Why Indians win the Spelling Bee

Published: June 3, 2012
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The is a writer and columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar 
aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The is a writer and columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The annual ritual where Indians demonstrate they are smarter than all other Americans is the National Spelling Bee.

So dominant are the Indians in this school competition that they have been winners eight times in the last 10 years. If anything, this trend is becoming even more pronounced. Indians took the first spot in each of the last five years and all three top places in this year’s contest that finished on May 31.

What explains this total dominance of Indians, who are only one per cent of America’s population? It is hardly the case that we speak or write English better than Europeans or Americans. How are Indians so good with difficult words?

The online magazine Slate explored this subject in 2010 in their “Explainer” column. The writer concluded that the effort of an organisation called the North South Foundation was responsible.

This body of expatriate Indians conducted local spelling and other contests that made Indian children better. These contests were very competitive, therefore, giving Indians both experience and an edge when they took the national stage. The Slate writer doesn’t explore why it is that Indians are so enthusiastic about this particular contest in the first place.

The fact is that it plays to their strength, which is learning by rote. Memorising tracts is and has always been the Indian way of acquiring knowledge. It is also the way in which learning is examined in Indian schools. Answers to questions about history, geography and even science that aligned word for word with what the textbook said got you full marks when I was a child, and this hasn’t changed.

Indians have a word in each of their languages for this sort of learning. It is called ratta in Hindi, for instance, and gokh in Gujarati. It refers to reading, repeatedly reciting, and thereby, memorising whole pages of prose.

This may not be a good way of learning, if it is learning at all, but this has always been the case in India. Hindus developed a complex system of memorising and reciting the entire Rig Veda so that it would not be lost in the period before literacy.

Even today, Indian adults consider it an act of learning to be able to put on display their ability to be mug up. Stephen Cohen wrote about this in his book India: Emerging power. He remarked that there was a difference in styles when Indian and American diplomats negotiated. Indians took pride in recounting the minutiae of events in the past, dates and background and that sort of thing. This was done, Cohen felt, for no reason other than to show that there was mastery over the subject. Americans, on the other hand, were focussed only on the issue at hand.

It is true that all students, whether Indian or not, must memorise to be able to do well in America’s National Spelling Bee. A Washington Post report before the finals quoted one American child’s mother saying that her son had studied for 8,000 hours in preparation.

But it is also true that because of their legacy and culture of doing this, Indian kids have an advantage. Our middle class values of parental supervision of studies makes sure more kids spend those thousands of hours learning words.

Indian newspapers take great pride when these values show results, as they did again on June 2 when Snigdha Nandipati won, beating Stuti Mishra and Arvind Mahankali.

Snigdha’s father has trained her since she was four, and used 30,000 flash cards to help her memorise tough words — words like “guetapens” and “chionablepsia” that she is unlikely to encounter again in life.

This advantage Indians have of being able to find the time and motivation to commit things to memory is not particularly useful outside of things like spelling contests. It is of no use in thinking about problems and solutions. I would say it is the reason why the output of our colleges and universities is low on quality (India’s software body NASSCOM says nine out of 10 Indian engineering graduates who apply to one of the big four software firms are rejected as being unemployable).

So while India’s dominance of the National Spelling Bee puts on display its middle class values, it also showcases the problems of its system of education.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (88)

  • Babloo
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:27AM

    The pride the Indians feel is evident. So its good to read an Indian point out the weaknesses and reason to be modest.

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  • Jamil
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:29AM

    Pakistanis excel at Hafez e Quran and Indians excel at spelling. My computer can perform both tasks quicker.

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  • Ali tanoli
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:36AM

    RATTA is Hindu or South Asian Bee??????

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  • BlackJack
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:43AM

    I would have imagined that any Indian would take pride in the consistent achievement of Indian origin kids in the Spelling bee – clearly I was wrong. Positive qualities like hard work, perseverance, ambition and an excellent memory have been twisted in (now) predictable fashion style to become a stigma of sorts. Indian-Americans are among the wealthiest groups in America – I am sure a number of Americans would happily adopt whatever practices are being followed by these kids if it results in success later in their lives. Apart from being gifted with a greater facility to memorize (if we go back far enough, the Vedas and other books were passed on through oral tradition before the Brahmi script came into being – be grateful that somebody decided to ‘ratta’ those so that we have access to some elements of our ancient culture today), higher level of parental involvement and a strong desire for achievement are definitely factors that lead to these Indian kids winning the Spelling bee. Good for them.

