On Learning At Home

Recently, India has enacted this Right To Education Law, one of whose provisions dictates that schools must reserve at least 25% of seats for kids from economically backward communities. This post will be tangential and will not be trying to examine the merits and demerits of the law.

So earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a long (and pretty good) analysis of the impact of the law (it was published in India in Mint). While I might discuss the rest of the article in another post, the paragraph that caught my eye was this one:

Sumit’s father and many of the poorer parents are troubled by the fact that their own limited literacy prevents them from helping. Some wealthy parents, meanwhile, chafe at the slowed pace of learning. They have suggested segregating the poor kids.

Made me wonder how much primary learning actually happens in school, and how much happens at home. Looking back at my own childhood, I learnt most of my “concepts” at home, and before any subject was taught in school I was well prepared for it. In fact, I would be so ahead of my class that I’d frequently get bored, and would think that my classmates were dumb because they weren’t able to keep pace with me.

My parents were no “tiger parents“. And I wasn’t a particularly industrious child. Of course, there would be times when my parents would make me recite tables of two-digit numbers as I traveled wedged between them on our Bajaj Priya, but never forced me to study (until maybe till there were a few months left for the IIT-JEE). And still, somehow, they managed to teach me everything at home. And that proved to be a massive advantage over kids that were encountering the concepts for the first time in school.

Of course, as I went to advanced classes, there was only so much they could teach me at home (since we were going beyond the basic fundamentals here, and there was only so much they could remember), but the head start that I got in primary school was, I think, really useful in my being a topper for most of my schooling, with there being a significant positive feedback.

So what do you think? How much do you think parents actually contribute to their kids’ learning in early age? Is there a positive correlation of kids doing well in school with whether their parents are well-informed, have time for kids and can teach well? If there does exist significant correlation, what are the policy implications of it? Does it defeat the purpose of reservations in school?

Successful IPOs

Check out this article in the Wall Street Journal. Read the headline. Does this sound right to you?

MakeMyTrip Opens Up 57% Post-IPO; May Be Year’s Best Deal

It doesn’t, to me. How in the world is the IPO successful if it has opened 57% higher in the first hour (it ended the first day 90% higher than the IPO price)? To rephrase, from whose point of view has the IPO been the “best deal”?

What this headline tells me is that makemytrip has been well and truly shafted. If the stock has nearly doubled on the first day, all it means is that MMYT raised just about half the cash from the IPO as it could have raised. If not anything else, the IPO has been a spectacular failure from the company’s point of view.

The US has a screwed up system for IPOs. Unlike in India where there is a 100% book-building process where there is effectively an auction to determine the IPO price (though within a band) in the US it is all the responsibility of the bank in charge of the IPO to distribute stock (as far as I understand). Which is why working in Equity Capital Markets groups in investment banks is so much more work there than it is here – you need to go around to potential investors hawking the stock and convincing them to invest, etc.

Now, the bank usually gets paid a percentage of the total money raised in the IPO so it is in their incentive to set the price as high as they can (and the fact that they are underwriting means they can’t get too greedy and set a price no one will buy at). Or so it is designed.

The problem arises because the firm that is IPOing is not the only client of the bank. Potential investors in the IPO are most likely to be clients of other divisions of the bank (say, sales and trading). By giving these investors a “good price” on the IPO (i.e. by setting the IPO price too low), the bank hopes to make up for the commission it loses by way of business that the investors give to other divisions of the bank. If most of the IPO buyers are clients of the bank’s sales and trading division (it’s almost always the case) then what all these clients together gain by a low IPO price far outweighs the bank’s lost commission.

It is probably because of this nexus that Google decided to not raise money in a conventional way but instead go through an auction (it made big news back then, but then that’s how things always happen in India so we have a reason to be proud). Unfortunately they were able to do it only because they are google and other companies have failed to successfully raise money by that process.

