Thursday, February 28, 2013

NRI education pioneer, Dr Sugata Mitra, wins $ 1 million TED Prize

Sometimes, a hole-in-the-wall is all you need to get a deep insight into education and --- attain worldwide recognition. When Prof. Sugata Mitra installed a computer in a slum in Kalkaji, Delhi, in 1999 in what came to be known as a "hole-in-the-wall" experiment, it led to a fundamental reappraisal on his part of the formal education system. Surreptitious monitoring of what followed showed the power of what he would later call ''Minimally Invasive Education.''

Left to themselves, kids anywhere, from any background, even without knowing English, seamlessly learn to use computers and the internet. Particularly if they are working in groups, they can figure out complex subjects such as DNA sequencing, trigonometry, and avionics, as Dr Mitra found in similar experiments he has conducted across the world.

For his revolutionary work in this area, TED, the multidisciplinary conference of brainiacs, on Tuesday awarded him its $ 1 million prize at its annual mindfest here in Long Beach, California. Cheered with gusto by the cream of world intelligentsia and geek power, Dr Mitra later told TOI that the prize money would go to further research in non-formal, minimally invasive education "that should rid us of a system that is fast becoming obsolete." Previous winners of the annual TED prize of $ 100,000 before it was bumped up to $ 1 million this year include the singer Bono, former President Bill Clinton, the naturalist E.O. Wilson, tech-savant Larry Brilliant, and the writer-historian Karen Armstrong.

In experiments from Karaikal in Pondicherry to Villa Mercedes in Argentina, Dr Mitra has found that left to their own devices (literally), children easily forgo what he mocks as TCPIP education, the abbreviation denoting an Internet Protocol that merely carries data without comprehension. Such learning by rote, he says, is a legacy of both Victorian and Brahmanical values, furthered by the East India Company to produced an army of clerks and accountants for the Empire. Independent India has not challenged that model; instead, it has nourished it.

In the Pondicherry experiment, Dr Mitra left a computer with some DNA Replication software amid slum children who did not know any English. Yet they managed to figure out within days that improper replication of DNA causes disease. Similarly, kids in a remote South American village grappled with theology and geometry in understanding why human beings are born with five fingers on a limb. The best results were when children worked in groups and there was minimal adult supervision, although informal mentoring helps.

''The results broke every learning hypothesis in my mind," said Dr Mitra, adding that such alternatives could have happened only at this time with the arrival of computers, internet, and broadband. "There is no need to carry data in our head as if it is a pen drive, because information is available at our fingertips. Instead, children should be challenged to understand and express ideas and concepts."

Dr Mitra has since expanded on his findings and created a "granny cloud" -- online moderators of retired teachers -- who could Skype into learning centers and encourage children with questions and assignments. He now wants to build a "School in the Cloud," a learning lab in India, "where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online." He is particularly keen on schools and teachers not depriving children of smartphones, laptops, and other connected devices in the classroom. "Such schooling is outdated," he said. "Will you take away a gun from a soldier when you send him to battle?".

Source: The Times of India, February 28, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Education spending by government fails to keep pace with allocation

The poor utilization of funds allocated for education has resulted in little improvement in India’s school education system even as the education budget has almost tripled over the past five years. The government spent only 61% of funds allocated for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the main programme for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act, in the year ended 31 March 2012, according to a report by the Centre for Policy Research’s Accountability Initiative.

“Expenditures have failed to keep pace with the increase in allocations. In FY08, over 70% of allocations were spent; this dropped to 61% in 2011-12,” the report said. In 2010-11, the government spent about 70% funds allocated under the scheme, against 78% in the year earlier.

In the 11th Five-Year Plan, the government’s budget for SSA-RTE rose to Rs. 61,734 crore (Rs. 617.34 billion) in 2011-12 from Rs. 21,360 crore (Rs. 213.60 billion) in 2007-08. The per-student allocation tripled to Rs. 4,746 from Rs. 1,598 in the five-year period.

The learning levels of Indian students are quite poor, the survey said, citing a study by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, which represented India, were ranked just above Kyrgyzstan—which was ranked last—in mathematics and overall reading skills in the study comprising 74 nations.

