Sunday, February 06, 2005

I am so bored reading research papers. A lot of academics are sloppy writers and cannot construct an elegant argument to save their lives. Maybe they are failed journalists and authors mostly, who knows. But how can someone take something as interesting as the complexities of business and trade, and the energy of ports and transform it into droll pedantry is beyond me. And it's made wading through books and papers at times a painful task. It is so easy to get distracted when you also have 24-hour ethernet.

Yesterday for inexplicable reasons, or for reasons I'd rather not explain to myself, I was looking for information on the Indonesian senior secondary exams (EBTANAS-equivalent to the Indian 12th Boards) and University entrance (SPMB). What I was able to find set me thinking about the delicate balance in public purpose that state education policies strive to. Now, my comprehension of Bahasa Indonesia is rudimentary and mostly derivative of my equally dodgy knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian and English. But still it seemed to me that at least the Mathematics exam for EBTANAS covered less material and was easier than the Indian 12th Board exams (I took CBSE, some state boards are more difficult). The University entrance Mathematics exam was certainly no match for the Indian engineering and medical entrance exams.

Both the EBTANAS and SPMB have multiple-choice answer sheets, which was baffling to me. But then I realised that for an exam conducted nation-wide, there would be regular controversies over marking and biases if there is no multiple choice. Also, it seemed that unlike India, it wasn't assumed that the natural progression after high school is to move to university education, hence a separate exam for university entrance. There seemed more emphasis on widespread literacy at least at the school level. There are fewer university students and even fewer students at the Masters and PhD level. I don't know which approach is a better one, to spread the resources out so everyone can at least get some education, ensuring a trained manufacturing and lower-paying service sector workforce or concentrating all energies on training highly skilled professionals. I think India loses out on the manufacturing investment, due to poor labour productivity (poor education and skill sets). But then it gains R&D and high-end service and manufacturing jobs.

I do think though that the Indonesian achievements primary education is worth emulating for India, though their higher education system has been criticised as sub-standard by many. The conditions that enabled Indonesia to achieve what it did don't exist in India though. A uniform national education system, one national language and strong central rule (in the days of Suharto). Not that I'm saying any of these are necessarily desirable. The strong centre days are over in Indonesia and I wonder if any of the changes would affect education as well. Anyway, it was fun taking the EBTANAS Mathematics test online and trying to guess what the Bahasa Indonesia questions were all about.

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