Why No Indians on the Enterprise?

In “The Kumars at No. 42”, Patrick Stewart, the captain of the Starship Enterprise, is interviewed. The grandmother asks him bluntly, “Why didn’t you have any Indian characters on your show? A ship that big must have had a huge IT department!”

Fair question. The tech industry would be inconceivable without men and women from India, even more in the United States than in Britain.

The Education of Indian Technical Workers

What began in the 1990s as a simple cost-for-quality swap at most US companies became a choice of quality by 2021. The best candidates for reliable on-shore and off-shore engineers, and high-quality technical staff come from India to staff major companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Facebook, Twitter, and Cisco.

To be fair, engineers from China, Ireland, the UK and Russia also arrive, but the vast majority of technical staff come from the Indian subcontinent. Many transit other countries like France and Canada to make the H1B quota work, but they originate in Indian schools.

Quality of training:
The national education system in India is old fashioned at best. Maybe even backward. The images of ranked, uniformed students in front of chalkboards is still true. The education of Indian technical workers begins with the elementary system and secondary system. These schools run the gamut from traditional Catholic schools, and urban schools,  to government village schools. All operate with guidelines from the government. The emphasis is on basic skills like languages and mathematics. Everyone speaks at least two languages, their native dialect and English. Those who do well, advance to college or technical school. The village girl who took bowls of milk out to the fields for the cobras can be a test engineer at Oracle and work seamlessly alongside her more urban coworkers. Finding talent and then training the talented is the key to the system.

Satya Nadella CEO of Microsoft
Satya Nadella CEO of Microsoft

At the top if the engineering food chain in India are the twenty-three regional India Institutes of Technology (I. I. T.). These schools rank easily with MIT or Stanford for difficulty and quality of graduates. The I. I. T. system formed in 1956 and incorporated a vestigial British university system with a Soviet inspired model for technological institutes. Pavlov, not Freud, as one engineer explained it.

The students in these institutes often work through courses together. Living arrangements tend toward the informal and the communal. Students come together across the ancient ties of family, class, clan, religion and language. The union is not perfect, but it is superior to what society produced in 1956. Indian students cooperate across the boundaries of company, project and geography.

Generalization is foolish when speaking of India, but for the education of Indian technical workers, especially engineering students, long hours in school, tutoring in the evening, and hours of homework at night are typical. Rote practice, drill, memorization with grueling competitive tests for advancement are common. The application of abstract learning to tangible collaborative projects is also common. Learning technology related directly to a specific job, in a specific industry, with a specific company in mind is often the rule.

Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Google Inc.
Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Google Inc.

Ability to work together:
While students are in school, collaborative living spills over into collaborative studying. This creates the habit of working together, a valuable asset later in the workplace.

The budding software engineer at the Indian Institutes of Technology spends long hours and long years learning to be engineers with the emphasis on real-world application of that knowledge.

Arvind Krishna CEO IBM
On the Right: Arvind Krishna CEO IBM

Ability to collaborate outside the company boundaries:
The resulting engineers solicit help and give help to people through social networks, friends, relatives, colleagues and peers. While this does not nullify the corporate non-disclosure, it does add to the research capabilities and the effectiveness of individual employees.

Learning the technology of a single company differentiates the education of Indian technical workers from others.   Technology learned in anticipation of joining a specific company is often sponsored by the tech giants in technical programs in Indian schools and universities. At the job interview the resulting focused knowledge of company culture and technology is compelling for most technical hiring managers.

Adherence to process and standards:
Strict adherence to processes and procedures requires definition of every detail of a task, the chain of tasks to a goal, and the goal itself. Processes methodologies, like Six Sigma, have taken root in many Indian companies. American software developers and IT professionals traditionally saw this approach as unimaginative, not creative, tedious factory work.

American business managers saw the opposite. Businesses want people who deliver what the business wants, when it is needed, and at the lowest possible price. American programmers traditionally did not understand what is desirable about the Indian approach to technology. With more Indian leadership in firms, this is changing.

Shantanu Narayen CEO Adobe
Shantanu Narayen CEO Adobe

Urge to color within the lines:
The difference between computer science and software engineering is about who gets to draw the lines. The education of Indian technical workers removed the focus  from designing during the project to producing quality manufactured functions within the design. Data communications is a great example. Modems once required extensive configuration to connect two devices and to transfer data. The Internet arrives with all that connectivity in place. Coloring within the lines has been a good approach to achieve predictable performance.

Padmasree Warrior U.S. CEO and chief development officer for Chinese electric autonomous vehicle startup NIO,
Padmasree Warrior U.S. CEO and chief development officer for Chinese electric autonomous vehicle startup NIO,

Reliable delivery:
Coloring within the lines also contributes to reliability. The jobs in the software industry are normalizing just like the Victorian railroads. Originally, the hydraulic engineer needed to ride along on the steam-powered trains to assure the boiler functioned correctly. The railroad engineer became the driver long ago. Now the creative software developer is an industrial manufacturer. Pushing creativity to the inception of the process makes delivery of the design reliable.

Nikesh Arora, CEO Palo Alto Networks
Nikesh Arora, CEO Palo Alto Networks

Desire to work:
Finally, something traditionally American makes Indian technical workers competitive in the US. They want to work, to gain respect, and to succeed. They want the American Dream, the house, the car, the healthy family, the clean streets, and sometimes even the temperate weather. This may come from vivid memories of poverty. It may come from the absence of a social safety net for their families at home. It may come from family pride. It exists. The new technical immigrants not needed on the Starship Enterprise are needed now in Silicon Valley.  Sometimes they are the captain and assimilation is not required.

