Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Random Thoughts on Universities in Kerala

by D. Dhanuraj

Whenever I travel outside Kerala, I have noticed that others look at Malayalees with lot of admiration for the simple reason that Kerala ranks very high in literacy rate. When i meet my friends there, I complain about the lack of quality of education in Kerala. Then, they are again astonished; how come it is possible for a high literacy rate. I do have to go for hours to share the experience and explain the reasons. Yesterday, I met a friend of mine and we were discussing the quality of university education in India. It is considered that quality of higher education in Kerala is very poor. Reasons are many that include the lack of professional management of universities as they are politically managed than professionally. Political bosses believe that universities are to centres for politicking. Syllabus is obsolete or woven with intricate political ideologies most of the times. Teachers unions dictate the daily functioning where as syndicate is stuffed with the representatives of political class. List is a long one. But what my friend asked me is the most twisting element of the whole saga of universities; most of the universities for the most of courses in Kerala send the course degree certificate to the student only after one year of the completion of the students. He was citing that many court cases are there in connection with these bizarre happenings. Even then, the situation has not been improved. Many times, many students lose one year because of this irresponsible behaviour from the university.  He asks me; “what is the solution?”

I was wondering if the same act has been from NIITs or IIPMs or any private provider. I am sure they would have been assaulted by this time and would have lit pyre for their innings in Kerala. Youth wing of political parties would have man handles the oblivious staff for the same reason. If so, why is it not happening with universities?

Answer is: Kerala’s mindset has to be reoriented.

Monday, August 01, 2011

'Jobs to Be Done' Marketing Model

Marketing is one of the most important functions of a business in order to remain competitive and profitable. A sound marketing strategy determines the sales graph even more than the quality of the product. The traditional marketing model is characterised largely by the practice of market segmentation. This implies to dividing the market into product categories, which can be a function of price or else dividing the customer base into target demographics based on age, gender, education, income level, etc. Despite many of these sophisticated marketing techniques, it can be seen that most of the products launched are not successful at least to the degree intended.

Prof Clay Christensen from the Harvard Business School suggests an alternative or rather an effective marketing model that can help make products that people really need and hence will see an increase in the sales chart. It is called the Jobs to be one marketing model.

According to this concept, consumers do not by a product just because they belong to a demographic category, but because they need or rather ‘hire’ the product to do a job for them. They are emotional or irrational and take life as it comes. Thus, it is important to know what job people want the product to do for them, rather than just stating the general function of a product, which is largely based on competitors or the employees. He also goes to the end of suggesting that market segmentation should be done on the ‘jobs to be done’ perspective.

Important questions:
Is the traditional market segmentation model ineffective in the changed global scenario?
Is the ‘jobs to be done’ marketing model a good enough alternative model for the traditional model?
Can services also be marketed based on this model?

Criminals and brutality in India

Nearly 7,500 people have died in official custody in India over the past five years, according to a report by a human rights group. This report by Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights says many of these people were tortured in custody. But the government routinely attributes deaths in custody to illness, attempted escape, suicide and accidents.

Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights, says prosecuting responsible officials takes a long time in India, and leads to a culture of impunity. “It takes about 25-30 years to prosecute somebody. And by that time many of the accused are dead, or possibly the relatives that have filed a complaint are dead," he said, adding, "So there is a culture of impunity which is given by the government of India, and I think this is the single most important factor which is encouraging torture."

Interesting notes and facts:

  • In India, the attitude towards criminals remains the same as it was during the British rule. 
  • At the end of every five years, recruitment into the police force takes place. Interestingly, 30 per cent of the recruited population has a criminal background.

People expect the police to be more humane and do an honorable job while tackling criminals, while in reality, this cannot be expected, because they themselves are exploited with long working hours and constrained time for relaxation. The working hours of the police force should be revised as per the UN standards. In India, the police should totally be removed from the Government control.

Bamboo: A Source of Livelihood

Bamboo could be a new source of livelihood for millions of poor tribal inhabitants and forest dwellers across India. Bamboo is an important part of rural livelihood in many nations, especially in developing counties like India. The bamboo economy, ranging from resource generation to value-added applications, has supported approximately 8.6 million livelihoods in the country. Small land holders at the forest fringes, in particular, improve their livelihoods by processing bamboo growing in their backyards. With planned development of integrated bamboo-based clusters, most value addition can be done closer to the resource, resulting in large scale socio-economic benefits.

