“Which education stream will you opt for after 10th? Why don’t you to seek help from Sharma ji’s son? He has cleared IIT-JEE! Take science, beta. It has lot of scope ahead!”
These typical run-of-the-mill conversations are commonplace in Indian households. One cannot stress enough on the importance of good education. Deciding what to study in the higher secondary school is a daunting process. When someone pursues an education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the most common misconception is that he/she is more likely to get a plush job than someone who opts for other Non-STEM fields. Every year, lakhs of graduates pass out of engineering colleges (now located in every other street!) in the country. Sadly, over 80% of them are unemployable for any job in the knowledge economy, said a report by the employability assessment company Aspiring Minds.
The abysmally low employability figures can be attributed to a multitude of disconcerting factors such as teaching methods, lack of infrastructure in most colleges, lack of support from administration, attitude of students, automation factor, sub-par quality of colleges, government’s approach to tackling the situation, etc. Indian education system revolves around ‘rattafication’, CGPA, plagiarized assignments, and placements whereas it ideally should be about research, entrepreneurship, live projects, and actual learning. Places like Kota have emerged as a coaching hub for those preparing for medical and engineering entrance examinations.
Arts vs Science – The Educational Apartheid
There has been an endless war of sorts between these two streams. By default, science is for the brainy, ambitious ones. It is the low-scoring, lazy ones who opt for Humanities, or more popularly known as ‘Arts’. In most of the ICSE schools of the country, this stream has been done away with. This leaves students with only two options, Science and Commerce. Studying science has pecuniary benefits associated with it. There are a slew of scholarships and grants available right from high school level. The entire Indian education system is gradually being geared to preach the irrelevance of Arts. Students fear ostracism on the grounds of low intellect and misinformed decisions. Hence, they get de-motivated from pursuing Arts. It is imperative, more-so now than ever, to dispel the stigma around this stream. The mammoth field deserves much more credit than the data being bandied about. The idea that STEM careers are the ones which will build your future is a flagrant untruth. The sorry state of our discipline is more a result of this kind of presumptuousness and solipsism than of the antipathy of our society, Contrary to popular belief, students graduating with an Arts degree can pursue endless career options and are more easily teachable than their science counterparts. They may not be proficient enough to develop a financial model or write lines of complex code. Although heavily theory-centric, Humanities teaches them one cardinal skill – that of critical thinking and analysis. Just as STEM fields are important for our existence as a developing species, Humanities is vital for reasons of our quiddity as social beings.
The Grim Reality
Despite the humongous investment in and eulogy for STEM courses, an honest assessment of where we stand in the realm of technology reveals that the rot in the system runs way too deep. The Indian education system can be aptly called understaffed, underfunded and woefully crisis-ridden. There are scores of structural flaws in the system. The root cause lies in increasing demand, and ever-so-stagnant supply. Indian universities are also known for segregating teaching and research activities, thereby depriving students of exposure to revolutionary and cutting-edge ideas. Monetary incentives for academia are practically non-existent, and the Indian expenditure of 0.62% of GDP on Research & Development is one of the world’s lowest. Unsurprisingly, Indian universities rank low in both, teaching and research. The prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have become analogous to an assembly line that produces anti-science diaspora desperate to earn MBA degrees in order to scout for lucrative high-paying jobs abroad. Such fundamental flaws could affect macroeconomic indicators such as labour productivity, which is determined by human capital and innovation, among other things.
What Lies Ahead?
The government needs to recognize the systemic inadequacies at play and ensure that the role of higher education in human capital and innovation is not downplayed. Red-tapism in government institutes must be reduced. Regular audits would help curb prevalent malpractices across schools and colleges. Teaching of outdated curriculum topics should be discontinued and replaced with newer and relevant courses. Well-qualified teachers must be appointed and thoroughly trained before posting. More emphasis should be laid on research and practical implications rather than rote learning and marks-oriented mindsets. Only this can ingrain a culture of innovation and accountability into the fabric of India’s higher education institutions. Lastly, students themselves need to become increasingly aware of the prospects after getting a sub-par education. Medicine and engineering, after all, is not the end all of all professional education possibilities in the country.
Rashmi is an MBA candidate at TAPMI, Manipal. A Computer Science Engineer by qualification, she has worked in the IT industry for around two years. She is a Marketing and Strategy enthusiast and a passionate public speaker. A true Delhiite at heart, she describes herself as a bibliophile, clinomaniac and a big-time foodie!