Image: Manish Sinha for Forbes India
Anand Kumar starts the interview by setting the context. “Let’s get the math right,” says the mathematician. Edtech today, underlines the man behind ‘Super 30’—a programme that provides free IIT entrance coaching to 30 students from the poorest families every year—has one dominating theme. “The focus is not on how much children are learning. The emphasis is on the valuation of the startup, on how much funding it gets,” Kumar laments, explaining how the education ecosystem in India has undergone a deplorable change over the last few decades. A few decades back, he lets on, the biggest compliment for a teacher was when students would come to them say: kya padhate hain, sir (you teach so well). Then the equation tilted more towards parents, who started valuing teachers solely on the basis of number of students who cleared engineering or medical entrance. The praise now: ‘Kya exam clear karate hain, sir (you make them pass so well). “Now the admiration for a teacher is kahan padhate hain, sir (where do you teach),” he says in a free-wheeling interview with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:
On the ‘business’ of education
Who turned it into a business? Who glamourised it? When media writes about the hefty package of the guys from IIT and IIM at the campus placement, what kind of message are we conveying to the parents, kids and all stakeholders? When you talk about the valuation, unicorns and the funding of edtech, what are you portraying? There are news and features about top rich Indians. But have we seen anything about top teachers of India or top scientists of India? The only yardstick to judge a person is how much money is he earning or how much funding he is getting into his venture. When success gets equated with money, it’s natural for education to turn into a business. It’s a sorry state of affairs.
On the role of parents
They are more concerned about how many marks have been scored by their wards. They are more bothered about their kids making it to IIT or medicine. They will spend whatever it takes to enrol them in all kinds of coaching. But have they asked if their child has done something creative? Has she written a poem? Has she learnt a new art or is she interested in some sports? Nobody asks a child to solve a mathematical problem in four different ways. We are just turning our kids into machines being programed just to earn money when they grow up. Every parent wants the best teacher for their children, but ask them: Would they like their kids to take teaching as a career? If not, from where will we get good teachers? We treat our kids like an ‘unfinished mission.’ What we couldn’t do, we want our kids to become or achieve. The only reason I am successful today, if you think I am, is that my parents never put any pressure on me. They let me be whatever I wanted to be. That’s the biggest gift a parent can give, not fancy mobiles, costly gifts or cars.
On decoding the coding mania
Indians, especially the ones from middle class, buy dreams. And a good businessman, a seller, knows this inherent weakness of the buyer. So they sell dreams, unrealistic dreams. They play on the mentality and mindset of the buyer. Take, for instance, what any parent does when they go shopping. The first priority is the kid. They will cut down on their expenses, but will want the best for their kids. What are the coding guys selling? They are also showing a dream: The kids who learn coding at an early age will become a prodigy, successful in life, and end up joining a big MNC or at best will make some app and earn millions. The reality, unfortunately, is nowhere close to the dream. I will share an instance which will expose how coding business is happening in India. Last week, a friend of mine who is unmarried, gets a call from one of the coding startups. The bait is tempting: 50 percent off if you get your son into the coding class. It’s ridiculous. That guy doesn’t have a family. You are selling a comb to a bald person. The outrageous part is how the guy on the call sweetens the deal. “Your wife came with your son last week for a free class. So we will give an additional 10 percent off if he enrols.” Imagine!On mushrooming coaching centres
Look at what is happening at Kota or other coaching centres. The parents didn’t care if the child wanted to study science or medicine. They just sent them with unrealistic pressure and a dream. The coaching guys didn’t check the aptitude of the kids. They just want headcount because it means money. What’s the end result? Suicide. The failure tag is too grim for the child to bear. There are parents in Bihar who sell their land to send their children to Kota or other centres.
On paucity of good teachers
Who is getting into this profession out of choice? Find out. The need of the hour is to find passionate people into teaching. India need teachers who can make things simple for students, who can simplify and explain even the complex of things.
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(This story appears in the 23 April, 2021 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)