Sweet (Potato) Harvest

A couple of years back I shifted to a flat. We did not have a single plant in our house. So we brought a couple of pots in which to put some plants. We started with “money plant” but it seemed it did notlike growing in our window. We tried many other things but none survived. All of them would die, perhaps due to lack of sunlight or some infestation.

It so turned out that the sweet potato is not that sweet after all. It has a low GI (glycemic index). Some of the sweet potatoes that we had brought, and kept in the corner developed some really cool purple coloured shoots. We then thought of planting these and see. And grow they did. The shoots grew at an astounding rate, as if they were on some sort of steroids. Withinn a week they scaled the height of the window (~ 5 ft.). We had to manage them horizontally afterwards. But this was it, the plants became very dense and we planted some more. So we had a nice vine over the window. We never bothered to see if they
had grown any roots that we could eat. It was more used like an ornamental plant.

When we shifted to our current home we brought the pot with us. For travel, we had cut all the branches and left the root intact. But after coming the new house, where we had access to the sunlight. The plant did not grow, it died. That is when we planted some new shoots in the pot, two of them. And then forgot about them. We water them daily but, it was in a rather inaccessible corner of the balcony so, we could not look at it properly.

It so happened one day I noticed something strange. Something (most probably a bird) had dug out the soil in that pot and uncovered what was unmistakably surface of a sweet potato. There were beak like marks on the surface. It was like a treasure was exposed. I promptly covered the exposed area with extra soil. It was then that I noticed that the plant had grown a lot but since its branches were hanging low and at an angle than hid it from us, we had not seen them.

So, this is the background. Yesterday, being a Sunday we decided to take out the potatoes out. So what follows is a picture essay of uncovering the harvest of the sweet potatoes.

The Plant with its leaves.

01-complete-plant

Put a paper on the floor to collect the soil.

 

02-plant-with-newspaper

 

Start the digging. Felt like a forager!

 

03-digging-starts

 

First sweet glimpse!

 

04-first-look

And they are out!

 

05-and-out

With the roots removed.

 

06-roots-removed

 

Washed!

07-washed

 

Portrait shot No. 1

 

08-washed-2

 

Portrait Shot No. 2

 

08-washed-3

 

Nicely cut and washed!

 

09-cut-1

 

Removing the extra water.

 

10-cut-2

In the fry pan!

 

11-in-the-pan

 

And with salt and pepper!

 

12-sweet-pepper-salt

 

That’s it for now folks!

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Why I am an Atheist

Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant.

You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, Ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back.

It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.

Open your eyes and see millions of people dying of hunger in slums and huts dirtier than the grim dungeons of prisons; just see the labourers patiently or say apathetically while the rich vampires suck their blood; bring to mind the wastage of human energy that will make a man with a little common sense shiver in horror. Just observe rich nations throwing their surplus produce into the sea instead of distributing it among the needy and deprived. There are palaces of kings built upon the foundations laid with human bones. Let them see all this and say “All is well in God’s Kingdom.” Why so? This is my question.

One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.

via Why I am an Atheist.

Posted in freedom, India, morals, religion | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Academia Misfitya

1 The problems of academic misfits
===================================

Many things are said which might require a background without
which they may appear to be incoherent, or is it that they are
actually incoherent and background is not required at all?
Maybe I should less drink coffee, otherwise such sense making
non-stuff comes of me out ….

Miserable lives, pathetic people:

1
——

What happens when you get stuck up with a job that you do not like,
but have to do it because you could not get to the place you wanted
to be in? At times you feel that the place doesn’t deserve you. You
are over-smart for the place. The place is meant for people who are
far behind you in the evolutionary seqeuence. This is the feeling
that many people in my working place share. They think that they
are smart, and are stuck up at this place because of some bad
luck. Their heart doesn’t lie in the work that they are doing, but
somewhere else. So what do they do to overcome this personal
failure of theirs? They make an attempt to make other people’s
likfe miserable, just as their own is. I am particularly using the
word attempt, as it does not succeed. This just shows the
pathological state of mind they are in. Their personal failure of
not being able to get into a place where they think their
intelligence might be in good company, is displayed in the malice
they carry around with their persona.

