Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Indian dreams

A lot has been spoken about University education in India, good and bad. But in the past four years I have spent in this college, one of the best engineering colleges in India, I have observed something else. The root cause of all issues relating to University education in India lies not just in the way it is taught or the acceptance the current system gains among students, parents and recruiters. Instead I have observed that it is predominantly ingrained in the primary school education system and on a broader scale, greatly influenced by the innate mentality of the people.

As people in any third world country think, the primary objective of higher education is to ensure a secured high paying job. Passion and job satisfaction take the back seat even today when we compete against global powers for international recognition. As an engineering student I was amazed to see the response for non technical electives like Creative Writing, Marketing Management, Entrepreneurship development etc among my friends who echo the frustration of having been made to study engineering for three long years in spite of it not being their interest. So where does this ‘leading the donkey with the carrot’ scheme actually start?

It starts right in the middle school time when a child identifies his passion for cars, his admiration for a cricket player or a singer, his interests in painting etc. But how many of these children end up becoming racing car drivers, cricketers, singers or painters? Unfortunately, very few! I personally know a few friends who still carry the aspiration to become cricketers and singers, even after three years into engineering. But I think we all can predict what they will end up in a year’s time. Engineering trainees or Officers in engineering firms. Some of them might go to the USA or Europe for higher studies and sometimes even Ph.D. In general it would not be wrong to say that we simply adopt the pre existing path and make ourselves suitable for it. In other words, any dream away from the ideal career is a nightmare!

However I saw a striking difference in the approach with which people in the West take up higher education. Students in UK, I saw, tend to get into a job after their GCSE (Class 10 equivalent). These jobs are not very high paying; however there is a rule in the UK that the minimum wages for a paid work must be at least GBP 4/hour. This rule ensures that these people get the necessary financial support. After they work for couple of years, they identify their dreams and take up a university degree in the relevant field. It is important to note here that they actually end up doing what they want to and hence I believe have achieved a greater deal of success.

When I considered the reasons for the absence of such a scheme in India, I felt that primarily two factors contribute to this. One, the lack of flexibility in curriculum and absence of short term jobs for students, and two, the mentality that does not support the adventure called entrepreneurship. There is a severe dearth for good employment opportunities in India; especially the ones that allow you to learn a trade before pursuing higher education. Here education simply cannot end before one completes under graduation and then it becomes very difficult to chalk a new career away from your ‘degree’. This approach must change, and the system of financial independence for children above 18 years must be encouraged. Students above the age of 18 years must be encouraged to earn, especially with the avenues provided by internet, IT and other growing sectors. As a matter of fact financial constraints used to make this mandatory for the people of earlier generation, however the comforts of upper middle class has actually replaced it and this I think has led to stereotyping of vocational education and entrepreneurial ventures. Also this system will help alleviate the students from the distress of having to become what you never wanted to become, and also to chalk out a career for them and be more successful.

History has always supported people with focused goals and strong ambitions to emerge leaders. Unless this concern is addressed I doubt if India can convert the millions of talented youngsters into global leaders.


  1. @The Observer very brilliant article, I will write an elaborate reply to u since I need to think over ur point. Keep writing articles of this stature.

  2. Well writtern. a true fact considering my experience with it. i have been a strong advocator of this fact for long. India's systems needs to be restructured to compete with international standards.

  3. @observer

    India is vastly( i actually mean it!!) split into upper class,middle class and lower class. The aspirations of the people in 3 classes are totally different,in the sense a vast thinking difference.
    The upper class tries to protect the wealth it has,middle class try to save the wealth and lower class leaves it to the destiny. There is a saying" the common gift given by god to rich and poor, is time". The way people use it they acheive the stardom. If you see people taking engineering without any interest would be mainly from middle class and rarely lower class. Upper class has some options to try, i have seen some of my friends studying fashion technology etc.. to continue their father's or family business. Still the aspirations for entreprenuership is not in them,they want to just protect the wealth,whereas the middle class acquires little wealth and spends it in a stereotypic way. The lower class has some options for trying and sometimes can be lucky since they leave everything to destiny. They may have seen both stages of life. So the entreprenerial spirit may be more in the lower class people, reason is " hit the mango with a stone,if it hits, get the mango otherwise nothing lost. So they don't have to think too much on losing the mango, but the upper class and middle class thinks too much on this,that is why the world's biggest entrepreuners from which ever part of the world u take will be from lower class in their community.Exceptions are there as people may argue. The thinking of middle class and upper class should actually change in a vast way for the benefit of the society. Entrepreneurship in china is quite huge compared to india. The simple reason is they think of today,but we actually think of too way ahead which deters us from taking challenges.

