Monday, 3 September 2012

Professor, teach thyself

Our tertiary education system does not serve the masses

 Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
I was at Jawaharlal Nehru University recently with some of the top senior academicians in Delhi, before dinner.

I was told that the budget of the University Grants Commission was Rs.41,000 crore in the Five Year plan and the annual budget of JNU was about Rs.150 crore.
In my usual blunt way I said, “How has this benefited the Indian masses? It seems that the huge funds being ploughed into higher education in India are for the benefit of foreign countries and to give you professors huge salaries and fine houses to live in rather than to benefit the Indian people.”
This sparked off a lively debate. Some of the professors tried to refute my statement, but I stuck to my guns.
I said that most of the money spent on education in India went to the institutes of higher education like the IITs and universities, and very little money was spent on primary and middle schools, particularly in rural areas, where the foundation of education was laid. There are very few facilities such as proper seats, electricity, books, classrooms, etc in these primary or middle schools, whereas the institutes of higher education are given huge funds and have very good facilities, state-of-the-art campuses, air-conditioning, etc. I then gave a few examples to prove what I said:
1. I once went to a village about 40 km from Allahabad (my native city) to meet a farmer friend of mine, with whom I had studied at Allahabad University.
At his home I met one of his sons who had passed class seven and promoted to class eight in his high school in the village. I asked him to bring his class 7 mathematics book and solve a few simple problems. He could not do so. I wondered how he had been promoted when he could not solve simple class 7 problems. I then solved those simple problems, and asked him to attempt the other problems in the lesson. He was obviously an intelligent boy, because having learnt how to solve the simple problems, he proceeded to solve the rest.
At this I asked him, “Did your teacher not teach you all this?” He replied, “Master Sahib thekedari karne lage hain, aur doosre master sahib classlene aate naheen hai” (the teacher has become a contractor, and the next teacher does not come to take classes”).
2. I went to a reputed intermediate college in Allahabad and was told that in a section in Class 11 there are 250 students. I was shocked. Under the rules there should not be more than 40 students in a class. What teaching can possibly be done in a class of 250 students? I also learnt that in some of the sections at Allahabad University there are over 300 students, and there is not even place for a student to sit.
In view of this, much of the real education takes place in private coaching institutes, or at the residence of teachers who make much more money there than in their institutions. As a result, these teachers evince little interest in teaching in their institutions, and a student who does not join the coaching (paying high fees) finds it difficult to pass.
3. In many of the staffrooms of our educational institutions, teachers, instead of discussing academic matters, often discuss petty politics, often of a casteist nature or matters pertaining to their service conditions. Senior professors often try to promote lecturers of their own caste, whether they have merit or not.
4. Teachers are often appointed not on merit but on extraneous considerations, like political connection, caste, etc. They are appointed on contract basis. In some States, “shikshamitra” who have been appointed on a salary of Rs.1,500 a month have no degree or teachers’ training qualification.
5. The level of intellect of many teachers is low, because many of them have not been appointed on merit but on extraneous considerations. To give an example, when I was a judge of Allahabad High Court I had a case relating to a service matter of a mathematics lecturer in a university in Uttar Pradesh. Since the teacher was present in court I asked him how much one divided by zero is equal to. He replied, “Infinity.” I told him that his answer was incorrect, and it was evident that he was not even fit to be a teacher in an intermediate college. I wondered how had he become a university lecturer (In mathematics it is impermissible to divide by zero. Hence anything divided by zero is known as an indeterminate number, not infinity).


