Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another one bites the dust

The doubt which pervades a large number of youth today is the nature of earning a living. Is the pursuit of a job an end or is it a means in itself. Most of us do not have the option of making a choice. A job is a living is a mean to an end that is work. Very few people acknowledge the need to work in a calling that is close to your heart.

This idea that a job is never meant to be loved or fun is most prevalent among the generation that traces itself to the post independence era(the entire lot of them down till 90’s perhaps). People of this generation are addicted to the idea that a job is a struggle against the system and something comes out of the struggle. Maybe a stronger you, maybe a deeper understanding of "life".

An excellent caricature of this belief is from Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin's dad insists on making Calvin struggle through camp trips and daily activities with the mission of building character.

A lack of opportunities during their times translates into a failure to reconcile themselves to this era, where jobs may not be an end in themselves.

So what we see today is a phenomenon where a large number of parents are pushing their children into a career in spite of protests from those who should determine the life path in the first place, the children. Paradoxically this resistance seems to vindicate the parent’s belief that all good things come at a cost. Any attempts to point out that all unhappiness is not equal to struggle for a greater good is met with generalized punch lines like "Only change is constant" and "Survival of the fittest".

These turns out to be a self proving beliefs as any change the child did not want, is going to be painful and whether it did you good, will again be defined in the parents point of view. The distinct difference in the vocabulary of children and parents is another significant issue. Most urban children seem to view a career as something you should enjoy and love to do or something that is going to enable you(financially) to enjoy some other activity. Thus the use of words to describe what this dream world of happy work looks like include fun, enjoy, interest and passion.

This creates a simple problem with the parent’s generation, the last time they heard these words was when they read the interview of an upcoming actress. This immediately causes a condescending attitude to set in. Quite rightly (they think), parents have seen then big bad outside world; they have paid for your education and will always act in your interest. This condescending attitude can be observed from parents pressuring their children to take up engineering to IT jobs to even arranged marriages.

An important exercise is to deconstruct this statement and observe its limitations. But that’s for another time. With this condescending attitude of "I know best" parents set out to systematically plan out their children’s life.

The results of this are quite appalling. Some of the most creative people are dumped into scandalously drudge full lines like engineering(YES engineering is not creative).Often, if you read articles in various news papers about why a large number of engineering graduates make it to the IIMs and how these graduates do well in business. This is wrongly attributed to the "analytical skills" developed during engineering. The real reason being engineering has becoming a repository of skilled and talented people in India. More often than not these talents have nothing to do with those expected from engineering students. And the best brains are there because they have no other option.

Anyone who has been to an engineering college cultural fest will vouch for the fact that some students show tremendous abilities and capabilities in a variety of events testing literature, vocabulary, arts, drama etc. This is an expression more of misplaced talent than that of "diverse" skills of engineering student. It is no wonder that engineering students who are just really talented misplaced students do wonderfully well on management or any other education THEY choose once they are out. Thus engineering students do well in spite of and not due to the engineering education thrust on them.

But well engineering is a foundation isn't it, goes the general defensive argument. Well the fact is quite a few people are happy being dumped into engineering and a lot of people are happy having their parents make career choices for them. The flip side is this system burns a lot of people.

A large number of students feel betrayed when they enter engineering. Honest engineering students (who want to be where they are) are shocked by the rote methods of learning and the failure of teachers to impart anything of value. The sailors (people who don’t mind being there and are just in port waiting) are taken aback by how you learn nothing worth taking along with you to the outside world. And the meek (who are there, just there) are shocked into submission by the system. They have to deal with a course they did not want, with inherent weaknesses too. A lot of peers I know would have done wonderfully well in various commerce or art courses, a lot of them simply didn't GET maths and why we did it. And yet they were pushed into a 4 year course dependent on mathematical skills. The meek always comes out the worst.

They are unable to keep up with the curriculum, are stigmatized for being too dumb to complete a course. When placements season opens a large number of the meek just disappear not wanting to be seen and asked where they have been placed because either they haven’t been employed or they have simple got "bad" jobs. These students are paying for a choice they did not make.

The system which the middle class proudly boasts of, our school and higher education system, is hurting people, to put it very very mildly. How Indians even in the US are doing well cause Indian parents put pressure on them to study according to Indian levels is a common get together story in our households. Its almost a bonding ritual in the middle class to point out our “superiority”, how Indians are beating American kids in the spelling bee, how American kids can't point out their own country on the map and overall how we are stealing their jobs. Well someone needs to tell them the Indian education system does create some very intelligent people and spectacular success stories, but the road kill along the way and the social cost is not acceptable. The massive harm being caused to the minds of students will not be offset by a handful of achievements by a handful of students.

These stories will not be covered in the media for fear of rocking the “The rise of India success story”.