The Fault In Our Stars

science, board exams, iit, medical, kota, india, education,
Illustration by Damehi Laloo

It’s the same story every Indian spring. Board examination results are declared, schools and colleges flooded with admission applications, and parents begin losing their sleep. Amidst this annual chaos, it is not uncommon for the students to be disregarded in their opinions and choices. The all-too-common aspiration is the stepping into a study of ‘Science’, where even parents push their children to enroll into a related field of the stream. In the Indian education system, the Higher Secondary levels (Classes 11 and 12) are the penultimate stages of of an Engineering or Medical education. That Commerce and Arts/Humanities are the options of the ones who are not accepted into Science classrooms, is a travesty of the system.

But you need to have the marks for Science and definitely have to be the smartest in the lot to take up the stream. Else you have to resort to the stream meant for the average student, Commerce, or the one meant for the weakest amongst the lot, Humanities.’ This has been the persistent narrative for quite some time now and this still plagues students and parents.

“The stigma of society, as to why a child hasn’t chosen Science as their subject, frightens many; then again, parents think that their children will not get the opportunity for betterment if they don’t pursue sciences,” opined Marnie Batkhar, a mother of three, who also runs a city-based kindergarten called Happy Feet. “Parents are not aware of the many different possibilities in the other streams.”

science, board exams, iit, medical, kota, india, education,
Illustration by Damehi Laloo

It has become somewhat of a phenomenon for parents to send their children for entrance coaching to gain admission into IITs or A-tier engineering and medical colleges. While some endure the pressure and end up clearing the entrance, cases of students succumbing to the stress and even taking extreme steps also exist. For example, in Rajasthan’s Kota, casually called ‘the coaching capital’, 77 students have committed suicide from 2013 to 2018 as per the data compiled by the district administration. The competition is cut throat where everyone races to secure as much marks as possible to gain a seat. The ultimate logic behind most admissions – a hefty salary, hence a secured future. In this race, students stay isolated from every social aspect of life until they reach their goal. And the ones who don’t make it are sidelined; their self-confidence and ego affected, many an instance harmly.

“I took two years of rigorous coaching before getting into IIT, but was quite confused about my career options after that. I thought it was a good base but I was not at all sure what I wanted to do next after coming to IIT,” Pranita Nikam, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, said.

In 2017, a study by employability assessment firm Aspiring Minds claimed that 95 per cent of engineers in the country were not fit for software development jobs. It went on to create a lot of discussion and debate and many people rubbished off the report. However, in a June 4 2018 report by The Economic Times, CEO of Tech Mahindra CP Gurnani shed some light on the issue and said, “The top 10 IT companies take only 6% of the engineering graduates. What happens to the remaining 94%?”

“A student scoring 60% marks cannot pursue BA-English today, but can definitely go in for engineering. My point is simple — are we not creating people for unemployment? The Indian IT industry wants skills … But we have a skills shortage. The point is if I am looking for a robotics person and instead I get a mainframe person, then it creates a skill gap. This comes as a big challenge,” he added.

Generation X is a segment of the population that represents an overwhelming majority of the parents of children who are in the 14-18 age bracket. They infuse their bias and outlook in the decisions that they make for their children which also explains the unbalanced set-up of the educational and professional ladder. For them, it was a common practice to finish at least a bachelor’s degree and try for an opportunity in the government sector. a safe, non-risky future was the goal and that remains the case with their thought-process.

But slowly and surely, even if only in small pockets, things are changing. For example, in my hometown of Shillong in India’s northeast, the people that I spoke to for this article wanted something different, something more.

science, board exams, iit, medical, kota, india, education,
Illustration by Damehi Laloo

Amit Biswas, a lecturer at Raid Laban College, explained that the advent of digital media has widened the room for research and staying aware about career opportunities, owing to the networking which helps to connect with people in the field, read reviews and ask questions. This largely helped in making career decisions.

“I always wanted to be a car designer and I realized if I had to end up in top colleges I couldn’t wait to research and figure out choices after board exams. Hence I resorted to intensive research online and reached out to whoever I could,” elaborated Sounak Purkayastha, a former car designer at General Motors who finished his schooling in the city.

Rachel Nongkhlaw, aged 23 and already the owner her own beauty studio The Beauty Bar, said, “I always had an inclination towards make-up and cosmetics. However, it was difficult to convince my parents that I wanted to take it up for a living.”

“I started in bits by first doing makeup for family and friends and then freelanced. When everyone liked, it my parents began gaining some confidence. I did some research, obtained a certification and finally opened my own beauty studio.”

I remember a question I was asked by a teacher in high school and I would like to leave it here for parents, students and young professionals: If money was removed out of the equation, would people still pursue what they are pursuing now?

Author: Anirban Paul

Anirban Paul is a former journalist of Reuters News.

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