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Lebus & deputy Ann Puntis: historic linkage
The UK-based Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and its parent, the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), seem determined to re-establish their presence in the Indian subcontinent. The pre-eminent English medium school-leaving examinations board in India right until the mid 1960s, it devolved its mantle upon the Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE which offers the ICSE and ISC exams) and quit Indian shores. Now, with hitherto protectionist India having re-connected with the global economy and a growing number of international schools offering globally benchmarked secondary education having sprung up here, the top brass of CIE and UCLES, described as a "non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge", has evidently discerned a rising demand for its syllabuses, teacher training and conduct of examinations services.

"India has grown demographically and economically during the past two decades and is integrating with the world economy. Moreover there is increased investment in Indian education and a large number of outward looking international schools are being promoted in the subcontinent. CIE, which has been in education for 147 years and has affiliated schools in 158 countries, is in a position to offer Indian schools globally accepted syllabuses and tested best education practices. Following changes in government policies and India being a member signatory of the WTO accords, we believe there are new opportunities for CIE to revive its historic linkage with Indian education," says Simon Lebus an Eton and Oxford alumnus and former investment banker who is currently the chief executive of UCLES.

According to Lebus, UCLES and its subsidiaries have 6,158 schools worldwide affiliated with them and 8 million students write the boards’ ‘0’, ‘A’ level and IGCSE examinations annually. In addition Cambridge ESOL also tests the English profi-ciency of students through its IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and other ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) examinations. "Although currently only 50 schools in India are affiliated with CIE, the response to our renewed affiliations drive is enthusiastic. There is great interest in the universally recognised syllabuses and qualifications we offer and we have set ourselves a testing target of affiliating 500 schools by the year 2009," says Lebus.

Under the intensifying pressures of globalisation which are forcing a shift from "knowledge acquisition to skills and competence based education", Lebus expects CIE’s long experience in school education to pay off in a big way. "A major advantage CIE enjoys is that we are pioneers in the application and utilisation of leading edge information technologies in syllabus design and assessment of examination papers. This is likely to expand the demand for and reach of our services worldwide," he predicts.

Given CIE’s institutional experience of the subcontinent and the enthusiasm with which Lebus and his team comprising his deputy Ann Puntiss and Mark Bartholomew, the Delhi-based chief executive (India) are promoting CIE’s package of services, there’s a good chance that its new bond with Indian education will prove more durable than the old.

Dilip Thakore (Bangalore)

Economics missionary

Ramaswamy: dual mission
Professor Sunder Ramaswamy, director of the Madras School of Economics (MSE) and Frederick C. Dirks distinguished professor of economics at Middlebury College in Vermont, USA, is a man with a dual mission: to enhance the quality of postgraduate economics teaching in the country, especially in southern India, and to spread economics literacy through lectures, workshops and seminars in education institutions.

"The economics curriculum and teaching methodologies in India differ sharply from the West. The study of economics abroad accords prime importance to analysis and application whereas in India there is greater emphasis on theory. Even post-graduate economics students in India are not trained in simple computation or taught how to read a balance sheet. Little wonder they are not highly rated in the jobs market. A proper restructuring of the curriculum to suit the requirements of the current market-determined, knowledge-based economy and a drastic change in teaching methodologies is an urgent priority. However MSE is distinct in this respect and offers an innovative two-year postgraduate course taught by highly qualified faculty," says Ramaswamy who took over as director of the institute in 2002.

Established in 1995 with the objective of creating a centre of excellence for advanced economics in the south by Dr. Raja J. Chelliah, former fiscal advisor to the Union ministry of finance and former chairman, tax reforms and revenue augmentation commission, government of Tamil Nadu, who is the school’s founder-chairman, MSE is a privately funded independent institution affiliated to Anna University. Sited upon a three-acre campus contiguous to the university, it has an enrollment of 40 postgraduate and eight doctorate students instructed by 12 teachers.

