The “jail college” phenomenon

Yesterday, Zoli Erdos asked me why Yuvi Panda, the blogger from Chennai, isn’t too excited about the prospect of college in Chennai – “What’s wrong with college? Is the education too theoretical?” Trying to answer that question in a sensible way would elevate the discussion to a higher plane than it deserves, so simply on a lark, I decided to search for the term “jail college” hoping Google would come to my rescue. You can see the search results yourself: http://www.google.com/search?q=jail+college

That YouTube link is a direct hit (Google, I am really impressed on this one – it is the perfect answer to my search!) I have embedded the video below for your “enjoyment” – if that is the right word here:

The video is from a news channel in India, on the relatively recent phenomenon of the “jail college” in Chennai and surroundings. They follow the time-honored management principle: if you can’t gain respect, try fear.  Since the colleges don’t offer much of an education that gains the students’ respect, they tie them down with with arbitrary rules and procedures, the breaking of which attracts stringent punishment. The video mentions only one kind of rule – on avoiding all communication with the opposite sex, but there are many other such rules. They target the primal fear of parents of teenagers world-wide: their boy or girl may do what boys and girls naturally do.

That is what passes for education for a good percentage of college students in Chennai, which explains why we refuse to place any value on it. The best thing we can say is that we don’t discriminate against the victims – we would prefer, of course, that they don’t become victims in the first place.

Seriously, why are such colleges doing good business? Mainly because employers place value on the certifications they award. It is not like the employers don’t know the colleges don’t add much value, but it has become a kind of corporate superstition (“everybody does it”) to still require a degree. Breaking that superstition is one of the main goals of our AdventNet University.

14 Replies to “The “jail college” phenomenon”

  1. I, just a few years ago, got out of a non-jail (but equally worthless) college located just a few kilometers away from the college mentioned in the video. The most dumbfounding fact is even now, with this well known reputation, parents pay a bribe of TEN LAKHS or more to get their children into this very college. Yes, their bribe is actually 5x higher than non-jail colleges for this special “atmosphere”.Edit: Just discovered that Yuvi Panda was 2 years my junior in college. How unfortunate that I never got to meet him.

  2. “Seriously, why are such colleges doing good business? Mainly because employers place value on the certifications they award. It is not like the employers don’t know the colleges don’t add much value, but it has become a kind of corporate superstition (”everybody does it”) to still require a degree.”

  3. “Seriously, why are such colleges doing good business? Mainly because employers place value on the certifications they award. It is not like the employers don’t know the colleges don’t add much value, but it has become a kind of corporate superstition (”everybody does it”) to still require a degree.”

  4. iits are putting out videos on youtube dot com/iit
    this type of resource could help students lacking access to decent teachers

  5. iits are putting out videos on youtube dot com/iit
    this type of resource could help students lacking access to decent teachers

  6. […] Zoho Blogs Copyright © work at home sc_project=3641399; sc_invisible=1; […]

  7. […] Zoho Blogs Copyright © work at home sc_project=3641399; sc_invisible=1; […]

  8. Swami,
    Sorry I missed your comment (we must have been posting at the same time). I really value education but education and going to college are not one and the same thing. It is my strong belief real quality education can be delivered in alternate ways. We urgently need to explore these ways, because a) even in US, college is becoming increasingly unaffordable b) I have explained the problems in India.Sridhar

  9. Swami,
    Sorry I missed your comment (we must have been posting at the same time). I really value education but education and going to college are not one and the same thing. It is my strong belief real quality education can be delivered in alternate ways. We urgently need to explore these ways, because a) even in US, college is becoming increasingly unaffordable b) I have explained the problems in India.Sridhar

  10. Sriram,
    I hope more of us who are disgusted by what’s going on would blog about it and bring these facts to light. And I hope more parents would think twice before paying for this kind of nonsense. There is a pure market solution here – all these colleges are private sector, so if paying parents/students bring pressure, they have to respond.Sridhar

  11. Sriram,
    I hope more of us who are disgusted by what’s going on would blog about it and bring these facts to light. And I hope more parents would think twice before paying for this kind of nonsense. There is a pure market solution here – all these colleges are private sector, so if paying parents/students bring pressure, they have to respond.Sridhar

  12. I think it’s more to do with the culture i.e. we value obedience over intelligence.Even in some Indian IT companies, periodic exams during training is a normal practice. Corporate training becomes an extension of college – Exams, fear, certification etc.I hope some TV channel cover that as well.

  13. I think it’s more to do with the culture i.e. we value obedience over intelligence.Even in some Indian IT companies, periodic exams during training is a normal practice. Corporate training becomes an extension of college – Exams, fear, certification etc.I hope some TV channel cover that as well.

