Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Engineer/Doctor – Is There Another Scenic Route?

“So do you want to be an engineer or is it a doctor?” - a compulsory question that is repeated in every social cross examination that you face from age 8 to 18 in God’s Own Country.

Parents in Kerala across socio-economic strata want the best for their kids…sometimes even to the extent of this being an obsession. So the logical conclusion is that they strongly believe engg/med is the best possible career option for their kids. So here is an attempt to demystify this… Starting with how this belief got so deep rooted into the Kerala mindset and more importantly why it is not so in other states….

Reason 1: Ignorance: Most students in Kerala cities, from a very young age itself are aware of the process of getting an admission into engg/med and the specializations on offer. By the time they reach high school, they would at least know about the companies that come for campus placements (if your interest is in engg) or the well renowned institutions that offer higher studies in various medical specialties. There are clearly defined action plans starting from which coaching classes to attend, what entrance books to read, infrastructure of various colleges and due dates of various exams.

However, when it comes to pure sciences or arts/commerce the usual modus operandi is to apply to several different courses in colleges close to your house and join whichever comes through. Before, during or after the 3 years of so called education no thought or effort is put in to frame a future game plan. By which time, you are branded as a failure which demotivates you even further.

We can change this situation if sufficient information is made available – not just in career guidance magazines which you lay your hands on when it is too late…but during school years itself, on specific career paths and steps needed to reach there. Come to think of it career options are much more wider if you are not an engg/doc !!!

Reason 2: Infrastructure : The second thing we need to get in place is good infrastructure – a good library and internet connectivity. We always seem to concentrate on good teachers and while I am not negating the positive results of good teachers, I never had any during my engineering years. We still managed fine because we had good alternate sources of knowledge. So, while improving the quality and dedication of teachers is a long term solution, more immediate answers could lie in alternate sources of self-study – about the subjects in your syllabus, guidelines on future course of actions and in general to expand your knowledge base. …which incidentally will also solve the age-old problem of ‘our intelligent students unable to clear competitive exams and interviews’

Reason 3: Feeling of Self Worth: We need to create a feeling of self-worth among students pursuing any stream of study. If you are keen on what you want to achieve in life, and have a clearly defined game plan for success, then you will not take to the streets to demonstrate your strength. And this is what we should provide in terms of getting achievers in various fields to speak in college forums, have discussion groups for various competitive exams and so on. If every college department has a fully functional career guidance and counseling centre then we can address this issue to a large extent. We need to give every student a vision of personal success.

Reason 4: Entry to Colleges: Most acclaimed institutes of study have a ‘statement of purpose’ essay as a key criterion for admission. We need to bring that into our undergrad system as well. This will help students get into courses for which they are passionate about and have an aptitude for. And, more importantly, writing down a statement of purpose will enable students themselves see clearly what they hope to gain by taking up that course. But for this to work, we first need teachers who are passionate about the subjects they teach and who have dedicated their lives for the growth of the subject. Otherwise even this process can get hijacked by people with vested interests.

Reason 5:Choices: The last thing I can think of is to increase the choices at every level - choice of subjects at the plus two level, choice of adequate research facilities, choice of different careers. This is a long term solution and will take at least ten years to implement, but let’s atleast know what we want.
We want passionate teachers, good research facilities, and entrepreneurs who will generate more jobs. Let’s work towards these.

P.S: Inputs to this article has been derived from my interactions with youngsters in Kerala and the comments for my previous post.


MC said...

this is a great followup post! the 5 demystifiers were spot-on!

1. ignorance - its perhaps a planned ignorance, where parents dont expose their kids to alternate choices other than what they want. this again brings us back to the "mentality" issue. parents need the education first i guess. i keep thinking the younger parents will have a different perspective..but then by the time their kids grow up, its deja-vu.

2. absolutely.. our syllabus, also our teaching community, is stagnant since years! and government teachers resist most attempts to change. but somehow we need to go ahead with this drastic step.

3. wow..this suggestion is the most wonderful thing that could happen..individuality and dignity of labor are two things totally missing from our land. career guidance is happening in a lot of colleges now, but again not in an effective manner.

4. we need teachers who are teaching part time, while at other times they are either working or conducting research. only then will the teachers themselves have passion (and adequate updated knowledge) about what they teach. to a certain extent its fine in professional colleges, but we need the same applied to all graduate disciplines.

5. just like industry, we need more public private partnerships in the boards as well. people who are industry leaders should work alongside subject experts in determining content structure and syllabi.

this is a great post! i am eager to know what the others think..i hope some people who frame education guidelines and policies are also reading these posts!

abhishek said...


