Pray, where is the cream of India?

After the Beijing Olympics, the media has gone to town with small-town India. Suddenly, we seem to have discovered talent there! The population and infrastructure pressure on major metros has made industry discover tier-2 and tier-3 cities. This is still the story of urban India being played out. What Olympics or what industry would it take to ‘discover’ the villages? Gandhi said India lives in its villages. Nehru spoke of the Discovery of India. We are yet to discover it and this post is an attempt to be part of that journey.

Several years ago I was talking to the Vice-Principal of a ‘Public’ school located in north India. He announced with aplomb his deliverable as a teacher and educational administrator. He said, “You know we prepare the cream of India at my school!” I was perturbed that a senior teacher could display such snobbishness and stupidity! Snobbishness because he was clearly bragging about the wealthy character of the students at his school. Stupid because he had no clue about the history and character of the wider educational experience in India. So much for being a Vice-Principal.

There seems to be a widely-prevalent fallacy prevailing in middle-class circles that the ‘cream of India’ is being educated at ‘international’ and ‘public’ schools, as these terms are understood in our country. One would like to think that irrespective of their class character and geographical location, schools of all hues across the country are preparing the future generation of leaders and citizens of our nation. The parents mean well for their children but the assumptions on which their decisions are made are well off the mark. The first assumption is that the brand names of these schools would enable their children to climb up the career ladder in the future. A big brand with low marks does not get their wards anywhere; The second assumption is that because these are affluent schools, the quality of education offered is superior and their children would study better.

Year after Year when the 10th and 12th standard results are announced, less known and almost unknown schools seem to be the ones with the toppers. On the contrary, the environments of the so-called public/international schools promote degenerate habits and values that are bad for the children themselves. If the assumptions of parents are misplaced, what could be the driving forces that propel the parents to search for and uphold these institutions even if it’s at great cost to themselves and loss of achievement for their wards. The motivation is a kind of conspicous consumption in the educational market and a myopic vision of what constitutes success for the younger generation. What schools did some of the great achievers in India go to – let’s look at every field be it science or business or governance. The recent examples of APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh(his early schooling) and the late Dhirubhai Ambani seem to belie the assumption that only public or international schools produce successful or eminent persons/leaders. Numerous would be the examples like these who have studied in ordinary institutions and by sheer grit and determination made their way to the top. Our parents, elders and so many of our nation-builders have been to very unassuming, ordinary and in fact rural institutions.

India is already a role-model to the world through its democracy, pluralism and its social welfare principles for the less fortunate. In our rhetoric to becoming a ‘superpower’ (whatever that is) we seem to want to ape the behaviour and consumption patterns of societies whose history is different from that of ours. The scandals that have hit the headlines in the recent past whether it is to do with boys circulating MMS images of their girlfriends or underage alcohol-induced hit-and-run cases all involve children belonging to the ‘creamy’ schools. There seems to be evidence that we might be producing in the years to come generation of spoilt brats who are more into consumerism at an early age clueless of either their parents labour in affording their education. I watch with consternation the behaviour of the Gen-Y (at least in the metros) and their day-to-day concerns and priorities. What makes for a successful school or an achieving student? It is not the school buildings nor the glitter of the uniforms nor the number of cars parked outside it. It is the care and concern shown by teachers; it is the well-rounded scheme of education with a good component of extra-curricular activities; it is the interest and time given by the parents to complement the efforts of the school in ensuring the achievement of their children. It is the tenacity and fortitude of the student to persist in their studies regardless of the meagre or absent resources. It is the availability of scholarships that would enable less well-off families to afford education.

Perhaps the urban mall-dependent Gen-Y is not to blame given the social environment all around with all the mdeia / resources at their disposal, the gadgets available and the negligence of their parents. It was heartening to see the positive response from several sections of Indian society to the movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’ in terms of the requisite change required in parents/teachers attitudes to children.

The key word here is ‘teachers’ – till date I recall with great reverence all those who taught me for the values and the perspectives they instilled in us. We had a great scholar President in Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan (Teachers Day on September 5 recently passed us by – celebrated in Radhakrishnan’s honour) but today’s pop/film star celebrities are the ones who inspire Gen-Y. Alas it is ‘Pokkiri’ in, Gandhi out! All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy indeed. So, what forms of recreation and extra-curricular development can we hope for our children? Imagination plays a great role in what the child can dream for him/herself, the family, community and nation. But in what direction this passion/imagination/talent? This imagination is fired not by inane films but by how the child’s mind is cultivated and moulded into being a responsible and empathetic global citizen. The role therefore that a teacher plays in cultivating a child’s mind cannot be understated.

One can’t stop individuals or groups from thinking that they constitute the cream. They are free to think that way. However, it would be a sad future if one were to think that the cream would emerge out of exclusive gated communities like public or international schools. In my view, every citizen who puts her/his shoulder to the wheel and contributes her/his might to the building of a strong nation represents the cream. Such citizens are the real elite or leaders. Those who think for themselves and transcend various prejudices are the cream irrespective of the social strata that they come from. They don’t have to have positions or designations to do their job well whether at work or at home as parents. The only difference with this cream of India is it performs its calling silently without making a noise about its role and contribution. They are the unsung heroes and heroines. If only we could provide equality of opportunity to our citizens with its attendant resources, it might well be that the rhetoric of India becoming a country to reckon with may no longer remain just rhetoric. It could well become a reality!

