Sunday, March 23, 2014

PERPETUATING MEDIOCRITY



I was discussing my hectic travel schedule with one of my friends. I was telling her that it was difficult to balance both work and home given the way I was traveling .  She replied “ Why don’t   you then switch to teaching in a school?  It is not very demanding, has no travel, even has vacations every year” I was horrified to hear that!  For starters, I am not a good teacher. I do not have the patience that is required for the job and  I am not interested in transferring knowledge or testing its assimilation .  Yet I realize why she had  said it. She was speaking as my well wisher.  Like so many in our country she was advising me on looking at a profession driven by personal  convenience and not by individual  passion. 

This, is the actual reality behind the professional lives of people in our country today.  We all have objectives when we decide to take up a particular occupation.  Aptitude, interest and passion for something are last among the list of reasons why a person in India opts for an occupation. This is particularly true when it comes to women, as we are expected to manage a home along with a job.  

So what is the result of this kind of conditioning? A horde of individuals who are extremely mediocre, doing something that they are forced to do because of their circumstances and not because they enjoy doing it. 

Actually, this conditioning starts right from school days. Children are forced into taking science  after their Xth standard and parents secure a seat for them in engineering colleges preferably in computer science. They are then driven into getting jobs in the IT sector , work like bees, make money, get married,  buy an apartment ( or two if possible) , produce a child and  complete the circle by  inculcating the same values among their children.  While IT is paradise that one aims to enter there are those who make some deviations becoming accountants, doing a MBA , joining the government or getting a  public sector job. 

Sometimes this circle gets broken when a woman is unable to manage work and home, particularly when she is part of a highly demanding corporate sector. There are other women who are unable to get into what are considered “prime sectors”.  Most of these women end up as teachers in schools . Given the fact that education is one of the sectors providing the maximum returns on investment, there is always a demand for  teachers. So, no matter what your skill sets are, there are schools willing to take you as a teacher. This leads to a situation where there are individuals highly unsuited for teaching trying to mould young minds and provide them with “education”! Children generally adapt to whatever situation that they are faced with. Mediocre teachers  I guess, is one of them.  

However there are,  what I call the more individualistic and thinking children among this vast majority – a product of parents who refuse to conform to mainstream expectations who are the victims of this system. They are the ones most harassed by such teachers and it is their parents who deal with the stress of challenging the system every day. But in the long run it is these children who grow up to be brilliant and follow their dreams and ultimately get paid for their passion. 

But this is only a miniscule minority. The vast majority of Indians today prefer to be mediocre performers in an occupation driven by their economic necessity or personal convenience. It is sometimes driven by heredity too. A doctor generally forces his/ her child to study medicine because the idea is to hand over the practice like their property to a legal heir. The same goes for lawyers.
So we end up with a large number of individuals who do not actually like what they do. They trudge along bearing with them the burden of their occupation, often taking it out on people at work or recipients of their services. Some of them are able to cope because of a personal life  that enables them to practice what they actually enjoy – be it writing, music or art. For others who are not able to delve into their hearts and bring out what they like to do it is a more difficult life. 

I think the fault lies with the way we bring up our children. We discourage them from talking about their dreams and following them. Even when it comes to hobbies, we force children to follow what we think are appropriate hobbies. I find that in Chennai, given its obsession with Maths, parents force their children to learn to play chess because chess is supposed to improve concentration abilities !!! Sometimes, children are forced to learn music even though they may not have interest in it. And in cases where they do have interest , they may not be allowed to choose the kind of music that they want to learn. I can cite my own example here – I was forced by my mother to go to Carnatic music classes though I was not interested in it. Today when I hear this form of music I have to shut my ears because it reminds me of those torturous afternoons and evenings spent in a music class that I was not  interested in attending. I promised myself that I would never do this to my child !! 

Every person has an interest and aptitude for something. While interest is inherent, aptitude can be cultivated. But an aptitude for something does not necessarily mean that one is interested. It just means that you can perform well in that field even though your heart may not be in it. Let me illustrate it again through a personal example. I had an aptitude for maths and science  which convinced my parents that I could do a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. However I realized later that my interest was in social sciences and not in science though I was performing very well at the University. I received a national fellowship from the Indian council for Agriculture research for pursuing a Master’s degree in soil chemistry. It was while I was in that phase in my life that I realized ( like the Buddha) that I needed to get out of this! I could not see myself in a lab analyzing soil samples.  I must thank my parents for supporting me at that stage to make a career switch to social sciences. I guess that saved this country from having one more mediocre soil scientist, waiting for the work day to get over, taking out her frustration on some poor research associate!! 