Dealing with Local Education Authority (LEA)

“When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.”

Song of Childhood – Peter Handke

The Local Education Authority

Curriculum is the first place homeschool parents confront school authority.  Dealing with Local Education Authority (LEA) usually comes as an administrator representing the local system and a set of forms to file. The LEA has many names, but is usually the local school board. These are often elected politicians who create, implement and enforce local educational policy. The responsibility for curriculum and implementation entwines with many other levels of government, community, county, state, and even federal, but authority ultimately rests with this local government entity.

The ideology behind the selections in curriculum and goals for administering the school social agenda is set higher at the state level. Most state boards of education set requirements for graduation, for example, and it is the LEA responsibility to assure that the local curriculum meets those standards. These requirements vary from region to region, but not significantly. The state and federal governments also influence curriculum through funding. Political parties and social movements also influence this funding to achieve social goals. Curriculum quickly becomes serious business, so the parents’ first interaction with the system must go well.

child as a child homeschooled
Hey There by E. Fleming

The LEA allows parents to select the school type: public or private. The parent also may choose a neighborhood school or a charter school if these are available in the district. The process is bureaucratic and routine. Homeschool is a choice, but this choice takes the student away from the district. Homeschool takes the family off the menu. Different forms are required. Sometimes a brief interview. The parent must understand that choosing homeschooling changes nothing. The LEA is still in authority. Homeschool allows curriculum choices beyond the menu of public or private schools. It removes the student from the social agenda of administrators and teachers. It does not remove the child from potential social services contact or other local education laws.

Getting Free Legal Advice

 Parents must prepare to leave the system. When dealing with Local Education Authority (LEA) and the school administrators, never treat them as allies or as resources for anything but their own paperwork. Declaring intent to homeschool usually only requires the parent to notify the school administrators, but an hour getting local legal background pays off. One good site for legal issues, and local regulations in 2021 is Findlaw.

  Findlaw.com/education.htmlFindlaw.com is a legal site with extensive free information on education law and the local implementation of that law. Lawyers with specific qualifications can also be contacted through the site if that becomes necessary.

Administrators, teachers, and the administrative assistant across the counter are paid by the existing system.  They oppose your choice. Homeschool removes funding from the LEA budget by reducing headcount, so any cooperation is at best passive.

decision done homeschooling
Stoic by E. Fleming

Dealing with Local Education Authority LEA Lesson Plans

With the decision and the declaration done. The LEA often requires parents to answer questions about curriculum and lesson plans. The LEA has another box to check off. Plan to have an answer when asked about your home school plans. This may be a form the parent-teacher completes for the secretary at declaration, or periodically to the LEA.  Nothing complex. Nothing controversial. Be prepared before the meeting. What is your good curriculum? Whether you provide a religious or secular program replacing the public agenda, many canned programs are available. Most cost, but a quality free program can be designed by a parent willing to assemble materials. A good curriculum includes basic skills, life skills, social skills, and some form of preparation for future employment. Keep your answers short.

Lesson Plans are not a mystery, and no, you do not need an education degree to follow one, to buy one, or to invent one. Lesson plans can be purchased as part of a home school curriculum, year by year, or simply purchased piecemeal. If you want guidelines, look at what is required to pass the General Equivalency Diploma (GED). A program pointed in that direction will pass any government inquiry.

Ironically, most public schools do not rely on a curriculum to derive lessons themselves. The current fashion is to approach learning from what the student learns, not what the teacher teaches, so it is test driven. The lessons support testable standards. Even in those places where curriculum is discussed, no actual curriculum exists, just lessons supporting a methodology with a goal of achieving standards. Many public school graduates might have trouble passing the GED.

Searching your state’s education web page for curriculum will probably provide you with something like “Essential Skills”. The list will probably include:

    • Self-Awareness,
    • Initiative/ Self-Direction,
    • Personal Responsibility,
    • Adaptability/ Flexibility,
    • Perverseness/ Resilience,
    • Critical Thinking/ Problem Solving,
    • Creativity/ Innovation,
    • Inquiry Analysis,
    • Informed Risk Taking. Collaboration/ Teamwork,
    • Communication, Global/ Cultural Awareness,
    • Civic Engagement,
    • Character.1

The national agenda in America focuses on the social goals of inclusivity and equality of outcome, so a student might excel at school and never master the basics.In contrast, the Indian National Curriculum for Basic Education shows a different focus.

    • languages,
    • mathematics,
    • natural sciences,
    • social sciences,
    • technology,
    • commerce,
    • the arts, and
    • physical education

The Indian agenda is also about inclusive social bonding, but it is contained under the traditional curriculum topics. A country with many languages, races, religions, and long-standing biases for caste and gender uses “language” skills to include people in the larger community. Indian policy focuses on useful basic skills. For example, good engineers bring national income from abroad.

No national curriculum exists for the United States. The US Department of Education sets standards like No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Funding is predicated on these standards. These standards must be quantifiable to allocate funds, so they are set for achievement tests at every grade level.The homeschooling parent cannot duplicate the social ideology of public school. That is the bad news. The good news is if you teach the basic skills required for a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), math, language arts, social studies, and science, your child will graduate secondary school. If you also teach languages, more math, natural sciences, social sciences, technology, commerce, the arts, and physical education, your child will be competitive in the job market with someone from Mumbai.

 

1The Colorado Department of Education internet site under “Colorado Essential Skills”