The cream therefore ladies and gentlemen is everywhere. Its just that the ‘Discovery of India’ by our intellegentsia is as yet very incomplete. I rest my case.


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    Abdul, that sure was a very insightful post. I agree that it is not the whims and fancies that produces cream, however the attitude. Government schools do produce protégées and the so called ‘international’ or ’public’ schools may produce brats. I would like to point out that many parents have a phobia about international schools. While many parents stay away from international schools due to the fear of their wards getting corrupted or becoming a negative social element, and seek the more traditional schools, there are limitation of curtailing the kids’ creativity at many of these places, where academic scores are given a lot of importance. There is not much room for fun. The environment is serious and the kids have this big fear of getting the first rank or scoring really high right from pre k.g. And the best part is, one needs to apply for a seat to some of these schools while the fetus in still in the mother’s womb. All studies and no play can also make Jack a dull boy.

    Having said this, what I think is more important is the environment where education becomes a fun activity and where teachers do not treat the students as commodities. No matter what schools the kids go to, parents responsibility is really high as kids look up to us as role models. It is really sad how sometimes parents get really competitive and want to always see their kids win. This creates a competitive spirit in the kids and there is no room for collaboration. Such kids are as much a negative element as those who get into unethical behavior. The Gen X sure had economic promises to fulfill and hence had to study in a competitive environment where ‘Survival of the fittest’ was the only philosophy. Most of us never even knew we could dream of a career of our own. It was always living up to parents’ and teachers’ expectation. Now, economically the Gen X is sure done a great job, it is time we as parents and teachers allow our kids to dream big, explore and be creative. Then the kind of school one goes to becomes irrelevant.

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    vamsi (subscribed) said September 12, 2008, 7:23 am:


    Wonderful writeup. It doesnt matter which school one goes…all that matters is what values are imparted.

    On the other hand, I want to know if there is no good at all in these schools. While the students may be exposed to as western values as being superior, do anything and get away attitude, the whole concept of holistic education seems to be missing in most of the government schools. At least I know one instance where a friend of mine who works as RJ was invited by American School at Chennai to explain what it takes to be an RJ. Just one student in his 5th grade was interested in that career and the teacher took all pain to look around for an RJ and make him talk to this student to encourage him and not lose his passion. I thought that is much better than government school teachers pushing for grades alone and trying to make ‘another-brick-in-the-wall’ engineers or doctors in the school factories.

    DPS MMS etc are only the tip of the iceberg I think. Rich and famous in our country usually do think that they can getaway with the power they have and that environment is what makes their children spoilt.

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    I am not a Bitsian though my nephew and his lovely wife both are. I hope that I can put in my two bits here.

    How many Principals of schools and colleges like this do you want me to list? How many students of such institutions who reflect the same snobbery would you like to meet?

    I studied in a decent school in the Vernacular medium. I obtained my Intermediate certificate and Bachelor’s degree by studying while working and writing the examinations as a “Private Candidate”, the equivalent of today’s distant learning.

    I was able to secure admission into the IIMA because of work experience and heavens knows what else that was seen in me by the selectors.

    I was selected in a campus selection process by one of the three best prospective employers. A British multinational. I rose to Managing Committee level in that company, left them to be in General Management and Board level appointments subsequently.

    I have met many of these snobs and continue to meet them. I suspect that the bluster is because of some basic insecurities. Most of them do not even know the difference between being modern and western and fall neither here nor there, and most regrettably, not even as Indians!

    Most of my friends and acquaintances do not even know my background and we are the best of friends. I am now retired and associate with some genuine human beings who too have retired after successful careers and businesses who show not the slightest trace of such snobbery. We rarely speak English though all of us are quite fluent in it. If you meet us, you will find us earthy and natural.

    If you ask us, we will tell you that we are the cream. We paid our taxes, during the time when some of us had to pay most of our income as taxes. We lived simple lives and have retired now with dignity and honor.

    I am gladdened to read the post and the two comments here. I hope that more people get to read them.
    I wish all three of you the best of what life has to offer. Be simple and humble. Life will take care of the rest. This has been my personal experience.

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    Thought provoking post. The creamy (I mean moneyed) layer by far does nothing to the society – there may be some exceptions. There is no motivation for them to excel. Whereas someone from a middle class or a hard-scrabble background has a clear need, a goal. I’m not sure if its just Gen Y – the uber-rich have generally behaved like that. Now that India is affluent, there are more rich kids & they are more visible. At least, that’s what I think.


    I agree that some top-tier schools teach kids interesting stuff, open up new vistas etc. They contribute to personality development. There are some issues though. First, the kids get to be in a very rarified atmosphere. That’s not the real world. Plus, some middle-class values are wholesome & should be inculcated. Hard-work, Thrift, Simplicity – and Competition. What’s wrong with a little competition? Most schools in India are ultra competitive & they are uni-focused on marks. Now, that’s not good – that’s unhealthy competition. But, life is competitive & its a good idea for children to learn a healthy dose of that. I don’t think Collaboration & Competition are mutually exclusive.