2
——

They would take up smallest issues and make mountains out it. Hold
a personal vendetta against the ones they dislike. This comes to
fore in public meetings where their pathetic attempts to undermine
other people’s work. So pathetic are their attempts that one can
only but laugh at their incompetence even in doing this. This
reminds of the series of Rowan Atkinson called The Black Adder. Its
dark comedy all around. They should forget about getting to their
dream place with this kind of incompetence. Most of them are
rejects from places of so called “higher intelliegence” who by hook
or crook somehow found their way in this space. Others tell you
that their know this person, or is related to that person /who/ is
at this high position. Maybe they all conspired to get them
here. They were so incompetent that even such people in high
position could not get them to their dream places. And what is the
result? They are perpetually under cloud of failure, and hence they
want to see others also fail. How can others succeed when they, the
intelligent beings of the lot, have failed?

3
——

People who have realized this truth behind their hollow lives give
them the most fear. Because they know these people are not going to
be intimidated by the false aura of intelligence they carry around
them. These people can see through them for what they are. They do
not give them the false respect that they force their juniors and
people working under them to give them. “Call me Sir!” they say, as
if the British crown has knighted them. And they are offended deeply
if they are not called so. This behaviour is anti-academic, if
nothing else. In other places I have seen even the most senior most
scientists being called by their first names. But these “academic
misfits” think otherwise, to boost their fragile self-ego they make
the people under them give them respect forcibly. This perhaps
gives them a 10 footer.

4
——

The very fact that they were not able to get to a place which they
so much desired, but instead their getting into a ‘popular’ place
makes them think that all around them are like that. For jandiced
people the whole world appears with a yellowish tint. So it is with
this people suffering from academia misfitia. They think they being
so much intelligent and superior to others are stuck here, /hence/
the other lesser mortals must also be so. So they think that all
others in such a place are also misfits, and perhaps of a worse
kind (we yet don’t even have a PhD!).

5
——

To justify their presence in a place where they do not belong what
do they do? They change the goals of the place so that they will
somehow fit in the new goals. This is the easiest thing to do. When
facts are against you, you change the standards of
measurement. This is much like what Rutherford had said about
science: “Science is what scientists do.” So the goal of a place is
the work that people there do. This way they can justify whatever
work that they do, no matter whether it fits the agenda of the
place or not. But what do they do when you point out that this does
not fit into the original agendas? They know they cannot get any
higher in academia, if they could they would not be here. So they
adapt a time tested approach of being a douchebag. If you cannot
rise above others, make others sink. Make their work look as if it
is nothing, as /compared/ to theirs. Attack them in public seminars
to make them look like fools in front of the people. But even this
attempt ends in failure. How much failure one can take? Then they
claim that theirs is a ‘serious’ kind of work and any other work
which they do not do is a ‘popular’ kind of work, not worthy of
anything. And academics is serious work, not popular. If it is so
why are they in a place where this happens? This is because they
are themselves not good enough for serious work, perhaps only
semi-serious work, hence they are stuck here.

6
——
And what is the nature of ‘serious’ work that they take pride in?
It is the pinnacle of a huge commercial industry, where they are
basking in lights given off from others. There is a joke which is
similar to this situation. A scientist, one by one plucks of all
the legs of a cockroach and yells it to after pulling out one
leg. Initially the cockroach tries to run with the remaining legs,
but after last leg is removed it can no longer run. The scientist
concludes that the cockroach cannot hear when all the legs are
removed. This joke is related to much of the ‘(semi?)-serious’ work
by the misfits. They do the first error in statistics, confusing
correlation with causality (no wonder they are stuck here). They
think that it is their final leg pulling which produces the
required results and this they get published in the ever breaking
news hungry pop-media! All the false pride that they carry and
respect that they get is due to the position they got themselves in
by hook or by crook. It is this position as gatekeepers of the last
leg, they have developed the pathetic arrogance that they have.

There is much to say about these matters, but that will be another
post….