The annual status of education report published by education non-profit Prathamalso painted a grim picture of the quality of elementary education. According to the report, students of Class V failed in second grade reading and mathematics aptitude tests. There are about 230 million students in the Indian school education system.

The Accountability Initiative study said there were a large number of vacancies in key posts of implementing officer in the district and block levels, hampering the implementation of the flagship scheme aimed at universalizing schooling for all children in the 6-14 age group. About 60% of such posts are vacant in Bihar, the study said.

The poor outcome is linked to the slow fund flow from the centre and states, said Yamini Aiyar, Director, Accountability Initiative. Non-adherence to technicalities stops the flow of money to district and block levels, Aiyar said. “Once, we found that a block did not have a junior engineer, so who will clear the files? There are many such issues,” she said.

An official of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) said the government is aware of the shortcomings. “RTE has certainly brought a lot of changes in school education, but we are not complacent,” the official said, requesting anonymity. The ministry is constantly in touch with the states to implement SSA-RTE more effectively, the official said. “We are definitely going to miss the 2013 RTE deadline looking at the pace at which our school education system is progressing,” Aiyar said.

The RTE Act became effective on 1 April 2010, and has a mandate to achieve targets including 100% enrolment, training untrained teachers in 1.3 million schools and better infrastructure ranging from classrooms to toilets and playgrounds by 31 March.

Pre-teacher trainings like the bachelor of education courses remain a key concern and the outcome of the national teacher eligibility test (TET) is not very encouraging, said the study. Fewer than 10% of those who sat for TET in 2012 qualified, according to government data.

Source: Mint, February 26, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Big data: Software firms face shortage of skilled engineers

India’s biggest software firms looking for more business from areas such as big data and analytics are facing a shortage of skilled engineers to execute these projects. For instance, the country has only 50,000 engineers capable of undertaking such projects when the demand is for at least five times that, according to recruitment firm Heidrick and Struggles India Pvt. Ltd.

Big data refers to solutions that help clients sift through vast amounts of user information, identify patterns and develop new models or tweak existing ones to improve efficiency and increase revenue. Top outsourcing customers such as retailer Target Corp. and Citigroup are increasingly looking for solutions in these areas. According to consulting firm KPMG, the market for big data will be worth $206.6 billion by 2016, from around $109 billion in 2012.

As Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) and Infosys Ltd push to increase the proportion of fresh business from big data, cloud computing and analytics, they’ve come to realize that they need to train their staff and even look for specialized skills. Cloud computing is the use of shared computing resources through the Internet.

“We need a lot of data scientists now. We have a lot of knowledge of the many customers we work with like manufacturing companies where machines are producing a lot of data,” said N. Chandrasekaran, CEO and Managing Director of India’s largest software exporter TCS. “How do you work with clients to collate all this data and make sense of this data? Now there are opportunities to create new platforms where there is real-time flow of data.”

A research report by Gartner Inc. in October predicted that worldwide big data demand will reach 4.4 million jobs by 2015 globally. Only one-third of these jobs will be filled and this proportion of unfilled roles will be slightly higher in India, it said. To manage this and address the growing need, some IT companies are recruiting a large number of statisticians and mathematicians who are being trained in-house on the necessary software tools.

Big data itself is becoming a priority investment for chief investment officers (CIOs) deciding on their IT budgets. A study by global advisory firm Zinnov Management Consulting Pvt. Ltd published on 7 February said, “CIOs continue to invest in business analytics with high uptake of big data within manufacturing, energy and utility, media and marketing verticals. Business intelligence and big data is of highest priority for over 60% CIOs” surveyed by Zinnov.

Companies are taking the education tie-up route to maintain a steady flow of talent in big data analytics. “To slice and dice data from an understanding of the customer point of view is more difficult than just its technology,” said Ganesh Natarajan, Vice-Chairman and CEO of Zensar Technologies Ltd. “We work with institutes who have designed special business intelligence courses for us.” Other companies that are including big data in their curriculum in tie-ups with institutes include IBM India Pvt. Ltd, SAP India Pvt. Ltd and Wipro Ltd.

“There are many ongoing assignments with our clients to identify and recruit the best candidates. In this space, companies typically look for two streams of talent: one, candidates who can develop tools and platforms—SaaS (software as a service) and, two, candidates who are qualified to use the tools and platforms to analyse unstructured data,” said, E. Balaji, CEO and Managing Director of human resources service provider Randstad India Ltd.

