With the Board exams underway, another batch of fifteen and seventeen-year olds find themselves at the crossroads of an academic milestone. For millions of students across the country, the Boards offer the first real step into the adult world. However, as students, parents and neighborhood aunties wait with bated breaths for the results; the question of a ‘future’ looms large over everyone’s considerations. While for many the months of March and April are a tense distraction, they also offer students from all across the country a time for quiet reflection.
The Board Exams, years after it became a yearly ritual of academic providence remains a watershed event in scholarly life. For a society which still lends a lot of credence to academic performance, board results remain a significant stamp of approval on the ability of a child. However, for a significant many, Board results also offer an opportunity of choice. Post-boards, AISSE and AISSCE, students from all across the nation find themselves itching to choose a career path which may as well define their lives and future. And yet, for a decision so important, students, teachers, and even parents seem to give very little thought or consequence to this.
Engineers On An Assembly Line?
In the year 2012, India was home to the second-largest number of engineering graduates in the world. At a whopping 6, 00,000 students graduating that year and the figure at almost a million today, the number of engineering and other Science graduates do little justice to the almost deistical position the field holds in our society. As a result, engineering and medicine in their all-encompassing shadow, has often been the bane of other fields of education and expertise such as Commerce and the Humanities.
There is an oft-forgotten historical context to the reverence Indian society attaches to the Sciences, which in fact provides a better explanation to this trend than others. The answer lies in the huge infrastructure gaps that separated India from the rest of the world, an abyss which required the expertise of skilled professionals, trained among others, in engineering. It was with this purpose that the IIT’s were inaugurated and soon, engineers began to command a degree of income and respect as only those who could re-shape the industrial landscape of the nation can.
Engineers became the wheels of Mahalanobis’s five-year plans as the country and its huge potential for infrastructural complexes breathed into life. Where the only respected science was once medicine, the march to modernization gave life to the engineer. Soon, with the policy of Liberalization in the 1990’s and the invasion of Information Technology in India, the number of people in Science would rise further steeply, with students now open to another choice, Computer Sciences. And, so remains the story till this day.
(Bhakra Nangal Dam)
The Crisis of Choice and Opportunities
In India however, the problems related to Science being the only choice for a career has more to do with the socio-economic and cultural factors that come into play. In a country where individual glory is often synonymous with family prestige, the Sciences offer a relative stability to a person’s career prospects, post-education. Engineering especially, even after the worst of the recession which had a specially debilitating effect on I.T Services, remains a hot prospect primarily because in comparison to the Liberal Arts, it offers a safer route to employment, with many an opportunity. It has also surprisingly overtaken medicine as a career option, considering the fact that the duration of study for the latter remains far too long.
Another reason for such a trend is the severe ignorance that cripples high-school level decision making. Many in school, including students and teachers and their families remain quaintly ignorant and unresponsive towards the liberal arts, including the Commerce and Humanities streams. This is made even worse by the popular perception among the general public that the Liberal Arts are for inferior individuals, that Humanities and Arts are merely a contingency plan chosen out of obligations, and not by choice. The fact that thousands across India, students and otherwise remain in the dark about the multitude of career opportunities in fields, other than one related to the Sciences reveals a deep cynicism about the same, an attitude carried forward from the medieval times when people with artistic merit were reduced to mere caricatures of jesters and poets.
Schooled Into The Sciences?
To a great extent, even the institutions in our great labyrinth of our education system are to blame. Most schools in our country don’t have proper counseling and career guidance centers which would allow its students to make informed choices about their futures. It is too naïve to expect barely adult individuals to make adult choices, which could have ramifications over the entire course of their lives. Therefore, it is all the more pertinent those educational institutions take up the responsibility and duty to enlighten their students about the many diverging career paths before them. A student can be better expected to make an informed decision if he has all the information he needs, including any data pertaining to financial viability, overall prospects and challenges, considering the fact that socio-economic and cultural factors play a greater role in a student’s decision making, than perhaps intellectual or academic interest in the same.
Point to be noted. This is not a rant against Science or Engineers or any subject with those funny looking Latin symbols. As individuals who have studied some form of science throughout their academic lives, it remains safe to say that none of us can truly disavow the value and significance of Science. However, as much as the nation needs its engineers and physicists, it also needs its lawyers and teachers and writers. A nation, like the microorganism in Herbert Spencer’s theory of Social Engineering is built upon a symbiotic relationship between different people in the pyramid of division of labor. If science and engineering is the nation’s nimble body, then the arts is its discerning soul.
However, as the current situation stands, there remains a lot to be done with regard to how we view the Liberal Arts, and those who pursue them. It is true that a lot has been done, especially regarding awareness of its career prospects but, such progress remains limited to the urban metropolitans. Unless such awareness reaches the towns and villages of our country, we’ll continue to have more engineering colleges with an even larger enrollment, while Arts colleges remain broken and dusted.
John Adams has been quoted to have said, “I study war and politics so that my children may study mathematics and engineering, so that my grandchildren may study art and philosophy.” As ideal as it sounds, Adam’s world is, and will perhaps remain so a thing of fiction. The least we can do is to make sure our children, and their children have the choice we or our parents never had.
By- Jibin Mathew George