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Gandhi on Textbooks

M. K. Gandhi

Harijan Vol VII, No. 31 pg. 1, 9 September 1939

Text Books

The craze for ever-changing text books is hardly a healthy sign from
the educational standpoint. If text books are treated as a vehicle for
education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A
teacher who teaches from text books does not impart originality to his
pupils. He himself becomes a slave of the text books and has no
opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the
less text books there are the better it is for the teacher and his
pupils. Text books seem to have become an article of commerce. Authors
and publishers who make writing and publishing a means of making money
are interested in frequent change of text books. In many cases
teachers and examiners are themselves authors of text books. It is
naturally to their interest to have their books sold. The selection
board is again naturally composed of such people. And so the vicious
circle becomes complete. And it becomes very difficult for parents to
find money for new books every year. It is a pathetic sight to see
boys and girls going to school loaded with books which they are ill
able to carry. The whole system requires to be thoroughly
examined. The commercial spirit needs to be entirely eliminated and
the question approached in the interest of the scholars. It will then
probably be found that 75 per cent of the text books will have to be
consigned to scrap-heap. If I had it my way, I would have books
largely as aids to teachers rather than for the scholars. Such
textbooks as are found to be absolutely necessary for the scholars
should circulate among them for a number of years os that the cost can
be easily borne by middle class families. The first step in this
direction is perhaps for the State to won and organize the printing
and publishing of text books. This will act as an automatic check on
their unnecessary multiplication.

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Citation inside a Caption – LaTeX

Recently while writing my thesis, I came across a strange error while compiling with LaTeX. The problem arose when I gave a cite command inside a caption environment. The caption was for a figure. For example

\caption{This is the caption for a figure. From  \cite{friend2005}}

This gave the following error:


! Argument of \Hy@tempa has an extra }.
<inserted text>
\par
l.89 ...sity estimate. From  \cite{friend2005}}

?
Runaway argument?
\@captype {\@firstoftwo {\@ifstar {\HAR@acite }{\HAR@fcite }}}\def \reserved@b
\ETC.
! Paragraph ended before \Hy@tempa was complete.
<to be read again>
\par
l.89 …sity estimate. From  \cite{friend2005}}

?

A little googling around I found this site which solved the problem in a second.

So the command should read like:


\caption{This is the caption for a figure. From  \protect\cite{friend2005}}

And the problem is solved. In case you are wondering what \protect does look here.

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Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

  The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
  saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
  act any person could request data from government departments
  pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
  towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
  RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
  required information officially. What was important also was that
  there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
  the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
  which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
  their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
  a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
  government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
  and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
  corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
  names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
  examples?)

  Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
  activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
  exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
  the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
  cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
  anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
  were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
  /daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
  activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
  were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
  examples)

  What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
  this I mean they lack support from people with similar
  interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
  will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
  for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
  There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
  provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
  there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
  for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
  they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
  which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
  the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
  which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
  time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
  such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

  The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
  call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
  from various government departments. The activists can send their
  queries to the government departments through this collective. This
  collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
  respective government departments, and associated problematic
  elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
  collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
  as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
  case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
  their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
  anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
  be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
  will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
  regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
  to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
  but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
  requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
  work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
  more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
  would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

  So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
  apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
  all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
  up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
  information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
  address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
  making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
  available for researchers.

  Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
  collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
  possible way of execution of this collective are needed.

 
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Antilla: The Crowning Glory of Corruption

antilla

What you see above is one of the most expensive real estate structures in the world. This is Antilla, the billion dollar building. Apparently the owner of the building Mukesh Ambani spend over 4000 crore rupees on the building. The building has everything that one would want, including swimming pools and theatres, and who knows what lies hidden in the heights of the  building. But the problem is that the building looks ugly. There is no doubt about that. Period. It looks like there was a competition for designing ugliest structures and this one won hands down.

The design of the building is such that it taunts you, “I am ugly so what, see how much my owner is able to spend on me! Doesn’t matter what you say!!” This exactly represents the behaviour of the Ambani’s over the decades that they have come to power. They just don’t care, if you don’t like them. They still will get it there way.

Antilla for all its hype and expenditure, is everything that is wrong with India. Corporate houses don’t break the rules, they make the rules. It so appears that various Department in Government work for them, protecting their interests, rather than that of public or of government. This is so much clear in the loot of natural resources that is happening throughout the country. Then babus, politicians make the corporates “Untouchables”. And then the corporates out of this churning of make monstrosities like Antilla and they are proud about it.

 

 

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Edward Snowden’s Moral Courage

I have been to war. I have seen physical courage. But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage. For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution.

via Common Dreams.

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Equity Over Excellence

There is an interesting piece in The Atlantic by Sergey Ivanov on the education system in Finland. Though the article is written from a viewpoint of an American, there are a lot of take home points for everyone and particularly for India. In this post I am trying to make sense of this article from an Indian standpoint. Through out the post if you just insert India for America (which I have done at places), it at once catches. For the problems Indians are facing are also the problems of the Americans, as we have more or less tried to follow their model of education. The basic theme that underlies the article
is this:

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because 
 it values equality more than excellence.

