By Rahul Maganti:
Something has been bothering me for the past few days. After days of soul searching and lonely walks across the dim-lit roads of the institute across the Powai lake, it wasn’t difficult for me to understand what this abstract thing is that has been so unsettling. And, there has been a reason for the whole storm to start in my brain. In less than a week from now, I will be sitting for my placements. For many of my friends and classmates, placements are a very big thing in life where they get to take up a much hyped-high profile, well-paying job, the dreams which we were shown when we slogged nights and days preparing for IIT-JEE, frequently splashing cold water into our almost closing eyes to stay all awake in order to ace the JEE. The slogging ensured that a majority of us entered into these prestigious institutes with an eye on the ‘package’ and the ‘job’, and not on evolving into engineers and to develop technology. The worst, many of us will now end up as Investment Bankers, Analysts and Consultants, and not as Engineers as we have been trained for the past four years.
Exactly three and a half years ago (July 2011), I got admitted into the Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science in IIT Bombay on a rainy July day when Bombay monsoons were in full flow. Today, as I am waiting for the results of my seventh semester, with just one remaining, I will have to confess, with contempt and despair, that academically I stand where I had been in July 2011. I have aged four long years, or to be precise, 40 months, during my stay here in IIT Bombay. The things I learnt and experienced here are undoubtedly numerous. The place gave me what I could have not have asked for in other institutes – a liberal space for thoughts to flourish. I have grown up all along my stay here looking at the same trees, the same roads, the same departments and the same hostels and of course, the same canteens and lounges. With every passing Bombay monsoon, I evolved as a human being pioneering different ambitions and dimensions of my life with maturity – emotional, intellectual and ideological issues, nurturing hobbies and passions. I can speak on and on of what this place has given me, but will save the same for the sentimental post which I will write towards the end of my stay here. I want to concentrate more on what I haven’t learnt.
I have enjoyed everything, literally everything, in IIT Bombay except academics, which is the main reason why I am here. The three and a half years are an academic void, which I hate to say. As I am writing this, I understand that this is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. The thought that I will leave the institute in April 2015 with the same or incremental increase in academic knowledge as I entered this institute with in July 2011 is already creeping in and is getting very hard to digest. The little I learnt during the course of mugging for exams get erased as soon as the exam is done. I am pretty much sure that I would not be able to take a paper of a course in a previous semester now.
How could I have expected something different if I had bunked classes or just attended them for the sake of the 80% attendance rule? Waking up at 8.20 AM and dragging myself to a lecture at 8.30 AM and reaching the classroom at 8.45 AM just because the professor will force the 80% attendance rule has been part and parcel of my culture and life all along the seven semesters. And, numerous of them went by with the professor singing lullabies in the Air-Conditioned classrooms. Not to forget, the seats are not too uncomfortable for a short nap either. Why would the consequence be something different if I had spent just the night before to study even for the end semester examinations? Why would I be academically equipped to be an ‘engineer’ if I don’t even go through the textbooks suggested for the course but end up mugging the few tutorial problems and last year examination papers during the last minute?
As I end this, I am quite unsure whether this is my experience alone or the issue of a major part of the student community. I also can’t pass on a judgement on whether it is my problem or if that is the problem of the education system. But, one thing I can tell you with a certain amount of surety is that there are many students like me and the system failed all of them. Every one of them! While I don’t deny the mindset problem, I also believe that the education system can be fixed with proper dialogue and deliberations etching a progressive, inclusive and more practical form of education. While the quality of research by the professors is unquestionable, their teaching standards definitely need improvement. The fact that some professors have been successful in waking me up for an 8.30 AM class in the Bombay monsoons or a cold January winter is testimony of some wonderful professors we have. Sadly and unfortunately, they form a very tiny part of the professor community. The rigorous academic curriculum needs to be reviewed to make sure that a wider diversity is allowed to be opted for by the students. And, the most important treatment for the malaise is to disincentivize all the coaching institutions which are nothing but factories churning out to-be engineers, thus inspiring humans to run a rat race. The last one is the long-term solution. That would have saved people like me from following this race, which I became a part of, despite several and repeated attempts by my parents to convince me to take up Humanities.
All this is propelling me to now take up further studies and stay in the academic field, this time in a field where I would not be academically handicapped after one or two years. I would want to be academically proficient, at least in a single subject which I am interested in, and subjects like Political Science, International Relations and Sociology always enticed me. This has taught me a lesson for life – to never run a rat race until someone aims the gun at point-blank. I would not like to take up a job precisely for this reason and also would not repeat the same mistake and will consciously try to gain expertise in the field which I will choose out of choice and passion, but not out of compulsion and bad-faith.