Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Teesri class pass

My daughter got her report card yesterday and today I picked up her books for class IV. Guess how much the entire lot weighs. TEN WHOLE KGS!

Each subject has a textbook, notebook and activity book. And there is a new subject this year - Marathi. Now you may not have to carry every book everyday and some notebooks are for the second term but you know how vague kids are despite having a timetable. My daughter routinely carries extra books for reasons I know not!

Maybe they should ask the contestants on paanchvi pass to carry around one of these bags. Being tez is one part of it, strong shoulders are another!

Incidentally CBSE had acknowledged this school bag issue 4 years ago but many schools haven't implemented the idea of keeping 50% of the books in class. Or providing lockers. It's too much of a headache for the management, I guess!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Energy efficient acs, anyone?

I like this ad by Voltas - it reminds me of my parents who installed 3 air conditioners when they shifted to a new house last year... but rarely use them.

Not that they are kanjoos but force of habit. Feeling that bill zyada aayega. Whereas my daughter, who has been sleeping in a/c practically since birth would have no second thoughts. And I, the in-between generation am somewhere in between. I do use the a/c without stressing about the bill but get an uneasy feeling about leaving it on for hours and hours.

The question I have however is: how much less energy does a Voltas a/c consume? And what impact does that have on your bill?

After all the manufacturer can claim anything. There is no independent third party I am aware of which certifies which a/cs are more efficient.

I own two Videocon split a/cs, my parents have Samsung and in the office we have Godrej installed. But who keeps track of how many hours which machine is used and co relates that with the bill? Also I guess it depends how hot it is and in Mumbai humidity is also a factor.

Incidentally, the Voltas type energy efficent a/cs are priced higher than other brands and hence it becomes all the more important to know what is the savings you get out of it.

Anyone who has done the research on this (or has the technical knowledge!) please do share!

P.S. For reasons I cannot fathom, the video refused to show when the embed code was pasted in blogger! So I have given a link wonly.

Update: Thanks to Sudhir for info on the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in India. I did look up the link and what do Ifind? Voltas has 10 models
in split acs of which ONE is rated 5 star and two are rated 4 star. There are 4 room acs, all of which are rated 2 star ( very low)

So in effect the ad is misleading. In fact the voice over states that yeh Voltas ka star rated ac hai - which is technically correct but not a big achievement. It's the number of stars that matters. And there is no fine print mentioning specific model nos.

The point is not misleading advertising alone. But when we as consumers buy these products thinking they are more green and/or more cost efficient we should be able to TRUST the manufacturer. This is not what we expect from the House of Tatas.

As for the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, it's not much help because what exactly does 1 star. 2 star etc convey to an ordinary layperson? The cooling capacity divided by power consumption is a meaningless ratio unless an illustrative example is provided. ie If I use all these air conditioners for 2 hours a day at 36 degrees outside temperature - how much energy do they consume.

Then I can figure out if it's worth paying more in the short run to save more in the long run.

Obviously the Energy Efficiency bureau is run by engineers - they need a communication expert!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Paanchvi paas hit hai

Caught the first episode of Kya aap paanchi paas se tez hain and I think it's a winner. Yes, it is completely old wine in a new bottle - KBC with a 'cute kids to help you out' but it's good fun to watch. Esp the idea that grown ups are allowed to 'cheat' ie use options like 'Taank jhaank' and 'Copy' to reach the next level.

Unlike KBC the show does not have a solemn feel to it - Shahrukh Khan is completely in his element. And there is no ghost of Amitabh lurking in the background.

Of course the Qs aren't really from 3rd and 4th standard textbooks. Sample this:
Category 1st standard, English: The English word for tulsi is ..... (answer is Basil)
Category 3rd standard, Science: Which part of the seed in a plant becomes the root. (options were Radicle, Lamina, Petiole. Answer: Radicle)

Nowhere in my daughter's 3rd standard textbooks did I see such detail. And she is studying in a CBSE school which is supposed to have higher standards than state board ! The kids are definitely 'coached' on the answers.

But as Nivedita says,"Aise hi kisi ko paanch crore de denge kya." Guess the 'paanchvi paas' bit is just to indicate these are relatively easy questions - you've covered all this at some point in your school life. It's just that you don't remember anymore.

Like this lady who came on tonight who happened to be a teacher. Poor thing, knew most of the answers but was never 100% sure and bowed out after winning 2 lakhs. What intrigued me more was why looked like she had just escaped from her own wedding - bright yellow kanjeevaram saree, blood red glass bangles and enough sindoor to give TV bahus a complex.

