Citizen Talks

Education System needs a makeover

Umang Gupta is a graduate from IIT Madras in Engineering Design and is a resident of Mapusa, Goa. He currently works at the intersection of pedagogy and technology and teaches students over the weekend. He is passionate about education, design, and technology. He also indulges in gaming, reading and is a foodie. In conversation with Ila Dhond, Content Editor at What are the challenges in your opinion does a student face in the industry?

Umang: As a student when I joined the industry, 7 years ago, it was a strange experience. I struggled with managing time and I was unable to find perfect solutions to problems assigned to me. Additionally, I was expected to collaborate with people to finish tasks and use tools and software that I was unfamiliar with.

Today, students still face the same 4 challenges when they move from college to industry: managing time and work; finding workable but quick solutions to problems; collaborating; learning new tools fast enough.

Students struggle because most colleges do not prepare students for these challenges. In undergrad, one’s time is carefully planned by the college, assignments and questions almost always have a perfect solution, one usually tries to find solutions on their own (so collaboration is out of the window), and tools and software used are those designed for academia and not industry.

Sadly, there is no clear way to excel at these or prepare oneself for the challenges. While college events or societies/clubs come close to offering students an experience similar to working at an industry, they are not a perfect solution (and can sometimes come at the expense of academic knowledge). Having a growth-mindset and becoming a better learner seem to be the only sure-shot way to deal with these challenges when moving to an industry. However, it’s hard to design a curriculum/learning space that teaches students how to learn. Do you think patriarchy still exists in India?

Umang: Yes – a vehement ‘yes,’ sadly. It has largely become institutionalized in many systems like religion, academia, workplaces, families, governments, media, and more. Therefore, not only does it certainly exist but, more worryingly, has become incredibly hard to get rid of.

And with the advancements in AI & ML (Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning) in computing – which is often claimed as the solution that does not have common human failures – patriarchy is now going new places. Turns out that AI is just as good (or bad) as the data we feed it. And if this data is derived from sources with institutional patriarchy, then sexism and patriarchy become a part of AI as well. The recently launched AI powered Credit Card by Apple & Goldman Sachs seems to be a prime example of this.

The 2019 book ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Pérez – which talks about gender bias in data – opens with a quote by Simone de Beauvoir who wrote: “…humanity is male, and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being…He is the Subject, he is the Absolute — she is the Other.” Simone de Beauvoir wrote this in 1949. That is more than 70 years ago. Let that sink in.

While awareness of patriarchy in traditional systems has increased substantially since Simone de Beauvoir wrote her book ‘The Second Sex,’ seven decades later, we are still struggling to wipe out patriarchy. Now, patriarchy is ready to achieve new heights (or lows?) by becoming a part of nascent systems like AI – which most people barely understand and is already affecting our lives in significant ways we are not even aware of. What are your views on Government hospitals in Goa?

Umang: According to the data shared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the average number of people to beds in India was roughly 900 for the country in 2013. This means there were 900 people to every hospital bed almost a decade ago. The same dataset suggests that Goa’s average was closer to 600 – significantly better than the country average – which puts it in the top 10 states/UTs of the country (or top 5 if you consider states/UTs with at least 1 million people).

While these numbers may have worsened for all states in the last decade (owing to an increase in population), with some surveys suggesting a 2X worsening, it does bring to light the fact that Goa’s government healthcare system is much better positioned than other states.

Anecdotally speaking, having lived in Uttar Pradesh – which is in the bottom 3 of the list of people to bed ratio – I’ve seen the effects of over-burdening of a healthcare system, and therefore, have largely positive things to say about government hospitals in Goa. Additionally, my father has to regularly visit government hospitals for check-ups since he is an organ transplant patient, and he has had mostly good experiences – courteous doctors, moderate waiting lines and trained staff. Do you think women are safe in Goa?

Umang: While I have a dystopian view of women safety in India in general, I feel that women are safer in Goa compared to most other places in the country. However, a 2019 report from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that this notion might be incorrect. Goa reports more rapes per 1000 people than the national average.

A counter-argument to the report’s result – and in favour of Goa – can be that in other states many instances of crimes against women go unreported. However, even with that in mind, it seems that women are not safe in Goa (much like the rest of the country) but safer (arguably).

Some of my female friends suggest that they feel safer in Goa, compared to other states. How one feels can’t be the best marker for women-safety, but it does explain why many people – including myself – tend to believe that Goa is not as bad as other parts of the country when it comes to women safety. What opportunities do you see for youth in India?

Umang: Despite the recent slowdowns in the economy owing due to various factors, including COVID, India seems to be well-placed to become an even bigger economic force in the world in a few decades. I believe that’s because of two major reasons: India is a huge domestic market for various products and services; India has lots of solvable problems (in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and more) that hinder its growth.

The Indian youth has the opportunity to create scalable solutions to various problems using technology-based tools and services that were just not available two decades ago. Many developed countries solved some of these problems decades ago, so they are largely stuck with solutions that slow progress and growth. Case in point: India’s payment system is leagues ahead of the banking/payment system in the US, in part because it is younger and more modern solution.

Some of India’s most complex problems are in the education sector. Having spent seven years in this space, I feel that educated and tech-savvy youth are in a great position to leverage technology and become the educators of tomorrow. While teaching is not considered by many as glamorous, the potential to make it so – much like in many Scandinavian countries – is huge. With an Indian teacher, Ranjitsinh Disale, winning the 2020 Global Teacher Award recently and the funding for Indian EdTech start-ups at an all-time high, I’ve become quite optimistic about India’s future in education and see the youth as playing a pivotal role in helping India do for education what China did for manufacturing.

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