Saturday, June 27, 2009

Travails of an Aspiring Engineer

This holds true of any student aspiring to a decent higher education in any field. Engineering is the subject matter of this post because I have a ring side view of the struggle my nephew and all those around him undergo to get admission to an engineering course in a decent college this season.

We, in India, accord a very high priority to education and millions view it as a passport to a better life. We have grown up in trying circumstances and frugality has been a way of life and this is a chance to break some ceilings. We have nearly a million plus students wanting to opt for specialised education

Now let us pan back to the life of a student who has opted for a science stream education with an intent to become an engineer.

After completing the FYJC (First Year Junior College - 11th standard to us old foggies) exams, life is lived in defined phases and I will attempt to recount this momentous journey.

Pre-Coaching Class Stage:

Ahh...comparing notes to see which class would be best. The early planners were relocating to Kota (Rajasthan) which seems to have acquired an awesome reputation to get you straight into IIT or so is all-round popular belief.

The others - nephew included - were left with the home choice. Discussions with some distant relative of a neighbour's office colleague's friend were carried out in right earnest. Cousins, family doctor, college professor and "The Uncle" added their two bits of sagely advice.

The net result was complete confusion and a sense of helplessness. "Which coaching class should I join?" was a loud cry of anguish. Everbody seemed so logical and convincing. Every coaching class seems to have mentored the top 50 students who cracked the IIT entrance exams only to be followed by the student refuting these claims.

Oh God!!! there anyone out there who can be trusted and whose advice I should follow....was a prayer on my nephew's lips and probably also on thousands of young aspirants'.

Coaching Class - Studying Phase:

Having successfully navigated the turbulence and survived the avalanche of information and advice in the pre-admission stage, it is time to begin a year long tryst with long hours of coaching and tomes of data-information-knowledge.

It is surprising that no one bothers about the quality of education dished out by these coaching classes. They have de-facto become the new "Temples of Knowledge" which have the secret keys to the open some tough locks of the various entrance exams.

The nephew wades through all this with a grim face and needs to be reminded to smile once in a while. You have online tests, simulated tests, special coaching sessions, intensive camps, refreshers, subscribing to independent test series, counselling, interactive sessions with senior faculty on "Tips and Tricks", sample papers and what not. There are a hundred websites which claim to give that additional edge to the diligent aspirant.

Phew...!!! My head is reeling and I guess it shows as the previous para seems completely jumbled and definitely not in an logical order.

We also have to contend with memory enhancing pills, stress relievers and meditation techniques tweaked to suit the tired and over burdened teenager.

I now understand that with all this around we forget to smile once in a while. After all, this struggle is to lay foundation for a brilliant future. I guess "Momentary Pain for Lifelong Success" philosophy comes to the rescue and we rationalise our paranoia during that period.

I am already exhausted (now I know why I was not cut out to be an Engineer in the first place) and hope to gather my wits and resume on another rainy day with bhajias and hot tea.


Kislay said...

Sir , I can absolutely relate to it . So much , that your post has inspired me to write something about my own experiences .

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

You're right about the tall claims that the coaching classes make. It is high time they get regulated. But this admission rush for engineering seats will continue to be a rat race for some time to come. Youngsters need to learn to cope with competition - cant wish that away, I guess!

Vinod_Sharma said...

I also have a similar ring side view. Only in this case, my nephew decided that the struggle to get into an IIT was not worth the effort and dropped out of the coaching classes in Delhi. After a stint in St Xavier's Mumbai, he found himself in an Ivy League University, with far lessor effort!

Everyone, of course, is not so lucky!

Sraboney said...

I know of a coaching institute guy in Lucknow who bought land for Rs.4cr and 'imported' an architect from Banglaore to design his house...He was willing to shell out another 3-4 crores on it...Since JEEs only test a person's skill in Maths and Physics, I told my husband that he was in the wrong line (he has a PhD in Eco from the US) and should start a coaching institute instead...

Mavin said...

Hi Kislay

I would like to read about your experiences.

Do you feel that the competition has become that much more intense nowadays. I have no idea of this since, I have always been a student in the commerce stream.

Mavin said...

Hi Gopi,

Yes these coaching classes can resort to any measure in this game of one upmanship.

