(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
Usually in July, the monsoons help colleges all over the country piss on the hopes and dreams of recent high school graduates. This year, since the monsoons are delayed thanks to a letter written by Subramanian Swamy asking the Himalayan Mountains to block any clouds of foreign origin, the colleges had to perform this task alone. And, as always, the colleges performed the task with enough cruelty to pass this test with flying colours, unlike the students whose applications they rejected.
Every year as we hear about cut-off percentages hovering between the 99 to 100 percentile zones, we try to have a trite national debate over the state of education in the country. Even though we’ve all contributed to the boiling down of the essence of a thirteen year education into a double digit percentage, we somehow seem to be surprised to see our handiwork in action. Look what people who’re not us have done! How did this happen? All we did was pressurize our children to compete with others like an element in a Darwinian equation fighting for survival. What do you mean asking them to get a hundred percent or die trying is not good parenting?
We teach children that their life’s mission should be to lead a zombie-like existence wherein the only thing they should dedicate their energy to is to getting a perfect score in their exams. Don’t try to be creative! Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t look for things outside the syllabus. Don’t read chapters your teachers aren’t comfortable teaching you. You don’t have to understand it; you just have to learn it!
We make our children define their self-worth by their marks. People who get near perfect or perfect scores are treated like royalty by parents and teachers. If you get good marks life will be so good that even the air you breathe will not have been sullied by the inferior nostrils of someone who has never even been in any honour roll! No need to talk to your friends, they only want to distract you from your goal!
People are obsessed with getting perfect or near-perfect scores because these are important for students to get into a ‘prestigious college.’ Even though the most important lessons in college are learnt outside the classroom, which college you go to does have an impact on your future. For example, it helps determine the level of douchiness you will exhibit for the rest of your life.
While our prestigious institutions are busy churning out alumni who spend the rest of their lives producing large number of badly written campus novels, there is a whole industry built around trying to exploit the people who want to get into them. From the neighbourhood tuition centres who charge an exorbitant amount of money to ‘guarantee’ admission into one of these institutions; to touts who promise to get you in if you reward them with a cut of the ‘donation’ you plan to give to your favourite educational institution.
We need good colleges for everyone. Even for those whose don’t get ‘good’ marks in high school. We cannot leave their education to pontytail-ed conmen – whose only purpose of existence is to raise their own profile while they fleece large swaths of students who join their diploma shop – to fill the gap. Or to fake foreign universities with prestigious sounding names which only exist on websites filled with stock photos. (I’m looking at you, Belford 'University.)
There should be more actual options for people who want to pursue things that interest them (like literature or alcohol). Like me in college, they might just scrape by the passing mark by pulling an all-nighter, but, hey, all’s well that ends well!
Come to think of it, maybe I should open my own college and let people study whatever they want.
Will you sign up if I offer free laptops and a diploma from a fancy college in England?