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  • ParaShankara
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:00AM

    Appears shoddy.

    (1) On the role of TRADITION

    Evidence Presented: Hindus used to memorize the Rig Veda.

    Counter Evidence: Hindus used to memorize the Rig Veda thousands of years ago. Among them, the practice and the expectation was mostly limited to scholars. Muslims, on the other hand, memorize the Quran today, they do so during childhood, and the practice is far-more widespread among people.

    (2) On the role of ‘Ratta’

    Purported Evidence: Spelling-Bee competition lends itself to ratta techniques.

    Counter Evidence: Indian kids took seven of the top ten positions in a national geography competition. They consistently do well in national and local level science and math contests.

    Conclusion: Effort, focus, family-values, ratta – all play a part, but do not in themselves provide the entire explanation.

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  • Alapan
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:00AM

    Contd….

    Since your claim in this article is: Indians won the National spelling bee championship because of the system of ‘ratta’…my question is then how did the americans and Chinese who won these national spelling bee championships won this? Did they use ratta or something else…? and if u say they too used ratta ..then ur argument should have been – National Spelling bee chanmpionship can be won only by ratta and every one does that..including Americans, chinese and yes, Indians…

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  • Truthbetold
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:05AM

    These contests do enhance the kids’ vocabulary and language skills. Other than that, it is of no use in logical thinking, creativity and problem solving which are more important in life. I would also add competency in “Jeopardy” in the list of rather “useless” skills.

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  • You Said It
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:08AM

    This is article betrays a naivete about how the US National Spelling Bee is organized. The words that students are given to spell are often words they’ve never encountered. Students don’t prepare for the spelling bee by memorizing the spellings of thousands of words. That strategy will not get a speller very far irrespective of their power to memorize, given that words in the final are often not English words.

    Students prepare for the Spelling Bee by learning of the etymological roots of words based in different languages. The challenge in the Spelling Bee is to identify the meaning of a word based on its context and pronounciation, identify its etymological origin and parts and piece together the spelling based on those parts.

    Snigdha Nandipati’s winning word this year was “guetapens”, which is French. To appreciate the difficulty of the word, you just have to listen to its correct pronunciation, which is nowhere close to its spelling. Unfortunately, the author started with a preconceived bias so the article displays ignorance.

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  • You Said It
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:29AM

    This is article displays a naivete about how the US National Spelling Bee is organized. The words that students are given to spell are often words they’ve never encountered. Students don’t prepare for the spelling bee by memorizing the spellings of thousands of words. That strategy will not get a speller very far irrespective of their power to memorize, given that words in the final are often not English words.

    Students prepare for the Spelling Bee by learning of the etymological roots of words based in different languages. The challenge in the Spelling Bee is to identify the meaning of a word based on its context and pronounciation, identify its etymological origin and parts and piece together the spelling based on those parts.

    Snigdha Nandipati’s winning word this year was “guetapens”, which is French. To appreciate the difficulty of the word, you just have to listen to its correct pronunciation, which is nowhere close to its spelling.

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:37AM

    Excellent article..All Desi parents are same.

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  • Nadeem Asghar
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:39AM

    The same is the situation with the Primary, Elementary, Secondary and even the higher education in Pakistan, Our examination systems compell our teachers and students to adopt the rote-learning or Ratta.

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  • Shamy
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:20AM

    And this is exactly why Indians have progressed and we haven’t…..

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  • beep
    Jun 3, 2012 - 4:09AM

    It is rather naive to think that spelling bee is all about memorizing. It is of course an important part but as important are the ability to recognize language and cultural roots of a word to some times guess the spelling. Being an Indian doesn’t give you the right to undermine those kids’ achievements. Try to give credit where it is due Mr.Patel!

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  • Concerned_Indian
    Jun 3, 2012 - 4:10AM

    You have completely missed the point here by comparing two different statistics. Most of the kids in the US belong to the upper castes (predominantly brahmins) and end up being doctors/scientists/engineers inspite of wasting time on spelling bees in their childhood. And the reason employers in India find most fresh graduates unemployable is because out of the 10 million engineers universities in India churn out every year, most of them don’t belong to the upper caste and most of them aren’t very intelligent thanks to reservation and the ability to purchase a seat in college with money(used by corrupt low caste public officials who got their jobs through reservation).

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  • Rahul
    Jun 3, 2012 - 4:43AM

    Behind every silver lining is a dark cloud.

