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Category Archive • India
November 14, 2004
Yoga pictures

Alan Little, a Yoga enthusiast (and regular BEdBlog commenter – I particular like his most recent one here), links to some Yoga pictures. Always on the lookout for gratuitous pictures for here, I explored.

I know I shouldn't mock, but some of these pictures cry out to be the basis of a caption competition, my favourite one for these purposes probably being this one, although it's a tough call:


Seriously though, these pics do give you a much better idea of what Yoga at least looks like, when performed by highly qualified Yogans.

The guy in the blue shirt doesn't seem to be doing very much in any of the pictures. I'm guessing he's there in case any of the performers ties him/herself – shoelace style – into such a tight knot that he/she needs emergency help getting untied.

The other thing that struck me about this demo is the splendour of the new building – the Yashasvi Wedding Hall in Mysore – in which it is being given. Anyone who thinks India is still only dust, poverty, and big white cows with huge horns meandering about slowing everything down from very slow to even slower should update his ideas. And since I was "struck", I guess that has to include me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:28 PM
Category: India
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September 20, 2004
India successfully launches Edusat

I recall noting this plan when it was just a plan. My heading, I see, was India launches an edusat, but actually, the plan was to launch it in June. So. Mid-September. Not bad.

BANGALORE (Reuters) - India's space agency said it successfully launched the nation's first satellite for educational services on Monday, which is expected to boost distance learning in a country with a huge rural population.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said in a brief statement on its Web site (www.isro.org) that the satellite was placed in its intended orbit 17 minutes after take-off at 4 p.m. from its spaceport at Sriharikota, 50 miles north of the southern city of Madras.

That's www.isro.org and here is the press release.


EDUSAT carries five Ku-band transponders providing spot beams, one Ku-band transponder providing a national beam and six External C-band transponders with national coverage beams. It will join the INSAT system that has already got more than 130 transponders in C-band, Extended C-band and Ku-band providing a variety of telecommunication and television broadcasting services.

Educated India is starting flex its technological muscles.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:25 PM
Category: IndiaTechnology
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July 24, 2004
And Lord Curzon agrees with her

Nothing much to say myself today, but I recomment this article by Tavleen Singh, about "Indianising" Indian education. The final paragraph, in particular, told me things I didn't know:

When I last wrote about education in this column, the former Maharajah of Dhrangadhra sent me a copy of a speech made by Lord Curzon at Rajkot’s Rajkumar College on November 5, 1900. In his speech, Curzon urges the Indian princes he is addressing to be Indian. ‘‘Though educated in a Western curriculum, they should still remain Indians, true to their own beliefs, their own traditions, and their own people.’’ How sad that a British Viceroy could see a hundred years ago what our HRD ministers cannot see even now.

At present there seems to be a kind of thesis, antithesis thing going on between teaching in Hindu and teaching in English, teaching East and Teaching West. Singh is, the way she tells it, trying to find the synthesis. Or it could be that she is just an Easterner but a bit cleverer than some of the others. Either way, interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:49 PM
Category: India
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June 26, 2004
Rewriting Indian history

Interesting stuff in the Guardian about history textbook battles in India. A change of government there means a change of syllabus:

India's new government is poised to rewrite the history taught to the nation's schoolchildren after a panel of eminent historians recommended scrapping textbooks written by scholars hand-picked by the previous Hindu nationalist administration.

Hundreds of thousands of textbooks are likely to be scrapped by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the central government body that sets the national curriculum for students up to 18.

The move, one of the first made by the new Congress led government, will strongly signal a departure from the programme of its predecessor.

The "saffronisation" of history, say critics of the last government, depicted India's Muslim rulers as barbarous invaders and the medieval period as a dark age of Islamic colonial rule which snuffed out the glories of the Hindu empire that preceded it.

Memorably, one textbook claimed that the Taj Mahal, the Qu'tb Minar and the Red Fort, three of India's outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, were designed and commissioned by Hindus.

Cue Gratuitous Picture of the Taj Mahal:


And a rather good one, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:20 PM
Category: HistoryIndia
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June 13, 2004
Indian English – and finishing in the West

More reportage on the state of the English language and of English language teaching in India.

M Thambidurai, Former Education Minister, Tamil Nadu, said: "Promoting one particular language is not necessary. When one says that English is not our language then even Hindi is not our language. Our mother tongue is better for us."

But learning English has been seen as a necessity largely due to the high demand for English-speakers, thanks to the boom in call centres.

So it is no wonder why the underprivileged see English as a stepping stone to a better future.

But then the article morphs into being about "finishing", for Indian girls who want to be Western Wives.

Many Indian girls dream of foreign-based husbands, so that they can live a better life abroad.

