Thoughts from my India Visit – Education System

As I may have mentioned in my previous post, I spent a month in India recently (August, 2008) before coming to Shanghai to join Microsoft here. In this post, I will comment on the education system and related aspects that I observed. In the next post, I will talk about my observations on working professionals and how careers are moving (or not).

I got a chance to spend some time in each of 3 different types of cities, which I believe covers a large spectrum of India. I spent couple of weeks in NCR area (National Capital Region, Delhi and adjoining area) which is a Tier 1 city with all the glitter and pace of a big city. I then spent a week in a steel township in North India (called Bokaro Steel City), where studying hard is the only thing students know about success, which has produced a large number of engineering and medical students and boasts of some great schools of the region. This exposed me to some students and their struggles to make it to the top. I then also got a chance to visit a village town in North India where education (and then moving out) seems to be the only way of prosperity for most of the new generation, where other means of livelihood are extremely limited.

Here are some of the facts I observed:

  1. The race to be at the top among students is becoming so difficult these days, with so much resources available to level the playing field (though only when you have access to modern infrastructure, and money to spare). Many sites help you with mock tests these days, coaching classes are still mushrooming. So much so that I read reports about IIT (Indian Institute of Technology, one of the premier institutes of India and world) professors wishing to do away with the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) because they feel the exams have been ‘figured out’ by the coaching institutes so the IITs are getting people who can master the exams, not the ones who have raw intelligence (which was the goal of JEE).
  2. In Delhi as well as in Bokaro, I saw many career shops and web sites advertising their wares, primarily letting students know where they can get what degree at what price. While it was good to see this information available, it was sad to see that this was peddled in the name of career counseling. Almost every newspaper worth its salt carries a weekly education/career supplement, and carries a Q&A with a ‘career counselor’ but who typically answers questions about how to get which degree and from where. No wonder so many engineers come out of college and so little of them are employable. I saw extremely high volume of advertising pitch from a company called StudyPlaces. However, they are in the same bucket too.
  3. Workload at school and outside for students is increasing day by day, mostly triggered by #1 above. I was told that IIT JEE preparations now regularly start when student is in Std IX and in many cases are offered by the schools (12 years back, it was rare to even have such an option available), 4 years away from the actual exam, and that actual coursework is increasingly given second priority, especially in smaller cities where engineering and medical are still the only two options worth shooting for.
  4. Politics has been in education system for long, but now it seems getting out of hand. Count of IITs and other premier institutes have been increased by 100% since having such an institute in your state/province is considered to be a vote-puller. This is in spite of numerous reports which suggest that existing institutions already suffer from scarcity of qualified and able faculty and lack of enough resources and infrastructure. Some of the new IITs do not even have building or faculty, but admissions there have started and students study using loaned building and loaned professors from existing IITs (thus weakening the existing ones).

Overall, it looks like the education system has taken a turn for the worse. However, I saw enough counter-arguments and attempts to fix the system and I hope some of these counter-balances can help correct the system. I increasingly feel now than ever, that students in India need and deserve a well-balanced career management resource, someone/something which can help them make right career and study choices rather than force them into what is cool currently. Offering a Std XII student all these medley of courses all over the world without letting him/her know what will be good for them is like offering the jazzy-looking restaurant menu to the diabetic person and asking them to select on their own. They deserve more.

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