To many in the Indian context who believe that excellence must be given priority over equity this might be surprising. Surprising because it undermines a basic premise in their logic: that to excel in science and technology the only way is to promote excellence. In India there have been two distinct approaches to education, there is a clear stratification of the students based on standardized tests, and it is these tests which filter out students. But as the Finnish experience shows us that this need not be the case.

The newly found fame for Finland’s educational system comes after excellence of their students in the PISA scores since 2000. This seems paradoxical when we learn more about the educational system. The tried and trusted formulae of instructionism and rote-learning, which many people swear by, have almost no place there. The Finnish educational system seems like an educational philosophers utopian materialized in the real world.

To understand why it is working, the way it is, Indians will have to give away their long cherished beliefs about educational system. This would make the government more accountable towards education of the people. This is not just cosmetic school reform, but a revamping of the complete educational philosophy with which we are running the show.

One of the most intriguing (at least for me) things to notice is:

“Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in
Finland.”

This notion may seem difficult for an American (Indian?) to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

(emphasis added)

Now, this is interesting. What can we say about India? In fact over the years there has been general trend that we are seeing, that the number of private schools is increasing. And then there are branded schools which are spreading their networks across the country. Not to tell that they charge really hefty fees, and are meant for the elite. And so is the case with the colleges, each professional degree has a price tag, only people who can afford it, get those degrees. The haves not, the non-elites, who are mostly from the deprived classes, remain with almost no education. The government keeps on talking about reaching out to people, and by allowing the private schools colleges to exist, it is actually preventing people from joining in. Another aspect about this is that since there are alternatives to the government schools, the government schools themselves have no pressure to perform. And as any intelligent parents will tell you, it is better to put your child in a private school than a government one. Most of the parents who are in a financial position to put their children in private schools, do so.

How many parents do you know who have enrolled their children in government schools, even when they can afford private schools?

There was yet another interesting piece If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person in which the author makes a case that it is parents who are driving the change of declining government schools. If the educated parents make a sustained effort of challenging and helping government schools to improve, they will surely improve. The parents adopt the path of least effort, and send their children to private schools, which are supposed to be better. This automatically creates a class divide without asking.

Even among the private schools there is an hierarchy. There are international schools, convent schools etc. So the social stratification that exists, is just reflected in the school system. Seen from this perspective, one can understand why are the government schools neglected. They are neglected because the people who are influential and who are amongst the rich and powerful are never affected by the dismal state of the government schools. They have an alternate avenue for their children where these schools never come into picture.

There is another thing that is striking in the Indian system, that is of the coaching classes. I do not know if they are present in Finland or even anywhere in the world. But in India, the coaching classes have a complete parallel system of cracking the educational system. The amount money that the coaching classes do attract must be comparable to the amount Government of India spends on education. This is another avenue where the class divide comes in. Only people with enough finances can afford to send their children to the best coaching classes. But the more fundamental question to ask is:

Why do coaching classes exist in the first place?

The answer to this question is not easy and it related closely to the way in which Indians look at education and its practices. The coaching classes exist because there is a demand for them. And what do coaching classes achieve. Most of the coaching classes are aimed at helping students crack some standardized test or the other. But why do you need standardized tests? Some of the rhetorical questions that one might ask against this question are:

From his (Sasi’s) point of view, Americans (Indians) are consistently obsessed
with certain questions:

+ How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test
them constantly?
+ How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad
teachers or merit pay for good teachers?
+ How do you foster competition and engage the private sector?
+ How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s (India’s) school reformers are trying to do. For example the introduction of CCE or Continuous and Comprehensive Examination introduced as part of NCF 2005 is one such reform. Similarly we have incentives in forms of awards for best teachers, and of course the best students get rewards like getting admission to the best colleges. Their parents are proud, schools are proud, and their coaching classes are also proud. This can be seen by the number of advertisements the coaching classes put up. But all the exams like IIT-JEE, AIEEE, Medical Exams, Olympiads, etc. are standardized tests. These are the parameters of excellence in the country. Similar tests are also found in the US, like GRE, TOEFL, SAT etc. One would assume the standardized tests in Finland would be of very great quality, but in reality they don’t exist there.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

The very idea of standardized tests emerged in the shadow of the Second World War. The mass recruitment of troops required a mass approach, which resulted in production of tests. In his book The Tyranny of Testing physicist Banesh Hoffman, criticises the standardized tests that were prevalent in the US, and takes to task the leading makers of these tests on the fundamental premise of their objectivity. Similarly one can, question the fundamentals of the standardized tests in the country.

