Times of India

Capitalism and Our Schools

The government presented the free and compulsory education for children bill in the winter session, and we are celebrating as though we had beaten Australia in cricket. We should hail it as a great blow against the curse and shame of child labour. But we are not, and for good reason — we have lost faith in the state's ability to run schools.

First, Do No Harm

A few months ago a well-meaning minister asked me if I had any ideas about how the government might help business. In an unguarded moment, he admitted that he had once been a socialist, but had now converted and wished to help the private sector.

In Praise of Great Teachers

When I was thirteen I was lucky to have a history teacher who inspired me, made me learn to think for myself, and gave depth to my private life. Many of us, I think, have had the same experience there was one good teacher at some point in our lives who changed us, and this made all the difference. Vimala Ramchandran's recent research with poor children in U.P., Andhra, and Karnataka also confirms that the biggest motivator in getting children to complete primary school is a welcoming, and affectionate teacher.

CAPITALIST GREED

Dick Grasso is one of the most competent leaders that the famous New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has had in decades, but he resigned on September 17 because they discovered that he had been paid a shockingly-high salary. When I read about his $140 million salary and benefits, I thought it must be a misprint, but the obscene figure turned out to be true, and even I, a votary of free markets, winced. The head of California Teachers Retirement System (Calpers) told us that it would take an average American 5,200 years, working 40 hours a week, to make the same money. The Wall Street Journal reported that even his 2002 base salary (without benefits) of $12 million was greater than the combined pay of the heads of nine top stock exchanges around the world.

We Could Do With More of Saying Less

The following appears in honour of brevity, the defining characteristic of leaders. And of The Times of India Speednews, a new edition of The Times of India that packs in more news, in a concise form. For astute, time-pressed readers who demand a quick uptake.

Great Expectations

The best teachers and CEOs will tell you that performance is a function of expectations, and those with higher expectations get more out of their students and employees. So it is with nations.

When national leaders create high expectations and follow them up with good policies and rules, citizens and businesses respond and nations prosper. This is in part the secret of China's success, and today it no longer thinks of itself as a Third World nation but as an emerging Asian tiger and a global power capable of challenging America.

Cyber Coolies or Cyber Sahibs?

'The World as India' is the title of a lecture that Susan Sontag gave in London last year, which was published in the Times Literary Supplement this June 13.

In it the distinguished writer celebrates the success of Indians in harvesting their legendary English-speaking skills in the global economy through call centres and other services. But Harish Trivedi, the no-less distinguished critic at Delhi University, promptly wrote an angry rejoinder in which he characterised call centres as ''brutally exploitative'' and its employees as ''cyber coolies of our global age, working not on sugar plantations but on flickering screens, and lashed into submission through vigilant and punitive monitoring, each slip in accent or lapse in pretence meaning a cut in wages.''

Capitalism, Indian Style

My niece, Priya, was in town recently. She has been teaching English as a second language in cosmopolitan Vancouver, where every summer Chinese youth flock to learn English. Many are children of the newly rich who have prospered in post-reform China, but it is extraordinary how difficult they find learning English. Of the dozens of nationalities she has taught only the Japanese find it more difficult. The reason is that the languages of East Asia are tonal. The same word in Mandarin can have many meanings depending on the tone; hence, the Chinese have difficulty coping with English grammar and pronunciation, and Japanese children, I am told, have been trying to learn English from kindergarten since 1870, and they still cannot speak it.

Turn of the Wheel

I have an old friend in Mumbai and every once in a while, he will pause, sit back, and ask, how are we doing? How are we changing? A small but visible change, I told him last week, is the rich aroma of coffee in our bazaars. Thanks mainly to Barista, but also to Cafe Coffee Day, Quickies and others, the well-heeled young of a tea-drinking nation have found a fashionable place to hang out, and its women a safe public place to be sociable.

The Sorcer's Enchantment

When our tax refunds arrived in May, within six months of filing our return, we thought we were dreaming. Since it normally took years, something must be afoot we thought, and decided to pay North Block a visit. There we were astonished to learn that computers had already completed 95 per cent of this year's returns.