Monday, September 17, 2012

A virtue called perseverance

Lately, I've been thinking; trying to tie together the various conversations I've had with my friends over all these years; attempting to correlate them with my own learning by seeking examples of events in my life where I've failed and others, where I've succeeded. The theme of this post is then to provide you with a justification, unsolicited as it may be, of why in my opinion perseverance is a virtue. Before I narrate my story, I'd like you to stop and think for a moment about things that you've really loved doing, about how much you've persevered with those things and how being good at those has added to your confidence and made you happier, however diminutive that happiness may have been.

If you and I think alike you'd agree that whatever you're good at, you've become good only after persevering with it relentlessly, consciously or subliminally. Although some of you may beg to differ saying that there's always an innate talent behind everything one is good at, but I believe that talent only provides a good first step, the proverbial steppingstone to success. It's only perseverance that wins you marathons, though talent may make you win the 100m sprint race. Nobody becomes great by mere talent. Great men have persevered immensely to reach such heights that if we've seen further, we've seen further by standing on the shoulders of these very giants. Talent gives you intuition, but rigor gives you proof; if talent gives you the edge, rigor puts you beyond reach. A little talent with a lot of hard-work is the only concoction of sublime success.

I'm sure you're enticed to ask me, why did I bother writing about this when this is all common knowledge? Turns out, this knowledge is as common as common sense itself. The reality is that this knowledge is now hidden deep beneath the shards of short cuts to success. We have been educated in a country, where the criteria of admissions to the top colleges is based on solving a 200 questions in a span of 3-6 hours. You are expected to pay as much attention to an unfamiliar problem as you would to a beggar 10 Km from your house. Solving familiar problems is the key to success, and by repeatedly training yourself to ace these exams, you lose the ability to tackle any unfamiliar challenge in your life. And life is anything but a series of very familiar problems. Anything you wish to be good at starts off as an unfamiliar problem, the choice is yours whether you want to leave it, or see to it that you become good at it, by persevering with that problem.

Over the years my friends have expressed their total lack of talent for various things in life, be it academics or learning a musical instrument, and I've always asked them only one question; whether they've persevered for long enough to become good at those things. The answer has always been, that they couldn't continue because they felt they lacked the requisite talent. And I've smiled inwardly and almost sardonically because I believe that one can be good at anything as long as one has the desire to be good at it. If you have a goal and you wish to continue no matter what, then nobody can stop you from reaching your goal. If you haven't a goal, then that's a different matter altogether.

I feel that learning to program and learning the guitar were both very hard for me initially. Of course, there are the moments when I was exhausted and I felt the need to just give up, but all it took to keep going was that vision; the vision that got me started in the first place. I believe that if you can keep that vision ensconced within your heart, then any challenge that appears as a elephant at first is just an ant masquerading as one. This is not the occasion to brag about myself, though it may appear so. My intent solely, was to put this seed of thought in your mind that whenever you are confronted with doubt, you just have to close your eyes and conjure up that vision that you've locked up deep within. It will make your challenges seem small and your dream well within your reach! With that, I'd like to end this post wishing you success in your endeavors. Your dreams are within your reach, if you've decided not to quit. Thanks for your time.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Death of Education

The case is the current state of confusion surrounding IITJEE 2013 and the single entrance test (AICEE?) being proposed to reduce stress on the students of our country.

The first time I heard about this new proposal by the MHRD, I was actually pretty dismayed. I mean, the intention was to reduce the stress on students, but you just don't do it by eliminating 10 exams and having one instead. Then I thought for a while, that maybe I'm not able to see through things and my instincts are getting the better of my judgment. No doubt that there having a lot of exams unduly stresses out the students. As a BITSian I should know better, but having just one exam will put all the more stress on them, is what I feel. Now, the students will have the added burden of performing well on one particular day, their efforts of two or more years culminating in a test of 6 hours and the worst part is, they won't get another chance until the next year. This is my biggest qualm about the new proposal. Anyone can have a bad day. A lot of students crumble under pressure. Earlier we could at least think about doing well in AIEEE even if we had a bad IITJEE, but now what?

The way some of the IITs have come out defending the JEE just shows their shallow thinking and their sense of insecurity surrounding the threatened JEE. As an autonomous institution the IITs have an undeniable right to conduct their own exam and select students that should perform well in their engineering education framework. Mark Twain in his book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer says that, "In order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain". Isn't this precisely why the JEE is such a coveted examination? It is a difficult examination that filters out (or rejects) 98% of the examination takers, making it probably the most competitive examination in world. No wonder, only the most prepared, and sometimes only the most high IQed students crack the exam. The IITs are definitely proud of the quality of students getting in. But, are the IITs equally proud of the students getting out too? Doesn't the IITians also comprise a good part of the 83% engineers in India who are actually unemployable in the IT industry? My concern is that why are the most premier institutions in India worried about taking in the best of the students? Why aren't they inclined towards taking in the most interested students, and groom them to become excellent engineers? There lies the root of the problem. 

Our education system insidiously pushes a large majority of students in the direction of engineering entrance-exam preparations in classes 11th and 12th. The situation is worse now where children are starting JEE preparations from class 8th onwards. If the child is good at Math and Science, he is not allowed to think beyond IITJEE. What entails then, is a grueling narrow-minded exam preparation lasting two or more years. And what is born out of it is a talented set of students who naively enter engineering institutions without knowing a thing about engineering and more importantly, without knowing what they want to do with their lives. The faculty at these institutions, the parents of these children, and the society as a whole is oblivious of this problem. Rather than letting the children explore their interests and find their dream, the society thrusts its dreams on our children. For some, luckily the dreams reconcile while others, sadly, suffer in the next four years of jail and look for MBA/Civil Services as soon as they are set free.

What we need is a change in the pattern of thinking and not a change in the pattern of our examinations. A change in the way we educate our children. We shouldn't expect a 15 year old to decide on his career path. We have to give him time to explore his interests and find a dream if he doesn't have any. We need a society that supports all children and not a one that hails a few and derides the others. Then only, we will have a nation of motivated youth, who are happy with what they have and contribute back to the society with their knowledge, and not a society of unemployed youth who are looked down upon because they weren't allowed to dream in the first place. With that, I would like to end. I hope I made sense. Thanks for your time and please share your comments!