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    Priya, I agree that collaboration and competition are not mutually exclusive. Even in a team we always are competing with another team or competing against our past performance. What I am trying to point out is what Vamsi has beautifuly put it together. Ultimately the values we instill in these kids is what is more important. Yes, kids should know the value of money and should not take life for granted. These are values that both parents and teachers should impart and then as I mentioned, the school they go to does not matter anymore.

    Any where kids are treated as commodities, where a teacher takes special interest only in the top performers (I agree top performers should be pushed little further, however never should the others feel they are being deprived, it should be a healthy competiton). Here is an example, Shreya has been going to a drawing class for the past one year. Our primary reason to enroll into this program is because extremelly interested in drawing and painting. However the results she has been showing is pathetic. Anything from the drawing class is pretty shabby, however she creates amazing artworks of her own interest. What I understood is the teacher keeps scolding shreya for her bad work and there was no motivation at all. I had a candid conversation with the teacher and i told her that try positively reenforcing and let me know if Shreya is a good student. The results have been amazing. My only problem with traditional school is, ‘I am just a teacher, I will tell everybody the same thing, put it on board, it is up to the kid to copy it or get low grades”.

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    Shoba – I agree that traditional schools don’t give special attention to anyone. Not the top performers, not the kids that need attention, nor the diffident that can come out of their shell if given the right care. Point is – and we all seem to agree on this – the schools can only do so much. Parents, extended family, friends, society – all have a part to play in instilling values in the child.

    Top tier schools have their own drawbacks. IMHO, they are not a microcosm of the real world. I believe it is important for a child to “get” the real world – the world of poverty and the world of middle class hustle & bustle. If the school can teach them that simply thru the kind of kids that study there – I think that’s capital.

    The main problem with top-tier schools is this. They give special treatment to kids. Well, the kids will get a rude shock when they get out of the school. For life will not treat them with that care. Traditional schools are indifferent – that’s a problem in the other end of the spectrum.

    Since the school only plays a contributory role in shaping the child, there is no one-size-fits all. The parents have to choose the school that best reflects their values.

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    Another insightful post Abdul. Thanks Ramana for visiting. This blog is for everyone though it started originally as a BITSian Blog. Nice to hear about your successful career. Hope you will continue to visit this blog and share you wisdom in hindsight as you call it.

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    Interesting discussion. I don’t yet have experience in parenting unless you include my 8-month-old daughter in the mix. From my experience as a child and observations i have made about people, i can safely say one thing – it is the peer group that you learn the most from in your childhood. More than the teachers, the parents, it is the peers that have a deep impact on the child.

    I have learnt so much about work ethics not just from my father/mother but from peers like Ganesh who i have known from 6th grade. Therefore in my view, elitist schools tend to create a rarified atmosphere not just due to the teachers and the environment (which Priya mentions) but also due to the elitist peer group that they select their students from.

    In a middle class school one is more exposed to children from different cross sections of the society and that can imbue a sense of realism into the child. I think this aspect maybe missing from the elitist schools which may pass children out who don’t have a clear sense of the real world within which they may need to operate later in life.

    Just my 2 morsels to stir the scrumptious stew of knowledge 🙂

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    Abdul – I have a question for you. What’s wrong in aping US or Europe? Its either we ape them or we ape our ancestors. One can’t be better than the other, could it?

    The expensive schools can’t be teaching the children only degenerate habits – I agree with Vamsi on that.

    People like trying new things, provided they have the freedom. So, let’s cut ourselves off a little bit from our history & do some crazy stuff. That’s what I think.

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    Great post and insightful one. I agree that all schools across India are trying to produce leaders/creamy citizens. But the public/international school producing more “workable candidates” for MNC/white collar work force, which is most desirable now by all most all parents. A genius is a genius, he/she would outperform all whether or not he/she studied in a top notch school/university. But it is well formed conception that students are from international/public school has well advance English write/speak knowledge. I would say Math and science all are same and in fact government school has better Math and Science than public/international schools. As Sukumar mentioned, a better peer group can be found at public/international schools, at same time they try to lead us a sideline life style not our main stream life style.


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    I am not sure if I agree with some of the things you have mentioned. I decided to wait out for a day and re-read the post before I posted my thoughts.

    You mention Dr. Abdul Kalam, Dr. Manmohan Singh etc. and that they did not come from one of these elite schools – fair enough. If I am a parent, my primary aim from my child to become a “cream” is to learn the right values, grow up to be decent human being and get fundamental education to earn a decent living. If my child grows up to become the prime minister/president of India – great. But I would be very happy if he/she grew up to be a generous, kind hearted human being and find an employment that he/she enjoys and make ends meet.

    All affluent schools are not bad, while all “poor” schools are not going to grow the next Kalam. Who knows the next Dr. Manmohan could come from an affluent establishment not because of it but in spite of it. The chances of them coming from one of these “unknown” schools could be higher just because of the sheer number of schools.

    IMO, the primarily responsibility for raising a decent human being falls on the parents, teachers and society in that order.

    Also, aping the west is not necessarily bad. If such aping hinders them to grow and learn, then yes it is wrong. However, there are upsides to such aping as well. Maybe, there is some child growing up in India wanting to become the next Bill Gates. Maybe, the child playing an Xbox could be inspired to build the next gen games.