What a great post to begin 2007!

Very inspirational and thoughtful.

"And this is what we should provide in terms of getting achievers in various fields to speak in college forums, have discussion groups for various competitive exams and so on. If every college department has a fully functional career guidance and counseling centre then we can address this issue to a large extent."

Tinkerbells, would you be open to giving career counseling yourself?

The reason I ask this is that some of the SK team are working on a software to connect Keralite professionals. And you have pretty much voiced our mission statement, which I admit, was also inspired by your earlier post on professional satisfaction.

The idea is to organize panel discussions to have professionals talk with students and they don't have to be acknowledged leaders in their fields. In fact, young professionals have a significant advantage in that often, they will be able to relate to college students much better. And the very fact that they've been working for more than 2 years (say as a criterion) in a profession should guarantee some knowledge of the opportunities available to everyone.

So, what do you say? I think this could be a great program for everyone to get involved and just as you said, create a sense of "self-worth" among the new generation.

Sabu Ismail said...

The real issues surrounded kerala education in the early 1990's are yet to be reflected here. Hope someone would enlighten this area.

i am sure that people from early 90's educated in kerala can certainly understand the concepts surrounded education. There has been magical recognition about doctors and engineers while professionals from many other streams of education had to be satisfied with a less recognition in the society. No one knows why such fanaticism for this two profesions happened to live through peoples mind over many years! recently I happened to see parents of a keralite doctor working with state health department, now looking for opportunities abroad. It was quiet surprising for me to know the kind of money a doctor like him makes at his best. Seems that the glory continue to remain with this profession, but not the monetary advantages anymore. To share with a frank thought, I thought Call Center Staff from banglore at their teen ages are far better earners compared to doctors. People don’t recognize the amount of money they throw behind while chasing the dream recognition of a Doctor. Often students are been pushed in to this profession to satisfy their parent’s hunger to have them recognized by their means. The flow of money goes behind completing the glorified profession of a Doctor later makes them to think about compensating for the same once they enter in to service. You know how it works once they are in to Service. You will have one more doctor who is merely useful and hardly responsible to the society he is serving. Having known the flurry of professional colleges across south inida and their operating structure, the education effectiveness and talent of these doctors are another area of discussion.

Now, what has happened to those who were left out of the race to become a Doctor or Engineer? In the early 90’s there wasn’t much career options available in Kerala. To the worst, there was no such thing called “career guidance” (atleast in my place)which in result caused so many to go unaware of their career options. Many opted to channel their education in one blind stretch only to complete their bachelors regardless of their area interest. Once they are at the end of road holding a masters degree at the age of 22 or 23, they go out to face the world as a job hunter. No experience.. no exposure to real working environment.. now they are set to suffer a blow in the real world scenario.

In western countries, you go in to doing a Masters with sufficient experience and thereby the skills you gather with your Bachelors are polished. This is one thing we lacked in our educational system, resulted in the creation of unfit human resources. Recently in an interview in Abu Dhabi, a European GM was surprised to know that his candidate is having an MBA in International Business at the age of 22. He took that as a sign of excellence in his candidate! The Candidate knew his problems ofcourse. The westerners dare to go into doing masters without having adequate experience.

A friend of mine was here in UAE couple of years ago as a job hunter. The company hired him found it’s difficult to make him fit in to the job he is assigned for, and eventually terminated his service just after 3 months. He talked to me about the effects of his education without having experience in sidelines.

Now there are signs that one can stay hopeful about the way education is changing in Kerala. Hope this would continue to make progress.

Sabu Ismail

PCM said...

