Last year I expressed my admiration for TN Governor Banwarilal Purohit making the annual Independence Day reception a culturally rich event. (IE, Sept 2018 issue). The Governor, ably assisted by R Rajagopal, Additional Chief Secretary, and his team, presented an even more evocative cultural fare this time. His speech and greetings were followed by five short and sweet cultural presentations of music, dance and drama, and a few nostalgic film scripts. These depicted the cultural richness of Tamil Nadu through the lilting flute, nadaswaram and chitraveena recitals and two dance-drama presentations on free India.
A matter for gratification is that the programmes were woven around Mahakavi Subramania Bharati’s immortal songs. Despite steeped in penury, Bharati dreamt of an Independent India decades before independence in simple, lucid Tamil poems. He also outlined the tasks for a new India that ranged from the establishment of factories for the production of paper to armaments to education, eradication of castes and emancipation of women. The patriotic fervor and the ambitious dream of a modern India were well brought out in the presentations at the Raj Bhavan.
The Tamil society, especially its political leaders, did not project the unique, vibrant and varied contributions of its own leaders like Subramania Bharati or Rajaji for the freedom movement. This denied due recognition to Tamils at the national level. One needs to contrast this with how Bengalis have been projecting their icons. Governor Purohit and the senior bureaucrat Rajagopal deserve the gratitude of Tamils for focusing on this aspect in the celebrations of national days at the Raj Bhavan.
Recruit school teachers only on merit
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by NGO Pratham points to the poor equipment of primary and middle school students of the state which is supposed to take care of laying a strong foundation. The reason for the miserable performance was again reinforced by the recent reports on the extremely poor quality of teachers. Look at these figures:
•1.62 lakh appeared for Paper I in the Tamil Nadu Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) eligible to teach classes to 1 to 5. Of these, just 551 or 0.33 per cent cleared the exam.
• The results of Paper II were even worse: of 3.79 lakh candidates, only 316 qualified, ie. less than 1 per cent. These candidates are eligible to teach classes 6 to 8.
There has been a mushrooming of teacher training institutes in Tamil Nadu which number 343. Of these, 273 are self-financed, a pattern similar to the mushrooming of self-financed engineering colleges in the state, most of the poor quality, run predominantly by influential politicians and all and sundry businessmen who had little to do with education.
Teachers’ associations are expectedly blaming the questions as tough and the bar high. In this vital area of school education, the foundation needs to be strong, the bar will have to be high and the best of talent should be recruited to mould generations of citizens.
Minister of School Education, K A Sengottaiyan, has been taking steps to improve the quality of school education. The revision and up-gradation of the syllabus with expert advice, introducing preparatory classes in government-run schools with a focus on English and Maths have been welcome steps. But more fundamental is the attention to the quality of teachers.
IE has been stressing for the urgency and importance of improving the quality of education in government schools. These account for over 80 per cent of schools. Until about four decades ago, these schools imparted quality education thanks to the quality of teachers. IE has been pointing to corporation schools of Chennai producing such brilliant leaders like C K Prahalad, Dr P V Indiresan and Gen Sundarji.
Post-1970, on the pretext of promoting social justice, the political leadership interfered with the system of teachers’ recruitment. Lack of attention and concern for the vital aspect of quality of teachers led to a steep deterioration in teaching and hence on the quality of students turned out. The need is to make merit the sole criterion for recruiting teachers. With the spectacular advances made by all the castes in Tamil Nadu post-independence, this should not be a major deterrent. Will our politicians agree?
In population: India to overtake China in five years
The 92 minute Independence Day speech of Prime Minister Modi stressed family planning: “we need to worry about the population explosion,” he said.
Even as India is endeavouring to catch up with the phenomenal economic growth of China, in one area, India seems to be overtaking China, in population. Over the last four decades, China has vigorously combated population growth. The implementation with the iron hand of the one-child family norm of China with incentives and disincentives is estimated to have prevented around 400 million births. In contrast, the continuous increase in population has resulted in India rapidly bridging the gap. China’s population is a little over 1.4 billion. India’s, presently at 1.36 billion, is slated to overtake this in the next five years. Just look at the change: in 1980, China’s population was 993.9 mn and India’s 696.8 mn; in 2000, China’s 1283 mn and India’s 1053 mn. Prime Minister Modi has praised citizens who have restricted the size of their families: “not only do small households contribute to the welfare of the family but also to the good of the nation. They deserve our accolades and respect and need to be honoured.”
While India cannot adopt the Chinese methods, she can incentivise small families along with the stress on education and improved standard of living. Several states of India, especially in the south have already achieved spectacular success in population control.