Archive for the ‘Pursuing your Passion’ Category

I was in Lucknow recently and had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Amrita Dass and her charming family. Dr. Dass comes from a family of Educators- her Grandmother, educated at Columbia in the 1940s, was the first Indian Principal of the famous Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. Her mother taught for several years and her brother, Ranjit, is Principal at the Nath Valley School in Aurangabad that is rapidly gaining popularity as a ‘school of the future’Dr. Dass runs the Institute for Career Studies and has over the last few decades guided a number of students to their preferred careers in India and abroad. In addition to whole-school and individual counselling, the institute also does some fantastic workshops for in-service teacher development. Dr. Dass believes, and this is prominently displayed on her organisation stationery, “There are no Ideal Careers, only Ideal Choices.”


I spoke to Dr. Dass on range of issues regarding Education in this country with a focus on Youth Development and found her disarming, witty, thoughtful and well-read. The succulent soya kebabs she serves at her residence added much flavour to the conversation.


I am including extracts centered around the theme of ‘the main differences between career inclinations and choices a couple of decades ago and today.’ The ‘I’ in the next few paragraphs all defer to Dr. Dass.




(1) Earlier there was the pressure of competing for the limited seats available in professional courses & hardly any professional or vocational degree courses after Plus Two. Today there are infinite academic and career choices. Owing to the privatisation of higher education, there are more seats than students! Thus, today there is confusion of choice!(2) Though stereotypes and mindsets about courses and careers are still prevalent, earlier most persons got into a career by chance. Today many more are in a position to choose a career based on their aptitudes and interests.


(3) Another recent trend is that large numbers of students are eager to pursue their studies abroad. Bank loans have made access to foreign education much easier.


(4) A decade ago, students preferred to opt for jobs with hefty pay packets, regardless of whether it engaged their inherent talents and interests or not. There is a definite shift today towards jobs that would provide satisfaction.


(5) I am not surprised that Howard Gardner has added “existentialist” intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences. I have seen more evidence of this in students of junior classes! For example, when asked by me to respond to the question, “Who am I”, one grade 8 student wrote “This question has been bothering me for sometime. When I search my inner universe, I reach the stars”. His mother thought that his writings were “weird“! This reinforces the observation made by Peter Senge that today’s new age student is being reared largely by “industrial age” parents and taught largely by “industrial age teachers”.


(6) One of the most exciting developments today is that many more parents are encouraging their daughters to pursue higher studies and careers of their choice. Previously early marriage was their topmost priority.


(7) What still needs to change is the “fixation” on the Science and Commerce streams, which has driven out the Humanities stream as an option from most schools. Can you imagine the plight of students who excel in Social Studies in class 10, want to continue with it in Plus Two but are compelled to either take up Science or Commerce subjects?


(8) In this technology oriented knowledge age, what most organisations look for is a “smart” mind and a “smart” personality. Thus, most careers can be accessed from any subject stream or combination. Moreover, I find that there is increasingly little correlation between the education students are receiving and the careers they are choosing to pursue.


(9) Another malaise that remains to be addressed is the enormous pressure and tension students are subjected to in order to secure high marks in their Board examinations and at the same time get coached for the various entrance exams after Plus Two. This takes a heavy toll in terms of their overall sense of well being, self-esteem and all round development as extra curricular activities are virtually taboo.


(10) An issue that must be addressed is that the huge potential of our rural youth is not being tapped because of poor access to vocational guidance and training. Some sincere efforts have been made by NGOs and individuals but this remains a much neglected sector. A concerted, planned, sincere and dynamic effort by Government agencies (like the almost defunct employment directorates, employment exchanges), NGOs and the private sector (industrial and business houses, Banks, CII, FICCI, PHD Chambers of Commerce etc) is urgently required. I have conducted our career counselling and guidance programmes in rural areas and found the rural youth eager, enthusiastic and keen to go places!


A few of her ideas resonated strongly with me. The first was about harnessing the potentional of rural youth. A friend of mine, Akhil Krishna, is fired up about this idea and we often discuss the potention of bi-lingual (Vernacular Instruction for the first half of a 2-4 year course with intensive English Language Training, and English Instruction for the second half) colleges and universities.


Another idea, simplistic yet powerful, was suggested by him. He stated that most software programming languages have few keywords that are used in the coding syntax. If these keywords could be translated with Vernacular equivalents and coding could be done by non-English speaking programmers with basic computing skills, we would be reducing the cost of programming and providing employment at the same time.


The second was the issue of admission to colleges and universities in the country that demanded high marks – requiring students to study long hours at the cost of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that provide a very useful education to students. Until this is resolved, many of the evils of the schooling system in India will persist.


What are your thoughts on Dr. Dass’ points? Write in and we’ll get her to respond!


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Quoted from the NY Times:

“According to the American Federation of Teachers, the state with the highest average pay for teachers in 2003-04 was Connecticut, at $56,516; the lowest was South Dakota, at $33,236.

Or look at it this way: Pick a corporate chieftain — say, Jeffrey R. Immelt of General Electric. He earns $15.4 million a year. Every single day — including Thanksgiving and Christmas — he makes almost what the average teacher does for a year of taming wild children, staying up nights planning lessons, and, really, helping to shape a generation.”

