Monday, July 03, 2006

Indian students face a difficult choice than American students

Indian students enjoy lot of advantages, but they face one big disadvantage. They have to commit to a choice of a discipline - engineering, medicine, entertainment, media - at the age of 15. Americans do it after graduation i.e after the age of 21-23. Even to do their medicine, they have to graduate.

This presents a difficult challenge to Indian students. At an age of 15 or 16, Self-information is not enough to make such a long-time commitment. Further, our methods of gaining self-information are also fraught with inaccuracy. For instance our reliance on aptitude tests to gain self-information is highly risky.

Aptitude tests tell us what has got developed in the past, given the situations we interacted with. They give no indication of what could have developed differently if we had engaged more with the world, or if we have worked in different cities, towns or schools.

Self-information is not a treasure that can be dug by serious effort or can be dug by smart experts. Self-info depends on the amount of engagement we have with the outside world. If we engage less, we get less self-info. If we engage more, we get more self-info. That is why you will find people at the age of 40 or 50 still change careers. For instance, ad film maker Prahlad Kakkar has found his passion of Scuba diving when his hair have turned grey.

If you have read about an individual, Abhijit Kunte, you will understand how the process of gaining self-information actually works. ( He has written his autobiograhy in Marathi) Because he failed in MSC, he went with his professor on an expedition in a jungle to collect some sample data. Because of his free time, he kept on meeting different researchers who researched on different aspects of forest, ecology and animal behaviour. As he went in the forest again and again, he discovered his passion of 'forest'. Now, unable to pass his MSC, he is doing a PHD in one of the subject related to ecology.

Aptitude tests are like snap-shot photographs, taken at a point of time. They fail to tell the ‘process’ that made us look ‘smart’ or 'careless' or 'lazy' in a photo. What we need is a video-shoot; the process to go through and find more about self.

Students need a structured process of gaining self-information: engaging with the world, meeting real-life people in different professions/careers, a method of understanding oneself beyond academic scores, developing on the wish list of what to do by asking intelligent questions to right experts, and by understanding the process of career-building.

We cannot short-cut this process of gaining self-info by attending one time career fairs. Or by understanding the multiple career options we have after Xth standard. Or by giving aptitude tests.

We need to start this process when a student enters secondary school at Vth standard and continue it, till he passes out in Xth, in order to gain enough self information. During these five years, he should be guided on his overall development, learning bottlenecks, strength areas, options available in the world, process of building career and so on. The process should be structured.

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