It was January 2008, when the question first popped into my head: What the hell am I doing? Why have I spent the last two of what would have been the best years of school life slogging over preparations for a single test – the JEE – to ‘change my life forever’? CBSE mandates that you should have an attendance of at least 75 per cent in high school. Officially, I did. Unofficially, I went to my school for a whole of three times in two years. The first time was to ensure that the school existed, and was not one of those fraudulent schemes to con unsuspecting students. The other two were to complete mundane formalities such as pre-boards and boards respectively. Wonder of wonders, my coaching centre and my school were in different states.
At the end of ‘high school’, I qualified in the bottom 2 per cent of my batch and the top 2 per cent of the country. Up, up and about was the feeling in my heart when the selection list for IITs announced that I was selected into IIT Kharagpur. Aah, the dreams of academic achievement! Three years post IIT selection, the mayajaal has lift ed. It’s just the regular life right now; bad roads, crowded streets, early morning classes with bleary eyed and professors who have only half a heart to teach as you doodle on the corner of your notebook with your Parker pen that your proud nani gave you – her IITian granddaughter.
If only she knew. It has become a routine practice to do a last-minute scramble before the exam and call it ‘preparation’. Of course I try to get work done; but try listening to your professor’s lecture as a 150-strong population of mostly boys swear, joke and make small talk. The professor is really too pressed for time to pay attention. Let’s not forget that IITs have a student teacher ratio of 1:15 compared to NUS, which has 1:5; and about 33 per cent of the posts are lying vacant.
As you open the door to your third-year room, your roommate takes up most of the space in what is not really a double room, at least for two grown people! Of course the government thinks otherwise. Why else would the MHRD decide it was ok to raise the intake of students to about twice the built capacity of existing hostels? You know, it would really be alright if we had the other perks. But fact is we don’t. Where is the encouragement for original thought? Where is the support that is needed for a student with a spark to make it in exactly what he/she wants to do? Well, you see, in an island of millions clamouring to get to the top of the coconut tree, a dreamer would be squashed. The system has teachers converted to practical managers whose job doesn’t really go beyond the structured L-T-C: give Lecture, check Tutorial, award Credit. Nobody’s counting the hours I spent trying to figure out why that pi suddenly disappeared from the final line of a long derivation.
I would like to roll up my sleeves and work on something tangible but there is hardly any information about ongoing projects that professors could use help in. Research is supposed to be a big deal, as it is around the world. Why is it that we aren’t able to scale it up? My guess is too little motivation and too much privatisation of funds.
The issue really is that there are way too many issues. Here’s a thought though: If the IITs are left to become run-of-the-mill engineering colleges, what else has modern, powerful, young India have to boast of, apart from being the giver of cheap skilled labour to the First World? We’re IITians and we’re proud. We rubbed our noses to the grindstone to get here and we deserve much better than what we get.
Volume 1 Issue 4