I was in Lucknow recently and had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Amrita Dass and her charming family. Dr. Dass comes from a family of Educators- her Grandmother, educated at Columbia in the 1940s, was the first Indian Principal of the famous Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. Her mother taught for several years and her brother, Ranjit, is Principal at the Nath Valley School in Aurangabad that is rapidly gaining popularity as a ‘school of the future’Dr. Dass runs the Institute for Career Studies and has over the last few decades guided a number of students to their preferred careers in India and abroad. In addition to whole-school and individual counselling, the institute also does some fantastic workshops for in-service teacher development. Dr. Dass believes, and this is prominently displayed on her organisation stationery, “There are no Ideal Careers, only Ideal Choices.”
I spoke to Dr. Dass on range of issues regarding Education in this country with a focus on Youth Development and found her disarming, witty, thoughtful and well-read. The succulent soya kebabs she serves at her residence added much flavour to the conversation.
I am including extracts centered around the theme of ‘the main differences between career inclinations and choices a couple of decades ago and today.’ The ‘I’ in the next few paragraphs all defer to Dr. Dass.
(1) Earlier there was the pressure of competing for the limited seats available in professional courses & hardly any professional or vocational degree courses after Plus Two. Today there are infinite academic and career choices. Owing to the privatisation of higher education, there are more seats than students! Thus, today there is confusion of choice!(2) Though stereotypes and mindsets about courses and careers are still prevalent, earlier most persons got into a career by chance. Today many more are in a position to choose a career based on their aptitudes and interests.
(3) Another recent trend is that large numbers of students are eager to pursue their studies abroad. Bank loans have made access to foreign education much easier.
(4) A decade ago, students preferred to opt for jobs with hefty pay packets, regardless of whether it engaged their inherent talents and interests or not. There is a definite shift today towards jobs that would provide satisfaction.
(5) I am not surprised that Howard Gardner has added “existentialist” intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences. I have seen more evidence of this in students of junior classes! For example, when asked by me to respond to the question, “Who am I”, one grade 8 student wrote “This question has been bothering me for sometime. When I search my inner universe, I reach the stars”. His mother thought that his writings were “weird“! This reinforces the observation made by Peter Senge that today’s new age student is being reared largely by “industrial age” parents and taught largely by “industrial age teachers”.
(6) One of the most exciting developments today is that many more parents are encouraging their daughters to pursue higher studies and careers of their choice. Previously early marriage was their topmost priority.
(7) What still needs to change is the “fixation” on the Science and Commerce streams, which has driven out the Humanities stream as an option from most schools. Can you imagine the plight of students who excel in Social Studies in class 10, want to continue with it in Plus Two but are compelled to either take up Science or Commerce subjects?
(8) In this technology oriented knowledge age, what most organisations look for is a “smart” mind and a “smart” personality. Thus, most careers can be accessed from any subject stream or combination. Moreover, I find that there is increasingly little correlation between the education students are receiving and the careers they are choosing to pursue.
(9) Another malaise that remains to be addressed is the enormous pressure and tension students are subjected to in order to secure high marks in their Board examinations and at the same time get coached for the various entrance exams after Plus Two. This takes a heavy toll in terms of their overall sense of well being, self-esteem and all round development as extra curricular activities are virtually taboo.
(10) An issue that must be addressed is that the huge potential of our rural youth is not being tapped because of poor access to vocational guidance and training. Some sincere efforts have been made by NGOs and individuals but this remains a much neglected sector. A concerted, planned, sincere and dynamic effort by Government agencies (like the almost defunct employment directorates, employment exchanges), NGOs and the private sector (industrial and business houses, Banks, CII, FICCI, PHD Chambers of Commerce etc) is urgently required. I have conducted our career counselling and guidance programmes in rural areas and found the rural youth eager, enthusiastic and keen to go places!
A few of her ideas resonated strongly with me. The first was about harnessing the potentional of rural youth. A friend of mine, Akhil Krishna, is fired up about this idea and we often discuss the potention of bi-lingual (Vernacular Instruction for the first half of a 2-4 year course with intensive English Language Training, and English Instruction for the second half) colleges and universities.
Another idea, simplistic yet powerful, was suggested by him. He stated that most software programming languages have few keywords that are used in the coding syntax. If these keywords could be translated with Vernacular equivalents and coding could be done by non-English speaking programmers with basic computing skills, we would be reducing the cost of programming and providing employment at the same time.
The second was the issue of admission to colleges and universities in the country that demanded high marks – requiring students to study long hours at the cost of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that provide a very useful education to students. Until this is resolved, many of the evils of the schooling system in India will persist.
What are your thoughts on Dr. Dass’ points? Write in and we’ll get her to respond!