China’s crackdown on business continues. Now the target is tutoring companies that raked in billions and were valued sky high. There’s lessons for India too.
Xi Jinping regime has been cracking down ruthlessly on a variety of businesses and businessmen. The ostensible reasons are corruption, excessive speculation, customer data security etc. Real reasons? Who knows?
But its most recent crackdown has lessons for India and let us focus on that.
As reported in media extensively (see Link 1 for sample), China’s latest crackdown involves tutoring companies. Taking advantage of traditional Chinese “tiger mom” attitudes towards education and the rate race mentality, these companies had mushroomed. Billions were raised as capital and valuations reached sky high. Now they have been sent crashing. Read the Forbes report for details.
It is not our focus to go into the reasons for this crackdown or its merits. Or its impact on financial markets. Although those are important.
Let us turn our attention to the lessons it has for India.
The oriental way
For years, long before terms like Tiger mum became buzzwords in US media, we knew about the East Asian emphasis on education and rote learning. Enormously competitive entrance tests, long hours of studying, burnouts, suicides and many other ills could be traced to this obsession to get good grades from good colleges and thereby secure a path to career success and material wealth. I remember, in the 90s Hongkong buses used to carry ads by tutorial colleges featuring names and big photos of star lecturers. Some of them earned millions and were even subject of lawsuits between these rival tutorial colleges.
Of course a lot of this is familiar to Indians. Our IIT entrance tests, coaching for which starts from 10th standard or even earlier is a classic example. Good kindergartens attract huge crowds of parents queuing up for hours even after paying huge fees and taking entrance tests for - guess who? Parents!
However, the level of madness in Indian society is far less than it is in oriental ones. We are built a little bit different. It also helps that we have noisy democracy of the Western kind that doesn’t value discipline and conformity as much. But then we are not immune to this disease. If we do not watch out, it may hit us too.
Lessons for India
The basic lesson is that education is “welfare” as one report puts it, not business.
In the dynasty era India neglected educating its citizens. A few flashy IITs were setup polishing diamonds that would have anyway shined, but by and large the elites who sent their own kids to Doon & Europe did not bother investing in primary education, good schools and colleges. Especially in India’s numerous villages.
If one were to point the finger at ONE reason why India is still third world, where dynasts are marketed by sycophants and brown nosed media coolies as “having her grandmother’s face”, keeps voting the same dacoit dynasties over and over hoping the latest prince will be their messiah, that is education. Or lack of it. Perhaps it was designed that way.
Of course, babus ensured their kids got the best education setting up schools where they have priority. Evangelists stepped in to fill the gap and did a great job, but inserted their own agendas into the process. A few Hindu charities like the RK mission did a great job but many started in that way and ended up as loot businesses. Barring a few exceptions like AMU, Muslim education was mostly left to religious studies. Village schools looked like bombed out Afghan villages, where they even existed. Teachers rarely bothered to teach, if they were recruited at all.
As we had a “mixed economy”, private sector was allowed to step in, with disastrous results. Everything from kindergartens to colleges became money making factories. So-called “universities” operating from one room shacks in states like MP, medical and engineering colleges with zero facilities that fake their staff lists to get certification.. liquor barons and other unscrupulous moneybags getting into education business to turn real estate into cash flow, the list is endless. Fake degree colleges (Link 2) were even worse. They printed out certificates to anyone and everyone that paid.
So much so that Indian degrees, other than a few “star” institutions, are considered worthless or assumed to be fake in countries like Singapore. Even our own businessmen say bulk of our grads are unemployable and need years of training after they are given a job.
It’s in this milieu that tutorial colleges and other such private factories run by ruthless profiteers operate.
Xi Jinping has shown us the way. Can we copy?
The way ahead
The underlying principles are very simple.
- Education is NOT a business, it is a social service. Our own gurukulams of past provide us with the moral compass and framework that can be updated for this century. We dont have to mimic others.
- Unless we educate our masses with quality curriculum, in good schools and colleges, we will remain 3rd world for several more generations. It is a crime against humanity, especially as select few will obtain it paying for it by privileged birth, random chance or escaping overseas.
- A complete purge of education factories looting the public is a good place to start as it will send powerful signal the state finally means business. These lobbies should be dealt with ruthlessly. Exactly as Xi is doing.
The way forward is simple too.
- Begin at the beginning - effective primary and secondary education with good faculty and curriculum that is publicly funded, free and universal. The smallest village should have exactly same facilities as the biggest city. This will have to be done on war footing not another committee to study and report in a few years. Crowd sourced data and technology can help government zoom in on areas with biggest gaps and plug them immediately.
- Focus on schools and villages gives us time to fix our science, arts and professional degree colleges. By the time today’s kids get into them, we should be ready. It takes years, but we have to start NOW.
- A mixture of subsidised education, loans at cheap rates, compulsory public service for a few years, corporate sponsorship and agenda-free charities can help us foot the bill. Budgetary support can only go so far but it has to be intelligently mixed with other forms of funds. Totally free is a good destination but we can start small.
- Technology and remote learning can be leveraged to deal with shortages of good quality teachers, especially at higher levels and in specialised courses.
- English language is a great leveler and should not be a privilege of city elites. Priority should be on quality English based education at all levels. Choice of education in regional languages and mother tongue should be left to parents and kids, not politicians, leftist academics etc.
Let us hope we see some action in this front!
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