    I am sure baby boomers complained about the Gen X being a spoiled generation and we now talk about Gen Y becoming the same.

    I do agree with you that there is no “cream school”. However, if a parent chooses to send their child to one such school, more power to them. I only hope they made an informed decision.

    You mention extra curricular activities, individual attention from teachers etc. This is easier said than done in India due to lack of space, population density, affordability etc. Perhaps the discussion should be centered on this.

    In my mind, the cream school is not the one that generates such “cream”, but rather given the limited amount of resources still strive to do the best, the right thing and build socially conscious individuals who grow up to be good citizens.

    Shameless plug: I would like to believe that one such school is the one that was started and being run by my cousin Mrs. Usha Raman – “Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal Golden Jubilee School” in Tiurnelveli.


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    Thanks for your kind words. You are not only a good friend but an inspiration for me as well.


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    Priya/Sukumar the discussion is going very good so far. Priya, I totally agree with you on the role of parents. They play a tremendous role in shaping the kids. I also toally agree with Sukumar about how we learn the maximum from peers and in an elite school, there is always less opportunity to understand the pains of the middle class life and how the world will treat us. However, here is my point, please correct me if I am wrong.In a school where everybody is of simillar class there is not much peer preasure, in a mixed crowd the pressure can be high.

    As a child I went to a typical middle class school where some of the kids came from elite families and some from economical classes lower than ours.Senisble kids like my sister did care a damn about anyone and were focused on their studies. Where as I was always feeling I could never stand next to the so called elite kids.That was a wrong thing to do and my parents always asked me to look at people below our level.My attitude was certainly wrong and now I care a damn.Here can I just blame myself, no, I would think the other kids and more so the parents of those kids played a role. The kids would come and boast and when ever their parents walked in they would look down upon others. Sure, the kids were great in following parents as role models.

    I agree with Priya that schools and teachers are just a medium. Parents do play the most important role. Today, my kids do go to a so called international school and our reason behind this is here kids are not treated as commodities. However, we do not let this get into their heads and also there is minium peer preasure (beleive me,there is peer pressure here to). Our kids play with our maid’s and baby sitter’s kids. We visit their homes, take our kids to their schools and include them in every possible way to understand and value people no matter what. They do not call anyone by name, Everybody is an aunty, uncle etc. We also pracitce the same to our best. So, I would certainly say parents have the most important role. I also feel my kids will teach these to few others in class and sure it will spread. Now, is this the quick and easy way, no may be not. All I want to point here is we all learn from examples and as long as we can walk our talk every other social aspect would be less significant in shaping our kids.

    I am sorry that I typed out so much.Conveying my messages in a crisp precice few words is a work in progress for me.

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    Shoba – Its good that you are giving your kids core values. Humility & simplicity are perhaps the most important traits people need.

    As parents, we all make choices – based on what we think is important. The essence of the post I think is, there is no golden mean that will work for everyone. Top-tier schools are not unequivocally good & traditional schools are not all that bad. I have to disagree with you on this point though:

    >In a school where everybody is of simillar class there is not much peer pressure, in a mixed crowd the pressure can be high.

    There are so many degrees of affluence. So, all the kids that go to the top-tier school can’t have the same kind of money. There’s a lot of difference between what someone with $2 Million can give their child VS what someone with $10 Million can give. And someone with $20 Million can give even more. What gets played out is, who is driven in a Mercedes. Who has a vacation home in Simla. Or, who spends the Summer in London. Who wears DKNY & who buys clothes in the local Mall.

    I just think the peer pressure will be at a different level in such schools. Some kids are more susceptible than others. Our neighbor shared her grief with me. Her daughter attends a top-tier school. She wants her 10th birthday party to be held in “The Leela Kempinski”, a 7 star hotel. Because her classmates have it in a 5 star hotel.

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    Priya, you have said it beautifuly. As I had mentioned in my comment, all kids do have peer pressure with a degree of variance. I see this in Shreya’s school too. However, I guess this is where we as parents can make the difference. It is a big challenge. I agree there is no golden mean.

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    Dear young ladies and gentlemen,

    I have been following this thread with great interest and am really impressed with some of the insights that have come up.

    There are however some significant factors that have not yet been addressed.

    First, the so called elite schools, say like the Doon produce students who go into elite higher education institutions like St. Strephens and end up in further academic pursuits, their family businesses or into the civil or military service. I am talking about the impressions gathered by most people in Delhi. These students typically come from very affluent backgrounds and are usually of the snob class any way.

    Secondly, when we talk about the middle class sending their students to these elite institutions, we are mostly talking about the upper middle income classes, mostly from the business class or two high income families. Most other middle income families send their children to good schools at considerable sacrfice.

    Thirdly, none of you have talked about the pressure that parents now a days exert on children to excel in studies. I see this all around me with children going to school, followed by tuition classes and so on. There is also the phenomenon of coaching classes which get students to pass examinations while neglecting the other aspects of growth that some of you have talked about but not elaborated. Instilling values, and concern seems to have taken a back seat in the recent past.

    Our education system in India has a great filtering system in all the common entrance examination system that picks the cream of intelligent students for study in institutions like the IITs and the IIMs. This offers great opportunities for otherwise disadvantaged families to send their children to institutions like the one that you went to.