But Shahrukh Khan in his little waistcoat and the kids on the show were adorable. Besides, teacherji had such a nice smile. If more teachers laughed like that in their classroom we would all be more tez for sure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CTC Fundas - II

Thanks to all those of you who posted comments and the few who mailed me directly with your views/ experiences/ information on placement salaries.

I will compile the feedback and also various facts I have dug up shortly. But meanwhile I'd like to speak to some graduates from lesser known bschools who are offered CTCs which include a lot of variable (ie commission on sales) kind of pay. One of the companies whose names keeps coming up in this context is Indiabulls.

I'd also like anyone at all who is willing to speak on this MBA salary circus ON THE RECORD to drop me a line. Because there is no story without a name and face to it.

Am not asking you to 'rat' on your institute but discuss the general scenario and/ or your specific experience on camera. In order to educate and enlighten the MBA wannabe and their parents. Hai koi mai ka laal?

As always, drop me a line at rashmi_b@yahoo.com

They are like that only

In the late 90s Channel [V] a music channel coined the phrase 'We are like that only'. And it became a catchphrase for not just the channel, or the young people watching it but India itself.

The interesting thing was the end-piece. "Mind it!" That was the statement. Unapologetic, in your face. We know we're different and we're proud of it.

Ten years on, we have moved to the next level where we look at the foreign junta arriving to work and do business on our shores and shake our heads:"They are like that only." At the recent Cerebrate 'unconference' in Goa, this was certainly a recurring theme.

On day 1 over dinner there was an animated discussion on how Indian hotels have the best service in the world. "Europe is abysmal," was the general consensus. Besides, if you actually need 'help' don't count on it.

Kiruba's laptop was once stolen in Amsterdam and forget about doing anything. What rankled was they did not care. They played back the security camera video - which was duty, really - and that was that.

The second night over dinner there was an animated coversation about how politically correct Westerners are. Shriram Adukoorie, who runs Asklaila.com but spent many years at Microsoft shared how it is illegal to ask a job applicant any personal questions in the interview. ie Where do you live. How many kids do you have. How long does it take for you to commute.

Yada yada yada. Because you could be sued for discriminating against that person. If he lives far, how he will get to your office is his problem.

Hmmm. Sorry, we Indians don't buy that! A person is the sum of all his parts. In India, we would not consider some of these 'personal' Qs to be personal in the first place!

Sudhir went on to relate how a foreign client got 'lost' in the 5 minute walk from his hotel to their office. He was found trying to figure out how to cross the road (He was waiting for the traffic to stop! You know... politely and all that).

Looks like we in India are having the last laugh. After decades of facing questions like 'why do you have that red dot on your forehead' in their countries, we can now look at them struggling to eat a chapati with their hands and smile benignly,"Yeah, it will take you some time to learn that!"

And thus are born a new set of urban legends. Like this story I heard about a gora who went to a restaurant and after the meal was over, a bowl of warm water and lemon slice was placed before him. The chap had no clue he was supposed to use it to wash his oily-with-Indian-food hands. So he squeezed the lemon into the water, added some sugar and gulped it all down.

Now I am sure this story is probably untrue. I mean some helpful soul at the next table or the waiter would have alerted him but you know what - it does not matter. My daughter simply loves this story and tells it like a 'joke'.

Remember the old jokes where there was one American, one Russian and one Indian (mostly Sardarji) and you know who was the 'dumb' one. This kind of turns that joke on its head.

Of course I think in our heart of hearts we do envy the efficiency and 'ability to get things done' in Western and even south East Asian cultures. But we are seeing beauty in the chaos we live in.

The last day as we travelled back towards the airport in a bus there was a general consensus that a place like Singapore was too perfect, too neat and too convenient. No challenge, no excitement, no stimulation.

In Hindi we have a term for it called 'paasa palat gaya' or the tables have turned. Could you imagine ten years ago that we would see the problems and peculiarities of India as opportunities, instead of something to wail about?

And looking at some of the recent developments like the new airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad, or the spectacular Delhi metro, it looks like we willalso get things done.

In the longer run, how to retain our 'Indianness' minus the chaos is a question we should all be thinking about.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CTC fundas

I'd written a piece titled Bschool salaries: A reality check two years ago. Am looking to update it now and want to hear from you guys out there who've just passed out of bschool: is the spurt in salaries for real?

IIM A has put out an average domestic salary figure of Rs 17.85 lakhs p.a. this year. That's 40% more than the year 2007 (Rs 13.6 lakhs). And the 2007 figure was 40% more than the previous year 2006! (Rs 9.72 lakhs)

IIM A is only an indicative example, the same trend is seen all across bschools. Just a quick example: Shailesh J mehta SOM has declared an average salary of Rs 13.96lakhs p.a. in 2008 (44%jump over last year)

Is it really possible that bschool salaries are growing 40% y-o-y? I'm sure at least some of it is thanks to creative accounting?? What are the latest white lies placement committees are telling to stay ahead in the salary race?

Drop me a line at rashmi_b@yahoo.com if you'd like to share what you know. Especially the component of variable pay... If the 'average' is Rs 17.85 lakhs p.a. what I want to know is what's your monthly take home pay?

This info is especially relevant in light of the fee hike by IIMs! The idea is not to point fingers but give aspirants a sense of what lies ahead - minus the hype.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What's in a name?

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's 'Tipping Point' chapter on baby names I have an upper middle class India version:

The most popular name for girls these days are:
a) Simran
b) Isha/ Ishita/ Ishani
c) Anushka/ Anusha

The most popular name for boys these days is... drumroll.. Aditya! Followed by Aman and Aryan.

'A' is the most popular letter for boy names.

And complicated Sanskrit sounding names are all the rage - don't know how many are real and how many invented. Perhaps all the new baby name books are responsible. Here's a sample of some of the most unusual ones I found (in case any of you soon-to-b is looking!):

- Rwik
- Yudhajeet
- Sidhisha
- Balaharihar
- Mrigankshekhar
- Vamshikha
- Vedshri
- Shrujal
- Hrudansh
- Advik
- Shubhecha
- Sanjuti
- Arikta
- Argaja
- Rushaan
- Mannan
- Avishka
- Aryamitra
- Mannkushi
- Joushura
- Pratyay
- Vartul
- Rameesha
- Poorvija
- Nishyavitha
- Arkoprabha
- Yatharth
and... Blessly

In case you're wondering, all the names and my analysis is based on the pamphlet distributed at Apeejay school, Nerul on the primary section 'Appreciation Day' held yesterday.

Yeah they don't call it 'annual day' or 'prize distribution' like in the old days because there are no exams till class 5. So no question of distributing certificates to the kids who stood 1st, 2nd and 3rd!

334 kids were on stage and we parents had to keep ourselves amused through various mandatories like the Principal's speech. So now you know the secret... Would be interesting to collect data from various schools and cities and do an in-depth study!

I do think Simran is probably the result of DDLJ. And Isha and Anushka too are celeb-inspired. The kids were all 6-10 years old which is just around the time the likes of Esha Deol and Anushka Shankar came into the public eye.

As for the complicated new names in fashion the interesting thing is that in New Bombay parents are trying to be unique, but Indian. I am sure if the same survey were to be conducted in Bandra or Andheri you'd find more globally acceptable Anglo-inventions like Tia, Anya, Sonya and so on. But I don't know for sure.

Incidentally, my daughter played the role of a 'tree'. She was on stage for a full half hour but we spent 20 minutes trying to figure out which tree she was. Finally I realised it was the one swaying the most.

But never mind - making the tree out of thermacole and cardboard was a lot of fun. We rescued it and it's now making her room a more colourful place.

Just like all these names. The days of Ram, Shyam, Seeta, Geeta seem to be over but you never know. If retro clothing can return, so could retro in names!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Welcome to Reservistan

Unable to fall asleep, I switched on the TV and found the SC judgement on OBC reservations dominating the news. The strange part was two different channels had two different versions of the same news.

CNN IBN claims IIMs are delaying admission letters by a week. And IIM Lucknow will implement the quota after 3 years.

Times Now says that Supreme Court is split on the question of whether quotas apply to post grad institutes. 3 out of 5 have ruled against, and hence the reservations do not apply to IIMs and AIIMS. The same view is reflected on rediff.com by lawyer K Venugopal.

But there's more confusion.

The creamy layer is excluded but it is unclear who will define this layer and ensure the provision is implemented. There is also no clarity on important issues like:

- Does 27% reservation mean reservation of existing seats or will seats be increased as per declarations made by the government when this row first broke out in 2006.

- What will be the relaxation of entry criteria for OBCs? Will it be MANDATORY to fill these 27% seats even if an IIT is unable to get enough candidates who fulfil the relaxed criteria?

- Reservations should not be 'in perpetuity'. So how about at least reviewing SC/ ST reservations, to see the impact they have made so far. And also the OBC reservations implemented by some states?

Personally I do not believe reservation for OBCs is justified - if creamy layer is excluded then may as well make reservations for ALL on economic criteria alone. If we are to go the reservation route in the first place.

But if the Supreme Court has made its ruling, we have to accept it. And we have to figure out how to implement the quota in the spirit of the verdict, which is to uplift the underprivileged.

This would mean remedial measures and extra all round attention. Some would say it can't be done, that intervention is required at primary school level and not at age 16. 17. But let's say because of this verdict we have to try to compensate at college instead.

I think some % of the students will rise to the challenge. And they will become part of the mainstream as far as jobs and peers go. The rest will be absorbed by the government sector where OBC reservation is already in place...

Will the quality of the institutions suffer? Well, it might but I just can't get worked up about it anymore. Market forces will decide.

If quality suffers a great deal, students and recruiters will migrate elsewhere. Private institutions will blossom to fill the vaccum. The government might then say, private institutes also have to reserve seats. And also private companies. That may or may not be upheld by the courts.

The merry go round will continue. Whether 'social justice' can be engineered thus I don't think we will know - in our lifetime.

Monday, April 07, 2008

CAT goes online - II

Clarification on IIM CAT website

In view of increasing number of candidates IIMs are considering various alternatives for modifying the process of conducting CAT, if necessary. Online testing is one of those alternatives. The proposals are at the preliminary stage of discussion.

So whether it will happen in November 2009, or 2010, or even happen at all is still very open.

I spoke to John Gabriel, CMO, of IMS Learning resources to get a sense of how going online could affect students and their test prep. This is the gist of what he had to say:

CAT going online has several advantages but a few disadvantages as well.

It is a huge logistical exercise. When XAT tried an online test a few years ago it failed because they had no generator back up (electricity failure being a common problem in India!). But then CAT will not be a simultaneous but a staggered test.

- If they adopt the computer adaptive model (which I think they will), it will be a better way of assessing students. You can't do well just by chance or 'tukka'.
- The current D-day system creates a lot of stress for students. Some students fall sick or simply have a bad day.
- Greater flexibility for students is always welcome, they can schedule test according to exams or any other contingencies

Of course we don't know several things:
- Will the CAT score be provided right after the test, as in GMAT? That would be a major advantage because you know where you stand. If you score 98 percentile you need not give many other exams and apply to more colleged 'just in case'. The student would save quite a lot of money.

- Are you allowed to repeat the exam, say one month later? This would give those who have not done so well a second chance.

- The number of students taking CAT is growing year on year by about 30%. Most of the growth is coming from small towns.

Currently CAT is held in 23-24 centres. Will the online CAT also be held across that many centres? If not, the cost of test goes up for small town students. They will have to travel to the exam centre.

- Also, would everyone have access to practising on a computer? If not they will have to pay and use cybercafes.

The question is: how many students, even in metros are really computer savvy. Adapting to change will take time.

eg There are long (and boring) reading comprehension passages. Right now you can underline some portions, flip the page back and forth. That is what we are used to. Reading long passages on screen and scrolling up and down is difficult

Impact on coaching classes
IMS will still get students to their classroom courses because:
1) Discipline - students wish to come to a class, where there are peers and have a study pattern of some kind to motivate them
2) Conceptual clarity - they wish to clarify basics from peers and a live teacher.
3) Readiness: Application of interlinked concepts within a problem and improved test preparedness
4) Testing - IMS already does extensive SIMCATs and trains 50% of the market for GMAT (which is an online test)

So there should not be a problem in providing online modules which students can take at home and get instant feedback, performance tracking etc.

I would add: The biggest challenge is in tackling numbers. Currently the only other online management exam is NMAT. But they I just discovered have/ had 2 versions: a written test and acomputer based one. Students seem to feel they have a better chance of admissions with the written version.

Am not even sure if there is an online version anymore as it is not mentioned anywhere on the NMIMS website A call to the institute confirms that the NMAT for full time MBA is a written test. And they did not seem to know what happened to the online option.

That leaves us with BITSAT. In 2007 BITSAT was taken by close to 1 lakh students as an online test, in a staggered manner. This was 30% more than the 68, 466 who took BITSAT in 2006.

The test was conducted in 16 centres across 35 days. Not clear who is the technical partner.

And really, NUMBERS is what makes this entire exercise so staggering. In 2007 655, 506 GMAT scores were reported (no of test takers is less as many take it more than once). The nos taking GMAT from India is close to 14,000 and rising.

In India, GMAT is administered by Prometric across 9 centres.

As per wikipedia, GMAT also administers written tests in 'international locations where an extensive network of computers has not yet been established'.But I don't think it's practical to have a hybrid model for CAT...

I do think this is a difficult to implement idea. But if done correctly, it will ultimately benefit students.

Anyways, you are safe if giving CAT this year. Aage dekhte hain hota hai kya!

CAT goes online

Ending months of speculation the IIMs recently annnounced that the CAT exam is going online from November 2009.

Now this raises several issues. As the TOI notes:

If the exam goes online, not all students will be able to take the exam on the same day as is the case now. The exam will have to be conducted in staggered batches within a window period of a few months. The other change will be that instead of the current single exam paper, the online test will have several different papers of the same level of difficulty.

The report also notes that the exam will be 'similar' to GMAT and GRE except that the results will not appear instantly.

However, I am not sure if that is factually correct. The GMAT and GRE follows a Computer Adaptive model. As the Princeton Review explains:

The computer adapts the test to how you answer the questions. You’ll start off the test with a question of medium difficulty - if you answer it correctly, question number two will get a bit more challenging. Get that one right, and question number three gets harder still. The opposite is true as well. This system continues until you get to the end of the section and your ability level on that subject is determined.

Will the CAT also go the computer adaptive way or will it be a random set generated each time from a master bank of questions? We don't know yet.

Change is always difficult to accept and there may be some hiccups. But I am sure a way will be found to ensure the test is 'fair', computer adaptive or otherwise

Currently there are two admission tests in India which are solely online:
a) BITSAT - for BITS Pilani, Goa (and now Hyderabad)
b) NMAT - for NMIMS

Any of you who've experienced these tests, pls do drop me a line at rashmi_b at yahoo.com with your contact number. Folks who've taken GRE/ GMAT - I'd like to hear from you as well.

And of course, all are welcome to join in the discussion in the comments!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

No more IITs, we need Indian Institute of Talent

Sorry to be cynical about it, but this whole announcement of 4 new IITS and 6 new IIMs is nothing more than an election year carrot for middle class India.

First of all, do we need more IITs and IIMs in this day and age? This is not the 1960s or 70s when the concept of management or engineering education was a new one. And hence the government played the role of catalyst, evangelist and capitalist - all in one.

Now, it's more like mere neighbouring state mein ek IIT hai, mujhe bhi chahiye. Jaise Vijay Sales mein LCD TV dekh kar aayr aur socha, ek din hamare ghar mein bhi hoga.

Today there are 1600 engineering colleges and 1000 + bschools in India. The demand for these courses is being met adequately by private enterpreneurs. You can dispute the quality of many of these institutes but the thing to do then is to institute mechanisms to improve that quality.

"Building one more quality institute' will not address the problem. Assuming you can genuinely build quality - not just affix the tag IIM onto a good looking campus and take in all the wait listed students off the existing IIMs.

Speaking of mechanisms AICTE urgently needs to a makeover. The class bully cum school monitor approach is clearly not working. We need a regulatory body, but one which is effective, impartial and recognises that excellence is not just about square feet of campus area but academic integrity and intellectual capital.

So should the government completely exit higher education? I'm not saying that. But I think its role has to be more of playing the pioneer, of entering new and virgin territories.

So a National Law School University was an excellent idea and several more such institutes have come up along the same lines. This has certainly resulted in more bright young people taking up law as a career.

Let's take education as an example of a career the government could pick up and invest in. If you set up an IIT-IIM-NID like instiute of excellence where entry is based on a prestigious national entrance exam, I am sure that within 5 years the teaching profession as a whole would become respectable.

And there would be recruiters willing to pay attractive salaries to these graduates.

But going back to the whole concept of IITs and IIMs, I think the time has come to abandon this compartmentalised approach. Let's recognise that most students who join these institutes are not doing so out of deep interest in technology or management. They are in it for the chhaapa and the placement.

The situation is especially bad in case of IITs because the students are 17-18 years old. And they've slogged so hard to get in to the institute, many have little interest in what they actually study on campus.

So if I were the government I would set up an IIT which is an Indian Institute of Talent. You come in, get exposure to a number of different subjects (engineering, science, commerce and arts) and then in your 3rd year choose a
specialisation in one or the other subject which turns you on. Basically, the American university model where undergraduate education is all about choices. Not 'the best course I could get in with my marks'.

Come to think of it, we do not have any institution in India where Arts, Commerce, Science, Engineering, Design, Music, Medicine and Management co-exist on a single campus. At best we put up techno campuses where a medical, dental and engineering may co-exist.

The IITs are in fact the only technical institutes with Humanities departments but these depts don't enjoy the same status and importance as others because an undergrad cannot major in these subjects.

Imagine how much human potential would be freed if we de-linked 'intelligence' from the study of technical subjects. Left to themselves, we would find students who choose to major in organic chemistry out of love for the subject, not JEE rank.

And maybe we wouldn't need more IIMs to escape to... after graduating in 'I never cared for this' kind of subjects!

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