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  • Ghati
    Jun 3, 2012 - 5:11AM

    OK, going by the same arguement, tiger moms of chinese/ korean/ japanese origin force their kids to do things which are impossible for kids of American descent. Do you call them lacking creativity? Or, how about tough physical training that made countless chinese athletes perform superbly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Do you want to say they are no good in any other field, since their brains are fried doing the physical training? I have a doubt whether Aakar Patel has followed those kids who exceled in the Spelling Bee competition over the years to see how they have been doing! The fact is this guy Aakar Patel cannot for gods sake stand Indians excelling in any field. He has to find a peculiar rationalization to belittle their performance. I am sure many Pakistanis will be gleefully rubbing their hands reading Aakar’s rants!

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  • Reader
    Jun 3, 2012 - 5:18AM

    Wonderful analysis !!!

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  • Sunil
    Jun 3, 2012 - 6:05AM

    wow – now i know whether to take your other analysis seriously or not…Recommend

  • Babloo
    Jun 3, 2012 - 6:46AM

    @Parashankara, You debunked the premise of the article in one short paragraph. Excellent.

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  • John B
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:05AM

    Comparing apples and oranges. The problem of India students have nothing to do with spelling bee in the US.

    Spelling bee students of Indian ethnical origin are as American as apple pie and a winner in Each school district is form different ethnic group, not only Indian.

    It is an avenue for minority ethnic groups to get ahead of the competition and African Americans once dominated the competition which was primarily dominated by whites, before Indian ethnic group took over in recent years.

    If the author’s theory is correct, then students in india and not the US students will be a spelling bee winner.

    Perhaps it is an obsession with Indian ethnic community compared to others rather than the memorization nonsense.

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  • SB Puri
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:21AM

    One reason could also be that most Indian kids grow up learning at least on more language in addition to English. The Devnagri script is considered the most scientific and phonetic of all scripts. Learning to spell words using phonetics helps the ability to memorize the spellings. The fact that Indians grow up learning multiple languages also explains their proficiency in software programming.

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  • Reader
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:28AM

    Mr. Patel- Students don’t prepare by memorizing. They learn the root words and derive.Recommend

  • Shantaram
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:40AM

    Most of the contest winners are brahmins
    Brahmins have won 10 out of the 14 Spelling bees won by Indians

    All the 3 finalists in 2012, Snigdha, Stuti and Arvind are brahmins

    Even in the Geographic bee, last week,

    The ranks were

    1 Rahul , Brahmin

    2, Vansh, Jain

    3 Varun, Brahmin

    4 Raghav, BrahminRecommend

  • Rakesh Mehta
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:42AM

    @Aakar
    Don’t let this the tantrums of these cry babies bother you. The Indian ego is fragile as an egg shell and cannot take any criticism. Just look at the anger you have provoked. We need perpetual flattery to feed our self-esteem.

    Like you Indians achievements at spelling don’t impresse me. It just reveals Indian weaknesses.

    The backwardness of Pakistan makes us feel superior, but compared to the West or the Orientals we are outclassed. The intellectual achievements of Indian civilization does not measure up to the West as anyone who has entered a decent library with an open mind will attest.

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  • gp65
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:58AM

    There afe other countries too which focus on rote learning e.g. China and Pakistan. The Indian dominance of spelling bees should be given due crdit instance of being simply dismissed as an instance of rote learning.

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  • Selvam
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:59AM

    I don’t know how kids prepare for America’s National Spelling Bee but I do know that Indian teenagers cram their memories to pass Higher Secondary exams. Except for CBSE most Indian curricula are 95% about memorizing, not about critical thinking or problem solving.
    As 99% of India politicians, bureaucrats and teachers teachers have been trained in a similar way, they don’t see this as a problem. Fact is nothing of substance can be stuffed into a childrens brains by a teachers: students themselves only can learn what interests them well and expand on that rapidly.
    How is education in Pakistan doing by the way? No dumb cramming going on I hope ;-)

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:01AM

    @concerned Indian: My analysis is otherwise:
    1. There is reservation to enter an engineering college. But after that all, whether ur upper caste / Brahmin / others you have to face the same set of questions to become an engineer. So please remove the idea that some engineers are less qualified than others.
    2. All my friends are from all castes. When we finished engineering we ALL had to undergo two years training in a MNC. So forget the idea that caste plays a role in getting selected. It is just that what we were educated and what industry wanted is different. Remember each industry has different departments (QC, production, procurement …) for which no graduate engineering college is supposed to teach.

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  • Rao
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:22AM

    @You Said It: WELL SAID!