But for that to happen, they must improve their English skills.

Only then would they strike the right balance between playing traditional daughters-in-law and conducting themselves adequately in Western societies.

This has given rise to several finishing schools.

They are preparing for entry exams, personality development programmes, language and hobby courses – anything to make them better wives when they begin their married lives in the US, Canada or Europe.

I wish all concerned well.

People should be writing Dickens-type novels about this stuff , and producing elaborate TV soap operas set in five different countries. No doubt they are.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:31 PM
Category: IndiaLanguages
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June 06, 2004
India redirect

I did some education blogging today at Samizdata, about India. It's good news, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:37 PM
Category: India
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May 04, 2004
The education trade with India and in India

Commenting today on this posting here, Satya, who writes this blog says:

It is indeed interesting to follow the way trade in education is evolving. Some time back, I had looked at India's education imports and the possibility of India exporting education by leveraging the (Indian Institutes of Technology) IIT brand - India's strongest educational brand. See my posts here and here.

But there is another interesting exports opportunity quietly growing in education - developing countries are exporting teachers to the developed countries. Indian teachers have been going to the US, the UK and many other countries to teach.

This kind of thing has undoubtedly emerged as one of the Big Stories while I've been writing this blog.

We all know why it is happening. Cheap international phone calls and even cheaper email make it far easier to arrange and maintain the quality of international relationships and faraway ventures and events than it ever was. It would have been crazy if the world – truly now the world – of education had not been deeply affected by this global trend. And especially so when you consider that a lot of educational material of great value can now be transmitted and distributed instantaneously, over thousands of miles and on a bewilderingly huge scale, simply by someone no more computer-literate than I am pressing a few buttons on keyboard.

My deepest thanks to Satya for the comment, with all its useful links. His education blog supplies a mass of detailed information about educational developments in India, and as I keep saying here, educational developments in India are also one of the Big Stories in the education world now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:48 PM
Category: India
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April 22, 2004
Alan Little on yoga teaching qualifications

I earlier alluded to Alan Little's intention to write about how yoga (his particular brand being ashtanga vinyasa yoga) is taught, and how the teachers of it qualify. He has now done this, and says that there will be more to come.

After describing the bare bones of the system, Alan says this:

Some people object to the system for various reasons. One is that it absolutely requires attendance in Mysore for substantial periods and so is too much commitment in time and/or money for some people. My view on that is: tough. I wouldn’t want to be taught yoga by somebody who wasn’t dedicated and serious; willingness to go to India for several spells of several months and pay substantial tuition fees is one pretty good way of demonstrating dedication and seriousness.

Quite so. Yet another case of education as peacock feathers. By which I do not mean frivolous and pointless rubbish, I mean clear evidence of seriousness as proved by willingness to sacrifice time, money and convenience. It's a principle which explains a great deal in the world of education, don't you think?

As for the actual yoga aspect of it all, my comments would be pretty much worthless. If that's what you want, read Alan himself.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:53 PM
Category: Examinations and qualificationsIndia
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April 19, 2004

If you want a window into the world of yoga - and more to the point here: yoga teaching – this posting, full of links, over at Alan Little's Weblog could be just the thing for you.

Interesting bit right at the bottom:

Coming soon: further thoughts on how yoga teachers are trained and certified, and why I would sooner trust a system based on the gut feel of a nearly 90 year old guy in India, than any kind of formal examination and certification scheme.

As so often in education nowadays, India leads the world.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:30 PM
Category: India
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April 03, 2004
CMC Vellore - past and present

I googled, as is my wont, "education", and this time, as has become my frequent wont, I tried "images", and stumbled into some Indian medical/educational history. I found my way to the archives page of the Christian Medical College Vellore (in Southern India), which was founded about a century ago by Miss Ida Sophia Scudder MD, who I'm guessing was an American missionary. It's the kind of place that isn't talked about much now, but the pictures at this page evoke a vanished world of White Man's burden, or in this case White Woman's Burden.


The place still seems to be going strong, as this page of more recent photos, in colour, illustrates.


I enjoy this kind of thing, and I really enjoy the way you can chat about such things on the internet.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:25 PM
Category: HistoryIndia
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March 30, 2004
How India thinks and what India learns

There is a fascinating article by Cherryl Barron in the latest Prospect (April 2004 – paper only so far as I can work out) about the reasons for the Indian computer software miracle.

The emergence of India as a software superpower is still generally attributed to the cheapness of its programmers and software engineers. But the underlying reasons are more complex and interesting, lying in the subcontinent's intellectual and pedagogical traditions.

