example.com)
(This is 177th in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article was published on May 29.)
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