    Another point of interest is the stastic that a large segment of the Indian participants, as evidenced by their last names, come from families whose native language is Telugu. One of the well recognized attributes of scholarship in Telugu and Sanskrit is ‘Dhaarana’. One of the literary programs well known to Telugu speakers is ‘Avadhaanam’, although prevalent amongst Sanskrit scholars, it is no where near the popularity it has among Telugu speakers. ‘DHAARANA’ requires (promotes) skills in the construction of words from their roots along with their correct vocalization and ability to work backward to create the spoken word. Translating complex sounds without loss of meaning was mastered over several hundreds of years during the Vedic Period.

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  • Mirza
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:25AM

    There are lot of common habits and culture among south Asian countries. They are very similar in many characteristics and they all get along very well in the US. There used to be not much difference between Pakistani and Indian kids and they all did very well in school and went to colleges. However, there is a disturbing trend in the last couple of decades. While the progress of American Indians have been the same or better, that is not the case of Pakistani Americans. In the Silicon Valley and the top schools the number of Pakistanis is not close to their ratio in population of S. Asia. While the income and education level of Indians is highest among all ethnic groups, Pakistanis are lagging behind. I am not saying who is better but there is a trend and it needs to be studied.

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  • mr. righty rightist
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:27AM

    Actually Indians, don’t take offense.

    The author is right.Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:31AM

    And by the way dear author, I expected a little more research from you.

    The article you have mentioned “http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2010/06/whyareindiankidssogoodat_spelling.html” This article was written almost 2 years ago.

    They just replaced the picture of Kavya with the new girl.

    Please do some research.

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  • Qanoon
    Jun 3, 2012 - 9:15AM

    Our one of LLM professor in London compels us to take his paper by ratta. Just fed up of it. Never did it in Pakistan till LL.B.

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  • Indian
    Jun 3, 2012 - 9:19AM

    The fact is that it plays to their strength, which is learning by rote.
    @author:
    REPETITION of INFORMATION (Squire and Kandel, 2000) and EXCITEMENT at the time of learning (Cahill & Gorski, 2003; LeDoux, 2002) are important parts of learning in children. Recommend

  • Indian
    Jun 3, 2012 - 9:33AM

    (India’s software body NASSCOM says nine out of 10 Indian engineering graduates who apply to one of the big four software firms are rejected as being unemployable).
    Mr. Aakar Patel needs to know the relationship between supply and demand. India today produces 4 lakh engineers per year (Second only to china which produces 6 lakh per year). And any engineering student will tell you that only 1 in 10 get a job in a campus interview (when you include both institutes like IITs and the ones with less standards). When you have supply more than demand, surplus is a natural result. NOT JUST SUBSTANDARD PROFESSIONALS…. Recommend

  • sk
    Jun 3, 2012 - 9:36AM

    The author and many comments here are quick to generalise and theorise with insufficient or one sided data. What about the fact that a very large number of Indians have won the US President’s technology medals and Science Medals (highest honour in US) and have founded literally scores of successful and highly innovative technology companies in Silicon Valley? ,,,,,The names of such people makes a very large list. At the moment: Amar Bose, Vinod Khosla, Arun Netravali, Narendra Karmarkar, Vivek Ranadive, Desh Deshpande, Raj Reddy, Kanwal Rekhi, Sabeer Bhatia, Paul Raj, Pradeep Sandhu, Raj Singh, Rajinder Singh, Pradeep Sindhu, B Jagdeesh, K B Chandrasekhar, Pradman Kaul etc etc …leave alone the executives who are playing a leading role in academia, invest banks in Wall Street, other large companies.
    SK
    Mumbai

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  • Sajida
    Jun 3, 2012 - 10:01AM

    American education standard is sinking, so doing well in it is not the high mark it once was.
    Indians it is hoped will do better than the system they are a part of, which needs as many educated minority students as possible. The new era started last year;and the 2 dominant groups (Latino and African Americans) have poor high school and even worse college graduation rates.
    Of course neither have a culture of pushy parents and are discriminated by education system as they get inexperienced teachers and less funding.

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  • Jun 3, 2012 - 10:29AM

    When the body and mind are healthy, anything is possible for children to learn. Hatred, jealousy, lies, poverty, identity crisis, lack of parental guidance will crush the intellectual potential of the child.

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  • MilesToGo
    Jun 3, 2012 - 11:10AM

    So then who should be winning spelling bee?