I gave them many more such examples, and told the senior academicians at JNU that huge amounts of money of the Indian taxpayer is spent on the IITs and other institutes of higher education, but the graduates of these institutes usually take up jobs in foreign countries. This results in brain drain. Thus, while Indians pay taxes which go towards educating our bright students, the benefit of their education goes to foreign countries and not to the Indian people. These foreign countries benefit because higher education in their own countries is very expensive, so they have to pay only a fraction of that amount to get our bright young students.
I posed them another question: the test of every system is one simple question. Does it raise the standard of living of the masses or not? I said that the huge amount of money being spent on higher education in India is not raising the standard of living of the Indian masses because over 75 per cent of Indians live in dire poverty. There is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, huge problems of health care, housing, etc.
Apart from that, I asked them how many Nobel laureates have our universities and other institutes of higher education produced. Hardly any.
In many American universities one will find half a dozen Nobel laureates. Australia, which has a population of about 25 million, has 180 academicians who have an F.R.S. (Fellow of the Royal Society), while India, with a population of 1,200 million, has only about 20. So what are the achievements of our scientists and other intellectuals? It is only when they go to the United States or Canada or Europe that they achieve anything.
What is the quality of research work done by our academicians in institutes of higher learning? Unfortunately it is abysmally low and does not benefit the Indian people. Their publications are mostly poor, and done only to improve their CVs in order to get jobs.
The purpose of education is to help raise the standard of living of the masses. But in India it seems that its purpose is to raise the standard of living of a handful of people who get jobs as teachers, particularly in institutions of higher education.
I must say to the credit of the professors assembled there that they did not take any of my remarks personally. I told them that I had no intention to insult them but was only voicing my genuine grievance about the educational system in India, and the need to make it more beneficial to the masses.
At the end it was agreed that my views required serious debate which hopefully shall be held at JNU or elsewhere soon.
Published in The Hindu on 3rd September,2012.


  1. How does any expenditure benefit the Indian masses like the salaries paid to the Hon Supreme Court Judges?

    It seems that the huge funds being.....

    I strongly reject the above statement

    “Master Sahib thekedari karne lage hain, aur doosre master sahib classlene aate naheen hai”

    I have never been a contractor and never will be, out of 2 crore students how can you decide based on one students views and apint all teachers black done in a class of 250 students?....

    Who is responsible, the teacher or the IAS wala/ wali who struts in an AC office or the Minister of education, why blame the teacher.You say you knew why didnt you pass an Judicial order

    3. In many of the staffrooms of our educational institutions, teachers, instead of discussing academic matters,...

    I have never done this nor will I do this, I spend my money on my research.

    By the way what about haloed courtrooms, do they discuss only law

    4. Teachers are often appointed not on merit but on extran....

    Again will you blame the Union HRD ministry / State

    5. The level of intellect of many teachers is low,....

    What about lawyers and judges Ha Ha the less said the better,

    what about KG Balakrishnan / Hon Justice Dinakaran Ha Ha He He

    To give an example, when I was a judge of Allahabad High Court I had a case relating to a

    One swallow does not make a summer, neither one
    teacher makes a representative

    I posed them another question: the test of every

    Is it a teachers problem or a political problem, In the US of don’t similar problems exist and that too in a much severe form

    Apart from that, I asked them how many Nobel laureates have our universities and other institutes of higher education produced. Hardly any.

    To win a Nobel, you must need to be coached by another, check out the golden thread of Nobel winners, Secondly you need scientists with spine and hard work, Check the freedom and facilities and the funds in such labs with Indian labs

    In many American universities one will find half a dozen Nobel laureates. Australia, which has a population of about 25 million, has 180 academicians who have an F.R.S. (Fellow of the Royal Society), while India,

    Why? It is because the fabulous Indian crab will not allow any other crab to climb out, Is the teacher alone responsible. One side you say Indian researchers must solve Indian problems other you say we must chase FRS, IF Indian teachers are not in FRS it means that they are trying to solve Indian problems, thanks for the acceptance

    What is the quality of research work done by our ,,,

    No, I strongly disagree, give specific examples and talk, Who are they, give names be brave

    In our lab
    We have for example developed detection technologies which are far superior, much cheaper and accepted by the Industry than foreign experts

    The purpose of education is to help raise the standard of living of the masses.

