The real question

What is the probability that two random seemingly disconnected things will happen on the same day yet influence each other profoundly?

This Friday, I got into a casual chat with a colleague. It took me by surprise as I learnt that he is a Mechanical Engineer with a Management degree. “What is he doing?”, I thought. The reason is that he  works as a project admin, running around and tracking status on people’s tasks, reporting into people with probably much lesser academic qualifications. His peer group consists of Commerce, Economics and Arts graduates.  I was reminded of an inside joke from my Infosys days when people would remark that we, software engineers with a Bachelor’s degree, hire Management post graduates from the prestigious IIMs to work in the QA teams, to test the software we designed and developed.

Jokes aside, the reality of developing economies like India is that your educational qualification does not determine where you end up in the corporate value chain. (Does it anywhere, for that matter?)

Infused with this thought, I reached my son’s school that afternoon for the much dreaded PTM (Parent-Teachers meet). My son had not done spectacularly well in the recently concluded exams. The teachers were concerned and I knew there would be discussions.

“If I read Vishwa’s answer paper I can write a whole new text book”, said a fustrated teacher. “He is brilliant. He understands all the concepts. Verbally he can explain everything correctly. But why doesn’t he write the required responses in the answer sheets?!”

While my mouth uttered the proper responses needed for that moment, my mind was going at hundred miles an hour down a totally different path. 

Is this what we want of our kids? To be able to know how to answer the questions, to crack what responses are needed for specific questions, to match the answer key some brilliant mind devised, is that all? 

And, assuming we successfully impart this knowledge to the kids, where does it lead them? To a prestigious degree in a good University? Then what? Just another dead end corporate job where you are a rat in a race going around creating projects and initiatives for things that can be accomplished through basic common sense; all with pride and a sense of importance although in reality all you are contributing is to the consumption based economy!

The funny thing is I used to be able to justify this. I could see the point in teaching a kid that discipline and sincere work will manifest into great outcomes. Learning how to respond to a question in an exam might even turn out to be a useful skill helping in the long run to make customer and stakeholder presentations. But I couldn’t do that anymore from that moment. 

There are many things flawed in our education system and I do not intend to tackle it all head on. Not now. But that afternoon, as I went from teacher to teacher having similar conversations, two things became apparent to me. At 15 and appearing for a board exam in February, my son is expected to put the holistic development story behind and focus on the exams and scores, like everyone else with a “now or never” attitude. It became clear to me that I could not accept that. I would still work on his focus and discipline, and having top marks in the board examination would be nice, but it certainly is not end of the world.

Secondly, there is inconsistency in what we tell our kids today. There is shift towards a more holistic development and schools encourage projects and different learning experiences. But when it comes to board exams and the stressful collge/ university admission process, conformation is encouraged over individuality. We tell them to take the safe route and not be adventurous. The conversation is not, “Let’s see what works for you”, but more on, “Here’s what you need to do win the battle”. 

Why not change the arena?! I am still thinking…


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