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  • rgg
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:13PM

    No. Indians born in America and who go to school there don’t learn by rote.

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  • Sunny
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:25PM

    the author seems completely ignorant of the fact that the spellers dont just “rattalize” the entire dictionary, rather they are smart little kids who acquire knowledge of different languages to which english words hold their roots. For example, Latin, spanish, french or german (it can be many). They then use their knowledge and experience to anticipate how that particular word spells like. Its not just rata. Give these smart kids some credit please.

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  • Ginseng
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:34PM

    Foolish article.

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  • Prakash
    Jun 3, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Do not denigrate RATTA. Every learning is not based on logic.
    Memorizing is an important skill in itself – and sometimes the only way of acquiring knowledge.
    For instance, how else would you learn a language?

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  • Arun
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:19PM

    You should NEVER denigrate hard work. After all, these are kids working BLOODY HARD to earn scholarship money. I say more power to them. I am extremely proud of them.

    Also, memorizing a dictionary is STUPID. Why assume these kids are dumb? I have two of them who are 10 times smarter than me and my wife were at their age. Both my wife and I have been great achievers academically and we know what we are talking about.

    “Rote learning”?!!! You should look at essays written kids in my son’s middle school. They all attend public school here and they get published on the web.

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  • ujwal
    Jun 3, 2012 - 1:53PM

    The aurthor must take a note of the fact that he himself has been able to write this lengthy script directly as a result of ratta, as learning the basics of any literature requires you to memorize a lot of things , then only you are able to articulate your thoughts in an elegant way, right from learning the sequence of alphabets A then cones B then comes C.. So has the aurthor learned it on the first go in his childhood..?

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  • Saqib Syed
    Jun 3, 2012 - 2:21PM

    Ratta provides us basic ingredients of knowledge such as nomenclature, terminology and elementary facts and figures. Based upon these precursors one can build up the edifice of analogy, logic and reason. So rejecting Ratta out rightly is not appropriate. A comprehensive study can only be achieved by the combination of both memorizing and reasoning.

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  • Ganesh
    Jun 3, 2012 - 2:40PM

    @mohammed bilki:
    Super comment!It goes for all both in India & Pakistan!!

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:02PM

    @Prakash: Ya i do not know how one would learn tables other than by Ratta.

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  • abhi
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:24PM

    i agree winning in spelling bee doesn’t mean that you will be successful in other fields.

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  • beep
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:24PM

    some Indians have started talking about the castes of the contestants. Exactly why Indians in India do not achieve much. They have to get out of the narrow mindedness to think big and achieve big. Recommend

  • David Smith
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:24PM

    @Rakesh Mehta,
    So according to you, all the arguments presented by parashankara, yousaidit etc. are tantrums?

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  • Rahul
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:33PM

    Its lame article . Just come to india and crack IIT -Jee , AIIMS, CAT , IAS , AIEEE these are one of the toughest exams and even tougher that SAT , GRE , TOFEL etc . We indians on general love maths and science and hence excel

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  • Mr T
    Jun 3, 2012 - 3:59PM

    @gp65:
    My god it hurts you when Indians are being bashed. You just cant take it can you, yet we Pakistanis are blamed for being intolerant. Interestingly, It’s an Indian himself who’s saying this… hahaha

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  • Rakesh Mehta
    Jun 3, 2012 - 4:27PM

    @Rahul
    The purpose of education is to prepare you for the problems of the real world not to ace multiple choice tests. Unfortunately with millions of students we are forced to resort to such tests. We hope their is some correlation between performance at exams and say being a competent engineer in the real world.

    I once met an exasperated Australian professor who had an Indian PhD student who was a topper but was incapable of doing research. Talk to foreigners of what they think of Indians. I have met foreigners ridiculing the competence IIT professors.

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  • G. Din
    Jun 3, 2012 - 4:43PM

    @BlackJack:
    This man has absolutely lost it. Never mind him.
    If it were about learning by rote, why did Snighda ask for the origin of her winning word? Why do the Bee competitors ask that they be provided an example sentence in which the word would be used. If it were all by rote, she would have closed her eyes and regurgitated what she had learnt by rote from the back recesses of her memory. Why would she try to write this word on her palm as she uttered letter after letter? I challenge this ignoramus to try to prove what he is claiming by committing a whole dictionary to memory. What a drip!
    The fact is that Indians are not only good at Spelling Bees but are distinguishing themselves at NASA and in public services, private corporations, financial, medical and engineering fields. They practically run the British healthcare services. They have risen to governorships of their states and are favourably considered for heading huge government departments.