I find that we do not have an understanding of what constitutes a dream. It does not mean owning a fancy apartment or a fleet of cars.  It means something deeper. It is something that gives you happiness when you see it taking shape in front of your eyes. As a society, our problem as I see is that since we do not understand what is a dream we are able to articulate it. We do not recognize it when we our children speak about it. 

Is it surprising therefore that as parents and teachers we are perpetuating a generation of mediocre individuals ?

17 comments:

Ashutosh Mishra said...

You missed one category here..In rural areas and particularly in less educated family, event parents don’t know what their children should study..even they have no ability to force the children and children are also not able to explore their area of interest.. Necessity to earn enough to survive kill you passion. As far as dream and happiness is concerned I have sometime found personal happiness a myth.. of course it is important always to do what u want to do but your achievement is always measured by materialistic attainment ( in terms of career, position and wealth)…..

KParthasarathi said...

Mediocrity is not in the children or parents.It is in the educational system we have.A pass in CTET test has been made mandatory for recruitment to teachers to improve the quality of teaching in classes 1 to VIII.Out of 7.5 lakh aspirants who took the test only about13500 passed the test.98% failed.There is abysmal ignorance of concepts among the children due to this paucity of good teachers the reasons for which are too many to enumerate here.
Aptitude is necessary but bright students studying incomputer,
chemical,electrical and civil engg in IITs join Business schools that prepare their students for finance,marketing,banking etc.What they study and what they do are vastly different.The driving force is money or earnings..Only in very few cases passion for work lead them to research,NGOs or public causes.
Except a negligible percentage after certain age women seek to work from home and choose to do anything that can be done from home or close to home.So personal convenience is another determinant
All education is for udhara nimittham bahu krutha vesham.(for the sake of stomach,different roles).There is nothing wrong in seeking money.If you pay astronomical salaries to teachers as in IT,you will get the cream.We pay pittance and get generally sub standard.
Sorry some rambling!

anilicious said...

Very true, Meera. And being from the IT industry myself, I was lucky enough to get my hands on all the tech that I love, but there're just too many people around who get along while grumbling that they dread the job. Everybody has a choice, but people just don't want to take the risk of moving outta the comfort zone. Like you said, something that's been programmed much earlier's hard to change.

Meera Sundararajan said...


@Ashutosh thanks for pointing out the gap. You are right . Rural parents cannot guide much so the child depends on the teachers who are again not really the kind of people who are fit to even teach - leave alone guide. A person's success is measured by his wealth but happiness is something else. It means doing something that gives you joy. For example, I enjoy writing and whenever someone acknowledges it through a comment on my blog it gives me joy. But yes, one cannot enjoy this on an empty stomach. So in the hierarchy of needs this probably figures last!

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ KP the only reason that very few people join research or public services is because it is dinned into kids from childhood that they have to do engineering. Among the engineering schools in the country IIT still counts for the best but have you seen the number of IITians who during mid career give up what they trained for and follow their passion? And about the Indian education system- the less said about it the better. We have some of the worst teachers in the world. So can you blame the child ?

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Anilicious, welcome to my blog. You are probably one of those few people who actually like being part of the IT sector. Good for you.. because most of the others are there for the wrong reasons!

mahabore said...

A large part of the issue in my opinion is that we just don't have aptitude tests and psychometric tests being conducted in schools from the time when children are around 10-11 yrs old. Well designed tests like these will be able to identify two or maybe three areas in which children are interested in and have a natural flair for.

If that is done, and the teachers and parents are open enough to accept the results of these tests, then they can go ahead and get their children to pursue educational and career options which are best suited to their personalities, and unique skill-sets which they bring to the table.

This of course pre-supposes the fact that parents and not close-minded themselves and are not open enough to letting their children lead their own lives and would rather vicariously live their dreams and ambitions through their childrens' lives.

Nice post.

SG said...

