Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chennai's Education system - Why has it gone down the drain?

Had ranted about how the education system in Chennai had become very poor over the past decade and a half. Had made a promise to myself to outline why this has indeed become the case. So, here goes.

The usual suspects are all there - Lesser pressure from parents, more distractions, mobile phone, gadget-fetish, etc etc. But two things stand out.

First is the fact that the City's engineering colleges have completely mastered the art of ensuring 90% of their students get placed in the IT Companies. And the lines have blurred between "good" job and "bad" job. Most jobs pay in the same range. If we can treat the odd offer from Amazon or Google as an outlier, everyone is pretty much in the same boat. Great breakthrough for engineering colleges, good for the real estate market; but extremely bad for the incentive system for parents and students. There appears to be no credible answer to the question - Why should I b*st my ass preparing for JEE?

The best response I can think for this is a wonderful quote from Mr Warren Buffett - You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.

Cometh the tough times, we will realize that most of our engineering graduates know pish tosh about anything. Now would be a good time to give a silent thanks to the Infies and Wipros of the world for bailing the city out at just the right time.

The second and more distressing factor driving this is the Tamilnadu stateboard education system. Most of our college students know very little because we have taught them only that much. Simply put, the stateboard education system teaches close to nothing to students.

Tamilnadu students are classic examples of the frog in the well syndrome. There are apparently 600 guys in the state who get 200 each in Maths, Physics and Chemistry in their standard XII exam. The amount of cocaine needed to believe that this is a good statistic runs in kilograms. But somehow, this is touted as a good showing every year. I really want some of what the government officials are having.

Importantly, this idea has been sold to the people so magnificently that there is a sense of pride in choosing our own path, a feeling that justice has been done, etc. "Entrance exams rig the game in favour of city people and rich people, this marks-only scheme is a more level playing field" - this is what most people in the city are made to believe.

Tamilnadu has been drunk on watered-down material, inflated grades, and great jobs for close to 15 years now. When the state will pay the price, I do not know. That there is a price to be paid, I am sure of.

Some early signs are there. Large number of small companies based out of Chennai go to Bangalore to recruit (some go to Madurai, Truchy as well. In order to get good attitude. Chennai cannot offer that either).

Last year, IIM Kozhikode, in a fantastic gesture told Tamilnadu students that they could take their stateboard marksheets and shove it somewhere. In an overall scoring system where class X and XII marks play a role in securing admissions. Marks obtained in Tamilnadu stateboard exams have been given 50% weightage. In other words, if you scored 90% in CBSE board exams, you would 18 out of 20 for that section. If you scored 100% in Tamilnadu stateboard exams you would get 10 out of 20 in that section. Awesome. This is the clearest indicator of what the rest of the country thinks of our beloved board. I dont think any state government officials would even know about this. If they did, we would have heard of court case against it. It has a late 80s soviet Union spiel about it. (We live in our cocoon, we are the best. Repeat after me)

The qualification one holds is a signal. In a recruitment market with asymmetric information, the degree you hold tells the potential recruiter whether you are good, bad or rotten. The reputation of the college and the difficulty level of the course you have done determine what you are signaling to your recruiter.

The signals sent could be very simple

1. A person with a high score is likely to be good (whatever way good is defined us. let us keep this simple).
2. A person with a low score is unlikely to be good

The signal Tamilnadu education board has created is awesome. After years of effort they have developed this one-way signal, probably unique in the world

If a student scores high marks in Tamilnadu board, this means nothing.
If a student scores low marks in Tamilnadu board, this means he must be phenomenally dumb or should be so lazy that he just does not care. Or both.

So, with the TN board signal, you can either conclude that you know nothing about the candidate or that he is an idiot.

Now, we are heading towards Samcheer kalvi. God save the state.


  1. I think the pandemic is applicable for students across the nation. With the only saving grace, there is a certain level of tolerance towards not being an engineer

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