    No, standard of living is also dependent on the state of economy, by education we show the path it is up to the student to develop himself, remember the same school in a slum produces a Police Inspector, an army Jawan, and a bootlegger, It is a matter of personal choice and discipline and Gods grace

    But in India it seems that its purpose .....

    No it is not

    I must say to the credit of the professors assembled .......

    They were shameless half dead critters

    Sir after retirement why put on war paint, What is your experience or expertise in Education. You are a born expert on media / politics / law / education, astonishing,
    what did you do in service to alleviate the same problems you now notice now, Why become brave after pension,
    Wasn’t your teachers good enough to make you a supreme court justice and give you a cushy post retirement job, why spit on the well you drink,
    Suggest work and try to solve the problem, don’t just pontificate or wail or cringe or be ashamed.
    Come to my lab in Bangalore see my work and then talk.
    With regards, Dr. Samuel

    1. Respected Dr. Samuel
      Why should some one come to your. Rather you come to UP and I will show you how much research work is done here.
      See it is not about particular state or you. It is just a generalization and it is true.

      and Mr. Katju
      I think you should the title of the article as only teachers are not accountable instead government also is.

    2. Dr. Samuel,

      1) You have no common sense. Your comments were as if Justice Katju cited you as an example and you are countering him. He is talking about the Govt. Primary & Secondary Schools, which educate the most youngsters of our country.

      2) IITs & IIMs get heavy funding but it's impact is not as much as it should have ideally been.

      3) Poor quality primary education results in poor quality higher education. What your lab does, I bet there will be 100s of labs in the US which will be doing much superior quality of research (I hold a PhD in Economics and living in the US for past 8years, so I know what I am talking about)

      4) Some Judges have been a shame to our country but most of them (esp Supreme Court & High Court ones) have been excellent. Can you say that about a majority of Primary school teachers in a Govt. School, in rural areas. Having a doctorate gives you no licence to argue without logic.

      5) Taking everything as a personal offense is a hallmark of a fool and you have proved it, by your comments.

      Now on, asses properly and write comments. Don't think of yourself do to Dr. Jagdeesh Chandra Bose and start writing comments. You are no great and have no name or fame. Do something to improve it.

      Take a chill-pill.

    3. 1. Despite a "PhD in economics", you are such a coward that you do not reveal your name.

      2. Duleep Samuel is a respected scientist. Check his work out on the web.

      3. The following statement of Katju is incorrect: "Hence anything divided by zero is known as an indeterminate number, not infinity." Whereas 0/0 is indeterminate, the division of a finite (non-zero) number by a small number tends to infinity as the divisor tends to zero.

      4. The plural of anecdotes is not data.

  2. Now Mr Katju here is a classic case of going a little too far. You can't be a judge of every thing and every one. Spare some for specialists.

    Problem with our country is its fascination with generalists donning the mantle of super humans capable of bringing moon to earth. Every generalists, after having done "something" reasonable in a particlar field,starts beleiving that he could do anything and he just can't go wrong. This is more pronounced among lawyers and judges. They get to believe that that they can decide whether rocket science is better or crocket science.

    Time Mr Katju realized that he can't be an expert everywhere becauser just as in order to become a good lawyer or a judge, acquisition of certain skill is required, other fields do the same.

    1. I totally agree with the point that the problem in our country is if someone is 'reasonably' good in one particular field, they tend to assume they are good at almost everything. You know who is suffering from this syndrome? You, yourself Sandeep. Being a student of law, you have started passing judgments on former Supreme Court Judges. This is what I call as criticizing others for the same mistake which we keep making all our life, yet don't realize.

      Learn to be self-critical. You will go the distance in life. Instead of sounding smart, invest time in doing something more meaningful. Don't display your nativity to the entire world.

      Take a chill-pill.


