The Rise of Mediocrity

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During the interview for Director AIIMS, I was asked “What makes the AIIMS special?” my answer was “quality of human resource”. I did not qualify, so I assume my answer was obviously wrong. Probably the panel wanted to hear about the grandeur of building and infrastructure wherein the poor quality of human resources will not be noticed.

The same panel during my first interview for the same post couple of years ago has spent at least 10 minutes trying to tell me the story as to how Pandit Nehru went out of the way and hired faculty for AIIMS, New Delhi, Atomic Research Centre, Institute of Agriculture Sciences and Indian Space Research Organization, and how these institute produced quality stuff, because of exceptional quality of human resource, political foresight and proactivism. I guess with time and change in government leadership and policy the point of view too changes, we are pragmatic breed any way. I have no regrets and actually am happy that the opportunity was denied.

But does quality of human resources matter? Or just having a state of art infrastructure is sufficient? Would machine perform the test by itself and interpret the results? Who will tell what tests are required? And where are the quality doctors anyway? What about the skill based subjects? Who is teaching? And what? When I seek, I find more and more questions and no answers.

The country’s education system has been in doldrums. Be it primary, secondary or higher education. When did it happen and why? This is something no one is able to tell, but for sure this has not happened in a day. The political parties keep blaming each other but to me the root cause is corruption. I strongly feel that over generations we Indians have become morally bankrupt. We are ready to band backwards to get things done and use whatsoever resource is required, be it nepotism, corruption or political patronage. Absence of quality resources at the top with even the policy makers being victims of short-sightedness, and in their efforts for trying to be politically correct too has contributed enormously. We had been compromising on quality and merit to please the voters and remain in power rather than improving the society and making it more fair and competitive. The net result had been rise of mediocrity.

The rise of mediocrity is dangerous for any society. Not just because it discourages intellect, but because it forces intellect to migrate or hibernate, thus hitting the productivity. Injustice to intellect is a national loss. Our top institutions like AIIMS may be best in the country, but someone has to look at its position globally. Availability of resources and best machines cannot produce best results. Most faculties of top institutions in the country is busy impressing their political masters for better administrative positions and positions of power, rather than performing in their sphere. That leaves only a few to treat patients, and it’s these few for the dedication of whom the institute is able to maintain its position.

What is the yard stick to measure the quality of human resources? Traditionally the academic performances were measured by measuring the impact factors and citation of their academic work while the quality of treatment was measured by measuring the mortality and morbidity of the procedures performed by treating physicians and surgeons and diagnostic accuracy of those in diagnostic services. With time, the impact factors and citation indexes became business and today each publication house has its own measure of impact, journal indexing and citation metrics. The best part is that none of it gives the same results its the sales pitch that decides which is the best. Recently University Grants Commission came out with list of journals, I ask what is the need to list journals? Simply saying that the journals should be indexed in the standard bibliometric databases, like Pubmed, should have sufficed. If you want to expand more one could have simply added Scopus, Scholar, Index Copernicus, EMBASE or many other subject specific indexes and could have come up with complex calculations using one or all of the available bibliometric data. Why waste time compiling a list and then getting into controversy. But as I said earlier we are going through a phase of intellectual bankruptcy and rise of mediocrity and what better could be expected from them.

Measuring the quality of human (clinical) services provided by the physicians and surgeons is difficult. The country has no system of systemic data collection. Most hospitals keep incomplete records or some don’t keep at all. Finding out the numbers treated is even impossible forget about the outcome indices. Some hospitals like mine ascribe a new identity to person on each visit, this not just increase the numbers but also make it difficult to know what happened to these patients. Unlike other countries we do not have a system of unique identification, and this is one of the reasons for faulty statistics. So the result, we do not know the mortality and morbidity of any institution, forget about the outcome indices for department or individuals. So how will one choose, well there is little choice in rotten apples, and it’s your luck if you reach the right person who shines as a dim dot on black canvas of Indian future.

Like many other intellectuals I also feel that it’s time to take bold decisions and introduce radical reforms in the system, the system itself needs a major surgery. This has already become a cancer and need be tackled before it takes the life out of the whole nation. It is high time we start thinking about the country and not us, as individuals, and make choices accordingly. Above all we need a good “Surgeon” to perform this social surgery. Presently I see no one fitting this role and hence, can do nothing but feel sorry for the people of my country. Mediocrity has risen and intellect will remain in the shadow till the system collapses, than only a new dawn will dawn.

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