This week’s Economist carries a letter from a certain Murali Reddy of Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey.
SIR – So, Krishnan Ganesh, one of the proud products of India’s higher-education system, is busy developing tools to help improve the quality of primary education in America by outsourcing teaching over the internet (Face value, June 23rd). Meanwhile, precious little is done to remedy the neglect of primary education in Mr Ganesh’s home country. The commitment of India’s elite towards primary education, especially in rural areas, is bordering on scandalous neglect; funding goes towards supporting tertiary education at the expense of millions of poor children. [The Economist/Unedited Version]
It is understandable that people like Mr Reddy should express simplistic opinions. However, it is rather surprising that the editors of The Economist considered it worthy of print.
Here’s something for Mr Reddys of the world. India exports software engineers, while large parts of its government have primitive (or non-existent) computer systems. India exports doctors and nurses, that, given the dismal state of its public healthcare system should be very troubling. India exports workers who build roads and highways in other countries, while its own roads are pathetic. India exports cars, yet so many of its people walk, take the bus or ride relatively risky two-wheelers. India exports pharmaceutical drugs, while so many of its citizens suffer due to their inability to access them. India exports food products, while so many of its citizens go hungry every day.
It turns out that ‘scandalous neglect’ extends to everything from software engineers to road workers, from cars to essential drugs. But why does India export doctors, nurses, teachers and road workers despite their obvious need back home? Well, because they fetch a better price abroad. The harsh reality of globalisation—and you would expect The Economist to know this—is that unless India offers comparative wages and living conditions, those who can export themselves will do so. [See Becker & Posner on the international market for talent]
In a free country, neither the government nor the civil society elite which Mr Reddy blames can correct their ‘scandalous neglect’ of public services by stopping people from leaving. So what are they to do? Well, increases their wages until the marginal emigrant decides to stay. That leads us to the next question—how will Indian society find the money for this? Among other things, by selling goods and services for the best price. Which means, well, exporting software, cars, drugs—and yes, tuitions. Globalisation offers India an opportunity to pay for the modernisation of its public services. [See an interesting article by Mukul Asher and Amarendu Nandy in the In-Depth section of the June issue of Pragati. They argue that communities with a lot of out-migration must use remittance incomes wisely.]
So providing tuition or healthcare to global markets per se can’t be held responsible for the scandalous neglect of primary education. But there is, however, a scandalous neglect of primary education on the part of the government. The wealthy and the middle class don’t care as they can afford private schooling. The political class buys the poor off with promises of quotas in higher education and in jobs. Atanu Dey frequently writes of ways how these might be addressed. But blaming outsourcing is not one of them.