An excellent post. The suggestions appear ideal from the theoretical point of view. But I have some misgivings based on the reflections that appeared in the earlier post and comments.
1. With more than 30 years of experience in the field of education, I have no reason for being happy about our present situation. We need to change it. But, where to begin?
2. The usual paradigm about Education is that it is the superstructure built on four pillars – Students, Teachers, Parents and the Management. But as far as I can see, the base of all these four pillars is totally eroded, perhaps heavily eaten by termites, which can best be described as the political overtones available in the State. The attempt, in the present situation, would appear like the desire to see a plant blossom into flowers, the plant of which the roots are rotten! I will explain each factor separately.
a. Students: Whatever be the educational institution, the real, eager, studious students are relegated into negligence by small groups of ‘student wings’ that call themselves the leaders. The functioning of the school or college is upset by the handiwork of just this few elements who are controlled by political parties. Normal work – teaching, counseling, orientating, giving guidelines, etc. – is disrupted by these young thugs on grounds other than learning. The recent High court judgment banning political organizations in Ed. Institutions appears to auger good, but it will be defeated by calculated efforts by politicians.
b. Teachers: Teachers themselves are grouped into different categories of political Unions, who fight only for their pay and other benefits. Once they join an Institution, they know that their salaries and jobs are protected till they retire with a fat pension. The Unions assure them this. Teaching is never a parameter here, whether you do it well or nil. Most teachers resign themselves to material benefits and they never bother about the future of students or academic improvements. (Have you ever heard a teachers Union demanding improvements in the teaching system, updating of Syllabus, reforming the examination pattern or widening the scope for knowledge?)
c. Parents: With the best intentions, the parents put their students in schools famous for their coaching – mostly CBSE, ICSE syllabus and private schools – and send their students to tuitions and Entrance coaching. The individuality of the student is totally forgotten here. And the parents will not listen to any advice outside their set plans. The frustration that sets in in their children exhibits itself in anti-social and unlawful activities during and after their teenage. (Otherwise how do organizations like SFI, DYFI, AISF, MSF, ABVP get so much support in Kerala alone in their disruptive moves?)
d. Management: This includes the Governments, Universities, Private Managements and the Education Department. The inclination of the Government is well-known. Keep expenses to the minimum, speak vociferously about improvements but do nothing, thwart the attempts, if there were any, of the previous government to change the situation, grant the demands of their political wings. Usually, the Minister for Education is a dropout who came up the ladder of Politics through student wings and is incapable of seeing beyond his nose.
The Universities are ruled by Syndicates that comprise of staunch politicians and a helpless VC posted as a result of strong wire-pulling. (Look at what is happening in Agricultural University VC posting) He should forget integrity and all academic thoughts the moment he assumes the chair, be a puppet that dances to the tune of the political clouts. The syllabus will remain archaic, examinations outmoded, results unduly delayed, students losing valuable months or years; the TA&DA bills will be promptly passed.
The Private Managements do their best to make money out of the age-long practices which they know will not change. The Staff in aided colleges are paid directly by the Government, but most Managements realize admission fees, donations and bribes for appointment. Merit is not always the criterion for appointment. Whether the teachers teach or not, some students pass the exams purely by fate or by their hardwork. The credit goes to the Management. They have their own political power, based on caste or religion, and make opportunistic alliances with political parties for their gains.
Well, in the midst of all this, from where will come the effort, the will, the motive, the drive, to effect the policies you have drafted?
Please, be assured, I am not being pessimistic or against the suggestion. I whole-heartedly support them and see the value contained therein. But, it is also my duty to warn you of the pitfalls.
Above all, may I conclude by saying that it is the SELFISH intentions of all concerned is the root cause of this stagnation?
I am moved by your eagerness to welcome change. Your optimism will certainly bring about the changes you desire. I am with you.

E Pradeep said...

I agree that there's an obsession with being a doctor or an engineer but I disagree with your statement that this is something specific to Kerala. Living in Hyderabad, I have seen the obsession associated with these sciences so much more than in Kerala, where I have at least heard about people talking about Arts and Political Sciences.This is a problem so much more in South India and should not be addressed as a Kerala specific problem.I had written about this, last week, in my blog. Welcome you to read about it, though, of course, it's not an analytical piece that I have written.

Tinkerbells said...

@mc: thnks.
@abhishek:thnks.I am always open to sharing whatever knowledge I have regarding career options and like in any count me in. And really appreciate you and your team's efforts !!! Maybe you could also look at a website having comprehensive information on various things that will be of use to kerala youth.
@sabu ismail: the fanaticism happened because at one point there were a lot of unemployed youth even engineers in kerala. The only course of study which guaranteed a job is a doctor as once you pass out you get the license to practice..and people always fall sick regardless of recession or bull markets !!! so it's the risk averse nature of malayalees which prompted a flow into medicine, which may not be monetarily good but atleast is secure..also, all the docs one meets are usually the most successful in their field who make quite a bit of one naturally assumes that you can make money as well...the countless docs who don't reach the limelite are never thought of when making a career choice :). Then came software firms which gave you jobs while in college itself these gained respectability as well.
And, yea my dream is to help kerala youth become 'employable' and not just 'degree holders'
@pcm: yes !!! we need experienced voices like yours to help usfine tune our idealistic solutions to practical ones.
Where to begin?? well, my personal thoughts are that if we attack a well-established system (however flawed it may be) we will fall flat on our faces. So the idea is to start a parallel movement that can have quick successes to turn sceptics into believers. My dream is to start something like a 'centre of excellence' for youth which will guide them over a period of 3 years of their graduation so that they have a purpose to work for - a job.
Yea, so the idea is not to make a rotten plant flower, but rather to sow the seeds of a quick flowering plant and then develop a hybrid in later years. So hopefully, we will first rope in a small cross section of teachers, students and parents who want to see a change and are willing to do something about it...and seeing these 'first movers' succeed, the others will also follow.

