Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Herd Movement

I am a 21 year old engineer. I was brilliant at school, always topped. My mathematical prowess and lack of willingness to pursue medical convinced my parents that engineering was my destiny. And as every warrior must prepare before the war I was enrolled in a coaching institute which had IIT all over its banner. But I wanted to write.
I did not clear JEE! A decent AIEEE rank landed me in a decent college. And for the past few years I have struggled with my mediocrity in engineering. I am not an engineer. My parents think I am lazy. They just might be right. I think I am just disinterested. I just might be wrong. And yet of the 240 odd batch mates that I have, majority of them do not enjoy engineering. They too were toppers, had decent AIEEE ranks and landed up in a decent college. A majority of them are now working hard for their CAT.
Funny how so many engineering students despise engineering. I call this the Herd Movement. You see a huge crowd, you follow it. Some of us do it because we are scared. Most of us do it because we are clueless. The Herd Movement fascinates me and has become a trend with my generation. I see so many joining it. It almost stands as an alternative to being lost and aimless. So as a lame attempt, I present to you, my innocent reader, a case study of this infamous HERD MOVEMENT.
Problem Statement:
 Career choices have often baffled the young and the clueless. There exists a typical trend among youngsters in the age group of 18-26. They join special centres known as ‘Coaching/Tuition/Training Institutes’ in the hope to pass entrance exams and get a step closer to a quality education. These entrance exams are conducted by elite institutes of the country to screen students with ‘desired’ aptitudes.
However the level of job satisfaction is extremely low. There is a gaping absence of innovation and originality. There is discontentment and disappointment from both the academic and student world.
The case writer hopes to analyze the reason behind this misalignment and confer the real cause of this discontentment.

Education is the key to a better life. This better life is the carrot that forces a stubborn child to study. However as the child becomes an adult, education becomes much more.
Today education is no longer a knowledge enriching experience, but has become training to survive. There is no sense of passion attached to work. Money dictates the terms of choices, of beliefs and of decisions. Thereby education in India has become a factory unit that produces corporate individuals on a large scale. The mass manufactured products go out into the world and do their assigned job. There is a lack of innovation and a gaping lack of passion.

There was a time when examinations like JEE tested the acumen of a student. This acumen had to suffice certain aptitude for engineering that the institutions demanded. The IIMs were once known for the sheer variety of individuals that they shortlisted for admissions. Cracking these examinations meant understanding the subject and developing an approach to problem solving. There were no solution manuals, answer keys or master wordlists. There was a book that told you the facts and figures and your brain which had to infer the rest. Schools offered the necessary background that enabled the students to compete. Schools enriched knowledge and not just imparted literacy.

The world is a tough place and to survive you need money. For money you need a career. Today earning a career requires three things- dedication, hard work and the ability to be trained and groomed. You need to get admitted to a coaching institute where you learn the tricks of the trade. You are taught cryptic codes that unlock all the answers. Therefore these entrance exams become a cakewalk.
These exams have become predictable. Their trend, their quality and their challenge has reduced to a puzzle which anyone can crack. A wise ass engineer very fondly once proclaimed, “To crack and entrance exam is like finding a bug in a system. You find the bug and then you exploit it at your mercy.”
These tests do not test your intelligence. They have been cracked already. Anyone with the right coaching institute and study material can crack them.
 The problem lies not in the parents who force their children to pursue disciplines that sound secure, not in the students who are clueless and follow the herd but in the system that has reduced education to a factory unit. The educational institutes today produce students that the industry demands. They impart a training rather than knowledge. Institutes churn out graduates like industry churns out products, similar and mass produced.
The human brain has an ability to think. One derives pleasure from pursuing a passion, pursuing creativity, discovering something new or inventing something unique. An industry trained brain cannot innovate. It can only follow orders. Like the herds follow the shepherd or the guard dog. The wild deer experiences freedom.  There is an absence of that liberation. There is an invisible leash around that inhibits the graduate from thinking. As a fond professor of mine states, “The problem with your generation is that everything is served to you on a plate. You people just refuse to think, you are too afraid to question.”
This inhibition can be primarily is the sole reason for the discontentment on both sides: the discontentment of the individual with a passionless job and a monotonous life and the discontentment of the world at the deficiency of innovators.

Not long ago Jairam Ramesh criticized the IITs for not producing any substantial research in the past years. The IIMs recently started the reward system where they give brownie points if you are a girl and a non engineer. They claim they want to diversify the crowd at the IIMs. There is a famous institute called Bansal Coaching which has its own exam to admit students. Depending upon the score and rank you are placed in batches with different grades.  A similar mechanism is followed by several CAT coaching institutes. For every entrance examination in India there is a coaching institute somewhere and a guarantee. I know of many who dropped out after their first year at an engineering college and chose to pursue another line. They are happy today.
All I can confer from all the conversations and observations is if you want something you must have the courage and the willingness to achieve it.
You want a diverse crowd, diversify your screening process. Do not reward points like they are candy, but alter the way you target students. Allow for creativity to grow. This world cannot survive on labourers. It needs innovators, leaders and thinkers who can think beyond profit and loss and compel us to think.
The education system today is very convergent. There is a dire need to revive knowledge, free thought and innovation. You can be mediocre anywhere. But when you are born to climb a tree you should not try and swim a river.

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