Can any standardized test be really objective?

Personally, I do not think so. None of the standardized tests, take into account multiple factors that a student has skills in. These tests make the process of filtering students easier for the administrators. But do they help students at all (except for getting admission to a desired institute)? Do they really test the understanding of the subject matter? Do they take into account various social factors that is part of the mileu of the students? As Banesh Hoffman says the only thing objective about these tests is that once, the students fills in the answer sheet, the grading is objective. But why is that the teachers who are actually teaching the students cannot test them? Why do we need standardized tests to test the students?

And here comes in the idea of academic flexibility in the schools. In India even most university department do not have academic flexibility. There is a central committee which decides, what is to be taught and a committee sets a test with which we grade the students. This creates a definite goal in form of “completing the syllabus” for the teachers. This is a malice which pervades the educational system of India from primary schools to university departments. The teachers are in a race to reach the finish line of the syllabus, because if they do not, the students might face questions which they were not taught.

Though the teacher is the representative of the entire educational system in the classroom, they are nothing more than, to use a term by Krishna Kumar, “meek dictators” in the classroom. The real dictators are adminitrators and decision makers sitting at the top of the educational system. This perhaps is a colonial mentality which has been deeply embodied in the Indian psyche. But in Finland what happens:

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

People say that then the teachers cannot be trusted that they will grade their students correctly. So how will they be held accountable?

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told
an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

This is where the responsibility of the Government comes in. Goverment slowly is trying to distance itself from its role in providing education to all its citizens. But if teachers are themselves left unsatisfied both monetarily and ideologically??, what results one can
expect. In this way the Government is indirectly encouraging the private schools and coaching classes, and thus making the class divide even more striking.

And while Americans (Indians) love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American (Indian) idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Compare this with the Indian attitude. Competition seems to be the key to everything and especially education. Where does collaboration of
cooperation enter in Indian educational scenario?

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.

“Here in America (India), parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”

And in India there are coaching classes which prepare students to get into better coaching classes. With both private schools and the coaching class industry around the education and related services have been commercialised to furthest extent possible. This just works in the favour of the already existing class divide. Parents do choose best for their children, and thus do perpetuate the divide as they have no other choices.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

This is the state of the educational system in India now. And with the over emphasis on the excellence part which addresses a small set of mostly elite students, the goal should be creating equal opportunities for equity. The idea of equity in the academic circles is unfortunately equated with that of sub-standard or below average. There are people who will tell you, that “Look, there are bright students, and they need special coaching.” The government has to spend the money of bright students, so as to make the country excel in education. This is done at the expense of the average students. One may ask the question, how in the first place do you know a student is bright? The answer comes from scores of the standardized tests, which are the root cause of many problems that the educational system in India is facing now. If one is serious about changing the educational scenario in the country this has to be addressed. Though there are champions of the standardized tests, in India as in the US of Amerika, they are the ones whose existence is based on such tests. Without these tests their existence becomes meaningless. It will certainly increase the workload of lot many people a lot many times. But the problems of magnitude of changing educational system in India is no mean problem and will require solutions of these magnitudes.

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to
learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location.

In the Indian scenario this seems to have been forgotten. And one of the main reasons for this is the presence of private schools and coaching classes where parents can shop for education.

Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

This particular quote is exactly opposite of what the Indian
educational system does by promoting academic excellence over equity.
And this also relates to the qualities that Indians cherish. If good
education is equated with chances of making good money, then we know
where we are wrong. With private schools and coaching classes the
education of a student becomes a balance sheet, which will be brought
to green from red by the money that student will make after
completing education.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with
the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student
guidance.

In case of India we have seen implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. But does it extend to the other domains?

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the
first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike,
say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

And with so much emphasis on coming on top of the class in India, we are getting what we are sowing. Surveys will tell you that students,
including even those from the best private schools in the country do fail in simple evaluation. But is this unexpected? If the entire
focus of the educational system is to pass standardized tests, why should we expect our students to be better in something else?