There will always be mediocre graduates as long as college admission and government jobs are based on reservations and not on merit. Looks like brilliant students go to the IT industry where job offer is based on merit or become a Chartered Accountant. Or, they opt to migrate to wealthier countries. Also, in India, most people think your success is measured by your status and wealth.

simple girl..... said...

What a post Meera.. Loved every bit of it.. and by giving your own example you have put forward something which I can relate to.. It is very inspiring .. A request I have, if possible, can you write a post about how you made the career switch ? from agricultural science to social science ? Like how did you get started ..

Meera Sundararajan said...

@SG while I do not deny the reservation factor being one of the reasons behind mediocrity I can also cite the example of many others who have managed to do very well despite these. There was a classmate of mine at college who was a very average student but today I see that he is a very successful journalist. His skills were obviously in his writing ability. From my interactions with him on social media, I also see that he is very well informed about hindustani classical music- something I never knew during my days with him in college. So it tells you that people join educational institutions and sectors thinking that it will help them earn a lot and therefore equate it with success. But unless the job or the educational qualifications are in line with interest and talents it will not take you anywhere . I know people in the IT sector who are losing jobs, CAs who are not able to guide clients properly and Indians who have migrated abroad living very insecure existences. It is not the sector that determines brilliance. It is the individual and his/ her passion that brings out the brilliance.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Simple girl, glad you liked the post. I would love to write a post like that but I don't think many people would be interested. As it is I find that excluding my regular readers, it is my more flippant posts have wider readership :)

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Mahabore, your assumption "This of course pre-supposes the fact that parents and not close-minded themselves and are not open enough to letting their children lead their own lives and would rather vicariously live their dreams and ambitions through their childrens' lives" says it all. No amount of aptitude tests or psychometry will help.

anilkurup said...

I do not remember who said it, “even if you are a barber excel in your work”.
You are lucky in the sense you got the support from people that mattered to jettison a ennui filled unsatisfying profession and take up something you love guess, looking back I’m less lucky .
The blame as you mentioned is squarely on parents, parents who have skewed and stereotyped outlook about life, profession and achievements. They drive the young into bizarre state of mind.
I think the concept of education itself is flawed and we are only spinning into creation mediocrity and insipid men and women.
What about parent killing himself because his daughter did not make it through the Medical school entrance test?

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Anil, I think the problem is not just with parents and the education system but the entire way we look at life. Parents ofcourse play an important role in shaping a young mind but what do you do when they try to live their lives through their children?

B Pradeep Nair said...

You have made a very good and pertinent point.

I was lucky that no one prevented me from making my choice of journalism, way back in 1985 (when journalism wasn't as attractive as it is today). Though I was interested in journalism, I wasn't very interested in language studies. So for graduation I did Chemistry, which I liked. For PG, I had to choose between MSc Chemistry and MCJ. It was a tough choice. I opted for PG in mass communication and journalism. Touchwood, everything has gone fine since then.

The point is my parents gave me complete freedom to make my choice. And, I just pursued my passion. And, I am glad I could.

I adopted a similar attitude for my son. He top scored in science in 10th. But he didn't like science. (Marks have nothing to do with the kid's interest.) So he took commerce for PU. ... Everything is fine.

Parents and teachers have a big role to play in shaping their children's future.

Never judge children too harshly.

Never compare them with siblings, or with their friends or children of our friends.

Give guidance and emotional support to kids, rest everything will fall in place.

Anita Jeyan Sandeep said...

This sounds like too good a plot to be a Bollywood movie :-D I am going to watch it !

Cloud Nine said...

Oh...Meera. You forced me to do a self appraisal. When I came back from Saudi Arabia after 4 years of being shut in a community of silence and long hours of doing nothing, I forced my kids to take up anything and everything under the sun. Keyboard, drums, hindi, abacus classes for the son, music and dance classes for the girl. Only when my little girl rebelled against my idea of pushing them did i stop and look. Now I am happy that she quit the dance and music class, though her voice is absolutely heavenly! She goes for a drawing class instead...creating magic in colours. As for my son, he now has quit his keyboard, drums and is on the verge of quitting his hindi classes. But I don't have any regrets. I had a childhood that was deprived of these 'so called luxuries' of our generation. So, I offered the kids all that I couldn't. And I am glad they chose what they felt right :) Happy I stopped somewhere midway in pushing them. Great post, Meera!

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