“We have access to a large pool of statisticians, mathematicians and technology specialists to meet the recruitment targets,” Balaji said. “We take a consultative approach with our clients and suggest candidates with the closest match and those who can be shaped for the specific role. A qualified statistician can be easily trained in SaaS or in any other business intelligence tool.”

The highest requirement is for professionals who understand both big data analytics technology and the business application of the resultant insights in ways that can benefit clients, said Sid Deshpande, senior research analyst, Gartner India Research and Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd. “In big data analytics, the ones who are successful are those who can bridge IT and business (rather) than just IT specialists,” he said. “Globally, we are seeing big data professionals are increasingly techno-functional, having equal emphasis on technology and business leading to innovative roles.”

Some of the new job titles that go with this role include information leader, data steward, chief data officer, chief information manager, information architect and so on, indicating that pure IT specialists are not enough this space. India has a strong talent pool of pure IT specialists with expertise in big data technologies but those with a business focus are fewer than globally. “In more mature markets like the US, a lot of these roles have been filled by those strong in IT and can bridge gap between IT and business,” Deshpande said.

C.K. Guruprasad, principal, Heidrick & Struggles, said IT companies are searching for Indians with such experience overseas and who are looking to come back home. In India itself, there are many organizations that have set up captives for companies globally for big data analytics. “At (the) entry level, there is enough talent considering the engineering graduates that pass out,” he said. When it comes to senior-level talent, it is limited.”

Randstad predicts that in the next two-three years, India will account for 20-25% of the worldwide demand for analytics and cloud computing talent. But India will trail behind the US and China as those two countries combined will account for 70-75% of the talent demand.

Source: Mint, February 15, 2013

Newer IIMs seek professional help to get their students placed

The younger IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) are seeking professional help to get their students placed and create better linkages with industry to deal with a muted job market and bigger batch sizes. Final placements at IIM-Ahmedabad, considered the B-school benchmark, have had a muted start (ET, February 11). The younger IIMs too may have a poor run in final placements, necessitating dedicated effort on their part. Institutes such as IIM-Kashipur, IIM-Ranchi, IIM-Rohtak and IIM-Shillong have hired - in most cases, on contract - advisors in corporate relations and placement to reach out to companies with information on the work they are doing and the quality of students.

The professionals, mostly from HR or sales and marketing backgrounds, are filling in for the already-stretched faculty at IIMs. Traditionally, at the premier institutes, faculty members take up additional charge of facilitating the placements process. Advisors are charging a fee ranging from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1,00,000 for four days a month. Placements - whether summer internships or the finals - have been a challenge at the new IIMs, more so with increased batch sizes. "It's the toughest year yet in terms of placement," says P. Rameshan, Director, IIM-Rohtak. The institute is trying to place 122 students, as against last year's 47.

The advisors have been given the mandate of building relationships with top management in companies, sourcing talent for corporates, organising and initiating chairs and endowments, getting corporate sponsorships for events, handling various stakeholders and marketing the institutes' brands. "It's like a start-up challenge. We need time to establish and promote the institute. There are companies who don't even know where new IIMs are. Also, the market realities of placements can't be wished away," says Gautam Sinha, Director, IIM-Kashipur.

It's all about professionalising the process, says IIM-Ranchi Director MJ Xavier. The institute's summers process, which started in September, is almost complete while the finals process, which started in January, is expected to wrap up in first week of March. It had a batch of 160 students to place in the summers while the finals process has 66 students, up from last year's 44.

The institute has roped in Arijit Majumdar as advisor, external relations, to help with the process. Majumdar has a good 30 years of experience at various levels of management across FMCG, publishing, media and entertainment industries. He has also served as chief of corporate relations and external affairs at IIM-Shillong in the first two years of its existence. IIM-R is also looking at making a proposal to the board to get a headhunting firm to do the job, with a team working full-time on placements and external relations.

IIM-Kashipur has roped in Partha Dasgupta, who has 34 years of experience of working in the corporate sector. Dasgupta, a post graduate in personnel management and industrial relations from Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi, is on an annual contract to help enhance the institute's brand, and match students' profiles and skills with jobs available at various companies.

