Monday, Oct 18, 2021

Chennai Corner

If you a “Madrasi” you are super brainy because you eat curd rice and end up in an IIT. That’s been the stereotype for many years. But it’s a stereotype whose time is gone.

Chennai Corner
Chennai Corner

The secret weapon

The only question is why it took so long—the agitation is nearly two months old—for the centre to deploy its secret weapon, former President A.P.J. Kalam, whose visit on Sunday is apparently already weakening the agitation against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) on which the government has already spent Rs 13,000 crores and which was close to commissioning. Not to mention that the PM is a big votary of nuclear energy. It only seems to be a manifestation of the catatonia that has set into the PM Manmohan Singh government.

The church, whose backing had given the anti-nuclear activists the support they needed, has already given the word to its parishioners to distance themselves from the agitation. The 10-point action plan suggested by Mr Kalam that includes development of the surrounding villages and creation of 10,000 jobs has struck a responsive chord. In fact, after a 90-minute meeting with the 15-member expert panel on Tuesday, activists whose agitation centred on “stop work at KKNPP” now say they will settle for a white paper and CM Jayalalitha’s approval for maintenance work to continue at the plant. “Let them get permission from the CM,” activist M Pushparayan said. The protestors have cleverly again anointed Jayalalitha as the heroine and Manmohan Singh as the villain.

Even DMK chief Karunanidhi has indicated obliquely that he wants KKNPP to go ahead by saying, ”The former President thinks before he talks.” In other words, Kalam’s 10-point plan is the way out of the impasse.

Cosmetic changes

Unlike elsewhere where it makes big news, whenever CM Jayalalitha carries out a cabinet reshuffle, it’s all part of the package that is the AIADMK supremo—her actions are unquestioned within the party. Last week, she dropped six ministers and brought in six others in her third reshuffle in six months as the CM. No questions asked and no dissidence, publicly at least.

Within two months of returning as CM, there were two cabinet reshuffles. She dropped a minister—Essaki Subbiah— for his alleged links with the DMK and inducted a new one and reallocated some portfolios. Also, it must be mentioned that two of her ministers have died, one soon after she took over in a road accident and the other of cancer last month.

The new faces inducted are S. Damodaran, R. Kamaraj, Dr.S. Sundararaj, M. Paranjothy, V. Moorthy and K.T. Rajendhra Balaji. The ones dropped are C. Shanmugavelu, S.P. Shanmuganathan, N.R. Sivapathy, Buddhichandaran, G. Senthamizhan and Udayakumar. The first three were dropped allegedly because of the dismal performance by the AIADMK in the local body polls in areas they were overseeing. G. Senthamizhan was reportedly shown the door by Amma because of his alleged actions including his recent phone call to police to release arrested AIADMK supporters. Buddhichandran went allegedly because of allegations of corruption and Udhayakumar’s exit showed that with amma sycophancy does not pay. It may be recalled that Udhayakumar (then IT minister) refused to wear footwear in the CM’s presence because “Amma is God”. He continued to go barefoot even in meetings with industrialists despite the CM ordering him to wear footwear. The silver lining is that now he can wear footwear because he is not going to get the chance to be in the CM’s presence ever again!

Dogged by CAT

IIMs are not the favourite haunt of Tamil Nadu’s students apparently. Among the metros, the least numbers registering were from Chennai—6.2 per cent. Delhi had the highest registering for CAT (10.3 per cent), followed by Mumbai (9 per cent), Bangalore (8.9 per cent), Hyderabad (6.4 per cent). Interestingly out of the 13,000 who registered from TN, 12,800 were from Chennai alone. One theory is that Chennai’s students struck gold at the placements this year and therefore are not looking to do an MBA at an IIM, at least not till they get some work experience. But CAT 2011 convenor, Prof C Janakiraman Murthy, says, “Chennai could be sending fewer candidates (in absolute numbers) because it is smaller than the other cities.”

Cram shops?

If you a “Madrasi” you are super brainy because you eat curd rice and end up in an IIT. That’s been the stereotype for many years. But it’s a stereotype whose time is gone. Check this out— the number of students from TN joining IITs this year is just 290 which is 2.2 per cent of the total students who joined these premier institutions of learning. Last year, 275 (2.17 per cent) enrolled.

