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The Great Indian Dream


It’s that time of the year when dreams of a few thousand are realized. And those of a few hundred thousand shattered. Declaration of results – from the Class XII boards to competitive exams like IIT-JEE and CPMT invariably throws up two types of stories in newspapers. First are the exhilarating success stories of toppers – images of garlanded youngsters being fed sweets by beaming parents. The second are heart rending tales of suicides by students who felt they didn’t ‘make the grade’. An unusual twist in the first type this year was the bizarre story of toppers in Bihar who weren’t even properly aware of the subjects they were supposed to be studying and topping in.
All of the above, including the Bihar story, point to serious flaws. Not only in our education system, which is marred by a huge demand and supply problem. But the basic flaw in our thinking as a society and as parents, which exacerbates this problem of scarcity. Undoubtedly, a seat in a premium engineering college is a worthy goal to be coveted and strived for. And there’s nothing wrong with parents nurturing and enabling such aspirations of their children. Problems occur when aspirations become obsessions, to the extent that failure to obtain the desired results becomes equated with abject failure in life.
Thus we have a parallel education system in the form of coaching classes – cramming factories dedicated to the great IIT or Medical dream. The pressure cooker environment that hapless children exist in during those critical years is illustrated by this poignant prayer scribbled by a child on the walls of a temple in the ‘Coaching Centre’ town of Kota.

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This is especially sad in today’s environment where liberalized economy and globalization has resulted in opportunities galore. Thirty years ago, job prospects available for my generation restricted our aspirations to a handful of conventional streams. And most of us from that generation probably still suffer from the hangover of those times, thus harbouring the same ambitions for our children. We don’t realize how much the world has changed for the better from our times. At least in terms of the wondrous opportunities available to our children. The chart below is an illustration, and this itself is by no means exhaustive.

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There is therefore a need for adequate mechanisms for counselling parents and children at a suitably early stage, to expose them to the plethora of education and career options available. This needs to be coupled with ascertaining each child’s interests and aptitude, and charting out a viable path customized for him or her. Such mechanisms are already available in the higher ends schools in bigger cities, where ironically the parents and children already have a higher awareness level. There is an urgent need to take this awareness to parents and children in smaller towns and cities. Only then will we possibly be able to stop this mad rush for marks and seats in a handful of domains, and prevent young lives being sacrificed at the altar of parental ambitions limited by lack of knowledge.

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