    Snobbery is usually an outward behaviour, manifesting itself to cover up inner contradictions. I am sure that Abdul, if that is the author of the post, will agree that the school that he mentions will be mostly producing students, who will not be a patch before any of you. There may be exceptions, but it was my experience that graduates of schools like the Doon and colleges like the St Stephens were no patch to students who came into business via the filtering process, albeit from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Our problem today is a surfeit of institutions of higher education, mostly commercial and, totally inadequate primary education that means that barring the privileged urban and semi urban middle classes we are not able to implement the right to education for all born in India. It is however not as bad as it seems when you consider that with increased penetration of communication devices like the TV, mobile telephony, STD booths, radio etc, our citizens are getting educated despite being illiterate. If we can take literacy to them, we can bring about much better egalitarianism in our people and reduce the snob element, though not completely eradicate it.

    I do hope that this is not perceived as generation gap. I hope that it provokes thought and perhaps some debate on courses of action that can be taken by the younger generation. My generation is now only capable of arm chair punditry.

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    Very well said. You have not only captured the source of the problem but also proposed some potential solutions. If we can leverage the greater media exposure, advancement in technology and increased awareness of the current youth to be socially responsible, perhaps we can make some progress in education equality.


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    Abdul Fakhri said September 15, 2008, 6:30 am:

    A big thank you to all the readers of this post for your enthusiastic participation in this discussion.


    Thanks. I think between Priya and yourself, you have said it all. I am all for different approaches to education.
    In a free-market, if education is a commodity, so be it. However, when we keep on harping about nation-building
    we can’t claim that only those children who go to these schools constitute the ‘cream’ – it is such a baseless claim
    that made me write this post.

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    Abdul Fakhri said September 15, 2008, 6:42 am:

    Vamsi (and Priya too on this point),

    Thanks. Certainly, the ‘public’ or ‘international’ schools have very creative, talented and sincere teachers and students.
    My concern however is the manner in which we have created a kind of hierarchy of educational institutions where
    we are missing the woods for the trees. Lets look at the strengths and limitations of different kinds of institutions and
    what they can offer to the students, as is being done in this discussion.

    In the creation of the hierarchy and its relevance in the educational market, lets not forget so many other less-privileged institutions that are also contributing their mite to building this society. Thats all the point that I am making. Elitism of a myopic kind might create chasms detrimental to social cohesion.

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    Abdul Fakhri said September 15, 2008, 6:58 am:

    Hi Ramana (I suppose that you are identified as rummuser on the comments 🙂 ),

    Excellent comments and thank you for your ‘Bits’ as you have put it. Thank you also for your good wishes.

    I think that point about snobbery basically being a cover for internal contradictions is very well-taken.

    I am all for an open-house on the nuts and bolts of a strong educational system – roles of teachers, parents, administrators, expert-theorists on education and so on. And I think to some extent we have been successful in generating a useful debate in this blogpost on these different dimensions. I am all for diverse possibilities in education including the public or international schools.

    My annoyance has been at this: our intelligentsia waxes eloquent on what is good for our country and why so many people are getting it wrong (be it politicians, bureaucrats, technologists and so on). Who is to tell the intelligentsia when they get it wrong? This snobbery of who constitutes the cream is only dimension of getting it wrong.

    I have noticed that when people discuss cricket almost everybody comes across as an expert on the game. Likewise when discussing the nation too, all seem to have the expertise as to whats going wrong. Perhaps we need to reflect on this ‘blame-game’ more sharply and correct misguided notions on what is good for the country at large.

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    Abdul Fakhri said September 15, 2008, 7:06 am:


    Thanks. I need to develop that point about aping other societies a little further. Let me make it clear that I am averse to
    short-sighted nativism on this count. Modernity is a universal experience and different cultures have contributed to the making of it including the US and Europe.

    To simplify it, globalization has affected consumption patterns of our society too. The availability of gadgets and the ability to splurge creates consumer behaviour of an undesirable kind at a very early age when the children are not yet ready for it. There is a time and place for everything. My point is that these children make certain choices and preferences that distort their view of the world.

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    Abdul Fakhri said September 15, 2008, 7:13 am:


    Thanks. That was a brilliant contribution. Time and again I have been reminded about the role of the peer-group.

    Innumerable have been the discussions among parents and teachers about the role of the peer-group in shaping a childs world view. I could not agree more. I studied in a school that had both english and tamil medium streams. Our exposure to life and the hardships that people face were a little balanced thanks to the mix of these streams. The children from the vernacular medium were invariably from poorer backgrounds.

    Even in such a more or less ordinary school, the tamil medium children who came from nearby slums viewed the english medium students as ‘Bournvita’ kids (i.e. those who get to have a cup of Bournvita given by their parents before they go to bed, a privilege that they did not have). If in an ordinary middle-class mixed stream school if such is the state of play, then one can imagine how it is in todays more sharply differentiated educational market.

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    Abdul Fakhri said September 15, 2008, 7:23 am:


    Excellent points. I am bowled over by the clarity and the amount of thought that you had given to this issue. I have no differences with your arguments there.