Software is ubiquitous. It is at the core of processes in every strategic industry, from banking to defence. And the depth of India's advantage in software suggests that it poses a bigger challenge to the western economies than even China. China, strong in manufacturing and computer hardware, has been almost as unimpressive in software as Japan. Indeed, no developing country has ever taken on the developed world in a craft as sophisticated and important as software.

Indian software aptitude rests on both the emphasis on learning by rote in Indian schools, and a facility and reverence for abstract thought. These biases of Indian education are usually considered mutually exclusive in the west, where a capacity for abstraction is associated with creativity. In India, learning by rote is seen by most conventional teachers as essential grounding for speculation.

An educational tradition that spans learning by heart and exalting excellence in higher mathematics is just right for software. It fits the mentality of computers. These are, after all, machines so fastidious as to refuse to send email with a missing hyphen or full stop in an address. Yet no product on earth is as abstract, boundlessly complex and flexible as software. It cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched and is, to borrow Nabokov's description of chess – a game invented in India – a "spectral art."

India's software accomplishments reflect those extremes. Indian firms dominate a world elite of over 120 companies recognised for producing outstandingly accurate software, those which have earned a CMM Level-6 tag, software's equivalent of the Michelin 3-star rating. These establishments – of which America has less than half the Indian total—are certified to be following an exacting, detail-ridden methodology developed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh for producing reliable code.

At the other pole of cyber-sophistication, most of the reigning US technology giants – Microsoft, General Electric, Texas Instruments, Intel, Oracle and Sun Microsystems – have established software design and development facilities and even R&D laboratories in India to take advantage of the world-class brains produced by the Indian institutes of technology, willing to work for an eighth of the starting salary of their US counterparts.

This next bit also alludes, perhaps without intending to, to what used to be wrong with people educated in India.

Western programmers' view of their craft tends to stress its more rarefied dimensions, such as this description by the US computer scientist Frederick Brooks: "The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible ... so readily capable of realising grand conceptual structures."

Yet "pure thought-stuff" is also an encapsulation of ancient India's contributions to the world's scientific heritage. In about 600 BC, before the Greeks, some schools of physics in India developed atomic theories, based not on experiment but purely on intuition and logic. Some western physicists marvel at how much closer the imaginative speculations of Brahmin atomic theory have come to current ideas in theoretical physics than those of any other pre-modern civilisation.

"The Indians advanced astronomy by mathematics rather than by deductions elicited from nature," the science writer Dick Teresi has noted in Lost Discoveries. Indian mathematics was also distinctively airy-fairy. Whereas Greek mathematics was largely extrapolated from mensuration and geometry, the ancient Indians most distinguished themselves in abstract number theory. Zero, infinity, negative and irrational numbers – all concepts that the Greeks dismissed as ludicrous – were Indian concepts.

Airy-fairy. "Pure-thought-stuff." Yes, that sums up the cliché stereotype Indian university graduate of my (older) generation. Very big on abstraction, can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but no bloody use for anything except becoming a bureaucrat and driving the Indian economy – what little there used to be of it – ever deeper into the dust.

Spatial extension and quantities of objects were far less interesting to pioneering Indian mathematical minds. In fact, the Indian leaning towards abstraction – so deep-seated that theoretical physicists and mathematicians still outrank every other sort of egghead in status – explains India's relatively poor showing, historically, in more practical sciences. The sinologist Joseph Needham observed that more practical study would have entailed defying Indian caste rules about contact between Brahmins and artisans. Similarly, the progress of ancient Indian knowledge of physiology, biology and anatomy was held back by the taboo on contact with dead bodies.

All of this brings to mind a remark by Peter Drucker from long ago to the effect that computers have provided something never before seen in the world, namely: paying jobs for mathematicians.

Could it be that the way that computers have enticed all these airy-fairies and pure-thought-stuffers away from being government bureaucrats will turn out to be their most important beneficial contribution to the Indian economy? Yes, these people are doing splendid things with their computers, but think of all the abysmal things they used to do and might still be doing instead, were it not for computers.

I can confirm the excellence of Indians at maths with one extremely anecdotal anecdote. By far the cleverest attender (way ahead of me) of those Kumon maths sessions I occasionally mention here was an Indian boy of about eleven or twelve. (One of the "slumbering giant" glories of Kumon is that it enables Kumon instructors to accept and help to educate pupils who are cleverer than they are. I think this is the single most impressive thing about Kumon. Think about that. But I digress.)

Barron ends as she began, by contrasting India with China:

It was the supreme pragmatists, the Chinese – whose intellectual traditions favoured practicality and action over airy speculation – who were the technological geniuses of antiquity. They invented paper, seismographs, the magnetic compass, the wheelbarrow, irrigation, ink and porcelain. But reasoning for its own sake was of so little interest to them that, unlike the Greeks and Indians, they never developed any system of formal logic. It hardly seems accidental that it is through the manufacture of physical objects that China is making its mark today, while India floats on the ethereal plane of software.