Brijesh said...

This is not an issue just in Kerala but in many states.
In Kerala what I feel why parents are pushing thier kids hard for becoming an engineer or doctor is that it is easy for them to find a job outside Kerala. this is especially true for engineering. You have a basic engineering degree and you can now easily get a job.
I feel this scenario will only change if there are more job oppourtunities in other area. If some one study MA English and he easily gets a job them more and more students will be attracted to it.

MC said...

to a certain extent i agree with brijesh's point..which is perhaps why we have seen nursing as the single "hottest" course in kerala, with an aim to get out of the state and be employed.

Lib-Info-Space said...

Please Read this link

Riot said...

I agree completely with your assessment of Ignorance. Kids need to find their line of interest. Not society.

I do have to disagree a little with your assessment on Teachers. It too has to be an immediate goal. Great teachers make students want to learn more and think more.

Anonymous said...

I would say, what is important for a student is to follow his/her field of interest in recognition to real world opportunities that are not anymore revolving around two of the most glorified professions. Even if a student is forced to peruse the field of doctor/engineer in the name of social recognition, it could only be a thing of the past as recognition is very much there for every stream of education in the modern world. Real world opportunities provided excellent recognition for students in all the fields of education provided they should know how to manage their career successfully and excel in their relevant field.

Now it seems another fanaticism gradually placing in about Information Technology opportunities, primarily motivated on monetary and campus recruitment advantages.

Hope this would be wisefully assessed and corrected before it pave way for another extreme fanaticism.

Sabu Ismail

Alex said...

You have been timely in posting this fact.

I too have pondered over the fact that most of the opportunities are lost due to ignorance. Students need to be provided with adequate choices in fields they are passionate about.

My school had a career guidance cell which definitely helped me. Cells and centres like this should be made compulsory in all schools.

Jeevan K Augustin said...

Really informative ... yes about the kerala ealier education and about its real issues. nice posting.!!! wish you all a happy new year.

MJ said...

Hey what's going on? Has this discussion stopped prematurely compared to the previous one?

Plenty of discussion about reasons not to coMe back but then toO few ideas about other scenic Routes...

Sums it aLL up I thINk

MJ said...

How about this news item from 2005?

It was pRobably a shock to the Professor at the time that such unexpected avenues might open up.

But then, is getting into eMpLoyment the one and only goaL of educatION?

Alex said...


"But then, is getting into eMpLoyment the one and only goaL of educatION?"

A good question which each individual should ask themselves. :)

Tinkerbells said...

@Pradeep:maybe not specific to Kerala, but definitely a problem of Kerala too...

@brijesh and mc: I agree with the "employability" aspect. We need to see where the gap is between the other streams of study and their potential to land a job...any suggestions?

@one more reason: yea, but do we have the might to influence policies?

@sabu: mmm, but the knowledge of these opportunities and recognition has to reach youngsters....

@alex: Would like to know more about what kind of info your school cell gave you, did that influence any student in your school to follow a different path and so on...

@jeevan: thnks and wish u and ur loved ones the same.

@mj: I agree...i am looking at readers providing any suggestions of solving these problems or other problems that they feel is the cause....u r welcome too...
The link you gave wasn't working....

as far as employment being the goal for education, yes...most of us pursue education as a means to get a job...other things like knowledge and a better thought process are still considered "fringe benefits" and will remain so for quite sometime...

Alex said...


The placement cell used to collect details about various courses available after school. It was helpful because most of us were ignorant of many of the options after taking commerce. I knew of only CA, BCom, and MBA.

The person in charge talked to us and found out what we were interested in and talented in, and then she gave her recommendations.

I used to tell her of my interest in the stock market and in economics. She was the first one to advise me to take up BA Economics.

And that is what i did. But, it was not compulsory for all students to go there. So many would not have have known of the myriad opportunities available.

But, i feel that such cells need to be undertaken with strong motivation, because it helps to change a persons life-for the better or worst. Research and development must be made an important component of education.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tinkerbells:

The situation you just pointed out applies not only to Kerala, but to other states also.

I being from Chennai have seen how people fall for engg and medical courses. The society does discriminate you if you choose arts/pure science/other stream. Don't worry we are all in same boat! Atleast, I give respect to every stream and profession.

My general observation about Malayalees in Chennai is, they are really hardworking, focussed, entrepreneural, last but not the least, they have the fire to come up in life much more than a native Chennaite!! Its true...


