The Indian Institutes of Technology are India's pride, the apple of the Indian eye. They are revered for the standards they have set for Indian education. Respect is synonymous with IIT, because every Indian knows the levels of effort put in, and knowledge attained, by individuals who make it to the IITs.
Today, we are talking of changing the system of selecting students who deserve to enter these institutes. We are debating and shouting and screaming and slamming. Slamming each other, the government, the ministries, the school education system, and the coaching classes. And in a gigantic oversight, we have failed to analyse a major body of individuals - us, the students.
The IITs were created to educate. Affordably and with high quality. And they have accomplished this feat with remarkable success. We compare the Indian Institutes of Technology with American universities like MIT. That is an uneven playing field. The IITs were meant to give every Indian, irrespective of his background, a fighting chance at success. By providing him with an education. And this education would be provided to the best, most hardworking students in India.
What kind of student deserves to get into an IIT? I don't think it's unfair to say that an intelligent and hardworking student who knows his subject will be welcome at an IIT. But in a country like ours, with a population like ours, 'intelligence' is a far too commonly found trait. And so, it falls on one criterion to determine the more worthy from the less (I refuse to believe in 'unworthiness'). Hard work. And why shouldn't it? What is rewarded in life? From a world-class musicians like Pt. Zakir Hussain, to Infosys chairman Mr Narayan Murthy, to cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. One thing stands true to all these greats. They worked for hours and hours and days and days in their chosen fields. They were passionate about what they did. And that is how they became the best.
'Practice makes perfect' is an adage that will never lose its truth. We start to familiarise ourselves with things, grasp them more quickly, only through repetition. And so, the best students- whom we would like for the IITs - are those who have practiced the most. In this case, that becomes the ones who have studied the most. And that is where we start adding all our negative associations with our education system to the picture. To create a thunderstorm of confusion.
Today, we have touch-of-a-button convenience in so many aspects of our lives that we want to extend it to everything. We want a convenient way out of legal protocol, so we bribe. We want a convenient way out of unpleasant situations, so we lie. That is the unfortunate truth about the Indian psyche. We want a convenient way for our children to score highly in school. So we want them to 'get the marks', irrespective of the means to that end. So WE don't care if they have to go for 'tyooshuns' to 15 classes for their 3 subjects, even from the 1st standard, if it means we can say "Mere beta ko 98 percent mila".
WE don't care if they never actually absorb anything in their 10 years of school education. This is so deeply ingrained into children's minds that they too, start to look for convenience. They now believe that they need coaching, or they won't get 'good marks'. The tuitions have become a parallel system, where students are told, plain and simple - 'by-heart this, it will come in exam'. In other words, ratta.
And if they still don't score well? The tuition teacher is not good, the school teachers don't teach properly, the education system is bad, only students who 'ratta maaro' can score well. The excuses emerge like rats leaving a sinking ship.
Ultimately, when the window to higher education opens in class 11, we get a sudden wake-up call. Our kids haven't understood a single thing! But they got 98%, right, so it's all dandy. Again, the fault is never on US, oh no. We told our kids 'Get the marks', we never told them to 'ratta maaro'. That is the school's fault. The board's fault. That Ramu who keeps calling my son out to play, his fault. Anybody else's fault.
The point is, the vast majority of Indian students don't understand the point of education. To too many of us, it is a burden that we must shoulder merely to keep our parents happy. We don't have a clue what we will do with algebra in the future, or why we need to know the capital of Azerbaijan. And by focusing so much on 'the marks', we have just encouraged this decay. We need to remember that the point of education is to learn, not to study. Undoubtedly, studying is a vital part of learning, but not the other way round. And us, the students, my generation - need to learn this before it's too late.
Memorising things is a part of learning. And sometimes, some of those things don't have a 'logical explanation' and a 'practical approach'. Anybody who denies this should try teaching a 4-year old the 'logic' behind the alphabet. "No, but WHY can't X be before B?" is a question hardly likely to be entertained in any kindergarten.
And the same thing extends even to higher education. Granted, an explanation often exists. But sometimes it doesn't. Doctors HAVE to know what they learn like the back of their hands. Would any of us consult a doctor who says "One minute, I'm not sure if you have a cold or Hepatitis B, let me just check my book?" In the same way that Arts majors just have to remember historical dates and mathematicians have to remember their formulae for quick calculations.
The exceptions to these generalisations are many, especially with a huge population like ours. But undoubtedly, we do need to address these basic flaws in our mentality. They will come back to haunt us.
I believe that THIS is the real reason we see a drop in the quality of our students. Not only the IITians, but majority of the students in India. As we push to make the school level easier and easier, how are we forgetting, that when our students enter college, 'easy' will be a word they will never hear? Doesn't it make more sense to accustom our students to the drill, to the pressure, that they will undoubtedly HAVE to face later in life? A student is supposed to study. The word origin speaks for itself. And it is highly desirable that he enjoy what he inevitably has to do for at least 15 years. When will we stop trying to reduce HOW MUCH our students must do, and start teaching them HOW to do that much? And for how long will we baby them with unreal visions of an undemanding world?
I consider myself fortunate to have been through the Indian schooling system - a system that has produced so many successful people in the world and even the IITians of today. I think I can confidently say that what I know today is because I extracted the best out of the system, and made it work for me.
On the changes in the IIT admission. The Ministry is proposing a change in the pattern of admission to the IITs. Technicalities of the change aside, I firmly believe that the survival of the fittest will stand true.
The best students will STILL get into IIT. They will STILL do very well in life. They are the ones who know their subject the best, and by extension, worked the hardest. And that is what will always be rewarded.
And for the ones who don't make it to IIT, there is no shame at all. There is nothing wrong with not being the best of them all, as long as you are the best YOU can be, everyone will do well in life too.
To my generation - instead of focusing on the system and how it's changing, we really need to just focus on what we are expected to. That will take us through. Here is our chance to prove our worth.
The IITs have always been, and will continue to be India's pride, an institute to be looked up to. I have immense faith in what the IITs have created for India. So does every Indian. Maybe the skeptics need to show a little more faith in the Indian youth. I look forward to the challenge of the new entrance system, and whatever the conclusion, I will work hard and take it in my stride.