Not Enough Smart Indians?

by John Derbyshire

Curious story in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire

Call-center company 24/7 Customer Pvt. Ltd. is desperate to find new recruits who can answer questions by phone and email. It wants to hire 3,000 people this year. Yet in this country of 1.2 billion people, that is beginning to look like an impossible goal.

So few of the high school and college graduates who come through the door can communicate effectively in English, and so many lack a grasp of educational basics such as reading comprehension, that the company can hire just three out of every 100 applicants.

There are some poignant accounts of job applicants flunking the aptitude tests. This one was particularly touching, I thought:

A 22-year-old man named Chaudhury Laxmikant Dash, who graduated last year, also with a bachelor’s in engineering, said he’s a game-show winner whose hobby is international travel. But when probed by the interviewer, he conceded, “Until now I have not traveled.”

Oh, give the guy a job!

The Journal’s recommendation is of course to Fix the Schools! Given India’s still-huge rural population, there probably is some room for improvement there. How much room is open to question. Studies of cognitive ability in the subcontinent come up with low figures; but given the great ethnic variety in India, the distributions have to be multimodal. Indians themselves believe that south Indians are smarter on average than northerners, and there’s some anecdotal data you can point to. The Gene Expression website (which was founded by two Americans from Indian-immigrant families, one Hindu and one Muslim) has some discussions, e.g. here.

(Should you want to hear some Indian music while pondering this, I have linked to some gems here.)