"The Masters programme offered at MSE differs from most universities in south India because of its greater emphasis on quantitative techniques and approaches. The electives offered are application oriented and tailored to suit the current liberalised economic environment. There is also an emphasis on independent research and the quality of teaching is impeccable," says Ramaswamy, a postgraduate of the Delhi School of Economics, with a doctorate in the subject from Purdue University, USA.

With over 15 years of teaching and research experience in highly reputed institutions such as the Institute of Financial Management and Research, Chennai, (est. 1970), Vanderbelt and Purdue universities, Ramaswamy has also served with the World Bank and as advisor to UNCTAD and UNIDO. A missionary zeal to infuse interest in the dismal science of economics has prompted him to accept all requests to deliver lecturers and keynote addresses at seminars, conferences and workshops in schools and colleges in Chennai. For the past eight years, he has been actively involved with the Institute of Economics Education (IEE), Chennai, of which he was appointed chairman last April. Moreover he was recently appointed a member of the governing body of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi. "IEE has provided me a forum to propagate the importance of economics in day to day life. We organise workshops on making economics interesting through games and experiments. My future plans are to work with like-minded people and organisations in other states of India and promote the study of economics nationally," he says.

With the great majority of the nation’s colleges and universities yet to make the crossover from teaching obsolescent ‘socialist economics’ propagating the illusory virtues of government intervention and public sector enterprise, Ramaswamy’s dual mission needs the support of all right-thinking people.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)

Blessed peacemaker

Sajid: path-breaking programme
Following the state-sponsored communal riots of 2003 in Gujarat, there’s been considerable brainstorming on the subject of communal flare-ups which are a blot on Indian democracy. Against this backdrop, mainstreaming peacemaking and conflict resolution education has emerged as a long-term solution. For instance the National Council for Educational Research & Training (NCERT) has included ‘peace education’ as a subject in its National Curriculum Framework for School Education announced recently. Ditto the Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) which has announced the establishment of a School of Peace Education & Conflict Resolution.

However the credit for establishing the country’s first formal peace studies programme should be given to the Delhi-based Jamia Millia Islamia University where the first batch of 20 students are about to complete a certificate course in peace and conflict resolution. The prime mover behind this path-breaking four month study programme is Prof. S.M. Sajid, hitherto professor of social work at Jamia Millia who has since been redesignated director of the university’s Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution.

According to Sajid who has researched the subject extensively, more than 100 universities in the West offer proactive peace promotion and conflict resolution study courses. "However, most of them focus on international conflicts like territorial disputes, war etc. In the plural multicultural society that is India, our needs are different. So we have adapted our syllabus and course content accordingly," says Sajid who adds that this proposal has received full UGC endorsement.

"Interest and commitment to the subject is the top criterion for admission into this programme open to graduates of all streams," says Sajid. "It has been a learning process for the faculty as well and we have added some modules to the courseware of the first batch. We plan to introduce diploma, Masters and doctorate programmes over the next four-five years."

Sajid has already drawn the road map for success of this study programme which will follow the credits system. The aim is to avoid duplication and give students flexibility to advance from certificate to diploma to degree level programmes. Moreover Jamia Millia’s Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution has already initiated linkages and partnerships with like-minded institutions in SAARC countries with the objective of becoming a conflict-resolution research hub in South Asia, and encouraging academics to investigate peace education in the future. "Once it is a course component of political science, history or other liberal arts subjects, peace studies is certain to arouse greater interest. The formal study of peace promotion and conflict resolution proactively in schools and colleges is an overdue initiative," says Sajid.

But better late than never.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)

Deep prescription

Deep: favourable confluence
Dr. Akash Deep, associate professor of finance at the globally renowned Harvard University, conducted a finance workshop for India’s top corporate executives in late January. Organised by the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), one of India’s leading business schools and Planman Consulting, the workshop attracted a clutch of India’s most high profile CEOs.