    I emphasize again: when we claim to build a nation for more than a billion people, the more we ‘include’ within the nation the better for all of us. My distress has been by our more well-off classes swearing by the nation , claiming to care about it, fret at all that is going wrong, on the one hand but excluding a huge part of it a la who constitutes the cream. Maybe this process of inclusion is not ‘practical’ (?) (sic), but at least we can stop thinking in an ‘exclusivist’ manner. That in short is the summum bonum of my post!

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    Thanks Ganesh for the kind words.

    Abdul, thanks for the kind words. In general peer pressure is thought of negatively. I think peer pressure can do both good and bad. This is why having a diverse peer group is important because a child can get both good and bad and can possibly choose to avoid the bad influences with parental guidance. In a monolithic peer group, you get only one kind of peer influence and if it turns out to be predominantly bad, it will affect the child in the long run.

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    Must confess that I read the entire thread in one go,but was a very enriching experience.My 2 cents…

    I passed out the great Indian education system much recently (than most of the ppl in the discussion I believe!) so I would play safe by giving a student’s perspective.
    I have studied in rural schools,schools in cities (Govt schools) & did even have the opportunity to mingle with kids from so called ‘hi-fi’ schools courtesy my tuition classes. Spoilt brats..they are everywhere 🙂 I do agree that the percentage is more in ‘hi-fi’ schools, but then there are real nice kids there too. Some of the best buddies that I made came from both types of schools. The only difference I could make out was some kids had this ability to separate wheat from chaff & others couldn’t. The less fortunate made sure they stuck with what their peer group does and did what they thought was the right thing to do. (Consumerism,MMS,etc ). So parents definitely have a role to play,in trying to instill that capacity to differentiate between the good & bad.

    But my point here is a bit different. I would not blame the schools at all. Schools cannot outgrow the society.I do agree that Schools form an important part in the trinity that influences a child (School,Home & society), but in our short sightedness to fix something that the child accesses more (School & Home) we are forgetting the society. And believe me, Indian society of today is not in the most desirable shape for the growing child.That might be one of the reasons why schools like Rishi valley ( come up with good products even now.

    Given a chance to fix either the school or the Society, I would rather go for a top down approach. Fix the society, schools would follow. The other way round would seem far easier but I somehow feel might never be a lasting solution.

    The Indian middle class dream of today is very simple – A good education from classes 1-12.,get into a professional course, finish it, get employed & get married. Simple as it sounds, in a land of a billion people, every kid undergoes immense trauma trying to sail through it.
    Let’s go top down again… When it comes to marriage, every one wants a doctor/Engr/Mba or the like;at least I haven’t come across a matrimonial Ad in recent times asking for a guy who is a nice artist with good people skills. Homely,understanding are all fine but we all know the buzzwords that matter.

    Extra curriculars are important, they help a lot in boosting self confidence & getting us closer to real life. But to get into one of those so called ‘nice’ colleges, we need good grades or attend unending tuition classes trying to crack those entrance exams to get into an IIT/IIM.
    And why, each school is today ranked by virtue of the number of top rankers it produced,(Quite naturally,Dr Fakhri too uses this parameter in his post) or number of students it catapulted to IITs or IIMs. So naturally principal & teachers are under pressure by the system to concentrate on Academics.Why blame those poor souls.

    Unless this mad attitude of us Indians to associate ‘Success in life’ with the Job that a person does/the ‘quality’ of one’s marriage/the Institution one studied/the country one lives in etc.. doesn’t go away, I don’t think we will ever fix this issue. After all every one wants to be ‘Successful’ in life and we all would naturally try to achieve these targets.

    As already said by others in the thread, the sooner we realise that true success is all about living simply,humbly,honestly & trying to help others with their lives…the better for us.

    Having said that, some short term fixes are also the need of the hour. CBSE under the ex-chairman Ashok Ganguly did a real nice try to bring about changes in secondary education. We definitely need more people who would question things that have long been assumed to be correct. Would an entrance exam checking only the academic brilliance produce the best Engineers ? Ain’t creativity even remotely associated with Engineering ? Do people with the best analytical abilities and English skills necessarily make the best managers ? (Merill & Lehman bros were day-zero recruiters at IIM-A).

    De-associating success with big tags might also end up being the cure for another Indian disease- Mindless competition. However much we create, we gobble them up easily.We are after all a billion ppl !

  26. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said September 16, 2008, 2:49 am:

    Naveen, a reader of this post had the following comment to offer:

    “Pray, where is the cream of India?

    1)Cream of India is in Pubs and bars
    2)Cream of India is busy playing video games
    3)Cream of India is busy ‘MMS’- ing
    4)Cream of India are eyeing big package IT salaries
    5)Cream of India think they can get away with work by talking good English
    6)Cream of India claim to be patriotic by only saying ‘Hum Hindustani hai’ and want to wear imported branded shoes and T shirts
    7)Cream of India is a confused lot not knowing directions , IBCD’s Indian born confused desis. They have no idea of the contributions of Gandhi, Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose.
    8)Cream of India want to study in international schools but less worried about their conduct will be of international standards. (Example they throw plastic across the roads and spit everywhere in the country or have less tolerance for people or abuse people on their face at the slightest trigger) ie people have lost all manners and courtesies. Not to miss road rage.
    9)Cream of India is busy trying to get out of the country to make dollars
    10)Cream of India wants to be free of parents as soon as they feel that they can earn Rs. 10,000 at a call centre
    11)Cream of India don’t raise a voice when a rape occurs anywhere in the country but start shouting when the government starts closing the pub hours at 11.30 pm
    12)We have lost the basic character of how to be a good human being in the first place.

