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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Do you want to kill your ward?

Obviously the answer to the provocative title is a strong NO. However,  your reply in negative does not exonerate you of the charge of causing stress, anxiety, and even depression. And yes, this can on a few occasions even lead to him/her taking the irrevocable final step.

Yet another young life with a bright future will be lost. Yet again, the media in the country will ask what are the top educational institutes in the country doing to ensure that these things don't happen on their campuses (with the obvious implication that it is alright to lose a young bright life outside these few campuses). The curriculum, the pedagogy, and everything else be scrutinized with a fine comb. Suddenly, the press will become expert on everything related to education.

IITs have tough competition. What does this mean, and who is responsible for it. Is having five courses a semester too much load (if yes, then close down all engineering colleges, they all have more courses than this). Is having an assignment every other week too much. Or should we just do some theory in lectures and ask questions in the exam from a set of pre-defined important questions. No, that is not what brings stress to the people. What brings stress to the people is their relative position in the class. And ANY system you create, if students are going to be worried about their relative positions, they are going to be stressed.

People say IITs put too much focus on academic performance, on this one number, CPI or CGPA. Shouldn't an academic institution worry about academic performance. And what is this too about too much focus. Yes, there are some academic decisions based on academic performance. But by and large, the institutes invests huge resources in creating avenues for non-academic pursuits. If there are awards for academic performance, there are also awards for projects, awards for sports performance, awards for leadership, and everything else. How many faculty members in an IIT will ever consider you less than a human being just because you are not in the top half of the class. The chances are that it never happens. It is the parents, the neighbors, the relatives, who worry more about your CPI and CGPA than IIT faculty. And they are the cause of stress and even depression, and not IITs.

The goal of most students in an educational institution is to get a good job. Who puts that focus in their mind. Certainly not the institute. Almost no faculty in IITK would tell students that the goal of IIT education is to get a 50 lakh or even a 10 lakh job. Most will actually tell them that they should think beyond placements, may be go for higher education, do what is their calling, be entrepreneur, and so on. So why do people get depressed when they don't get a job on day 1 of the placement. It is the parents unfortunately. Students are scared of calling up parents and telling them that their friends have a job and they don't. Even if they have confidence in themselves that they will get jobs on day 2 or later, they don't know how to get their parents off their back.

When a student falls sick, particularly depressed, the counselor tells us that the student needs family care and affection more than anything else, and we suggest that s/he goes home. It is the parents who don't want him/her home. He will manage, is always the statement that we hear. Do they know more than a professional counselor. But to them, the worry is not child's health, the worry is, what will people think, and the financial loss of a delayed graduation. Has anyone in an IIT ever said that you must finish your under-graduate in 4 years. We have a credit based system, and everyone is free to take 5 years to complete. No, the pressure does not come from the Institute, it comes from parents. For them, their own position in society and the money is so important that they are willing to play dice with their ward's life. (And of course, less than 0.01 percent of the students will die. So they can all say at the end, we told you so. Except that we can't tell that one parent, we told you so.)

I will get about 1000 calls/emails/messages in the counseling season asking for advice on what college/program to join. 900 out of these 1000 will ask me directly - which places have good placement. Out of the remaining 100, most are not asking the question only because they have read my blogs and know my strong view that quality of education is more important than placement statistics, and it is easier to find out about the quality of education than to find out about the placement statistics. These parents are guilty of pushing their wards on the path that will certainly have stress and anxiety and may have depression as well. Only very few will commit suicide and everyone else will believe that they are better parents, they knew how much to push, the other parents perhaps didn't, or even that the Institutes are responsible. But sorry guys, you just got lucky. You tried your best, but your ward survived, just because 99.99% will survive. It didn't have to be that way. All of them could have not just survived but enjoyed the college life.

And many of those students survived because IITs helped them survive. Because the counseling system works there. Because the other students are more compassionate than parents. Because the faculty works hard to help the weak.

When people say that parents left the child in your custody and parenting now is faculty duty, they are just passing the buck. First, they have not left the child in our custody. They call up every day, ask the score in every exam, ask for relative performance, and interfere in every aspect of student life. They don't realize that the student is now an adult. Second, faculty members can not be parents, should not be parents. That is not their job. By doing that job, we are being unfair to the tax payers. Being a faculty member is a very expensive proposition, and it is wasteful to use such an expensive resource for parenting, something that they may not be greatly skilled in. They should better do teaching and research in their time.

So, the next time you ask me about the placement statistics of this college or that college, think about it, you could be pushing him/her to take the extreme step.

Please focus on quality of education, and stop blaming IITs for every suicide.


Girish Elchuri said...

Mr. Sanghi,

As usual, a very balanced post. I fully agree with your points. However, I say there is one angle that you have not covered that also contributes to some extent of the student's performance in the institute. That is the entrance exam. Before I make my point, let me state my own experience:
* When I wrote JEE, I didn't get selected because it focused on what I learned in my 10+2, but on topics that I will learn in engg. Obviously I was not well prepared and I didn't get selected.
* When I wrote the entrance for M.Tech (CS) for IITK, it focused not only on what I learned, but also on the aptitude. I did well and got selected.

I did fairly well in my studies in M.Tech. That's because there is match to what/how they teach in M.Tech, to they way I was tested in entrance and what my capabilities are.