Millions of families are dependent on bamboo resources for their livelihood in India; from tender shoots to rice cooked in the hollow of raw bamboo, it is part of the everyday life. From house construction to flooring and agricultural implements, bamboo pervades life and culture. Due to its versatile nature and multiple uses, bamboo is also called ‘the poor man’s timber’.

The advantages of bamboo plantations are manifold, when compared to monoculture tree plantations. It can become part of agro-forestry practice in small land holdings. New bamboo plantations may curb the pressure from deforestation by serving as wood substitutes. It can be planted to reclaim severely degraded sites and wastelands. It is a good soil binder, owing to its peculiar clump formation and fibrous root system, and hence plays an important role in soil and water conservation. However, rapid urbanisation and large-scale demands for housing in urban areas may pose some problems for ecological sustainability.

Recent studies suggest that bamboo is a more effective plant than trees in increasing carbon stocks through sequestration of carbon. Researchers studying bamboo plantations estimate that a hectare of bamboo has the potential to sequester between 12-14 tonnes of carbon every year above the ground. Additionally, the extensive root system builds up the carbon sink faster than trees. The Indian government, as well as the international Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), overlooked the potential of bamboo to address the issue of climate change and enhance livelihood opportunities. 

When a bamboo forest is managed by annual harvesting of mature culms, it can sequester more carbon, especially if harvested products are converted into durable products like bamboo furniture or household timber. It can be a good substitute for energy intensive products, thus helping reduce fossil fuel-based products. It is used in over 1,500 applications. Until recently, the life span of these products were short, but the up gradation in processing techniques has enabled durable products that have longer life to be manufactured, mainly in housing components and furniture.

Do we need to regulate private schools?

The onset of private schools has given a new dimension to education in India. Opening up of the sector has brought in more reforms with new innovative teaching practices, attracting students. The onslaught of private schools can be witnessed in major states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The India Education Report, 2009, says that there has been an increase in percentage growth of private schools with a decrease in public schools.

Privatization has been more profound in the education sector, because of the realization on the part of the government that it can no longer manage the education system and provide quality instruction. However, large questions are asked on the quality of private schools because of the lack of a regulatory mechanism to monitor their functioning.

Levying of hefty fees is a major concern, as it is said to affect the prospects of poor children studying in such schools. Financially backward students are left with no option, but to join government schools. In spite of various incentives accorded by the government to the disadvantage sections of the society, they have failed to provide quality education to these children. The Right to Education Act (RTE) was considered as landmark legislation. It, however, is caught in the ebb of centre-state dilly dallying. The RTE gives a parent the right to enroll his child in the school of his choice and the school will be compensated by the government. This needs to go a long way to achieve the objectives of the Sarva Siksha Abhyan (SSA), as there is no data on the real beneficiaries. Awareness of RTE is very less and parents more often do not want their children to study, but work in rural areas. While the Gross Enrollment Ratio has had a massive increase after SSA, there has been a downturn last year.

The Private Fee Regulation Bill, though tabled in 2007, was not passed, because of strong opposition from various quarters. The Bill sought to regulate the functioning of private schools by empowering state governments in setting up of Education Authorities to monitor the same. The Bill stated that the running of unaided private schools had become a business, with the aim to make money than impart education. The Bill also seeks to address the issue of low payment of teachers and arbitrariness in appointment and suspension of teachers. The Bill, therefore, mentions that it has become necessary to set up adequate mechanisms to monitor, regulate and control the thriving education business, not only to ensure that children get good education, but also to protect people from exploitation.

As per Section 4(3), the Authority may:
(a) prescribed the student-teacher ratio for each standard;
(b) put a ceiling on the tuition fee that may be charged by a school for a particular
(c) fix the hours of duty for teachers;
(d) monitor the funds collected by the schools; and
(e) perform such other function as may be prescribed

Interestingly, the provision of the Bill did not intend to apply to minority schools (as per Section 6).

The Bill also seeks to restrict private schools in matters of levying fees. This directly affects the financial status of schools that thrive on this source of income. Such regulatory measures will scuttle the growth of schools, which can then hamper the development of education. Private schools have brought in a new wave of innovation and quality in the sector, making it competitive. The higher education sector has been highly privatized, with even the IITs and IIMs facing the heat to bring in autonomy, free from government intervention.

The Government, while promoting autonomy to educational institutions, needs to balance it with the society’s interest of affordable education. At a time when the RTE is wanting of a push, private schools need to be redefined. Regulation and autonomy are crucial questions at the policy and legal levels.