    In short, the cream of India only thinks of itself and is not bothered about the larger society.”

  27. Quote

    Abdul – I think Naveen is too hard on Gen Y. I disagree with him/her on almost all points. Here are my responses to him/her:

    1 – 4: Why exactly are these problems? Moderate drinking, having fun & making money are not wicked things.

    5 – Indians of all age groups shirk work, but Gen Y perhaps confuses communication skills with working.

    6 – Let’s be global citizens. When we want Americans & Europeans to buy software from us, what’s wrong with us buying their branded shoes? Its a 2-way street.

    7. Its not as if all/most people from the previous generations had clarity & values! If indeed people had values, how did they commit unspeakable atrocities to their fellow country men/women, in the name of dowry, untouchability etc? And please don’t get me started on Bose – he aligned himself with the axis of evil (Hitler, Japanese etc)!! His intentions were honorable, but the methods he chose were questionable at best.

    8 – Many Indians litter the streets & are not courteous. Why only blame Gen Y? That’s rather unfair.

    9. We need the dollars. Let them make it.

    10. So, children are supposed to live with their parents forever? What’s wrong with people needing their own space, yet maintaining a good relationship with their parents?

    11. Please don’t make me laugh. Only the cream of India keeps mum about rape & everyone else is for justice?

    12. We as a country don’t know what it takes to be a good human being. In fact, most other countries don’t know it as well. Why beat up the young & the upwardly mobile?

    One can’t blame the cream of the country with all the things that are wrong with India. That’s not a balanced point of view.

  28. Quote

    In the end, it all comes down to the question: Who is the cream of India? Is it the educated, upwardly mobile people who make a lot of money? Or is it the small-town man/woman who makes a difference, however small? I’d like to think its the latter.

  29. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said September 16, 2008, 6:14 am:


    Thanks. Superb contribution and analysis there. I am glad that this post has generated such a lively discussion.

    As Priya correctly suggests we should aim for a balanced discussion. If I were to give another title to this post it would be “Include. Include. Include!” – meaning make development a more inclusive process rather than look the other way when many are struggling for a better future. That is the summary of my effort. Clearly an idea bigger than just the choice of schooling.

    As my colleague Shoba Jagannathan mentioned to me on reading the post, “there are diamonds everywhere just waiting to be discovered as such.” 🙂 Its the ‘everywhere’ that’s the focus of this post.

  30. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said September 16, 2008, 6:25 am:


    I would like to think that the cream is all over the place. Both among the educated upwardly mobile and the small town man/woman.

    I was left pensive by the carelessness of the Vice-Principal in his self-definition of the cream. I just think regardless of the educational choices that people make, do we wish to build a caring society in India? I think that is the moot question. Narrow and self-serving notions of this cream take away from that sense of a caring society.

  31. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said September 16, 2008, 6:42 am:

    And education and healthcare would be two critical areas where the notion of ‘care’ as a nation will be tested by the vagaries of the market, State and society.

  32. Quote

    Abdul – Yes, the cream could be anywhere. What I meant in my comment was this: it is wrong to expect a lot from Gen Y/the upwardly mobile & blame them when they don’t measure up. Why expect great things from them, when their predecessors haven’t set a great example? The cream is whoever makes a difference. Not everyone from Gandhi & Nehru’s generation was great, anyway. Why should the current generation be any different?

  33. Quote

    Priya – I am not sure I agree with you totally on this. Today’s world is far different from the world in which Gandhi/Nehru grew in. Given the opportunities that exist today to collaborate with the world, it is very much possible for an entire generation to be good if not great.
    And I guess the current generation has indeed done a commendable job till now. We are not part of the ‘post emergency days’ ‘DD news’ crowd which used to take everything lying down. Today, we are not afraid even to question what the home minister goes around wearing.

    The older generation might have had some great ppl & a large number of mediocre ones followng them. Why should the same rule apply to us ? Why can’t we have a large number of good/great ppl with just some mediocre guys lazing around.

    I guess to move a billion plus crowd towards change, a good part of them youngsters … we do need to clean up the system a bit. The very fact that we are discussing the few ppl from Gen Y who seem to have strayed and not appreciating the huge number of other students across schools who work diligently (both from middle & upper middle class) proves that we have some repairing at hand.

  34. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said September 17, 2008, 2:56 am:


    I agree with Ranjit in his response to your question.

    That our previous generations missed opportunities in ‘nation-building’ would not justify if the succeeding generations showed any lethargy and also missed such opportunities. In every field of life, people always seem to be looking for differentiating factors. As I said India is already a role-model to the world in terms of its democracy, pluralism and social welfare. These values are not automatically maintained but every generation has to sustain them by active effort and renewing their pledge to these principles.

