Why India needs to get over its fetish for exams

Recently, two cases were being highlighted in the media, generating opposite emotions. One being the exultation of IAS toppers in the media space and the tragic news of suicide of a JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) in Kota. Both events are extreme in their portrayal of success of people especially in the middle class.

Sure, we hear life stories of laborious hard work for success in the much vaunted entrance exams. But we’re surely being myopic in our vision as to what constitutes being successful in life. Children as young as those entering 6th grade are being brainwashed into studying for only Engineering / Medical exams.

Truly, our students have become more mechanical in any formal study they undertake. Under immense pressure students face a burnout, which is unheard of in any other part of the world. As this Mumbai Mirror article points out ,  that a majority of  students are so drained after their preparation for the JEE, that they can’t focus on the studies that lie ahead when they enter the campus. So much for being energetic youth our news channels claim to represent.

But there is a hidden cost of mindlessly focusing on just exams alone for career development. Out of hundreds of thousands of people applying for the exam a measly 1078 (includes reserved seats as well) made the cut for the career in civil services. Yet again, there are nearly half a million losers and a handful of winners The moot question that should be raised but is never raised is what about the hundreds of thousands of students who couldn’t make the cut? What are their options in their hand? Exams in India are thus a right tool for rejection and not people selection. Our systems have indeed been designed to reject people than select. It’s so difficult as such to get into any IITs or IIMs that it’s actually is easier to get into IVY league schools abroad. As an article on Firstpost points out,” The true value of an IIT or IIM is not the intellectual capital they produce, but their filtering expertise – which keeps all but the superlisters out of these institutions. When the people entering the institution are the best among the best, they will shine no matter what the quality of faculty or the curriculum”

What is also never discussed is the wastage of man-days in attempting and re-attempting these exams. As this post in Swarajya states the grave situation , “Besides pushing away the best brains, this exam lures too many could-have-been doctors, engineers and countless other professionals into its trap, laying waste to their potential during the many years of preparation, and, in most cases, renders the unsuccessful ones permanent underachievers, usually stuck in low-productivity jobs. Worse, a great many students from the Hindi heartland rely solely on UPSC to make a career, entirely neglecting their education and alternative job prospects, only to find many years later that they’re stranded with neither civil services nor worthy education. In many cases, they blithely bankrupt their families to spend on coaching classes.”

As one extreme example points out where a Kashmir woman first cleared MBBS, then IPS and has cleared UPSC. This means denying other people from becoming a doctor, then an IPS officer then a civil servant. Thus due to shortage of seats in so-called elite institutions, upward mobility of one , necessitates denying the same to others.

Further, in the specific case of UPSC exams , re-attempt options are available. Meaning people literally waste their youth on learning topics that have little relevance in job lives , as such. The urge to give competitive exams may be , thus compared to vices like gambling, that even after losing (means failure in case of examinations), there is an urge to give one more attempt at the proverbial dice of fate.

Rigid parenting is also a valid reason for forcing children to study beyond their means. Often it means drilling into the youth’s mind that their career options beyond the fields of engineering and medicine is bankrupt.

But the main reason might well be lack of employment options for youth in the country. This rings especially true for the North states, where government jobs are the only jobs seen to be worthy and offering stability.

But the damning indictment of such a system is the end result. How many of these so-called toppers and achievers make it big in real life?  The answer is not many. Most of the success stories of Indians are from abroad , where they get nurtured for the talent they possess, not because they can solve a few maths puzzles super-fast.  As a people, we are risk-avoiders as well. We know the IITs and IIMs are the way to lucrative jobs. So when our kids want to become artists or cricketers, we tell them to forget it and study for IIT-JEE or CAT, never mind one’s own passion. Our engineers stop being so and start coding, meanwhile Indian industries is starved of engineers in the core sector. Or they do an MBA and become lousy managers.

As an article on QZ reveals “….contrary to the commonly held belief, most (Entrepreneurs) do not hold degrees from premium educational institutes such as IITs or the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). In fact, graduates from premium schools form a very small percent of entrepreneurs in India” . It further shatters the myth with the fact that a bulk (over 80%), never went to any elite institutions to fuel their entrepreneurial ambition.

On an ending note, R Jagganathan writes succinctly about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “A Satya Nadella, who is from Manipal , would never have made it big in India since he is not from the IITs. But even IITians don’t flower much in an Indian corporate or academic environment; they leave India and prefer working with foreign firms.

If Satya Nadella had remained in India, he would probably be working as a coder in Infosys or TCS. Earning a high salary no doubt, but an unlikely candidate for CEO.”

India should get over its exam fetish as soon as possible, It’s a great disservice to the rising youth of India.



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