Till date, 50 companies have come for the summers and finals and the figure is expected to touch around 80 in a week. The batch size for summers and finals is around 40 students each. "A major challenge for companies is the logistics as Kashipur is a non-metro.

While the feedback on the quality of students is good, the salary bands are not that high," says Dasgupta.
IIM-Shillong, which has had professional help from its inception, says it is showing results. "We are more comfortable this year. We have had to struggle due to our location," says Keya Sengupta, Director of the institute, which is trying to place a batch of 105 students. The institutes are hoping that every step in this direction will soon make them names to reckon with.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), February 15, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Private players rush to set up polytechnic institutes

In a first, demand from private agencies to set up polytechnic institutions surpassed those from state governments. This year, the number of applications received by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has jumped 66 per cent — 282 applications against last year’s 170. Most of these have come from Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

“It is good. People need to recognise that everyone need not become a degree holder. You also need mid-level people. These applications, however, are not to set up institutions under the public-private-partnership mode at all. These are purely private enterprises in all disciplines like mechanical, electrical, among others,” said Shankar S Mantha, Chairman, AICTE.

Polytechnics are educational institutions usually set up and run by the state governments or private institutions. Polytechnics offer diploma and certificate courses such as mechanical engineering, textile design, hotel management, etc, that can be taken up after Class 10. Polytechnic education helps students gain vocational orientation through technical and practical skills.

While AICTE has received 80 applications to open new B-schools, it has also received 70 applications to shut down B-schools. Last year, 65 B-schools were shut down. “This is strange. While on one hand we have received applications to shut down B-schools, on the other, people want to open more B-schools. This is, however, not the trend for courses in computer application,” said Mantha.

AICTE has received application to open 40 institutes offering masters degrees in computer applications against 80 to be shut down. Around 20 institutions in other streams of technical education have applied for shutting shop.

Source: Business Standard, February 12, 2013

Thursday, February 07, 2013

B-schools get sleepless nights as CMAT finds few takers

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) might have seen a rise in the number of students registering for its Common Management Admission Test (CMAT), but B-schools are a worried lot. With around 1,90,000 students registering for CMAT so far and 375,000 seats available, B-schools say they may be staring at almost empty classrooms this year, too. B-schools in Maharashtra have written to the Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) seeking permission to admit students from other national tests, including Management Aptitude Test (MAT), Xavier Aptitude Test (XAT) and AIMS Test for Management (ATMA), etc. Sixteen states have so far replaced their respective common entrance tests with CMAT for admission to B-schools.

“We have requested the DTE to allow us to draw students from other national level tests till CMAT becomes more popular. Maharashtra has around 45,000 management seats and we need students to fill these up,” said Apoorva Palkar, Director, Sinhgad Institute of Management and Computer Application, Pune. Palkar is also Chairperson of ATMA, run by the Association of Indian Management Schools, which has over 600 B-schools as its members. “Actually, it is the students who select the institutes. So, there will always be a mismatch, and seat occupancy at B-schools will be a concern. Talks are on with the DTE and we hope some resolution will come our way soon,” said Kavita Laghate, Director, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.

AICTE says, registrations for CMAT have jumped nearly three times since last year. CMAT is held twice a year and each student gets two chances to sit for the test. AICTE says students who have exhausted both their chances can use the best score for admissions. “We have seen an increase in registrations this time. However, there could be duplication with some students registering again this year. We have advertised heavily, and despite this if students are unaware of CMAT and if state governments tell us they would want another round of CMAT, we are open to that,” said the chief coordinator of CMAT, AICTE.

The chief coordinator added that as admissions for MBA goes on till August-September in most of the states, AICTE is open to extending any other opportunity to students. B-schools say their interest at this point is filling up maximum number of seats. If students are not appearing the test, AICTE and states need to spread awareness about the same. “Many students are not aware whether the state test has been replaced with CMAT. AICTE and the state is not doing their bit in spreading the word about CMAT. And, when these seats go vacant, they will blame it on management education not being a hot subject, which is not the case,” said Sai Kumar, centre director, TIME, Mumbai.

In 2012, over 180 B-schools shut shop in India, while another 160 are expected to down shutters this year, according to a paper by ASSOCHAM. The paper reveals that since 2009, recruitments at campuses have gone down by 40 per cent in 2012, and the biggest reason for it is the mushrooming of Tier-II and Tier-III management education institutes.