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  • Zalim Singh
    Jun 3, 2012 - 5:22PM

    Indians are also the highest earning ethnic group in USA. Even more than Jews. So nothing surprising that these girls are doing well.

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  • Anonymous
    Jun 3, 2012 - 5:47PM

    Ratta culture is part of us as all scriptures are in Foreign languages likes Arabic , English or Sanskrit. How one can understand when one does not know the meaning of words. So to pray or says lines of holy books there is no alternative to ratta.
    Prayers are the first things people learn to say.
    Over thousands of years our genes may have developed some changes to adopt to that.

    I think their is nothing wrong to follow the system. People who score very high in ratta system they do very well in MCQ system also.
    Does this kills our critical thinking? In most cases answer is yes.

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  • malik
    Jun 3, 2012 - 6:25PM

    Ratta or rote learning is of great advantage especially if you are going to become a Doctor or a Lawyer or a Chartered Accountant. He will have all the facts at his disposal and he can make crucial decisions in a snap.

    Imagine getting treated by a Doctor who says I don’t believe in rote learning !!

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  • Babloo
    Jun 3, 2012 - 6:58PM

    Indians do well in spelling bee and national geography and other science math contests because there are more Indians working hard and preparing for it. Period.
    Its as simple as that. If Pakistanis, Somalis or Afganis worked as hard they would attain similar results.

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  • SK
    Jun 3, 2012 - 7:49PM

    I commented earlier on highly innovative scientists and technologists from India in the US who come from the same much maligned tradition of “ratta”. I did not list out Pakistani entrepreneurs but one who has greatly impressed me by his pioneering role in Silicon Valley and his humanist values is Atiq Raza. He has led many important tech start ups and is now a prominent VC and is a great well wisher of Indo-Pak peace. You can read more about him in http://reflections-shivanand.blogspot.in/2007/08/tech-pioneers.html
    Cheers to what I call Indus products.
    SK
    Mumbai

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  • Shyam
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:00PM

    Sour grapes

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  • Menon
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:23PM

    @BlackJack:

    I wish Indians knew about their culture and heritage as much as some Europeans do.

    Thanks for your comment.

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  • Shantaram
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:27PM

    Aakar Patel, in his columns often makes use of caste to explain Indian / Pakistani society
    Such as honor-killings carried out by specific castes, billionaires from specific castes,
    He also explains disfunction of Pakistan by explaining the caste composition of Pakistan.
    The castes in Pakistan are mostly those that do honor-killings in India

    So the simplest explanation for Indian success in these contests is caste

    Just as most Indian billionaires are banias, most Indian contest winners in USA are brahmins, Jains, and a few other bania castes
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  • Menon
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:28PM

    @Concerned_Indian:

    Sir,

    Your comment deserves the “world ignorance display award” for 2012. You nailed it just 6 months into the year.

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  • Pankush
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:33PM

    @Shantaram:
    Out of 12 Spelling bee winners 6 were Brahmin Balu Natarajan,Ragasree Ramchandran,Nupur Lala,Sai Gunturi,,Anurag Kashyap,Sameer Mishra.
    The other 6 are farmer castes:Gowdas or Reddys.In recent years the farmer castes have taken over just like they took over education in India by opening private engg and medical colleges.

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  • Rakesh Mehta
    Jun 3, 2012 - 8:52PM

    @malik

    Yes memorization is important for fields of study, but it should be theoretical understanding backed by facts not purely rote memorization.

    Just reading the above comments confirms what I expected. They think they are educated but they are not.

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  • Lala Gee
    Jun 3, 2012 - 9:19PM

    @Rakesh Mehta:

    “The backwardness of Pakistan makes us feel superior, but compared to the West or the Orientals we are outclassed. The intellectual achievements of Indian civilization does not measure up to the West as anyone who has entered a decent library with an open mind will attest.”

    Absolutely correct analysis. However, the backwardness of Pakistan has more to do with perception and false pride of Indians than reality, especially in the realms of intellectual and creative capabilities.

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  • Ak
    Jun 3, 2012 - 9:19PM

    @Rakesh Mehta:
    Looks like someone else also need to go to a library!!!

    Aakar Patel somehow tends to focus on the negative aspects instead of looking at things positively or even objectively. Most of the analysis seems very naive and over simplification, seems like a trend every week.

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  • gp65
    Jun 3, 2012 - 10:16PM

    @Sajida: “American education standard is sinking, so doing well in it is not the high mark it once was.”

