Indian weddings are famous for a lot of things. But go to an Indian wedding and try to find out the most talked about people outside of the bride and the groom and you’d realise that it is those high schools who are subjected to unsolicited engineering college counselling sessions. Once, I was at a wedding during my board exams and I had a few relatives come up to me and ask me if I had decided on which branch of engineering, I was going to pursue. This incident exposed me to an extremely strange yet ‘staring-at-us-in-the-face’ situation that is prevalent across the Indian society.
To give you a bit of a background, I attended high school in Chennai and had opted for the science stream under CBSE. I had always loved science but was also deeply interested in the political sciences and the humanities. However, my immediate schooling did not consist of the humanities (sadly) and so people naturally assumed I’d be doing engineering or medicine in college and this assumption seemed to be closer to the truth once I chose to study biology in Class XI as my elective. But the truth was that I had never really given it any thought. Once I did give it the thought it deserved, I realised I was not even remotely interested in engineering or medicine but I simply liked science for what it fundamentally was, asking the right questions. I decided I would try to do pure sciences along with humanities in college and decide ‘what I wanted to become’ after college. It was only at this point in my life I understood the options that the Indian education system (but more importantly what we have allowed it to give) gives students.
Universities in India are rarely universities, truly. Most institutions offer courses only in select disciplines and there are only a handful of institutions which offer diverse and multidisciplinary courses. It was also at this point that I experienced the infamous ‘generation gap’ in our society. Although my parents were ready to support me with whatever I was interested in, I met a lot of people in my family and in my immediate environment who could not fathom a study of science without engineering or medicine. To a lot of people I was also the student who was smart enough for engineering but not smart enough to clear medicine cut offs. I was also asked to not think about what I liked but to focus on getting an engineering seat.
However, the strange reality that I did come to understand was not of these relatives/family of mine, but through my friends. I have friends who are giving up what they truly love to pursue ‘more practical fields’ because they have convinced themselves regarding the redundancy of their interests. Statements like ‘lack of scope’ seem to be as common in this country as engineering graduates who are unemployed. Educated parents, too, fail to see the number of opportunities that are present today and do not consider non-routine career options, as actual career options. Such narrow-mindedness, slowly but steadily, trickles into kids who decide to stop with their imagination and get to the reality of core company placements. Engineering seems to unite most of the people I know; people who I believed would grow up to be cinematographers, authors, poets, scientists and social activists. On some level, I can understand when older people think of engineering or medicine as ‘safer’ career options, but when parents and worst of all, students believe careers to be limited to two or three options, I do not understand but I begin to empathise. Such students are also badly hit by the fact that engineers, in their conventional sense, aren’t really as necessary at the moment, as they were a few decades ago, thus affecting employment. On an average, India churns out more than a million engineering graduates of which only around 20% get employed. So it’s also not as ‘practical/safe’ as it is made out to be.
As for me, I have no clue as to what I want to be or what I want to do. I know what interests me and I wish to study these subjects/hone these skills more to find out if I truly like them. I do not believe in settling for something I don’t like, just because I like too many things. However, some of the most recent conversations I have had with my friends would tell you that most people decide to go to engineering college just so they can find out for themselves how much they hate it and what they really like. There are certainly people who love engineering but its sad that people end up doing it just because they aren’t entirely sure of what they want to do yet; at 18 years of age.
The Indian education system has been widely criticised for a plethora of loopholes but one thing that we must understand is that it relatively easy to bring about a legal change in the system. What is truly required at the moment is a social change. Until such a change comes about, we won’t have far-reaching changes in the system, moreover, any changes in the system simply will not have the effects they would, otherwise.