    Also, I think today’s generation is easily prone to jingoism and hyperbole regarding the nation. It would only be fair if one suggested that they ‘walk the talk’ in their understanding of an inclusive and caring society. Cosmetic and superficial notions of what constitutes the ‘nation’ can only do us more harm than good.

    Most of the people who constituted the earlier generations stopped with singing ‘paens of praise’ to the nation and often glorifying the sacrifices made by our founding fathers. They were not easily prone to the ‘superpower’ rhetoric and narrow definitions of what constitutes the republic and its ‘cream.’

    No generation can work in isolation or carry the entire burden by itself. Its just that we have to work in tandem with and across different generations. So its got to be a collaborative effort on the part of Gen-Y, Gen-X and their elders in pulling the act together. Very importantly, every succeeding generations learns from the mistakes of their forefathers/mothers (sic).

    The challenge before us is often the rhetoric of our intelligentsia (which is trans-generation) which often has an holier-than-thou attitude to the rest of the groups in the country, looks the other way in the face of decadence and is busy breastbeating and fretting about the nation. It is here that a balanced and healthy intervention can be made as to the forms in which we can care and carry several others in the ‘march of the republic.’

    This is what I meant when I said that the journey of the ‘Discovery of India’ is as yet incomplete.

  35. Quote

    Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

  36. Quote

    Abdul – Great post and a lively discussion. It reminded me of the time when I was trying to decide on a school for my son. I was very interested in THE school also known as GKFI. The school does not have exams and the classes are conducted close to nature. The atmosphere is very non-competitive. My cousin told me “He will have to face competitions and exams all his life. If he is trained in a school like this, he would find it very hard to cope in the real world. It would be like bringing a tame animal and letting it loose in the jungle”. Finally, I put my son in PSBB. It is considered one of the best in Chennai. I find that my son is under a lot of stress. The environments very highly competitive. I was speaking to a student counselor once. She said she noted that many children from PSBB have an IQ much above average. She said, “I don’t know if it is because of their training or because they pick only such children. It puts a lot of pressure on the children because they compete with the cream”.

    However this is not to denigrate many government and rural schools that are doing tremendous job. I have been, lately interacting with teachers/principals of such schools. They work against such heavy odds. These children are from very poor back grounds, they drop out of the school on a whim, there is absolutely no support from the parents, yet they are so committed and try their best. If schools like these are able to produce Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh, they can truly be proud of their achievement. Whereas the elite schools have so much going for them. Parents who are committed to their children’s education, enough money to invest in training and latest educational methods.

    In conclusion, I do feel school has a very important role to play in a person’s future success. A good school gives a child a head start. As you rightly put it “Those who think for themselves and transcend various prejudices are the cream irrespective of the social strata that they come from.” Any school that can provide this skill to a child, is the best.

  37. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said September 22, 2008, 12:10 am:

    Thanks Archana for sharing your thoughts and experience. Your conclusion is very valuable.

  38. Quote

    /** Abdul – I have a question for you. What’s wrong in aping US or Europe? Its either we ape them or we ape our ancestors. One can’t be better than the other, could it?

    Its pitiable, that one could not understand the difference b/w aping an alien culture, and inheriting our own..

  39. Quote


    Great Post and very relevant for the times . My 2 cents is that one way to teach our kids some good values is to encourage them to do some social work. I take my 2 kids with me (Aged 6 and 3) while going for Outreach work and I feel that I have been able to make them realize the importance of sharing and value of the blessings they have. Initially my elder kid was uncomfortable sitting on the uneven flooring,,,But now she is used to it and has good friends there also.


  40. Quote

    Thanks Veena for your kind words.

    Indeed you are right, exposure like Outreach makes todays children better children. I think the balance is achieved when we dont create an insular attitude among our children while at the same time ensuring that a credible and lasting value system is built among/within them. The right kind of mentors go a long way for children stimulating their thinking.

  41. Quote

    You sure are a prolific writer Abdul….
    Words simply seem to roll off your fingers aplenty.

    As you say, the cream is everywhere. But it all depends on how we define “cream”. Research suggests that India ia actually governed and led by the “Doon school group”. Would you agree they are the cream? Why? Because they hold and wield power and authority?

    And the extra-curricular/hobby scene has changed disastrously today…with hobbies being planned and forced activities as well. With the CBSE placing greater emphasis on such activities for an all-round growth, commercial hobby centres are now mushrooming.

    It takes great courage on the part of parents to not expect their children to belong to some intangible”cream”, but to enjoy the presnt while also learning.

  42. Quote

    Thanks Revathi for your kind words.

    It would be interesting to know the exact research (book or link or document) that has come up with this Doon School theory.

    The point that my post strove to make is that great citizens and leaders emerged from both the elite and not-so-elite schools. It is a strong misreading of the structure of our polity, economy and society that any one group of people wields complete power and authority.

    There are ‘old boys’/alumni networks active of all elite schools and even other institutions but to fuse their presence into this “total power and authority argument” would be incorrect.

    I could not agree with you more about the commercialization of extra-curricular activities even outside the school complex. Thats where I suppose lot of thinking and action have to go into a holistic scheme of education. Pursuing this goal has to be a relentless effort.

    For the moment however, more than worry about the extra-curricular activities, I think we need worry about the basic infrastructure for primary and high schools in all our rural areas and the presence of committed teachers there.

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