    In his article 'Professor, teach thyself' in The Hindu (3rd September), Mr. Markandey Katju talks about having once chided a university lecturer in mathematics, a case of whose service matter he was hearing as a judge in the Allahabad High Court, for not deserving to be a teacher even in an intermediate college because the latter had told him that one divided by zero was infinity; Mr. Katju holds that in mathematics anything divided by zero is indeterminate. Unfortunately for Mr. Katju, the lecturer was right and he is wrong because in mathematics whereas any non-zero number divided by zero is infinity, it is zero divided by zero which is indeterminate.

    While I can understand the poor lecturer not having the courage to correct the judge hearing his case, I am appalled at the timidity of "some of the top senior academicians" of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, to whom Mr. Katju had narrated the incident, that they let his fallacy pass absolutely unchallenged.

    Now Mr. Katju must seek out that mathematics lecturer and apologise to him. But how would he compensate him if more than a decade back he had dismissed his case just because he had thought him undeserving and incapable, and that based on his (Mr. Katju's) own wrong knowledge of mathematics?

    1. Kanan Jaswal,

      Firstly, you don't have common sense and secondly, don't make arguments based on assumptions. I will argue that anything divided by zero is undefined, and not infinity. Why? Is it because I hold a PhD from an American University? No, absolutely no. I go by fact like these: Now, stop making claims that Mathematicians are wrong and your assumptions are right.

      A Judge, that too of the Supreme Court of India, bases his judgement on strong observation and evidence. A semi-literate wouldn't be able to nail Justice Katju down, if logic would be used in argument. However bigots like you have personal agenda behind every darn thing and wish to sound smart, though you are not. Now on, please verify your knowledge and then dare to critique / criticize.

      That's it!

    2. I won't like to reply to someone not having the courage to put their name on what they write!

    3. I won't like to reply to someone not having the courage to put their name on what they write!

    4. Brilliant way to escape when you have been nailed logically. Have I hurled abused at you? I don't prefer to post my name because I am professionally bound.

      Well, the fact that you are shielding yourself behind an illogical point proves that you don't have the courage to face facts. If you got a counter point about the Wiki link I posted, go ahead... otherwise, I will assume, you blabbered some trash and are running away from facing the trust.

      That's it!

    5. Kanal is a classic case where 'who' writes holds greater validity that 'what' is written

    6. Mr Jaswal:

      It was just a chance that I glanced this site. I wish to support you on your on 1/0, if that actually happened in Justice Katju's court in Allahabad HC. In spite of assertions of an anonymous US PhD, and the web site he/she mentions, that division produces infinity. Infinity is a mathematical concept, and cannot be defined by an example. The anonymous who finds you devoid of common sense does not seem to have it. He/she must surrender the US degree if in mathematics or physics. Justice Katju is an unjust man, his comments on college education must be considered by an ignorant person. No doubt, College education in India is too deficient, but not for the reasons given by him. Most state Universities suffer from fund deficiency, but not JNU. JNU does a good job in producing what it was meant to do, and that is to produce elite anti-Hindus and anti-nationals that slander anything that is Indian.

    7. The "anonymous' economist trusts wikipedia for mathematics! Not only is he a coward, he is also a moron.

      Many people like Katju start pontificating after retirement, once it becomes clear that they won't be asked to chair commissions.

  4. I have read all articles and saw your videos Justice Katju and I must say this , you kind of resemble Richard Dawkins of India ( I am not comparing but I thought it was quite amusing) . However , I wonder this , your views on society are even though very critical but are real , you strive to see your country as a progressive country , free from shackles of superstition and religion yet you backed Jaipur Muslim Strike against Salman Rusdie . I don't know why ? but i'd be willing to know what are your views on religion . In my personal humble opinion , I think religion , dirty politics ( Politics is good in itself its bad when done for benefit of individual rather than benefit for country ) lack of scientific thinking along with a critical mind and finally lack of morale in the society is the problem .

