I had written this post long ago but thought it is still relevant to be shared again, with some updates. Today, with so many career options available for children to choose from, one still hears of parents nudging/pushing their children into the engineering stream, willingly bearing the exorbitant fees charged by coaching institutes – some of which are of dubious merit – and putting their children and themselves through extreme pressure, all in the hope of turning out an engineer. Isn’t it about time to do a rethink on career options and consequently on higher education streams?
From the archives……
As another academic year comes to a close, lakhs of high school students – stars in their eyes – would swarm the thousands of coaching classes for various higher education degrees in the hope that they would enter the hallowed precincts of one of the elite institutes of the country. They would put the next couple of years of their lives on hold, and chances are that their families would too, in order to pursue their dream.
Parents who want their children to enter an engineering institute of repute have to constantly walk a tightrope even while keeping a steadying grip on their children. First and foremost in this quest come the coaching classes. It is the height of irony that there are entrance examinations to get into one of the well-known institutes! Once in, they literally keep the students on a punishing treadmill, scarcely allowing them time to even breathe. So much so that they can rightly be called ‘choking classes’.
Have you seen children living in constant dread of being shunted to a less challenging group in these classes, consequently losing their peace and sleep? Far from instilling confidence in the child to face the formidable entrance exams, they thoroughly demoralize them. Of course some students thrive on competition and relish the prospect of pitting their skills against their classmates, but not all are so endowed.
A couple of years ago I had visited Kota, that city which has more coaching institutes than perhaps schools. In fact, they run schools too and when the students come to high school, they are taken into their coaching classes to prepare them for the entrance exams to medical and engineering courses. My friend Indu had taken me to a temple and showed me the innumerable heart-wrenching entreaties to God on the walls, made by the hapless students of these educational ‘factories.’ One could only imagine the unspeakable pressure these children must have been under, going through their words. All for what? A seat in IIT/AIIMS? How many of them would make it? What about the rest?
In order to keep up the morale of the children preparing for one or the other of these exams, it is of paramount importance to let them know that they are not any less intelligent if they fail to get in. And that it is not the end of the world if they do not make it. There are other options, other careers. The line dividing those who get in and those who don’t is so thin as to be non-existent.
I had once met a retired professor of IIT Delhi, who emphasized this point. “On the given day, the student who manages to retain his or her cool to answer the paper well, is the one to be selected. And it need not just be the most intelligent student. There is no magic formula,” he had said. What wise words!
Some years ago, on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai, my co-traveller was a young man from Surat. Surmising that he was probably still in college, I started a conversation about college admissions and coaching classes. He warmed up to the subject. “I had never heard of coaching classes even in +1, till I met a boy from Chandigarh, who ‘enlightened’ me about them,” he chuckled. He told me that he was an IITian, and had been recruited by a big multinational just a few months earlier.
He went on to say how being born in a business family in a city comprising predominantly of businessmen, he was completely free of any pressure from his parents and neighbours as far as his studies were concerned. “My parents had little idea about the JEE and consequently left me to my own devices. I thoroughly enjoyed studying and learning,” he smiled happily. How many of our children can claim as much?
He gave an amazing piece of statistics as well — the year he cleared the IIT-JEE, only 11 students from the state of Gujarat had got selected to the premier institutions and he had been the only one from Surat! I am not sure if Gujarat has joined the rat-race in earnest in the intervening years since that young man graduated.
By inference, students from the other states and social backgrounds fare very badly — pressures from the family, peers and the coaching classes, not to speak of pressure from themselves — to excel. Little wonder then that the children go to pieces and sometimes require even psychiatric counselling to counter depression and other psychological disorders. In extreme cases the kids commit suicide. Result times always make me nervous – to read about some such case.
Talking of lack of pressure, there was an uneducated cycle-rickshaw wallah in my neighbourhood, who had managed to put one of his daughters through catering college and another through B.Com on his meager earnings. All the children were worried about was to do well and earn the money to pay back their father’s debts – no pressure to perform or perish. The parents only talked of their daughters and how well they were studying. They didn’t want them becoming Collectors! The last I heard was that the daughter who had done the catering course had been sent to Dubai by her employers!
It is important for parents not to have unrealistic expectations from their children in terms of getting into professional courses vis-à-vis their performance levels, but be pragmatic about their academic competence.
I once had a neighbour who was very down-to-earth in this matter. “My son has got only 55% in the 12th Boards. How can I force him to get into a medical or engineering college? Let him take any course where he can get admission and do well in that!” she said. How I loved that woman! How many parents can be this matter-of-fact? That boy went on to get his MBA and is doing very well for himself.
Another acquaintance allowed her son to take Humanities (shudder, shudder! ) in the +1 classes and saw him get into the prestigious JNU at Delhi. He wanted to try for IAS after completing the course on International Business Studies or some such thing. Just imagine what would have happened had the mother fallen prey to the entrance exam pressure. We might have lost a great civil servant!
One is left wondering about the damage such teachers do to the psyche of the students by telling them they are no good, constantly putting them through comparisons and ‘promoting’ or ‘demoting’ them with every test, sometimes on a weekly basis. How many children can go through such ‘evaluation’ and yet retain their competitive spirit?
It is true that competition has become murderous these days and one has to be constantly on one’s toes to get into the course of one’s choice. But keeping pace with competition, the number of career options is also growing by the day. There are careers in a multitude of fields that were unheard of, even half a decade ago. Today, any average student can make a career in a field of his or her choice and scale great heights. I know of children who had barely got 50% in their 12th standard, making it big in their careers.
By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the children, parents and teachers can channel them in the right direction so that they can find their niche and excel in them.
That way we can prevent many a square peg in a round hole.
Image courtesy: telegraphindia.com