As regulars here will know, I have been trying recently to liven up this blog with pictures. And I think it says something about the priorities of Indian civilisation just now that when I typed "India" and "Mathematics" into Google, the pictures were all either terrible or irrelevant. How do you illustrate an ethereal plane? Just an Indian guy in front of a blackboard covered in mathematical symbols would have done nicely, but I could find nothing like that.

Lots of stuff about Ramanujan, though.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:40 PM
Category: ChinaIndiaMathsTechnology
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March 12, 2004
Modern education for Muslims and for women in the Subcontinent

Here are two stories involving Muslims being urged to embrace "modern" education. Here's an Indian BJP man urging Muslims to get educated (and join the BJP):

Seeking to diospel the general perception that BJP was "anti-minority", Joshi said "the mere fact that the Muslims are less in number than the Hindus in the country does not make them a minority. The community can contribute as much as anybody in economic development if they take up modern education in a big way."

Funny. I thought that is what a minority is. Perhaps Mr Joshi could use a little more education himself.

And here's a Pakistani politician pushing women's education:

"Sindh government is anxiously working for promotion of cause of education, raise the academic standard and universalisation of education in the province." He was talking to a delegation of edducational experts, teachers, intellectuals and journalists of Sindh who met him at Chief Minister House here Wednesday.

Presumably "universalisation" means educating females as well.

Politics is only politics. But these kinds of pronouncements are bound to have consequences, if not immediately among educators and bureaucrats, then in the minds of the next generation of Muslims and women.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:13 PM
Category: IndiaPolitics
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February 16, 2004
More on India's educational free market

When, as I regularly go, I type "education" into google, most of the stuff I get occupies a sort of parallel universe of political posturing, a world in which press releases are one thing, and what is actually happening is something utterly different and can only be vaguely guessed at. This article, about education in India, is rather different. It gives you a real feeling for what is going on out there. In case it entirely disappears soon, here it is in full. It's today's special story (whatever that means) from News Today (which describes itself as "South India's leading English evening newspaper"):

Coming out in favour grant of full autonomy to educational institutions, Governor P S Ramamohan Rao today said government intervention would affect the quality of education in the country.

Speaking after inaugurating a nine-storeyed staff quarters of the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) here, built at a cost of Rs 8.5 crore, Rao said, 'full autonomy should be given to educational institutions which will help improve the quality of education. Even the Judiciary should not intervene in the field of education, leave alone the government', he said.

To realise the dream of President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam of India becoming a superpower, students should enrich their knowledge through various sources and not depend on classroom-teaching alone. Students (mainly those in the engineering and management streams) should be innovative and strive for self-employment rather than depend on government jobs.

'Maintaining law and order, providing healthcare, basic amenities and education are the main focus areas of the government and not providing jobs in the government. It (job) should come from one's own effort', he said.

Referring to a recent study done by a group of economists, he said it had been projected that in the next 30-35 years, India would become the third largest economy in the world after China and the US. However, this growth would be mainly due to its large population rather than in terms of per capita income.

This would not be real growth and only if the country's per capita income was raised, it could see real growth. For this to happen, students should work hard in their respective fields.

Earlier, G Viswanathan, Chancellor, VIT, said there should be no barrier in students from a particular State appearing for entrance exams of neighbouring States as was the case now, according to certain University Grants Commission (UGC) norms.

This barrier, he said, should be removed by bringing in changes appropriate changes in the existing UGC norms.

Viswanathan said governments seemed to be more keen on giving licenses to educational institutions to start colleges or universities rather than verifying if there was need for their being set up. This had led to a decline in the quality of the education as a large number of colleges and universities had cropped up. At present, there were 15,000 universities in the country. In Tamilnadu alone, there were more than 250 engineering colleges, he said.

G V Selvam, Pro-Chancellor, VIT and P Radhakrishnan, Vice-Chancellor, VIT, also spoke.

Maybe it's my Anglo-Saxon prejudice that the way to understand something is to witness an argument about it, rather than just be bludgeoned by unanimous experts. But personally, I that that the way to understand something is to witness an argument about it, rather than just be bludgeoned by unanimous experts.

I also, of course, agree with Governor P S Ramamohan Ra. I think it's great that the government of India is just dishing out "licenses" (whatever that means) regardless, rather then second guessing the people of India about whether there is a "need" for new colleges to be set up. Sounds like the free market in education out there is really motoring, and this really will turn India into a superpower.

I have a busy Monday, so that is probably all for today. Thank you News Today, for doing all the work.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:32 AM
Category: Higher educationIndia
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