Anoop said...

hhe craze for a good T-college is much worse in north india, where u would u find ppl dropping for 2 to 3yrs to get into an IIT/NIT/BITS and even then there is not much options left.. Pppl in keral fare much well when compare to here (i hav many class mates like that in my NIT, and all southies here are freshers)..

And abt the course, its true that counsellings is important b4 taking admission into B.Tech college, usually students don't have any idea about the branch at he age of 18 when they join the college...

Though I dont really agree about SOP made compulsory for admission..

padma said...

That was an interesting discussion and I assume its relevance can never be lost. So though I am late to this, I would still like to share my experiences.

My kids were born and brought up in Gujarat and did most of their schooling there - we came to Kerala four years back. Fortunately, they were exposed to career counselling quite early in life and so chose to do things that are looked down upon out here. When my elder daughter chose to do speech and hearing, u should have seen the pitying glances we got! She had looked thru all kinds of options and decided she wanted to do this and now she is happy doing it!

Now my younger daughter wants to take arts in her plus 2; we are now hunting for a cbse school which offers arts stream in plus 2 - we r yet to find one in the malabar region. Most schools tell us there r no takers for arts. Her school principal told us the best option is to send her out of the state to study if she is keen! We r almost reaching that conclusion too!

And of course, our friends and relatives wonder why on earth we dont persuade her to take up science and go the normal route - engineering or medicine. Interestingly, many people ask us, 'is she going to take up engineering?' when we say no, the immediate comment is 'oh then she must be trying for medicine'. There is no sense of the existence of other streams at all.

Another intersting thing that we came across: we didnt send the kids for tuition during their 10 / 11 & 12, while most of our friends' and relatives' kids were sent to thrissur for coaching (I am sure we all recognise where and why). While the kids did well in their studies but not always getting the first rank, they did turn out to be more rounded individuals - taking an interest in reading, environment and ecology and ahve developed a sound sense of citizenship and social consciousness. I think this is a better achievement than factory produced individuals who are trained to focus only on one thing.

Joe said...

Your article infact has actually dwelled down and let me just congratulate you on a write up which should definitely motivate a lot of people from the Arts and commerce streams.I have seen people at times saying are you mad taking up this stupid streams.I have come through shackles so really feel the pinch.But i was really comforted by my dad and mom both engineers to take what ever you feel DON,T CARE ABOUT SOCIETY THEY JUST CRIB!!!!

Anonymous said...

Engineer or Doctor? This is an old question. Intelligent or experienced/hard work? This is the new question.

Everybody knows India’s best and bright minds go to IIT. The second bests go to Medicine and REC (NIT) and third bests go to other engineering colleges.

What is the percentage of IIT graduate taking engineering profession? Less than 15% percent. About 10% goes to higher studies (research in engineering) in top 10 US universities (the most sought after choice), the next 60% goes to investing banking and financial services, and the next 30% goes to management.

This is the era where smart workers and fast learners are in demand. The QUANTS (as called in US for mathematical minds) are the most demanded workers in any industry today. So it does not matter what you study, but what matters is how much smart learners and creative you are.

To add, Orhan Pamuk is an engineer, Michael Angelo is an engineer, Bertrand Russell is an Engineer, Sethu is a physicist, Krishnan Nair is chemistry graduate, Poonathil Kunhabdulla is a Medical doctor, and Khalil Gibran is an engineer and the list goes on.

Further, neither Vallathol nor Kumaranasan is a Malayalam graduate.


peter ivan said...

I was laughing at wits when i saw your fourth point, low self esteem you could have just written lokka at my blog name "Dog's own country"
what more i can say?.I agree completly with it

Ashik said...

The fact is that there are other fields worth trying than old eng/med and thelikes.
I am into a new profession who people in kerala does not know and very happy employed outside india. i too felt the same age old eng med while i was for my plus2 now the new field i have found out will be a plus point for me.i am the only person in my family who is in this particular profession .
The thing we cannot agree is showoff and denying married life based on these degrees. This happens in South india. There is no value for these degrees outside india.
We need to find an alternative otherwise southindia will be full of enginners and doctor. There will be no person to do other jobs.The candidates who are not able to complete Btech is rising in kerala. very few pass in supplementary and semester exams.
govt is waisting money on these third grade colleges. it must support all other sectors as it happens in the western countries. south india would be aland with unemployed engineers and doctors. The btech are taking jobs for normal degree holders in banks and financial institutions. This system must be totally banned.Actually indian system is the problem. Govt needs tochange the system as par with developed nations

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