Real education starts after college
The results of Class X and XII have come for almost all boards. The social media is flooded with elated parents giving congratulatory messages to their wards.
The results of Class X and XII have come for almost all boards. The social media is flooded with elated parents giving congratulatory messages to their wards. There was the news of the disappointed board topper who had lost one mark out of 500 and was going for a revaluation.
The burden that befalls both the successful and the not so academically successful students after this ostentatious display of parental ego is unbearable. The peer and parental pressure the academically ‘brilliant’ student has to carry throughout life is worse than the temporary disappointment of the not so successful. This is not to demean the tremendous effort each child would have put to score in the examination and the top marks many have scored are an indication of the hard work a student can do.
However, it is just that. It has no relationship with the critical thinking ability, the creativity or the imagination of the child. I had the misfortune of scoring reasonably well in my tenth examination. The marks would pale when compared to 99.99 percentage that many students score now, but 30 years ago, it was considered as a stellar performance. The peer and parental pressure I faced after that was huge. In small town Kerala, the only choices the so-called brilliant students had those days were to either go for engineering or medical studies.
From my childhood, I have always hated maths. Even now, my worst nightmares consist of reaching the examination centre, well prepared to write the English or history exam, only to find that it is the day for the mathematics examination. Imagine such a student being forced to study for the competitive examination for engineering entrance. Engineering was considered as the ticket to a successful life. IT revolution had started and in Kerala, before IT, the Gulf countries always beckoned the engineer. Such were the stuff the lower middle-class dreams were made of in the early 1990s.
I had no clue what I wanted to study when I was 15. I loved and still love stories, languages, history, mythology and fine arts. But these were considered as ‘loser’s subject’. Third group, as the arts stream was known then, was looked down upon. For a ‘high scorer’ to take the ‘third group’ for the junior college was social suicide. Since my family couldn’t afford to send me to entrance coaching classes, I was spared the ordeal thankfully. And I promptly failed to secure a seat in any of the nine engineering colleges of Kerala. The shame I had faced is still vivid in my mind.
I didn’t know life was offering another chance. I could have gone for the arts stream. I could have joined the fine arts college as I had good talent to draw cartoons and do oil painting. Instead, I joined BSc (Maths) and decided to write the entrance exam again. This time, my close friend had got some second-hand material of a famed entrance coaching centre in Chennai. Like me, he also didn’t want to be an engineer. But unfortunately, he too had scored good marks in SSLC. We spent one tortuous year doing nothing but repeatedly solving some complicated maths equations and sample papers. Even now I have no clue what practical application they have in anyone’s life.
Miraculously, we made it into the engineering college. It had nothing to do with our aptitude, understanding of the subject or intelligence. It was the dumb practice of previous question papers that helped us. The four years in engineering college that I spent were the worst period of my life. I loved the college and the friends, but hated every subject, the classrooms and teachers for no fault of theirs. I didn’t belong there. I flunked in many subjects and took five years to get the graduation instead of the usual four. I came out as a graduate engineer from a reputed engineering college, but a deeply frustrated man, unsure of the future.
I was a total misfit for any engineering job. And I remained unemployed and unemployable, doing odd jobs for survival, and earning a little through freelance cartooning and writing. After three frustrating years, I used the same technique I had used to pass the entrance examination. I shut myself in a room, solving the aptitude tests for engineers, endlessly. Again, I had no understanding of my subject, but managed to beat the system by using the usual trick of most Indian job aspirants. I got through many PSU exams and thanks to my language skills, I sailed through the interviews. Fortunately, in Indian Oil, they didn’t put me in a technical job but in marketing.
It took me 10 long years to come home to my passion of writing. Do I consider the torturous years I spent studying a waste? Perhaps, had I scored low marks in my tenth, I would have happily got into some fine arts college or studied literature. Instead of the five novels and seven shows that I have written in the last seven years, I might have had a dozen more books to my credit. But thinking back, my father too was right. Engineering helped me to make a living until my first novel was published.
In short, education in India is not a pursuit of passion. It is a sheer necessity for survival in a poor country lacking enough opportunities. An IAS topper gets more praise than an Olympic gold medallist in this country for this reason. It is difficult for our educational system to produce innovators, critical thinkers etc for we all love to play safe. So, we force students to mug up lessons and write verbatim answers from the texts. How else would one explain cent percent marks in English or history that many students have scored? My daughter passed her tenth this year with reasonably good marks. She wants to pursue her passion in literature. I don’t want her to go through what I did. I have only one advice to give her and her friends. If possible, get a degree in any subject and then you can start your education. Real education starts after college.
Author, columnist, speaker