Tuesday, July 25, 2006

RMTS (Rural Math Talent Search) Examination or "Gramya GaNita Medha AnyesaN"

2 students got selected by RMTS worked as tea cup washers and continue as such even today. However in the last camp, attended by their class teacher, they were evaluated to earn equivalent of 85% in class 10. This without tuitions and coaching which their urban compatriots and those from well to do families get. When they came to the 1st Math camp in 2004 they borrowed shirts from a neighbor. How is it happening? RMTS.
After umpteen number of years of no rural kids in the Orissa state Math Olympiad camps, while only one got selected more than 5 years back, this year’s camp had 5 kids among 100. And they are at the top of the camp. How did it happen? Again the answer is RMTS.

A brief History of RMTS:

Since 1993 nearly 10 thousand plus students from all 30 districts of Orissa have taken part in these tests. RMTS is not an ordinary test, it seeks to unearth kids with a logical mind, good for Mathematics. Mathematics is the language of science and technology like Oriya or English are the language for history, literature. One has a history and other has a future. Rather, science is the future.
RMTS was born in 2003 with a test and 30 scholarships. All scholarships are awarded for 5 years to class 10. It was expanded in 2004 to 100 and in 2005 to 165 scholarships. The scholarships are equally distributed between the 3 regions, Western, Southern and Coastal Orissa. Scholarship money is Rs. 1500 / month.
The upcoming RMTS 2006 will be the 4th RMTS and award 200 scholarships.
In 2005 we reached all 30 districts. 2006 goal is to reach all the 314 blocks of Orissa.
Like Ramanujan who was not at the top of his class, many of RMTS scholars were not in the top of their class, but flourishing, once their niche talent has been found..
There are nearly 800 thousand students in class VI and we have reached only 5 thou.
We have realized that we have hit upon a winning formula but our target rural talents are still not within reach.
How can you help:

Help organize centers in all the blocks of Orissa.
Help spread the word so more kids participate in the test, because we can only know who have the logical mind if only they participate. Normally these students are not in the top of their class because our system is geared to rote learning.
Spread the word: Last date of application is Aug 10 / Test date is Sept 10.
Call your friends/relatives in rural Orissa particularly if they are teachers and request them to contact Institute of Mathematics for info booklet and forms.
IMA phone: (0674) 2542164, 2540604

Merit or massaged merit...what is the crieteria?

I was in India in 2005 January. In Mumbai I met an Alumnus of my college, NIT, Rourkela. He is a successful entrepreneur. I asked him what is his son, doing?
He told me he has sent him to KOTA, Rajasthan after High School.
When I asked him what for? He explained that because he is a busy high tech businessman who spends most of his time traveling and looking after business. He hardly has time to spend with his son. So he has done the next best, given his son what money can buy.
There are coaching classes in KOTA where students are prepared for IIT, entrance Examination, for a premium price. Their tuition fee is Rs. 60 thousand per year and hostel plus other expenses 40 thousand per year, nearly a total of 100 thousand rupees per year. Students enroll in a nearby college to get their plus 2 certificates, all the while preparing for IIT entrance examination. Most of the faculty, where his son studies, are retired IIT professors, who coach and prepare the kids, for the next IIT Joint entrance examination. He believes that he has placed his son in good hands, albeit, a little expensive.
I then asked him how is he is sure that his son will qualify for IIT? Also if all of the students in the said KOTA coaching center get into IITs? He answered: NO. Then said: but even if they don't qualify for IIT Joint entrance examination, they are prepared well enough to get into one of the lesser institutes, one of the NITS or established state colleges. I came away stunned at the perfect game plan to overcome a corrupted meritocracy.
Does not this actually reflect huge difference in resources, rather than merit? Now tell me Sir, what superior merit these guys have, compared to the guy who gets into IITs, due seat reservation? None, other than those born with a silver spoon?
Unless they go through the same common school and college system, how do you judge their relative merit? You can only compare apples vs. apples. The huge difference in resources, annul the very claim of being winners in a meritocracy. For example in Orissan context - how do you compare a student from a BJB college, Bhubaneswar, who is tutored by the best teachers of the state, both in and out of the college, with a poor tribal or harijan boy in a block level college in Phulbani district, where the teachers do not teach and start visiting Bhubaneswar for transfer from the day they are posted? I sure can assure you that their performance is no way related to their intrinsic merit.
I call such merit 'massaged merit', it is no merit at all. In most cases it is a reflection of lack of career counseling and financial resources, particularly today when school and college system are falling apart. Kids with the 'massaged merit' class are today on the streets, to demand perpetuation of their privileges.
I agree that there are a few cases of upper caste poor who do suffer. But by and large, the chance of that happening to them vs. it happening to lower caste kids is probably much more than 10 to 1.
Having said that, I must state that the use, by the OBC, Harijon and Adivasi creamy layer, (e.g. likes of late ex-President Narayanan's daughter) of benefits of reservation, is unacceptable. It is misuse of the spirit of the law and though not the letter. It is immoral, even though, not illegal.
We have come a long way, from when our present president, Abdul Kalam, had to go to the back of the class, because he was a Muslim. (This was later corrected by a fair minded Brahmin head priest of the same village). We think the handicaps of caste/race/gender, are gone, but is it the reality?
To their credit, many OBC students have protested the current reservation- they would rather compete in a fair system than accept the ignominy of a reserved seat. However everyone would like very much that the economic backwardness be a factor, and I agree.
In a meritocracy, which is being pleaded for and is desirable, everyone competes with each other in a common school system. (Where it has not been distorted by the private tuition epidemic of Orissa).
If merit is the criteria, which it should ideally be, - raw merit rather than “massaged merit”, should determine selection.
Does it now?