The JEE has not changed a bit and continues to be based on very advanced topics. And the whole bunch of coaching institutes make people mug-up the answers. They will get a good JEE rank and join some IIT or the other. But you see, they have no logical thinking or learning skills. I feel this mis-match could be one of the contributors for some of students not able to perform in IIT.

I think this must change and the entrance must focus on the learnability and aptitude of the person rather than knowledge that can be mugged-up.

My 2paise.

Girish Elchuri.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Girish, I agree that JEE has serious flaws, and as you know, I have written a lot about JEE on this blog.

srujan said...

Dr. Sanghi,
I agree with what you have discussed in this post. And every point is indeed true. Sir, don't you think it's all coaching centers which project IITs as a place where you get best placements and not emphasizing what IITs stands for or what IITs expects from students. I think this ignorance is all the reason for parents to think in this way. Even IITJEE is glorified among middle-class societies, where everyone think that it's the best investment parents can put on their ward on coaching centers beyond their capacity. Indirectly coaching centers are primary reason for stress and anxiety.

Punit Kumar said...

After passing from IIT the people are doing coaching in a institute just for money not for his own wish

Dhawal Upadhyay said...

This comment is not related to the blog. @Girish, your statement "And the whole bunch of coaching institutes make people mug-up the answers. They will get a good JEE rank and join some IIT or the other. But you see, they have no logical thinking or learning skills." is seriously wrong and you can't pass you judgement on coaching institutes if you have never been to one. This is similar to people passing judgement on the IIT system even when the have never been associated with it ever.

siddharth jain said...

Sir every time I see comments on your blog or else where I find we coaching people are becoming the soft target for all such issues. But all of them forget the primary reason for this increased coaching phenomenon. We are a developing nation which don't have enough resources and what all career options students or parents have once the child finishes X or XII. JEE/CPT/CLAT/AIPMT one two more and the list ends especially for tier II and below cities where people don't have much exposure of other fields. Also due to visionary economic and tax policies people having a mediocre business also wants their children not to join that.In this scenario JEE seems to be the most preferred option but there we hardly have 15 thousand odd seats for the grab plus everyone knows what the teachers are doing at school how much quality education they are providing is known to us. So coaching seems to be the only way. This year I was asked for my opinion in four five cases for selection of subjects by my very near relatives and in all student I found should not go for Science and advised so but still all of them have forced (even student was also happily accepting) for science and they took admission at my coaching institute even after strong NO from me. So is it only our fault. One of them answered in a very straight manner that leave IIT/NIT we are happy with a private college degree it sounds better than B.A or B.Com or B.Sc. So this is not the mindset for which 100% fault lies with us. Mr. Girish one thing i will like to remind you that you design any type of test mixing acads whether basic or advanced level with aptitude you won't find a substantial change in the JEE merit list. I still feel the people getting in IITs are really the cream of current generation.So the basic issue is the lack of resources which is putting up this whole pressure cooker scenario.

Kishore said...


My point is based on the fact that IITs reward performance on all parameters or traits including non-academic parameters like sports, leadership etc...

But as you said that certain entries/admissions are wholly based on academic performance.. I would like to ask why can't a holistic performance yardstick be designed to decide entry into any area inside IITs...even going to the extent of admissions to IITs...where weightages to components may vary based on the area chosen...

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Kishore, you want that we should select the Institute Hockey Team not on the basis of ability to play hockey (and related skills like teamwork), but it should be on a broader basis including grades in various courses. Sorry, I disagree.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@siddharth, I will not comment on coaching in this blog. But I do disagree with one statement that irrespective of the type of exam, you will see the same set of people getting selected. If that is the case, what is the objection to having a language paper, just to give an example. JEE is a lottery where you have to be a good hard-working student to have a chance in that lottery. Different types of exams will bias that lottery in different ways. And even if the same set of people will get selected, at least they will have more desirable skills when they are in IITs, if we had tested them properly on those desirable skills.

siddharth jain said...

Sir what I meant was any sort of exam which is testing academical skills with Logical Reasoning will get you the same people on board. Regarding language paper I personally feels it should be there but not only in English it should have options for other languages to choose from and then I do agree same people coming in will be with more desirable skills. Only English will produce situation like BITSAT where state board (I mean Rajasthan and similar Hindi heartland states) students are marginalized completely because of those English questions.Lastly, I feel JEE can be criticized for many points but its not that bad to be called a lottery. My experience with the students I taught and the one's who are selected makes me confident enough to say so.

tut m said...

I agree. The stress is never due to the pressure or load of studies. It is about how the people back home will feel that worries a student. It was true then and it is true now as well. Yes, it didn't help that most of the students (then)were quite competitive and I believe same is true now. And this was a feature of IIT which was welcomed and set it apart from a 'normal' university. The students need to be focused, competitive and be able to bear some pressure in the process. This develops them into a man. What's wrong with it?

Aman Garg said...

Sir, I believe that the reason behind our parents are concerned about the packages is also because the previous generation saw jobs solely as a source of income and our parents worked to earn money and support their families. For them life was all about what they did after the working hrs in the office and factories were over and hence education is seen as an investment to higher salary jobs to have a 'better life'.