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Education in India: Don’t let it stifle your dreams

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Disclaimer: The author understands that there are sections in society that do not have access to even the most basic of educational needs, and respects the efforts being put in for the same. The author knows that an article of this nature will draw attention towards the privileges and the financial divide that exists in the country, and the author has no intentions to harm anyone with any of the statements made in the article below about education system.

“Engineering or medicine?”: Education System

This question logically comes up in the tenth class, and if you’re unlucky, in the sixth class.

The number of times this question was posed in the student life of a typical student is phenomenal. Yes, education is important, quality education is very important and as much as I hate saying it, branded education does offer you an edge over others. However, the current state of things, at least from around two decades ago, especially, has witnessed an increasing number of children being forced to make the choice between engineering and, medicine, to an extent, where, teachers actively encouraged students with higher grade points (that’s what we had: CCE) to pursue science streams.

While schools do pursue it for the sake of reputation, honor and guaranteed admissions, it is somewhat bothersome the way society has inculcated parents and often the students themselves to believe that science, thereby engineering and medicine is the only way to measure up to the society’s standards of success. It is no wonder that the running joke, in a few select institutions is about how a typical student’s life follows the same pattern:

Science – Engineering at a nationally reputed college – MBA or MTech. via CAT or GATE – Successful job – Settle Abroad – Get married to a person with the same or similar background – Repeat.

As far as I am able to understand, there was a science boom in the economy in the late 1990s leading, to the development of IT related jobs. These jobs demanded skills that were often led by the people who were in engineering colleges pursuing computer sciences. Not to mention the glory the newspapers covered about the packages being offered to students of nationally reputed institutes, thus glorifying the entrance exams,

which were already difficult, and which grew to be tougher and more unpredictable so as to both maintain standard and make it more rigorous for students to strive for. While the economy has drastically changed, what with the number of qualified and yet unemployed graduates, the societal mentality is still stuck in the past.

Reports from 2019 say that 80% of graduates in engineering are unemployable. The rates of unemployment have obviously increased further in the current Covid-19 pandemic, but the numbers are still shocking. This is a result of the third-rate, engineering colleges that have popped over the country like the coaching institutes industry in the past decade leading to horrible quality in the services offered to an extent where, if your dream was to be an engineer and you really want to be an engineer; it is recommended that you give your all in the entrance exams of nationally reputed institutes so that you aren’t desperate to fall for the low quality being offered in the alternatives. In other words, there is no point in pursuing something, if you don’t want to because the substitutes just aren’t worth it.

So my first prayer to you is to ask yourself: Do you have a dream?

And if you do, what the hell are you doing?

We, in India, have certain ideals, to what a successful life is. Parents, in their well-intended good wishes, often want you to do things a certain way, check the checklist of life, and essentially, you are doing nothing except live their dreams. The checklist usually looks like this (this might be a little too specific):

  1. NTSE
  2. 10th Board Exams (>90% or 10.0 CGPA)
  3. Science Stream (What is commerce?)
  4. KVPY
  5. 12th Board Exams (>90%)
  6. Entrance Exam Combo (JEE Mains + VITJEE + BITSAT + other exams you won’t remember + JEE Advanced)
  7. Successfully in an institute of national importance. Maintain a decent GPA (>8.0)
  8. Get placed with a good package (preferable double of what your parents earn)

And by the time, you reach this point, you will suddenly come to an epiphany, that your life is nothing but the copy-paste of everyone else’s life. Like, sure, you’re working for a glorious IT company and your friend is working in a bank, but essentially both of you have had the same checklist given to you by your parents, and you don’t even realize where amidst all these, your dreams went.

So resist it. I am not saying that you should rebel without a cause, but if you see no point in the framework, your parents have built for you, by all means, resist it because you are living your life for yourself and not for your parents. Remember that. (Though if your dreams are in alignment to what your parents want, by all means, go through with it. I am not claiming that the framework is bad, all I am saying is that, if you do not want to restrain yourself with it, you should resist it.)

A song I like has the following lines, “Who is the one who made us into study machines?/It’s either number one or a failure/ They trap us in borders, the adults/ There’s no choice but to consent/ Even if we think simply, it’s the survival of the fittest.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I was enrolled into a coaching program when I was twelve.

All I was asked was to pick: “Engineering or Medicine?” And by eliminating the option of medicine (because I didn’t like the idea of cutting people up, another misconception, I tell you), I had to choose engineering. My parents didn’t bother telling me about the other options available, such as commerce or liberal arts, because it was a matter of prestige in a sense to pick one of these elite options. Lately, I have come to realize that I am not the only one who was offered this, “illusion of choice”.

I do think the situation is changing because I have occasionally come across very well-informed people, who are very clear about what they wish to pursue (that which is not engineering) and that is something that didn’t happen in my case. Because I trusted my parents, I didn’t find it necessary to research the current trends of educational requirements and the job areas. And that was a mistake.

And so my second prayer to you is: Remember to research.

As much as I wish to say that you can do whatever you want to do, the outside world still has it’s rules and regulations. If you want to pursue something of your own interest, have enough respect for it, to sit down and research. It’s your life, but you still need to know how to live, once your parents stop supporting you, and for that, you need money. You either need to research on how you can make your interest into a money-making venture or you need to get side jobs, in order to sustain your interests. Either way, the only way you can face this sort of uncertainty is if you have enough research backing you up. Suppose you want to pursue music, you need to decide if you want to pursue it in the industry, or if you want to keep it private. If you want to pursue it in the industry you need to sit and research, understand what it takes to get you out there. People usually give up half way through their research, but you need to know that nothing in this world can be gained without hard work, even if you are blessed with God-given talent. So research and be wise when you make your decisions.

In conclusion, only you can decide what the most important thing to you is, and yes, there will be difficulties in following what you really want to do, the road will not be easy. But remember that you must have enough faith in yourself not to be confined by anyone else’s dreams. Do it for yourself. Respect yourself and love yourself. Research has found that one of the most common regrets when people die, is that they didn’t live for themselves, but that they lived for the sake of others. That is something, our country’s education constantly forgets to include. And my final prayer to you is: You need not be the best in what you do. You need to be satisfied with the choices you make.

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