The nexus between investment banks and investors in IPOs remains and unless there are enough companies that want to do a Google, it won’t be a profitable option to IPO in the US. Which makes it even more intriguing that MMYT chose to raise funds in the US and not here in India.

Arranged Scissors 7: Foreign boys

This post has been in the pipeline for a long time now, but a recent article in the Wall Street Journal documenting the diffficulties faced by NRI men in finding brides has finally resulting in my writing this.

For a long time, the grooms that came highest in the pecking order in the arranged marriage market were the NRIs, as most women aspired to migrate to America. In communities where dowry is practised, these guys used to get the maximum dowry; where dowry isn’t practised, the more beautiful and smart women would be the prize for being an NRI. Actually, one can make a weak case that since most of the good-looking women migrated abroad one generation ago, a lot of their daughters who would have otherwise been prize catches in the arranged marriage market here have now grown up as ABCDs, leaving the local (indian) markets poorer.

The three-way ticket protocol for bridehunting by NRI grooms has been well documented (I would especially recommend this article by noted AI stud and ASU prof Subbarao Kambhampati). I think I might have written about this in my blog some time back, though I wouldn’t have used this name for the protocol. The protocol goes something like this:

  • Boy lands in india on a two or three week trip (this is getting shorter nowadays)
  • On the way home from the airport his father hands him a sheaf of CVs and photos. By the time they reach home, a shortlist has been made.
  • Boy rushes off into the kitchen to eat the long-awaited home food, while his father quickly calls up the parents of all shortlisted girls and arranges for “bride-seeing sessions” (i’ll put a separate post on that) with each of the shortlists in their respective houses. Boy’s father needs to make sure to allow for some slack so as to account for traffic jams
  • Bride-seeing ceremonies happen wrt all the shortlists
  • End of the day boy and parents sit down with a list of all girls, and objectively note down each of their strong and weak points. Appropriate weights are given for each point, and an objective sumproduct (nowadays this is done on excel I think) reveals the winner.
  • In the classic version of the protocol, wedding would happen a week later in the US and the couple would go to Madras the following day with marriage album in order to apply for the wife’s H4. Boy would return to the US and girl would hopefully follow him a few months later
  • In the modern version, where you have cheap tools to keep in touch across continents, the first trip for the boy ends with engagement (usually held less than a week after he landed in india). He goes back to India six months later for the wedding. In some cases, the engagement is followed by a discreet registration of marriage in court, so that the girl can have her visa ready by the time she gets married formally.

In fact, I sometimes get the feeling that the speed with which NRIs want to process their “scissors” is what has led to the common minimum programme model. Given the absolute lack of time in order to make a decision, they would look for checklists. “good looking enough”. “smart enough”. “dowry enough”. etc. Now, the girls that they would usually end up getting were “premium”, because of which what these girls did would be “aspirational” to the rest of the girls. (waves hand furiously). And thus, the entire market tilted in favour of the common minimum programme.

I know of a NRI boy who got ditched by his fiancee a week before they were supposed to get married (it was the usual protocol; he had come to india six months back; seen this girl; got engaged and flown back to return just in time for the wedding). Now all arrangements had been made and he had also spent thousands of dollars for the India trip, so it would have been suboptimal for him to have gone back emptyhanded. So what does he do? Within the course of the one week between the ditching and the original date of his wedding, he does another round of scouting, finds another girl, and gets married to her at the same time and place as he was supposed to originally get married!

In another case, I know of the cycle time being as short as four days. Basically two days between the bride-seeing ceremony, and the first wedding ritual. And some other cases have had the two parties agreeing to get married to each other by just looking at each other’s photos. Bizarre is an understatement.

So¬† I suppose I’ve spent most of this post talking around the mechanics of the NRI marriage, and making a few random pertinent observations about them. Next, I want to talk about segmentation in the arranged marriage market (which I had briefly touched upon in this post), which I think vaguely ties in to this NRI concept. I hope to write that sometime this weekend.

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

Arranged Scissors 6: Due Diligence Networks