Source: Business Standard, February 7, 2013

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Foreign universities to receive payments in Indian Rupee

Western Union Business Solutions, a unit of The Western Union Company announced a new service that will allow universities and higher education institutions around the world to accept tuition payments in Indian Rupee.

Over 200,000 Indian students study abroad each year, making India the second largest market for international students in the world after China. Indian students who choose to study abroad grew by over 250 percent between 2000 and 2009, with overall numbers increasing from 53,000 to more than 189,000 during that period.

According to a recent study, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are the top three destinations for Indian students. Indian students who go abroad are typically invoiced in the currency of their university (e.g. US dollars, Euros) which often makes the payment process cumbersome and expensive. In many cases, intermediary fees impact the final amount received by the university so the students still owe money before commencing their studies.

Western Union's new service will enable participating schools and universities to offer Indian students the option to pay tuition fees in their home currency. It will be offered by Weizmann Forex and Paul Merchants Limited, the two largest Western Union Agents in India. Both Weizmann Forex and Paul Merchants Limited will make this product available to students at multiple locations across the country. Students will also be able to pay from their homes by calling a toll-free number and requesting a house visit.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), February 6, 2013

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Central universities differ from IIMs, favour overarching council

India’s central government-funded universities are favouring the creation of an overarching body to improve coordination and share resources, although the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have resisted a similar concept out of concern that it may undermine the autonomy of the elite business schools.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the 42 central varsities may take a final call on the plan after a series of meetings in New Delhi starting on Tuesday. “I think there is a communication problem among central universities. We will seek to put in place a better coordination mechanism like a council,” said Somnath Dasgupta, Vice-Chancellor of Assam University.

Proponents of such a mechanism say that an overarching body can coordinate the activities of all central institutions, deal with matters of common interest, review learning outcomes and help forge stronger ties among the 42 institutions, perceived to be the best in the country’s university system. India has 612 universities in the country under the control of the central government, states and private organizations.

In spite of their national reputation, the central universities are confronting challenges on several fronts, including lack of sufficient infrastructure, a shortage of teachers, deficient curriculums and inadequate interaction with corporate houses. According to government data, these universities are facing a shortage of at least 33% in teaching staffs; none of the 16 new central universities established four years ago has a permanent campus as yet. And none of these institutes are in the top 200 of global rankings, reflecting poorly on their standards.

The top-ranked Indian institutions, as per the UK-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, were Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi (212), IIT-Bombay (227) and IIT-Kanpur (278).

Surabhi Banerjee, Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Orissa, said she backs the creation of an overarching council for central varsities. “A new university like ours is in favour of sharing resources and teaching staff. A council can help us learn best practices in other universities,” said Banerjee. Constant interaction will help central universities that are operating away from the cities to attain a national and even global perspective, Banerjee said.

Dasgupta of Assam University said that although the subject is not on the agenda of Tuesday’s meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, “we will take up this issue.” He said universities in the north-eastern states face a particularly tough situation—professors aren’t willing to stay long at the institutions given the region’s geographical remoteness from the rest of the country; that in turn affects their educational standards. “A coordination committee we believe can solve some of the problems. For sure, we would like exchange of faculties for a semester at a time,” he explained.

Abdul Wahid, Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir, said he wants to incorporate innovative courses of universities elsewhere to provide his students “learning to become market-ready” for employment. “I will also like to have skill education and incorporation of grade system for students,” Wahid said.

Last month, some of the IIMs opposed a move by the MHRD to put in place a council akin to the IIT Council through a legislation and allow the institutes to impart degrees instead of diplomas. The elite B-Schools say such a move will hamper their autonomy.

A MHRD official, who requested anonymity, said that, on principle, the ministry wanted better coordination among universities, IIMs or institutes of national importance. Central universities favouring the concept is a “healthy sign and can improve quality of learning,” he said.

“The enormity of the challenges of providing equal opportunities for quality higher education to an ever-growing number of students is also a historic opportunity for correcting sectoral and social imbalances, reinvigorating institutions, crossing international benchmarks of excellence and extending the frontiers of knowledge,” said an HRD ministry document.

Source: Mint, February 5, 2013

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