I read about this up at multiple blogs including AssortedStuff, Think:Lab and Education Wonks and it got me thinking. The Purchasing Power Parity Index (enonomic theory that tries to equate how much it would cost to buy similar things or live a similar quality of life in two places) between India and the US is between 6-8. So a dollar in the the US would get you about the same that Rs. 6 – 8 would get you in India, across a basket of commodities and services. This seems to me a rather conservative estimate, but we will play along with this.


The average teacher salary for Connecticut (state with highest salary) was $56,516, for South Dakota (state with lowest salary) it was $33,236. Taking a simple average of these two for convenience, one may estimate that the average salary for the US as a whole was 44,876. In PPP terms this equates to a salary, given similar educational qualifications, to a number between Rs. 269,256 and Rs. 359,008 per year or roughly between Rs. 22438 and Rs 29997.


According to the 5th Pay Commission that dictate salaries to Central Schools like those run by the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, teachers salaries in India should be between 8000 (Kindergarten level) to 17500 (Post Graduate Teacher level). Many State Boards have salaries that are much lower. Many private schools employ teacher at a fourth of these rates- from my own experience in Punjab, teachers are paid between Rs. 3000-6000 at schools (leaving the premium schools aside) in several cities. If anyone has access to researches data on teacher salaries in India, I would love to have a look at it.This analysis estimates that teachers in India may earn upto 5-6 times lower than their counterparts in America, despite having possibly better qualifications on paper (most applicants for teaching jobs at my school have a master’s degree and two bachelor’s degrees and earn around Rs. 4000 at their current jobs).


This throws up many interesting questions with some comments as answers:


1. Why would a person choose to become a teacher? A BPO job pays twice as much. Even tutoring would probably earn a teacher in multiples of this amount.


– Presumably for the love of teaching itself or for, in smaller cities, the lack of other options. Most probably though, because as pointed out in an earlier post, “Teaching is a noble profession for Women” – the sort of job that gives respectability, time-bound working hours and a regular , stable salary.


– Lack of other options: Several families do not allow their daughters-in-law to take on other jobs/assignments- teaching is passable because of the respectability factor above.


– Teaching is stable. You would probably earn that amount (with an annual increment) as long as you didn’t do something terribly stupid. Most schools are so hard up on good quality staff that they would do anything to retain even an errant teacher with the slightest possibility of being reformed. The downside of course, by the same logic, is that growth in teaching jobs (and associated pay rises) is limited: at best one may become an academic co-ordinator or head of department/primary school before one occupies the dark leather seat as Principal.


2. I say that Tutoring pays many times that much. Why then do teachers teach in Schools?


– Because they get a school-name-brand attached to them and, possibly more importantly, they don’t have much teaching to do in the morning as kids from all the schools are at school. Working in a school them gives them an acceptability and elevates their status as a recognised teacher – bringing in more business. I often wonder – if schools had the policy of disallowing teachers from tutoring on the side, would the applicant pool for jobs at that school take a nosedive?


3. Is this a fair salary to pay teachers? An addendum to the NY Times.


– I don’t want to go into the socio-economic stratifications of Indian Society but keep this response germane to the debate raised by the NY times. It asks whether our teachers who educate the nation should be paid so little when their products are paid in several multiples. It points out that corporate bosses With Indians going abroad and occupying top jobs- it would seem that soon corporate bosses will earn more in an hour than what their teachers in India did in a Year.


For those of you interested in further reading on this- look at this Economic Times article that looks at the huge differences in the salaries of teachers at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and that earned by grads straight out of campus. And continuing with the Jeff Immelt example, here is an article on CEO salaries in India!

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One of the most exciting organizations working in the area of Education in India is the Ahmedabad based Educational Initiatives (EI).

I have had the pleasure to meeting and discussing education with two of its three founders Sridhar Rajagopalan and Sudhir Ghodke who (along with Venkat Krishan) left MNC jobs to work in the area of Education. before EI three co-founded, with Sunil Handa, entrepreneur and popular speaker on management and education, the Eklavya School in Ahmedabad. This school set in 22 acres in the outskirts of Ahmedabad is interesting in many ways: it is one of the few schools that has fields and open spaces commensurate with the number of children being schooled, makes effective use of the research thrown up by Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory and has a good Teacher Education programme on its premises.

Sridhar and Sudhir are both bright and passionate about Education. Its difficult not to come away inspired from a conversation with them.

Their organization, Educational Initiatives, runs India’s leading standardized testing service, ASSET. I have seen several standardized tests; the other leading test provider in India is Macmillan (in association with the University of NSW) but the ASSET rest is remarkably superior. It is authentic – contextualized to the lives of Indian students, clear in its questioning and responses expected, inexpensive, and throws up fantastic action-oriented data for teachers and administrators.


In the past few years, EI has quietly been doing a host of other good work. There is work with the government of Andhra Pradhesh and Harvard Universtiy, Teacher Training, School Camps and a new offering called Mindspark, an after-school prgramme that teaches kids Math and Science. What I like is that the team seems to be getting a balance correct- doing great work on its flagship offering (ASSET), doing good and meaningful research and still capitalizing on opportunities like the After-School space through programmes like Mindspark.


I caught up with Sudhir Ghodke and Sridhar Rajagopalan for a candid chat.



EI now spans a gamut of spaces: teacher development, curriculum development, Science & Math Training through franchisees, Test Administration and of-course ASSET. What would you say is your core competency and going forward, what would your company like to be known as? In terms of ‘product mix’ how different in would EI be 5 years from now?


Continue reading the rest of the interview over at my old blog, right here. The post seems to be having trouble communicating with WordPress. Thanks!

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