Cracking the admission code: Students are going for medicine and engineering under peer and parental pressure and it’s alarming to say the least

The time after a student finishes high school is supposed to be filled with excitement and joy. Instead, the students are stressed out and worried about college admissions.

 |  5-minute read |   26-06-2019
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Once again, it is that time of the year when most school-leaving exam results have been declared in a short span of a few weeks in the middle of the summer heat. This unbearable month does not compare with the heat and dust generated by the large number of aspirants across the country trying their best to gain entry into portals of higher education. Folks like your columnist, who are in institutions of higher education, often encounter anxious parents and their wards desperately seeking advice and counsel. Each year, I am reminded in this stark manner of the enormous stress that is caused to young minds on the verge of stepping out into the world of knowledge and learning.

This occasion should be cause for celebration and joy. Sadly, for most middle-class kids, that is not the case. Actually, for them, the tension builds up much before the admission season descends upon us. It is my firm belief, based on more than anecdotal evidence, that children of middle class parents suffer enormous pressure and stress, much before they graduate from high school. This unhealthy pressure game engulfs these hapless children when they are in the last three or four years of school. Their parents can actually, and unwittingly, transform into tyrants when it comes to dealing with the child’s higher education plans. Many of these kids are pressured into joining the rat race for entry into IITs and other such engineering institutions.

college690_061819032122.jpgAs the students start preparing for JEE and NEET, their stress levels shoot through the roof. The parents do little to help. (Source: India Today)

They are subjected to the same pressure to start preparing for a career in medicine through the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test. Altogether combined, the number of such engineering and medical college aspirants is staggering; it runs into lakhs and lakhs! What amazes me is that anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that a very large number of these kids are not even keen on such career choices, but fall in line due to parental and even peer pressure. I firmly believe that this is unnecessary for the student and for her parents. They seem to be largely unaware of the fact that, without too much of the pain and stress, they can design absolutely fulfilling careers based on some very interesting and creative pathways in education.

Let me try and elaborate. My point is best illustrated through some actual stories. A few years ago, I came across a crestfallen high school graduate who had ambitions of becoming an engineer. To retain anonymity, let us call him Sameer. Actually, he was not too aware of what engineering was all about. He was keen on becoming an engineer so that he could — as he put it — design ‘things’. A brief interaction with him and I was convinced that he was reasonably good at mathematics and he had taught himself coding. His high school marks were rather inadequate and so all he could gain admission into was a general science undergraduate programme at Delhi University. This programme taught him a little bit each of physics, chemistry and mathematics at highly inadequate levels.

admissions690_061819032140.jpgIf only the parents of these students understood that they can shape the careers of their children without putting them through stress and anxiety. (Source: India Today)

However, Sameer diligently took my advice and did some extra reading in mathematics. He also became really adept at coding. All this was largely through self-study with some mentoring. On account of his personal efforts at self-improvement, his teachers wrote strong letters of recommendation for him. This enabled Sameer to gain admission into a mathematics programme at a reasonable university in the US. He graduated from this university with a PhD in mathematics. He now works as a leading medical researcher at a highly ranked university in the US. This is a job he has obtained purely on the basis of his mathematics and coding expertise. Let me also add that while Sameer was still a student in the US, a leading transnational engineering firm offered him a six-figure starting salary based on an internship he had done with them.

So, Sameer had two career choices before him; in high-end engineering and in high-end medicine. Let no one get the impression that Sameer’s case is an isolated one. I have personally observed at close quarters, in a span of five years, more than 60 such success stories where students have charted paths in medicine, finance and engineering through a typical mathematics programme. Many of these students are also in very well regarded jobs in India now, such as heading a transnational data-based finance firm in Mumbai.

placed690_061819032157.jpgMany students like Sameer, who choose non-traditional disciplines like Mathematics, are now settled with well regarded jobs in India. (Source: India Today) There are many lessons to be imbibed here. First and foremost, this is not about pursuing mathematics. That the subject played a role in people’s success is purely illustrative. Such stories abound through the pursuit of non-traditional disciplines. The worrying thing is that Indian institutions of higher education are not changing as rapidly as they should along the lines that shall impart learning in a hands-on, transdisciplinary fashion centred around the needs and challenges of society and the country. Thus, it should not surprise anyone if a random check reveals that no medical university or college in India has any meaningful room for experts in disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, statistics, electronics and design. As soon as this begins to happen, we shall have truly imbibed the spirit that had made India a knowledge economy in the centuries past.

Courtesy of Mail Today

Also Read: 35/100. In all his exams: This boy barely passed Class X. Why is he making headlines?


Dinesh Singh Dinesh Singh @dineshsinghedu

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University and currently Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, USA

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