  5. Great Article.Again Justice Katju dare to speak his heart and calling a spade a spade..I wish Indian Govt could utilize his brilliancy in a more better way rather than Making him Chairman of toothless PCI.

    We need more intellectuals like Justice Katju.

    1. So true. An intellect, who does not care if his views are going to appease the common man. And I do hope his words inspire several people like you and I, so that we would be able to transform the society as soon as possible.

      Sadly, fools like Kanan Jaswal,think of themselves as super smart and make baseless arguments, trying to please another bunch of semi-literate junta.


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    From Perfect Shot

  7. I disagree with your propositions on this sir, the reason I think is that perhaps you nelected the fact that government sepands way too much on primary education already, 2012 Budget proposes Rs. 25,555 crore for RTE-SSA amounting to an increase of 21.7%. From 2009 onwards the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) is under progress to enhance access to quality secondary education. Rs. 3,124 crore. The sad fact is that state governments give little to no attention to the quality of education in primary schools even after paying respectable salary to teachers for political reasons, as you mentioned in contractor example,

    But When we do not give money to higher education; it is cited a failure of government to remain lack luster on innovation and technology. I think you were too hard on this article.

    1. and I wish prominent people of country should also start writing the blogs and present their ideas and notion like you rather than tweeting nuisance.

    2. Dear Mayank,

      To agree or disagree with a point is a fundamental right of every human being. But to disagree on a point without rationale seldom makes sense. Your point of view that Govt. over spends on Primary Education is a misunderstood one. Do you understand we are country with over 120crore people?

      And Govt's duty is higher level administration and managing the funding, but not getting into the nitty- gritty of every problem. I would like to remind you words from JFK, "Ask not what the Govt. can do for you, but ask, what you can do for the Govt?"

      And our higher educational institutes do get fair amount of funding (of course not like Harvard or Stanford for sure), but the lack of motivation and a non-conducive environment makes it hard for people to achieve something substantial (say a Nobel Prize).

      One last point is, I have pursued my higher education from the US (a PhD in Economics) and hence I know a thing or two about what I am writing. Reading articles and presenting numbers is not research. Critiquing the concepts based on data certainly is. Now on, learn to do that.


    3. Dear Anonymous,

      You are misquoting JFK, and thus conflating the government with the country. He said "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country". You replaced "your country" with "the Govt", thus putting a very different spin on the sentence.

      I wonder why all the people here on the blog are flaunting their credentials.

      What is the point you are trying to make about primary education and India having a population of 120 crore? Primary education would have an impact on only the sub-14 year old population, which would be a fraction of that 120 crore. If you wish to point out some cascade effect of that lack of primary education, then point out the relative growth of that segment of the population as a percentage of the entire country's population.

  8. So many anonymous posts snubbing and ridiculing other's views and opinions. Even preaching. These people must be having psychological disorders and using the blogs as vents. Pity that blog owner even does not remind decency of debates.

  9. Well it has to do something with intellectual self-reliance .

  10. As a normal, Indian middle-class girl I would just like to say that I agree with Mr Katju. It's common sense that we need to concentrate at the very grass-roots to deal with many of our problems. We need to help our generations to come by giving them an infrastructure to educate them which is a very basic requirement to begin with. My mother is a teacher in a Government Primary School in New Delhi and I can tell you it's not a pretty place. They only recently had chairs and tables to sit on and had a solid building of cement and bricks for classrooms. For many years my mother had taught these kids in a humble tent with ragged, muddy carpets for seating. No ac, no fans. I personally feel that we need to educate the little ones of this country. However, it shouldn't just be a bookish, academic education. I feel that there is a deep lack of moral education in the current education system, hence, I find it incomplete, if not entirely flawed. To raise up a generation of not just educated but enlightened Indians can only begin by catering to the younger ones, primarily and especially the poor.

    1. You seem to have been taught very well. Good efforts by your parents ...

    2. You seem to have been taught very well. Good efforts by your parents ...