By Harshita Murarka:
It is welcoming to see Mr. Shashi Tharoor engaging with the nuances of education in India. He, in fact, has been one of the few leaders engaging with a number of real issues of national importance time and again. I am glad he brought up the issue of how having “a professional degree in the right field” is perceived as the “passport to social and economic development” in his recent article titled ‘India’s Deadly Entrance Exams‘ published in the Project Syndicate. He adeptly talks about the academic pressures Indian parents put on their children for whom engineering and medicine remain the top career choices. But sadly what goes amiss is an understanding of what drives them to do so.
It is crucial to explore the plight of higher education in the country, particularly in the humanities and social science streams, in light of this incumbent debate. Technical education paves the way for a bigger paycheck and that is the motivation for the aspiring students wanting to make it big in life. This has inadvertently led to neglect in other domains of education, particularly humanities. The disciplines that focus on shaping the mind are pushed to the lower rungs of the education hierarchy. This rigid hierarchy in the education system wreaks havoc on the aspirations and creativity of innumerable students wanting to carve a path for themselves. The undue validation given to success stories of the IITs or IIMs in terms of the pay packages stands in sharp contrast to the lack of acknowledgement to important research in unheard of topics in the social sciences. Besides, the funding offered to humanities’ institutions are crumbs as compared to what their science counterparts make. This also leads to a huge pay disparity between the two.
Why would the average middle-class Indian parent, then, not want their kid to go into a premium engineering or medical college? Looking at the picture from their side gives a completely different side to the story which often goes unreported or is conveniently ignored at best. After all, as parents, all they want is their kids to do well in life and have a decent standard of living, something that they have been struggling for.
The massive pressures that the children deal with in coaching institutions and engineering colleges often finds sympathisers and onlookers but what about the stress that innumerable social sciences and humanities students undergo every day of their life? What would they do with their degree? What about the years of investment they have made in a subject of their choice? Why are they supposed to settle with peanuts in terms of the monetary compensation they get for their jobs as opposed to their technology counterparts who end up with a lot more money and perhaps stability?
The plight of countless researchers and academicians in the country is a testimony to the unfair treatment meted out to the ones who are brave enough to follow their passion. The uncertainty looming over their jobs, the absolute aspersion of dignity in terms of the insane amount of workload assigned to them and the probable sacking of new jobs demands immediate attention. These are of course the material concerns because the emotional trauma experienced as a result of such prejudices is way too depressing to be even documented.
It then comes as little surprise for parents to adopt the civil services, engineering or the medical sciences as the ‘national hobbies’ they want their kids to pursue. And the money verus satisfaction debate seldom works when you have to pay bills and work for a living. These conventional vocations come with a promise of a stable and secure future which remains the top priority for an average Indian. At the end of the day, all parents want the best for their children. This obsession with STEM education seems justified however deep the ramifications of the same happen to be.
New IITs are sanctioned and so is the focus on proliferation of a ‘tech culture’. Are the students or parents left with any choice but to succumb to the pressures of keeping up with the rat race? It is high time that such questions are addressed. Creating better opportunities in myriad fields, promoting vocations diverse in nature, addressing the massive pay disparities, creating space for research are the need of the hour.
It is true that education is the only way towards social change but there can be no single path to the same. It is even more central to a diverse nation like India with people having diverse tastes and interests. Once proper steps are taken to resurrect the crumbling educational situation, I am sure a lot many parents will be brave enough to let their children follow the path they want to. But are we waiting for more suicides to follow before addressing this pressing issue which gets camouflaged amidst hate speeches, political rhetoric and empty promises?
Featured image credit: Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.