A member of the American Finance Association and the Global Association of Risk Professionals, Deep is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, who also has a Master’s in operations research and an economics Ph D from Yale University. Since then he has specialised and emerged as a globally respected authority in the areas of risk management, infrastructure finance management and the regulation of banks and financial institutions. "India is changing so rapidly, it’s mind-boggling. In fact its financial market is relatively sophisticated and advanced, unlike those of most developing countries," says Deep. "The taxation structure has changed and stamp duties have been rationalised."

Though Deep has rendered advice to several governments around the world, he has not been called upon by the government of India. "However I would love to contribute towards change management in any way that I can," he says. Meanwhile his unsolicited advice to New Delhi is to accelerate infrastructure investment. "Comp-ared to China where there is concerted and focused investment in roads, electricity, water etc, India is a laggard in infrastructure investment. This is the prescription for double-digit rates of annual economic growth," he adds.

Double digit private sector-led rates of GDP growth are attainable because in Deep’s opinion Indian chief executives compare favourably with their global counterparts. "In general, the Indian chief executive has a very good grasp of a variety of issues, has a broader perspective and greater management expertise than his global counterparts," he opines.

Given a favourable confluence of factors which has endowed contemporary India with a prime minister who is an economist and an able Union finance minister committed to opening up and liberalising the economy, Deep believes exciting times are ahead. "If industry gets support from government in terms of enabling and transparent regulatory mechanisms as well as supportive infrastructure, the sky is the limit for this high-potential economy," says Deep, somewhat wistfully.

If only…

Mona Barbhaya (Mumbai)

Women’s voice

Chakraborti: gender issues priority
Filmmaker, television journalist, writer, activist, teacher and academician — Kolkata-based Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti switches her many hats with consummate ease.

However, it is her latest avatar as director of the film Dwittiya Paksh (Second Innings) that Chakraborti, who is also a visiting lecturer at the University of Calcutta, is all revved up about. Dwittiya Paksh is a hard-hitting, 96-minute film detailing the impact of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution of India (approved by Parliament in 1989) which gave women the right to participate in local governance through village panchayats. "The film," elaborates the filmmaker, who has also won the State Achiever’s Award (West Bengal) for excellence in television journalism in 2003, "is as much about shattering glass ceilings as it is about women’s empowerment and gender equality."

Filmed mostly in Kolkata, Dwittiya Paksh, which was screened before an appreciative audience in Delhi recently, is a narration of how this historic amendment has altered the social and political fabric of rural India. Screened to favourable reviews at the Dhaka International Film Festival 2004 and The Nehru Centre in London, the film is slated to travel to major international film festivals, including Cairo.

Getting her films shown at film festivals is not a novel experience for Chakraborti, though Dwittiya Paksh is her debut feature film. Over the past decade she has produced/ directed several acclaimed social documentaries. Notable among them are Halfway Home (1995), Uttaradhikar (1997), Najaayaz (1998), and Aids, Lies & Documentaries (1999).

An earlier short film, The School that Karmi Soren Built (1996), based
on a true story written by renowned novelist Mahashweta Devi, movingly narrated the sacrifice of an illiterate tribal widow, who gave up her land to build a small school in her village. Interestingly, the film’s release had a happy denouement — it helped the school receive government support after 27 years of struggle.

Apart from the big screen, Chakraborti uses the television medium to get across her message of social equity and women’s empowerment. She has anchored 200 episodes of El Muhurte (Just Now) on socially relevant topics on the Kolkata television channel Tara. As director, news and current affairs for Tara, Chakraborti ensures that gender issues and human rights are at the top of the agenda.

Unsurprisingly her documentaries on women’s issues are widely used by NGOs, universities and institutes to generate awareness and as learning resources in film and media courses in urban and rural Bengal, in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. "Ultimately, my work is centred around enriching the lives of women by educating and enlightening them. I believe that if I succeed in spreading my message, the country’s socio-economic landscape will change for the better."

Now full time into film production and direction, Chakraborti is working on her second feature film, while simultaneously co-authoring a book on Kolkata with her architect husband, Manish.

Neeta Lal (Delhi)

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