  14. I’m happy that this is drawing attention from the mass media. It is high time these rules changed (I recognized several colleges from the video – colleges I’ve been to for sympsia, basketball tournaments,etc – things haven’t changed much in the last 3 years). Unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath. The sad truth is that most parents think that this is a *good* thing. So the only people outraged are the people with the least say in the matter- the students.Engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu are a nightmare. I would highly suggest folks to try looking elsewhere if they can.Other rules I wish the mass media would pick up on- The ridiculous dress codes, especially for the female students. I’ll never forget Anna Univ’s VC telling Barkha Dutt on TV how girls shouldn’t ‘distract’ boys and hence should wear only traditional salwar kameez (Barkha almost died of laughter)- Chauvinism built into the system. Ask any girl who has ever had to stay at a ladies hostel in one of these engineering colleges – the crazy rules around when you should be back in the hostel, bad treatment, being treated as second class citizens to the boys’ hostel (right down to the food), etc. Its pure craziness.I could go on and on.

  15. I’m happy that this is drawing attention from the mass media. It is high time these rules changed (I recognized several colleges from the video – colleges I’ve been to for sympsia, basketball tournaments,etc – things haven’t changed much in the last 3 years). Unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath. The sad truth is that most parents think that this is a *good* thing. So the only people outraged are the people with the least say in the matter- the students.Engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu are a nightmare. I would highly suggest folks to try looking elsewhere if they can.Other rules I wish the mass media would pick up on- The ridiculous dress codes, especially for the female students. I’ll never forget Anna Univ’s VC telling Barkha Dutt on TV how girls shouldn’t ‘distract’ boys and hence should wear only traditional salwar kameez (Barkha almost died of laughter)- Chauvinism built into the system. Ask any girl who has ever had to stay at a ladies hostel in one of these engineering colleges – the crazy rules around when you should be back in the hostel, bad treatment, being treated as second class citizens to the boys’ hostel (right down to the food), etc. Its pure craziness.I could go on and on.

  16. Massimo/Hugo,
    India is a huge country, of which Chennai (and the state of which it is part of Tamil Nadu) is only a small part. The “jail colleges” don’t reflect the broader culture even in Chennai – in fact, 20 years ago, when I went to college, this phenomenon didn’t exist. In fact, even now, only private sector colleges do this to students – government-run colleges are pretty liberal. For those who ask why the private sector would act this way, it is fairly simple: these colleges are conferred the special privilege of granting “recognized” degrees. They then market that privilege to parents – they have discovered that “discipline” appeals to many parents. Having said that, I have to say that since we are based in Chennai, we are squarely downstream from these colleges. That’s why we decided to take the matter into our own hands, rather than watch idly as they inflict their “education” on more and more kids.Kannan,
    Thanks …Deepak,
    No quarrel on the value of education, but attending college and getting an education aren’t the same thing (and definitely not so in case of these jail colleges).Sridhar

  17. Massimo/Hugo,
    India is a huge country, of which Chennai (and the state of which it is part of Tamil Nadu) is only a small part. The “jail colleges” don’t reflect the broader culture even in Chennai – in fact, 20 years ago, when I went to college, this phenomenon didn’t exist. In fact, even now, only private sector colleges do this to students – government-run colleges are pretty liberal. For those who ask why the private sector would act this way, it is fairly simple: these colleges are conferred the special privilege of granting “recognized” degrees. They then market that privilege to parents – they have discovered that “discipline” appeals to many parents. Having said that, I have to say that since we are based in Chennai, we are squarely downstream from these colleges. That’s why we decided to take the matter into our own hands, rather than watch idly as they inflict their “education” on more and more kids.Kannan,
    Thanks …Deepak,
    No quarrel on the value of education, but attending college and getting an education aren’t the same thing (and definitely not so in case of these jail colleges).Sridhar

  18. “Seriously, why are such colleges doing good business? Mainly because employers place value on the certifications they award. It is not like the employers don’t know the colleges don’t add much value, but it has become a kind of corporate superstition (”everybody does it”) to still require a degree.”In the first part of the quote above, you are talking about “such” colleges. But towards the end of the quote you have generalized it to college education in general.We can probably extend your kind of argument to most of primary and secondary education in India. I can show a good majority of schools in Chennai which train kids to take exams rather than anything else.Would you then make a case for not having school education at all?

  19. “Seriously, why are such colleges doing good business? Mainly because employers place value on the certifications they award. It is not like the employers don’t know the colleges don’t add much value, but it has become a kind of corporate superstition (”everybody does it”) to still require a degree.”In the first part of the quote above, you are talking about “such” colleges. But towards the end of the quote you have generalized it to college education in general.We can probably extend your kind of argument to most of primary and secondary education in India. I can show a good majority of schools in Chennai which train kids to take exams rather than anything else.Would you then make a case for not having school education at all?

  20. I did my college education in Delhi, and quite enjoyed it. We had some great teachers, some not so good ones, and ample opportunity for extra-curriculur/intramural activities.I suspect this is a manifestation of culture cause I can’t relate to the video at all (and I was in college in the early 90’s).Also, what’s the bit about software developers not needing an education? Surely we’re not hiring just code monkeys all the time, but people who can think through fundamental problems?