You will recollect Chate Classes' advts in Mumbai. He was a known cheater. Mercifully, he seems to have faded away.

Competition is fine and presuure is helpful but where do we draw the line?

Mavin said...

Hello Vinod,

You are right. What about the student who does not figure in the top 5000, cannot spend and lady luck has not yet smiled on him.

Our system is geared to eliminate due to a mad rush for seats but on the flip side about 4000 engineering seats went abegging last year.

Students preferred to skip many colleges seen as poor in their academic levels.

Mavin said...

Hi Sraboney:

Well you never know. He may actually enjoy running a coaching institute and actually make more money in the bargain.

Solilo said...

Recently one IIT topper refuted the tall claims made by a coaching institute that he studied there. Many institutes get details of students from schools/colleges and when the rank list comes, they fake it.

It is just getting tougher for students in India. The pressure!

Vinod_Sharma said...

Mavin I agree there are a lot of students who fall in that category. Some engineering colleges are really a scam, as the seats not taken show. What we need is many more institutions of excellence like the IITs.

Education should have been addressed on a war footing long back. Let s hope something happens now at least. Sibal seems to be making the right noises.

Krishnan said...

Hi Mavin, never ending tale of woe indeed !

Final_Transit said...

Hi Mavin,
Nice post and this coaching class culture is a pity indeed.... I've even seen 1st standard kids go to coaching classes. How sad is that...

Mavin said...

Hi Solilo

You are right. It is getting tougher and mainly due to increasing number of students vying for an unbelievably small number of seats.

Mavin said...


Teaching has never been a glamour profession and it is not considered an attractive career option.

Centres of excellence require excellent faculty and there is a serious shortage of good and experienced teachers.

We have ignored this for too long.

Mavin said...

Hi Krish

An unending tale....for no reason and it need not be like this.

Mavin said...

Hi Priyank,

Coaching Classes have become the bane of the education system.

This is also a pointer to the changing social priorities.

With both parents working and too tired / distracted at the end of it...there is no bonding with their children and there is no time to inculcate the right values.

Anrosh said...

IIT'ans are great, but please do not make them gods. they are good at maths and physics but there is more to it than itself - the financial mess in this country - (a poll can establish that many iitians who have come into this country since 1970's have left engineering ( jobs are outsourced )and have moved into finance. and they are instrumental in this bleeding mess)

Gods at Maths, they create models which make a slow, steady and sytematic mess - ( include the likes - MIT's harvard brown and others) and than they learn economectrics and finance and accounting - and through their 3D drawings that they tossed their civil engineering class.

IIT has become a sail boat for lower middle class, poor intelligent students to leave the country for decades now.

so let india concentrate about the intellegensia who have chosen not to do engineering and are great too. that is where india is going bear the divideds. Let's thank god that the poor intelligent minds can get out otherwise they will be stomped over by shrewed polticians.

otherwise if it was not for iit, they would have remained in the dehat ruled over by the higher caste landlords, feudal and religious politics

Anrosh said...

3rd line : " and toss their 3D engineering drawings" that they learn.

Anrosh said...

vinod, going to ivy leagues are possible because of loans from banks or because of one's financial wealth of their own.

i know personally know many iitians who could have easily got an admission in any ivy league hands down but would not have the money to go to an ivy league in an era when there was no facility for loans nor do they have the collateral to place with the bank/ pawn broker or anywhere.

IIt is a saving grace for many poor, middle class, rural, small town students.
even after an undergrad many still depend on their seniors for paying for GRE ( the hearts sink when dollar used to increase ) and the fees for submitting an admission. Almost 99% would get a schol, otherwise many do not have the money to pay even for a masters in US universities if it was not for a RA and TA. The only thing they literally are depended on their parents is the one way air-fare.

I salute some of these guys who have made it without literally nothing. A 1971 pass out IITian once told me - I worried from where my hostel fees would come -because staying in these campuses are mandatory.

It is heart rendering to hear stories of some old iitian ( things have defintiely changed in the last 10 years )

Mavin said...

Hello Anrosh,

IIT has become a brand and thus the rush to get on-board.

The sad truth is most IIT grads either go abroad or take jobs in consulting.

Infact, there was a survey done and it was featured by "Business World" that most of India building has been achieved by non-IIT engineers.