  4. @The Observer
    First of all it is a well written piece so hats off! Your observation is quiet valid and I think whole Indian population will sync with u but they won't change. You know why? Because our society won't let u change unless we have something called caste.

    Anyway, coming to ur point of UK adult jobs after A levels, they have to do it for the survival but in India, we are dependent on the family till 25 or more years old. In western countries, parents usually they don't care what u pursue after A levels. But in India, family is everything for a child. He has to do what his parents want him or her do because they want a social status.

    Next to the entrepreneurial spirit, you know entrepreneurs are never born because of flexible education system or innovative academic culture. Entrepreneurs are born not made, it is very important to understand. Take any entrepreneur on the planet, their thought from conscious lifetime is to be an entrepreneur not professionals or anything else. In india, entrepreneurship didn't flourish not only because we hadn't had flexible curriculum but also our great government followed "License raj" economic policy till 1991. It means they literally blocked entrepreneurs to pursue business. Private enterprise was not embraced and they were taxed to the brink of bankruptcy.

    We can talk a lot abt entrepreneurship but it is obviously not an easy task to be one of them. We need to compromise a lot in life especially something Indians value the most, family. There are so many family obligations for indians so they don't want to take the risk though they have brilliant idea at hand. In western nations, that is obviously not the case, I read Steve Jobs book the main reason why he wanted to be an entrepreneur because he literally lacked basic happiness of family (he was an orphan). He wanted to create an enterprise which can be a family to him so he did.

    @ Karthic Ur idea of different thinking among economic class is very true. But I am not in sync with lower class becoming entrepreneurs. Most of the lower class people in India take menial jobs to protect their family and also they don't have brilliant ideas to bring to corporate India. If your gonna tell me Thirubhai, VPG, Saravana Bhavan, Murugan Idily are good examples of entrepreneurs from lower class then it is not so true. All these people hail from business caste in India u should understand that first, they had good network of business ppl though they were not that rich.

  5. Thank u all for ur appreciation and comments.
    @Satya- Family values are on the decline in today's society esp in the Indian cities. It is unfortunate that we fail to adopt the worthy qualities of the west while the unworthy ones just seep into our day to day life. And I was referring to jobs that simply need one to convert his skills in computers, internet, networking etc into money.

    @Karthic- Good point about the mentality of ppl in different economic classes. I completely support that lower class people have higher chances of becoming succesful entrepreneurs not only because of the low risk but also because they see life at a stage that the people in middle and upper class never do. They think with conventional wisdom that remains part of their day to day activities unlike the mechanical, passion driven lives of the upper n middle class. As an example I must say that I found the best of engineering in the chawls of Mumbai when compared to the sky scrapers there. I was amazed to see how two small rooms in the chawl can accommodate all appliances and necessary comforts of life that are arranged in the two bed room flats. A slotted angle shelf served the purpose of the following things- cloth shelf, kitchen cupboard, place for keeping the gas stove, place to hang clothes. Just imagine! The gas stove went under the shelf, the holes in the slotted angle arms were for the cloth hangers, the top shelves for clothes and the lower ones for containers and cooking utensils. Isn't it great?! What I say is that the innovation needed for entrepreneurship is like a part of the life for lower income class of people. So they surely wud make good entrepreneurs.

    @Ajay- Thank u :)

  6. @Shyam I like ur statement to karthic on lower class people. Good dimension to observation.

  7. @ shyam

    Thanks for providing a nice example. The upper class in the society may have never thought of this in their whole life time, the middle class are always "hope people", praying this does not happen to them. ultimately, the lower class people survive this!!

  8. @Karthic @Shyam I should agree that risk taking appepite for lower class is extremely high. It applies to all the society on planet trascending race, religion, caste.