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. (India) seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

Though India is yet to undergo Occupy BSE protests, it is not long before this happens.

Some people may point out that Finland is a developed nation. It is much more homogeneous as compared to India. Here it might become more complicated than in the US, but the central argument should hold through.

Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans (Indians) reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

The social conditions in India do not match those in Finland. We have many factors like, caste and religion, which do strongly affect our educational policies in practice, if not in theory. So is this comparison valid? But comparing Finland with an country whose demographics are similar, namely Norway, we find different results. Which shows it is the educational policy which determines the outcome, and not the demographics.

Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

And time and again it is said that India does not have enough money to spend on its enormous population. Looking at the amount of GDP that is spent on education India ranks spends 3.1% of GDP on education (2006), while the US spends 5.5% (2007) and Finland 5.9% (2007). A more updated list shows this hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. A look at the graph below from the World Bank Data on these matters makes the picture clear. Though Norway spends more than Finland on education, the results are poor. So if we assume that this is the control then it clearly shows it is not the amount of money you spend or your socio-economic status of the people that matter. What matters most is the way in which you have planned for education and its spending.

gdp-educationPeople tell you that most problems in Indian education system will go away if we have enough teachers! But why are not there enough teachers one may ask? Isn’t it funny that in a country which has second largest population in the world, we do not have enough government teachers? It is surely not a problem of human resources, but of will, both political and social. We do not want to spend more on education, and yet we expect the things to be better. And somehow government is willing to spend on private partners for education, a sort of outsourcing if you want. And with more and more Public Private Partnerships for education, government is just abdicating its responsibility, in the field of education as in other fields.

Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Problem in India is manifold.

“Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American (Indian) way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

(emphasis added)

The problem facing education in America (India) isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America (India) needs to be more competitive abroad.

Most of us think that utopian ideas are not practicable. The talk about equity in education is essentially seen with that attitude. But the Finland example has just shown us that this is possible. Though it is definitely not to say that we blindly follow that model. But it seems that utopian things are possible, just that we will have to give up on long cherished notions of what we consider excellence as.

Posted in babudom, bureaucracy, education, India, philosophy, science education, sociology, teachers, technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latex Tufte class in org-mode

Edward Tufte is known for graphical excellence in his famous books. Some enthusiasts combined his design principles into LaTeX and you have the tufte-book and tufte-handout classes for excellence in typesetting. This has support for sidenotes, margin figures, full width figures etc.

Now, since I have shifted to org-mode on Emacs for most of my writing work including that of LaTeX, it was but natural to take this in org-mode output.

For this a small addition to your .emacs file and you are done. Of course after installing the dependencies. I also came to know about another nice package nicefrac for using in the documents.

For Fedora #yum install texlive-tufte-latex should do the job. Also some font problems may arise which can be solved by running updmap and enabling the needed font.

 ;; tufte-book class for writing classy books
(require 'org-latex) 
(add-to-list 'org-export-latex-classes
'("tuftebook"
"\\documentclass{tufte-book}\n
\\usepackage{color}
\\usepackage{amssymb}
\\usepackage{gensymb}
\\usepackage{nicefrac}
\\usepackage{units}"
("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
("\\paragraph{%s}" . "\\paragraph*{%s}")
("\\subparagraph{%s}" . "\\subparagraph*{%s}")))

 ;; tufte-handout class for writing classy handouts and papers
(require 'org-latex) 
(add-to-list 'org-export-latex-classes
'("tuftehandout"
"\\documentclass{tufte-handout}
\\usepackage{color}
\\usepackage{amssymb}
\\usepackage{amsmath}
\\usepackage{gensymb}
\\usepackage{nicefrac}
\\usepackage{units}"
("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
("\\paragraph{%s}" . "\\paragraph*{%s}")
("\\subparagraph{%s}" . "\\subparagraph*{%s}")))

Once you have added these to .emacs, in the org-mode you have to define #LaTeX_CLASS: tuftehandout or #LaTeX_CLASS: tuftebook to invoke this style in the tex output.

Enjoy the Tuftesque typesetting in your own work! Some snippets from my work in progress, no figures so far.

tufte-latex-book

Title Page

tufte-latex-book-2Table of contents

tufte-latex-book-3Main text

Posted in art, delight, free software | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment