Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Is bullet train costly?

1 lakh crore – total money invested in one train line which connects two important cities of India. Is it a political move or well thought of investment?

How would we evaluate public infrastructure projects? Usually a road or a bridge is made to reduce the travel time so citizens can spend more time in productive activities which eventually increase the GDP.

Now the GDP is increased when the most productive citizens of the country are helped. So a bullet train had to be around the financial capital of the country as that’s where most millionaires are residing. So the bullet train cannot be built only were there are lot of people, however a place where high income population is residing. So in the 500 km radius the maximum tax paying citizens are residing from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.

Another evaluation criteria is the cost per km of the road or the bridge. It is not the total quantum matters as the longer the project, more people benefit. Here are a list of few project with their cost per km and the year in which they were made:

Sr. No.
Name of the Project
Cost per KM
Year of Construction
Present cost (Rough Estimate)
Bandra Worli Sea link
285 crore
350 crore
Chenani-Nashri Tunnel
400 crore
400 crore
Delhi Metro Project
323 crore
400 crore
Ahm-Vadodara Express Way
5 crore
75 crore
Yamuna Expressway
78 crore
100 crore
Eastern Expressway Mumbai
85 crore
120 crore
Ahm- Mumbai Bullet Train
200 crore
(To be seen)

If we consider the cost per kilometer of projects as compared with Bullet train – it is cheaper than comparable projects. Only the highway projects are cheaper than bullet train however such projects take years to complete because of complex land acquisition and its hidden costs.

It is also to be seen how much time does a project save per crore invested. Looking at the speed of the bullet train, which is the fastest than any such project it is going to save maximum time. In fact the total travel time will be lesser than air travel which is going to help a lot to increase the GDP.

Another important part of bullet train is environment friendly travel. While airport and highway will need crude oil to travel and emit green house gases – a bullet train will consume electricity which can be from renewable sources.

If we consider scalability than also the train track once laid can have a lot of trains – about one going every 10 mins. While highways / airports get crowded very easily and are not scalable to 10 times their present capacity.

Highways have a high fatality rate with 14 lakh road deaths in India annually it is a big risk. Shinkansen technology having zero fatalities in last 50 years may be the solution to Indian traveler woes.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Teacher’s Registry can make teaching a true profession

When I became a Chartered Accountant, I was given a number. This number is my permanent affiliation number with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India which is the authority to monitor the CA profession in India. With this number the Institute tracks a CA’s  employment status, any complaints for that CA, how many trainee articles are registered with the CA, how many audit he is doing – as there are limits to number of audit a CA can do. So if you wish to take services of any CA- either full time or part time then you just need to know the registration number and the birthdate and you can get the profile on the Institutes website. You can see the past employment and qualification date and several other details. 
Such kind of registry is common for various professionals. For example, the Rehabilitation Council of India has a list of all professionals who have been approved by them. One can visit the website and check with the registration number and get full details of any registered candidate. 
Imagine such an online searchable registry for teachers. A board like CBSE can maintain such a registry and schools can search for teacher’s details like:

1. Date of qualification
2. Experience till date 
3. Achievements and Awards 
4. Subjects taught in which standards 
5. Training programs attended 

This could help parents also gauge the teacher and see what kind of teachers does the school employ. A well experienced teacher would have a good online profile. These days there is a concept of posting online reviews. So parents who want to put review of the teachers can do so which can help teacher tremendously while searching for better job in the same city or anywhere across India. 
There is a teacher shortage in India and such an effort can help us motivating youth with joining the teaching profession and build a long term stable career with it. Publishing statistics of teachers in various cities and states can also help migrants to decide where job opportunities can be more. 
This can also double up as a recruitment portal and schools across India can find quality teachers from there. 
Long time ago Medical colleges recruited less doctors and on the day of inspection they would borrow doctors from other colleges and show them as if they were employed full time. However a unique registration number can be linked to each affiliation ID of the school such a practice can be stopped. 
CBSE has strict guidelines as far as number of teachers, qualifications and experience. Such a system can help implement everything with watertight enforcement.   

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Will there be more number of Children in future?

The world population is 7.3 billion people and ever since the number has crossed 1 billion critics say that world cannot sustain more people. Well as of now they have proved wrong. But what will be future? When will the global population growth end?

My grandfather had 13 siblings while my father had 5 siblings and I had 1. About 99% of people of my father’s age group have no more than 2 children, even though they had more than 2 siblings. So what changed in one generation and why the average number of children in a house hold has fallen drastically?
I am a big fan of Prof Hans Rosling, who has numerous videos online explaining how the population will grow in future. He says that religion and number of babies per woman has little correlation. 

The important factors affecting the number of babies per woman are:
1.      Infant mortality
2.      Education of mother
3.      Income growth 
4.      Increased age at marriage
5.      Increase in working women

According to Prof Rosling the world population will peak at 10 billion and not cross above that number. He has various statistical models behind this number. However the interesting number is that we have reached the “child peak”. We are not going to have any more number of children than we already have. Due to increase in life expectancy even though we will always have 2 billion children the total world population will increase by 3 billion and stay there.

So for a school what is the future? If the number of children in the world are not going to increase why do we still need new schools and will they have enough children to sustain the infrastructure?

 The answer is in migration and change in the needs of parents.

70% of India stays in villages. In any developed economy not more than 25% of the country would stay in villages. So even if we hope in next 10 years we achieve 50% urbanisation we are talking of 24 crore people coming to stay in cities. So if they come and stay in top 100 cities it will be adding 2.4 lakh people in each city every year. They will bring children with them and they will need education. So schools need to be built in cities.

Another major problem is change in needs of the parents. Earlier Gujarati medium schools were in demand. Now English medium school are in demand. In metros people are preferring CBSE school so taking a job transfer from one city to another is not difficult. The rich prefer international schools which have a different standard all together. So schools will need to change themselves with changing times. Earlier having swimming and horse riding as part of school curriculum sounded far-fetched. Today there are few schools already providing that and in future small schools will close down and such modern schools will increase.

AC in School, a luxury or a necessity?

A school with proper fans, light and toilet facilities was a dream come true for most Indians few decades ago. I remember children coming from other schools to my school used to appreciate the number of tube lights / fans in the class.
These days the expectations of parents have increased. Today AC has become an expectation and several school across India are meeting that. Children themselves are used to AC more than ever before. Malls, airport and own homes are all AC. Its normal to get used to comfort and children get used to comfort of AC quite fast. Also the global warming has led to temperatures which are beyond the bearable capacity. To make children even play at such a temperature is difficult, let alone study.

Indian Railways launched “Garib Rath” in 2005 targeting at poor people, as mentioned in the name. Even that train was fully air-conditioned. This means that officially AC is no more a luxury but a necessity. Remember that was 10 years ago.

The founding father of modern Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew (who died recently -23 March 2015), mentioned in one of his interview that his biggest achievement in his life was doing all government offices AC. He said that AC for tropical climate was a boon and it boosted productivity. In his entire life he has not done anything more important than buy AC for offices!

So will AC help in schools?
I have interacted with a few school administrators and teachers who have recently implemented AC in their school. There has been a major improvement in student’s attention span. The children drink less water as they perspire less and they take less bathroom breaks. This leads to more time spent on education.
A major benefit of AC would be reduction of noise from outside the classroom. Air cutting noise of Fans make lecture delivery difficult also. So with AC teacher has to shout less and that way teachers get less tired which improves the quality of their work.

AC rooms will be closed so the entry of mosquitoes is less. As we all know the cases of dengue are very high and such preventive measures are required. Air pollution levels have also increased in India. Dust particles and pollutants are reduced in AC as there is an air filter which cleans the air.

I personally think that India is developing fast and the expectation of parents are changing fast. Even government has been upgrading itself as people are demanding it. I am sure the day is not far that it will be assumed that all A grade primary school will be AC. This will positively impact the academic performance of the students in the medium term, more than any other improvement in the school infrastructure.

Childhood Obesity : A life-long problem?

Obesity is recognised as the number 1 health problem in US. This is part of lifestyle diseases which come with the improvement of income combined with an unhealthy lifestyle. Primary reasons are not using up all the calories that one consumes, eating junk food and having less exercise.

Few people have been able to reduce weight and stay fit once they are diagnosed with morbid obesity. 10 out of 100 obese people have been able reduce weight and 1 out of those 10 stayed away from obesity for more than 5 years.

Obesity is going to be a bigger cause of death than smoking. However addiction to smoking was easy to control, how can you monitor and control addiction to eating? It was found out that smoking if started before the age of 18 was almost impossible to get rid of, so selling cigarettes to minors was prohibited. Can you tell ice cream vendors to stop selling ice cream to fat children? Brain behaves same way whether its sugar or cocaine addiction.

Just like smoking if a child is obese most probably he will be obese when he becomes an adult. So urban families need to get awareness about obesity and ensure that children don’t fall into its trap at a young age.

Should developing countries like India and China worry? Yes. Chinese have a 1 child policy. The growing GDP is ensuring that mothers nurture their children too well. In the process they become fat. About 10% of children under 12 are obese in China. It would be difficult for such children to lead a healthy adult life.
We need to take care of children’s weight. India is passing through a phase where number of children per family is falling and moving nearer to China. The family’s disposable income is rising and so is fast food options available to them. All the elements of leading to an obesity epidemic are present. A little carelessness may lead to large scale obese children.

Till now India’s textbooks deal with malnutrition and balanced diet. By any criteria the number of malnourished children outnumber the potential obese children. So government cannot make the same kind of textbook applicable for entire board. The differentiation of instruction has to be done at teacher level where they have to make students aware the thin line of difference between malnourishment and obesity.

A parent can help by feeding their children home cooked food and incorporating physical activities in their everyday life. I am sure that if there is enough awareness among parents and children we can keep childhood obesity out of the country so that our future is fit!

Rich or Poor: You have to study in Charitable trust run Schools

So if you may be as rich as Mukesh Ambani but unless some benevolent person has started a school under a charitable trust there is no chance that you get your child educated. No matter how high the fees are or how good the facilities are; all schools in India are by law required to be run under “charitable trust” or section 25 company (which means its not for profit). These charitable trust cannot make profit and whatever surplus they have has to be reinvested in the objectives of the trust.

It doesn’t matter how much fees the school charges or the facilities it provides. The school may be in a congested city area or it can be far in a remote village. Wherever it is the formation of the entity has to be “not for profit”. There is a small except though- in the state of Haryana alone there is no such requirement. The schools there can be for profit and run by companies / individuals / partnerships. There are a few high end schools which have world class facilities which are based in Gurgaon.

Such entities are exempt from Income Tax provided that it spends all of the surplus earned in the same year (or the very next) there is no income tax to be paid. The Income tax authorities are debating why a school which serves to the rich should be exempt from income tax. An international board with all AC classrooms caters to Bollywood starts in Mumbai which charges Rs. 10 lakhs per annum. So should it be given tax exemption?  However any such move will be unconstitutional and will take a long time to be implemented.

Is it good to have such a law in India?
Both. Good because education is a difficult to measure service and unless its heavily regulated there can be a major cheating. Parents are unable to judge what is proper for their child and may get brainwashed with a lot of advertisements.
A counter argument that it is bad to run school “not for profit” is that it keeps investments low. Any investor would want to invest in a place where he can get return of money and income. If you donate money to a trust, there is no returning back. The money is gone for ever. This leads to shortage of good schools in the long run.

I don’t know what the right answer to this problem is. But one thing we all know for sure is that making a good school requires a lot of money and without attracting crores of investment in this sector we cannot provide high quality education to the masses. 

How much time do you spend in classroom?

By the time an average person post graduates and joins the work force reaches about 25 years of age. Professionals like doctors, chartered accountants take a few more years to join the work force full time. Of these learning years how much time does it go inside the classroom?

Stage of Education
Number of Years
Working Days
Number of hours
Total hours spent in classroom
School (1 to 12)
Graduation College
Total hours spent in the campus till completion of education:

By 25 years the total number of hours a person has lived is 2,19,000 hours. So less than 10% time of a person’s life is spent on the campus. Time at campus doesn’t equal to time in classroom. Exams, out of classroom activities, picnics, free periods, absence and “bands” even further reduce the hours by 1% - 2%. 
So by the time a person starts to work he is spending about 8.5% of his life inside the classroom. It is surprising that vast majority believe that education mostly happens in the classroom even though they spend so little time inside the classroom. There is abundant evidence that formal schooling and classroom method delivers best results. However it is wrong to think that education happens only in classrooms.

Experience is the best teacher.
Much more than classroom humans learn out of experiencing things. So field trips – general reading – social interactions and pursuing one’s interest are much more productive than mere classroom education.

 I am not saying that classroom education is not important or required. I am saying its not enough. Relying on schools and colleges to build a career for your child expecting too much. Remember it only can motivate child to learn for the rest of his life. So what can a parent do in the remaining time?

A simple way is to give variety of experiences. Visit to historic museums along with learning about history will make the topic interesting. Zoo and aquariums teaches more about science if guided in proper manner. Actually growing a plant can teach a lot of science than text book picture of different stages of plant life.
Real world experience or real world requirement of education is a much bigger force than making them sit in class and teach.