    These kids are part of teh same American educational system that is supposedly sinking. Also why are Pakistanis then not doing well i Spelling Bees, National Geography contests and so son. What about Chinese?

    Don’t make such racist statements. This success has to do with focus, hard work and family values.

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  • Cynical
    Jun 3, 2012 - 10:54PM

    @You said it

    Most rational response by far.Very perceptive and informative as well.Recommend

  • Mohammed Rafiq Sethi
    Jun 3, 2012 - 11:21PM

    In this context and as a Muslim, I have known that the Indian subcontinent leads the entire Muslim world, when it comes to memorization of Qur’an (hifz). It was nice to discover that the memorization of the religious text is rooted in Indian culture better than probably in any other part of the world. I never knew that Vedas were also so memorized by the Hindus and the Muslim converts simply inherited this tradition like so many others, from their forefathers and continue to be very proud of this activity. Muslims simply incorporated memorization of the Holy text into Islam in India.
    Mohammed Rafiq Sethi

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  • Wonderful
    Jun 3, 2012 - 11:46PM

    @Menon:
    Pakistan will come to know of India’s culture in 2017. Guess who will be the President of US A – Bobby Jindal. An American INDIAN.

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  • Ali tanoli
    Jun 3, 2012 - 11:56PM

    what a shame some peoples still saying that those were Brahmins even living in the westren society did not changed them and if Harijan had chance they might do better than these racist brahmins.

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  • Ali tanoli
    Jun 4, 2012 - 12:11AM

    @zalim singh,
    Going by Rich race jews still counted number one in the united states second number is korean south and third number goes to indians …..

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  • Indian(Rhode Island)
    Jun 4, 2012 - 1:32AM

    Though it is true that to prepare for Spelling Bee you need to use analytical and reasoning abilities, I think it is only a small part of it. The dominant theme of Spelling Bee is indeed ratta. Fully agree with the author.

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  • Ali tanoli
    Jun 4, 2012 - 3:39AM

    @ Rakesh Mehta
    I agree sir this is the reality of world india or pakistan both are best Ratta research experts.

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jun 4, 2012 - 6:20AM

    @Arun: Well said do not degenerate hard work , working hard is a very difficult habit to inculcate in your kids once that is done they can excel in any field

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  • gp65
    Jun 4, 2012 - 8:09AM

    “This advantage Indians have of being able to find the time and motivation to commit things to memory is not particularly useful outside of things like spelling contests. It is of no use in thinking about problems and solutions.”

    You are wrong on several counts counts:
    1. Indians do not have any advantage over other ethnic groups such as Chinese or Muslims where rote learning is also emphasized.
    2. As several other people have pointed oit, memorization is a part of the requirement but there is much more to success in a spelling bee than simply memorizing words and spitting it out.
    3. The Indian diaspora in US ( of which the current spelling bee winner Snigdha is a part) has the highest median family income. The focus on education is a big part of the reason.http://dawn.com/2012/05/23/dollars-and-sense-of-american-desis/
    4. The NASSCOM issue with engineers is not relevant since it is about Indians in India where the sheer population makes the employment market very competitive.

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  • Rakesh Mehta
    Jun 4, 2012 - 8:11AM

    @Lala Gee

    To be brutally honest I truly believe Pakistan is backward and it will have colosal difficulties moving into the modern world. It needs a radical restructuring of society on the scale of the French or Russian revolution. I don’t, however, see any revolutionary movement in Pakistan. The Pakistani intelligentsia is minute, demoralized and in retreat. I could not live in Pakistan I would have my throat cut for voicing what I believe.

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  • Lala Gee
    Jun 4, 2012 - 12:58PM

    @Rakesh Mehta:

    “To be brutally honest I truly believe Pakistan is backward and it will have colosal difficulties moving into the modern world.”

    Again the same thing I talked about. The problem is the wrong perceptions and false pride of our Indian friends. I said “in the realms of intellectual and creative capabilities” and that was too in comparison with Indian people not with the developed nations. Although, USA is leading in R&D but can you term Germany backward. Same is the case with India and Pakistan. India may be in lead but Pakistani people are not totally dumb and lack potential. Hope this will clear any ambiguity.