Contrast this with students from Andhra Pradesh—a whopping 2,693. Long live Ramaiah and other IAS coaching sweat shops! Professor Anandkrishnan who is not known to mince his words says that he gets incensed when he sees newspaper advertisements inviting students to join their classes that “coach” a student to pass or get high marks in engineering subjects. “We must see if it is possible to have a new generation of students who will not just be satisfied with covering the syllabus, but whose curiosity will be piqued by subjects such as astronomy,” he said. Is he asking for the moon?

There were 1,931 and 1,604 students from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh respectively. And of the 290 enrolling this year, 244 came from Chennai and 36 from Tiruchy.

Apparently TN youngsters could not be bothered with cramming—which you should do if you want to take the Joint Entrance Exam—because they are certain of getting a seat in the 450-odd engineering colleges all over the state even if they scrape through. The other side of the coin is that in the nine months this year, 8 students have committed suicide at IITs all over India—a majority of them at IIT Madras—so perhaps it’s a good thing that TN students don’t want the pressure of an IIT and prefer the engineering colleges here.

A professor at IIT-Madras confesses that students who are spoon-fed at these coaching institutions and who are used to swotting to max their exam papers are at sea when they enroll at these prestigious institutions and have to find their own way. Professors come and lecture, but the bulk of the work including reading up in the library has to come from a student with initiative and drive. There have been four suicides in IIT-M alone this year which is also an indication of how much academic pressure there is, but well rounded students are better able to cope with it.

But learning for the sake of knowledge seems to be in the realm of a dream at the moment.

Playground of Corrupt

It might be a cliché but many of the engineering colleges are in name only with massive edifices built on sprawling acres of land all over the state, but with very poor infrastructure and faculty. “If I had the authority, I would close down 50 per cent of the engineering colleges in the state. They have ruined technical education. The colleges have become the playground of corrupt politicians,” Professor M Anandkrishan, currently chairman of IIT-Kanpur formerly VC of Anna University, says.

An example of what Professor Anandkrishan is talking about is the College of Agriculture Technology which doubled as a marriage hall till recently. The college, about nine kilometers from Theni, had 100 students who were forced to attend classes at the marriage hall for last 40 days at least while the building for the college was still being constructed at Kullapuram nearby. And why did the marriage hall double up as a college? Elementary, because the owner Balaraman owns both. And students who had been promised “hostel” accommodation, were fed from the leftover of the marriage feast, and when there was a wedding they were taken on an “educational tour” so marriage guests could be accommodated. A parent says his daughter was misled by the college website which carried pictures of the campus, “She’s crying over having to eat leftover food and that too after paying admission fees of Rs 45,000.” CAT dean A Balakrishnan defended the arrangement saying, “It was only temporary.” But, the point that it underlines is that education is a business like renting marriage halls!!

In fact Professor Anandkrishan had spoken on this issue too last October. He criticized the evaluation of colleges based on the rank list by Anna University as “a meaningless and senseless method (of rating institutions)”. “If 600 people appear for an exam and six of them get ranks, does that make the institution great? It is sad that colleges are rated this way. This is not done anywhere in the world. Instead of rating institutions on things like infrastructure and pass percentage, they rate them on ranks which does not make sense because we do not know how these students have got the ranks. It could just be because of the anticipated question, expected answers method.” He found it “shocking” to see education being taken so “casually.”

Leave the kids alone

Another example of how badly maintained our institutions are is the one about how a teenaged girl student died when she was scared into jumping from the second floor of the Government Arts and Science College at Karaikal last month by an aggressive monkey perched on the parapet. The girl, Nisha, came early and went up to the terrace and that’s where she encountered the monkeys. The college is overrun by monkeys but nothing has been done. But what can you expect from a union territory where a minister P.M.L. Kalyanasundaram has so far managed to stave off arrest after being charged with getting a proxy to write his supplementary exam at a centre in Villipuram recently. A school teacher and an official of the education department have been named as being complicit in this crime.

Last heard the minister had gone missing with both the AIADMK and Youth Congress announcing rewards respectively of Rs 50,000 and Rs 1,000 for information on him. The embarrassment for C.M. Rangaswamy led to him ordering Kalyanasundaram to show up. In his first appearance since the “proxygate” controversy broke out, Kalyanasundaram came to his office on October 24. The “wanted” posters by the opposition parties had been put up when he continued to be missing although the police issued two summons and even approached the assembly Speaker on two occasions.


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