Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Education System, 3 Idiots etc
(In my blogging heydays, I tagged posts such as this as the anti-post in my drafts. With an intent to provoke the reader.)
I often hear people say that they liked the Amir Khan movie - 3 Idiots. Many claim to espouse a view that is similar to the one that forms part of the movie's central theme. If you are such a reader, I have the following observations to make.
1. You are the target audience: This move was about clever marketing more than anything else. In a school/college classroom of hundred people, there is only one first ranker. Probably 2-3 people who fall under the category of people who are focused on marks and end up getting a lot of it. The rest of people are sort of also-rans from a pure numbers perspective. In the long run the people who weren't in the top 3 ranks may make it big in life. They may not make it big. But that is besides the point. This movie very conveniently makes a guy who is focused on marks look like an idiot. It makes a person who works well within the rules of the system look like a fool. The very purpose of doing so is to make the other 97 people look good. Most viewers of this movie probably fall in the "other 97%" category. This movie makes a lot of people feel good about their relatively average academic performance. It gives them a feeling that they got less marks - not because they didn't study well or because of any incompetence on their part- but because of some other profound reason. It allows them to blame the system. In effect it gives them an excuse - a hugely popular excuse - to justify why they didn't get a lot of marks. To put it more bluntly, the movie makes losers in the education evaluation system look good. Most of the general population are such losers and so they tend to like it. In reality, I suspect that not all first rankers cram the syllabus. The ones who do are exceptions not the example. It is actually hard to mug up and ace one exam after the other without understanding what one is mugging up. These narratives are put-forth and exaggerated by losers who couldn't score as high as their classmates.
2. The path not taken always seems full of great possibilities: There are times when I suck at my job, I think I would have done great as an SBI officer.or in a state government job. The reason for this perception is that the aforementioned green-grass-on-other-side looks trivial and an easy-job in my eyes. But you ask a person who works there, they'll say how difficult that job is. In India - there is intense competition and lengthy queues for everything. Even a B.A. History admission for an evening college. Blaming a unfulfilling career/education on "It is not my passion" is one thing. Assuming you will be good in your passion and would always trade-off a average career in software field for a try-and-fail scenario in the field of your passion is totally something else. Most software engineering I have talked to claim that they should have been something else in their lives. Many instinctively assume that trying and failing in a career of their choice is a better alternative to trying and somewhat succeeding in s/w engineering. And they are the most risk averse people I have seen. They wont risk Rs 1 in their lives. But in theory they have wet dreams about a failed career in some sexy field. And they wont appreciate the 2000 Sq ft 4 bedroom house in which they are living such regretful unfulfilled lives. If someone is considering blaming their poor academic performance on not being allowed to have a non-existent career as a photographer or a cinematographer, that means they've never talked to a real-life photographer. A debate on this topic that does not consider the fact that a person's self-perceived talents in an non-mainstream field field might very well be insufficient or delusional is a half-baked debate.
3. Biting the hand that feeds you: In the 70s and 80s many people didn't have what we now call as a career. They had a cycle carrier. That is the closest they came. Some managed a bank job. A minuscule few managed to be a doctor or an engineer. Survival was such a high priority. It is not as if the people who lived in those times were less talented or less aware of life's mundane nature. One couldn't afford to make an error in choosing a career. A slight slip here and there and you become what your relatives would refer to as "thanda soru" or a "tharudhalai". This means you were an arts college student in an era where an NIIT diploma or an MCA will not bail you out into financial prosperity. If you thought you'd be a great painter or had some talent in taking close-up photographs of random flowers and animals you better be really sure of the pay-off of that talent. Such people ended up a Thasildhar office peone doing something unrelated to their talents. Its all awesome to appreciate Varumayin Niram Sivappu. Never easy to live it. There is a very good reason why parents force their kids into an economically safe career zone. They are playing the percentages. They have been there. Seen some dead bodies along the way and so want to make sure their children arent one of them. Any movie or a debate on this topic that does not appreciate this forethought of parents is immature.
4. Blunting the knife. Given the country's population, the potential she had to create a large number of people below poverty line was remarkable. That it managed instead to be a booming economy where people sat in A/C offices and criticized their careers is actually a great thing. The primary reason we weren't the biggest Somalia in the world was because of the laser focused investment in education. An education system that allegedly prepared you to "mug up", "cram", do anything to somehow get over the line. Products of this system are now average trundlers in the software engineering field without even trying very hard. These are people who may have ended up jobless in the 70s and 80s. Today they probably have 2 houses and a car. This education system has created millionaires, world's industry leaders and a sustainable reputation in the world market. That it has managed to keep such a vast population employed and luxurious is an outstanding achievement. It was made possible by shutting out a few talents and many dreams. It was made possible because parents prioritized survival over idealism. An intensely competitive education system that brutally focused on math, phy, chem and worshipped marks/aggregates and centums has ensured that even the people who come out as below average in this system are extremely employable and very much wanted in western countries. Movies like 3-idiots trivialize and dismisses this profound context. It treats parents as mindless bimbos forcing children into a sausage machine. It ridicules an education system that has kept the country in the economic race. It is an education system that has prepared us well for the harsh realities of life. Instead of appreciating the system - the movie panders to the immature interests of the audience and propounds an alternative blunted education system. The kind of system that western countries have. And these are the countries who don't have a lot of employable skilled labor.
To sum up, I empathize with people whose dreams and talents have been shut down. I used to be among those who thought I shouldn't have been a IT guy but something more profound. And I have less talent than the guy who complains less than 1/10th of what I do. The point of this post is not to shoot down anyone who dreams of an alternate career or anyone who thinks of putting their talents to use. I still have complaints about the educational system and do have regrets about my career. But I don't think my class first ranker is a idiot who mugs up stuff and reads the wrong speech without knowing what he is reading. It is that half-baked criticisms of education system and immature criticism of parent's attitude towards children's career is getting increasingly annoying. Every fool who can count up to 3 is calling himself a rebel. This Amir Khan character who studies purely for passion, who is so puristic that he doesn't even earn a degree for himself but goes on to have billion dollar patents that feed mountain/tribal kids is as immature and unreal as it gets. These things don't exist in the real world. We want less liberal arts dummies and more employable people in the future.