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  • One God for every one
    Jun 4, 2012 - 1:25PM

    The author’s analysis is completely devoid of scientific angle. Most Indian kids(especially Hindus,Budhists,Sikhs, Jains) especially with educated parents do practice super brain yoga as well as meditation which are essentially main contributing factors for their academic excellence as well as many cerebral contributions.Most of them learn by studying root words, languages; Most Indian as well as European languages are derived from Sanskrit hence it is much advantageous for many Indian kids excelling and mastering languages(for that matter even software languages, no wonder the largest software professionals are Indians in the world) as well as spellings.Like many Olympic winners are non Indians because they are more athletic and concluding that those sports are useless is utterly non scientific analysis.
    The Author also failed to note that such a command of spelling words and their meaning can help them realizing their future potential to become an expert in neuroscience or psychiatrist as the spelling bee champ revealed in her interview.

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  • dude
    Jun 4, 2012 - 1:32PM

    @Shantaram – Brahmins are gr8. Its good that you separated then from rest of the Indians. Now we can segregate you Brahmins as a castist people in India. You can very well leave india for europe and america, your original ancestral place and leave others alone.

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  • dude
    Jun 4, 2012 - 1:35PM

    @Zalim Singh:
    Indians are also the highest earning ethnic group in USA. Even more than Jews. So nothing surprising that these girls are doing well.

    Because they are the most frugal people. They know only to earn and not to spend.

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  • Zalim Singh
    Jun 4, 2012 - 4:23PM

    @ Dude

    pl read the comment you wrote. They are the highest earners. Nobody is discussing their savings.

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  • gp65
    Jun 4, 2012 - 7:36PM

    @dude: “Because they are the most frugal people. They know only to earn and not to spend”

    Indians being highest earning has no relevance to their spending habits – though it may have relevance to wealth generation..
    Frugality is not a bad thing as you are making it out to be.
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  • Iyan
    Jun 5, 2012 - 6:17AM

    I find that Mr. Patel’s column strange. Indian Americans have Nobel Prizes in Physics (Chandrasekhar), Chemistry ( Ramakrishnan), Economics (Sen), Biology and Medicine (Khorana) and in Mathematics the National Medal of U.S. (Latest Abel Prize was won by Varadhan) and several before have won the Mathematics medals. Several Physicists and Chemists of India origin have been nominated for the Nobel Prize although they did not win so far. CEOs of many major companies and some among the largest in the US include Indian Americans at the very top. All have been raised in their under graduate days in Indian schools. Wonder if Mr. patel knows these ?
    Indian methods of learning are not bad at all, and at college levels in India there is extensive problem solving that is taught. Ask any one who attended their IITs. or interact with them on a sufficiently sphisticated level. You will see for yourself. They are pretty sharp cookies.

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  • Ginseng
    Jun 5, 2012 - 7:58AM

    @One God for every one:
    Excellent points. Sanskrit, brain yoga, meditation, are all contributing to the genius minds of young indians.

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  • Mawali
    Jun 5, 2012 - 5:24PM

    Excellent analysis. Indeed all this is about rote or rataa. Having said that I cannot discount the hardword that goes behind getting a child ready for a contest which is pretty tough and competitive. Parents put in a lot of work into getting their child prepared for competitve events or for life in general. Asian kids in general are the product of their parents hard work and thinking.

    Perhaps, there in lies the problem! Asian Kids are used as robots to program and perform according to the parents wishes from the way they wipe themselves (which they don’t) to the marital arrangements.

    The fact is South Asian parents in specific create not nurture children into adults. literal zombies who can’t think for themselves. Compared to for instance American kids who are nurtured at an early age and given the basic do’s and dont’s about life and encouraged to make decisions on their own. Career choices are left to the kids based on individual proclivities and the ability to demonstrate creativity, desire and hardwork; how bad do you want it?

    Here is perhaps a crude benchmark that indicates creativity, desire and hardwork. India is a populaton of 1.2 billion strong. US now I believe touching 300 million. Yet, India from the staggering numbers has produced less than 10 Nobel laureates maybe around 7 while the US has well over 300 recipients of this prize.

    India, will keep making more babies who will learn to copy and learn from the ingenuity of the West. Masters at creating genuine imitations!

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  • SB
    Jun 8, 2012 - 5:36AM

    The author is correct in that repetitive/rote learning ends up creeping all the way to the end of higher education for a typical Indian student. The adverse effects of this are seen immediately when these students go abroad to get their master’s degrees and initially find it hard to be able to think about things from first principles or critical reasoning rather than by recollecting formulae. Very few university programs in India actually teach students by demonstrating complex concepts practically. Due to this reason, a fully educated Indian with a bachelor’s degree will find a disconnect when they step into industry.

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