  21. I did my college education in Delhi, and quite enjoyed it. We had some great teachers, some not so good ones, and ample opportunity for extra-curriculur/intramural activities.I suspect this is a manifestation of culture cause I can’t relate to the video at all (and I was in college in the early 90’s).Also, what’s the bit about software developers not needing an education? Surely we’re not hiring just code monkeys all the time, but people who can think through fundamental problems?

  22. India is a very strange country for us, living in the occidental part of the world.A few days ago we watched a movie related with the murder in India of a young rich girl – ordered by her own mother – just because she married in secret with a poor man. The murder is still unpunished (well, Canadian goverment seems to be the main responsible here).And now this video. Moved by curiosity -and ignorance- I try Chennai in Wikipedia just to find, increasing my incredulity – that “Chennai has an estimated population of 7.5 million (2007), making it the fourth largest metropolitan city in India” and that “Chennai’s economy has a broad industrial base in the automobile, technology, hardware manufacturing, and healthcare industries. The city is home to much of India’s automobile industry and is the country’s second-largest exporter of Software, information technology (IT) and information-technology-enabled services”.I know that there should be strong cultural, religious and maybe political reasons for the outdated behaviour expressed in the “jail college” phenomenon. But, it is difficult to understand how a country can grow with a world economic power with that shocking aspects in its culture.I am a great admirer of zoho. But I wish to know, how many women work in your company? I hope you do not have a “jail business” there. I really hope.Thanks

  23. India is a very strange country for us, living in the occidental part of the world.A few days ago we watched a movie related with the murder in India of a young rich girl – ordered by her own mother – just because she married in secret with a poor man. The murder is still unpunished (well, Canadian goverment seems to be the main responsible here).And now this video. Moved by curiosity -and ignorance- I try Chennai in Wikipedia just to find, increasing my incredulity – that “Chennai has an estimated population of 7.5 million (2007), making it the fourth largest metropolitan city in India” and that “Chennai’s economy has a broad industrial base in the automobile, technology, hardware manufacturing, and healthcare industries. The city is home to much of India’s automobile industry and is the country’s second-largest exporter of Software, information technology (IT) and information-technology-enabled services”.I know that there should be strong cultural, religious and maybe political reasons for the outdated behaviour expressed in the “jail college” phenomenon. But, it is difficult to understand how a country can grow with a world economic power with that shocking aspects in its culture.I am a great admirer of zoho. But I wish to know, how many women work in your company? I hope you do not have a “jail business” there. I really hope.Thanks

  24. I have nothing but respect for Zoho and its associated entities like AdventNet etc. I have closely followed AdventNet and the kind of work you have been doing. I never quite knew you were so much into reforming the education system. I did my colleging (if that is a term) in REC Trichy, which was not a “college jail”.Congrats on the AdventNet University!! I know I am not the first to be doing this, nevertheless the country should be proud of people like you.

  25. I have nothing but respect for Zoho and its associated entities like AdventNet etc. I have closely followed AdventNet and the kind of work you have been doing. I never quite knew you were so much into reforming the education system. I did my colleging (if that is a term) in REC Trichy, which was not a “college jail”.Congrats on the AdventNet University!! I know I am not the first to be doing this, nevertheless the country should be proud of people like you.

  26. A few counter-points:- You are talking about one specific job category: software developers. For that particular field, it’s commonly believed that college education is unnecessary and apprenticeship is a widespread practice. But how about other fields? In medicine or law, it’s unheard of to bend the rules on the the formal college-oriented training program.- For senior software development and IT positions, academic background is usually not considered. Candidates are evaluated mainly on work experience. Some companies take degrees seriously, but they are somewhat uncommon.- For junior or entry level positions, most companies want college grads. Recruiting straight out of high school (like Zoho does) is rare. Most kids of that age generally lack basic social maturity and college campuses are better at handling that than most workplaces. However, when this type of hiring works, it’s a major contribution to society: this develops long term skilled labor and turns 18 years olds into productive workers rather than feeding off of a university system.

  27. A few counter-points:- You are talking about one specific job category: software developers. For that particular field, it’s commonly believed that college education is unnecessary and apprenticeship is a widespread practice. But how about other fields? In medicine or law, it’s unheard of to bend the rules on the the formal college-oriented training program.- For senior software development and IT positions, academic background is usually not considered. Candidates are evaluated mainly on work experience. Some companies take degrees seriously, but they are somewhat uncommon.- For junior or entry level positions, most companies want college grads. Recruiting straight out of high school (like Zoho does) is rare. Most kids of that age generally lack basic social maturity and college campuses are better at handling that than most workplaces. However, when this type of hiring works, it’s a major contribution to society: this develops long term skilled labor and turns 18 years olds into productive workers rather than feeding off of a university system.

Comments are closed.

By submitting this form, you agree to the processing of personal data according to our Privacy Policy.

Related Posts