Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Elitist education?

I saw this link via Nanopolitan. And, I must say the author's arguments hit home rather well. As Abi says, some of them are broad-brush generalisations, but on the whole, he makes a lot of sense. For instance, when he says that people tend to look down upon others simply because they did not go a certain university, he successfully drives home an important point: that, unconsciously, graduates of elite institutions (I like to believe that Sciences Po is elite) look down upon those who do not "belong" there. I am guilty of that myself. I am proud I got into Sciences Po. But sometimes, I too have displayed that annoying arrogance of someone who is among, as Deresiewicz says, is among the "best and brightest." I am probably not. I am probably just very lucky. Or not even. I also agree that graduates of elite schools tend to judge themselves, and others, by numbers: SAT, GRE, GMAT scores.

In the Indian context, the equivalent is probably IIT and IIM. In this regard, I would like to point you to a brilliant post by Nita. (as always). It is a brilliant analysis of what IIM graduates are doing, how much they are getting paid, and what kinds of jobs they prefer. Beyond all this hype about the IITs and the IIMs, I would like to ask one question. What does an IIT graduate have that any good engineer from a decent engineering college does not? This is an honest question. I do not know. Any answers are welcome.

On a related note, I was rather surprised, even shocked to hear that many of my students have no idea how to write a CV. In fact, even those who are working have never written a CV because they were recruited on campus, and they simply had to fill up a form and take some technical tests. I do agree that BITS Pilani, the IITs and other institutions send out brilliant engineers. But, is brilliance a result of the college in which you studied? I know many people who come from nondescript and even unrecognised institutions who are capable of giving an IIT-grad a run for his money. I simply believe that excellence can exist anywhere, even in the slums. We are, as a society, too caught up in the rut of exams, degrees and marks to see that intelligence is unrelated to most or even all of these factors. What's more? We are refusing to allow our children to exercise their fundamental right to dissent. Any difference of opinion with school, college or teachers is quickly suppressed. "Just write what is in the text book. Otherwise you will not get marks." These are the words I hear from parents of all ages, day in and day out.

This reluctance to question is so ingrained in the Indian psyche that my grandfather tells me I must not question the analysis that appears in newspapers because those writing for the media are obviously better qualified than me to talk. Pray, why must I shut up when I see a journalist talking nonsense? Because the writer is a professor at JNU? No. I will not shut up. As long as I can substantiate my arguments, I have a right to say what I please. What people like my grandfather conveniently forget, is that we, as Indians, have a right to disagree. Even if we are engineers and not social scientists or strategic analysts. In short, we Indians give more respect to a piece of paper than to real intelligence. We must get out of this. If we want to innovate rather than replicate, we must encourage dissent. There is nothing like a good argument to foster new ideas. We must learn this fundamental truth for our own good.

6 comments:

The Minking Than said...

I must say you have touched a very touchy topic - elitism :-). Now a couple of your questions.
1) Is brilliance a result of the college you studied? No, on the contrary brilliance was the reason why you got into that particular college. Not quite a complete no - brilliance rubs off. If you have brilliant peers, and you are ambitious it could rub off through increased effort
2) Regarding the IIT graduate, I guess the same answer above applies.

There are several dimensions of brilliances. Somebody could be brilliant in Math but poor in Music. Somebody could be brilliant in English but poor in Language.

However as a process we can only depend on papers and numbers because of practical considerations. You cannot practically interview all students in a college for a campus interview. You cannot run campus interviews in all colleges in the country. As a company you only go to the top colleges and pick only the top students. Logical isn't it.

It is however slightly sad that this logic has percolated into normal social transactions where people compare other people by numbers and papers. At a personal level neither really are relevant.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

"But, is brilliance a result of the college in which you studied? I know many people who come from nondescript and even unrecognised institutions who are capable of giving an IIT-grad a run for his money."

The whole point of getting an entry into an elite institution can be equated to some level of brilliance.That is a fact.To top it, a person who enters one of these elite schools,get to interact with people of similar caliber;this is irrespective of the subject of study, be it Management,Technology,Science or Arts.

Institute is not causing the brilliance,may be it hones a bit.
And this does NOT mean someone from a not so famous school is an idiot.There may have been various non academic factors which took him to such a school.

Adding on, read yesterday that IITs may do away with JEE for facts including skewed gender ration in IITs. The reason cited is interesting. The coaching factories of Kota or AP are mostly filled with boys. Girls are rarely sent to such factories. So lesser number of girls crack the JEE.

:-)
-Nikhil

Nita said...

Hi Amrutha. Thanks for your kind words about my post. :)
Actually I agree with you and do not believe that elite institutions pick up people who are going to be best...whatever they are training them for. It angers me quite a bit and the last few days there has been a lot of fuss about the IIM's being upset because they had to lower percentages to admit OBC candidates. Now while I am against caste based reservations, what bugs me is when a few percentage points are deemed so important. I don't think merit, or rather, expertise on the job, has anything to do with elite institutions. They should change their way of admitting people

Amrutha said...

been a bit busy...sorry for the delay.

Minking than: i agree completely. That's the whole point. Brilliance in English is not as good as brilliant as brilliance in Math. Ah...my pet hate... am not getting into that debate again.

Nikhil: I agree that brilliance is what gets you in. But, if a person is not fortunate enough to get into IIT, so what? Why are we branding people according to college? It doesn't matter in the long run. That's my point.

Nita: My pleasure to read your post. It was great! I read the following post too academic merit) and you hit the nail right on the head.

Destination Infinity said...

"Just write what is there in the text book. Otherwise you will not get marks" - Well pointed out attitude of not only parents but also some teachers. It brings blatantly forward the crude concept of the parents - Study and get top marks, join top university, join biggest company - Thats how you attain happiness. In my humble opinion, that's how you lose happiness!

Destination Infinity.

Amrutha said...

Destination Infinity: The problem is that people equate financial stability and money-making with success. I am not as successful as a doctor who is not as successful as an engineer because of the money we make. This must change.