India’s Obsession with Engineering Degress

Looking at how things are unfolding, India might be facing a major youth unemployment crisis in the near future. Millions of young (unskilled) engineering graduates are flooding job markets fighting for dwindling number of jobs in the IT sector, which was a mass-absorber of graduates for the past two decades but suddenly does not need as many workers anymore. Driving this crisis is purely our insistence on acquiring useless engineering degrees on that old socialist belief that degrees will ensure (in today’s world, IT) jobs. But instead, B.Tech has become for us what B.A. and B.Com were for the generation of our parents, thanks to the proliferation of thousands of private engineering colleges or B.Tech Victim production centers. Once upon a time, when education was not as widespread as it is now, the few people who could acquire degrees were seen to be gaining wealth, position and respect. It was hence thought that it was that “degree” which was the ticket to greatness in life, which continues even today. Graduates do not realize that their degrees are worthless pieces of paper as long as they don’t have skills. But what drives India’s craze for engineering degrees?

The Indian obsession with engineering and resulting looming “educated unemployment problem” (redux) is only has nothing to do with science or technology, the desire to create things or change the world or any of that. It is only another visible manifestation of most negative aspects of the great “Indian Culture” of decision making and belief systems, which is also what is behind most of India’s socio-economic problems: The reprehensible caste system and resultant conditioning of prejudices wrapped in rotten 19th century colonial education systems of memorizing and prescribed rote learning (Macaulayism) marinated in the concoction of “Indian traditional middle class family values” of patriarchal parental decision making systems, social conservatism, aversion to risk-taking, the single life-goal of family perpetuation, seeking stability and follow-the-sheep-mentality, topped with the over-inquisitive, omnipresent “Indian Society”, all well cooked in the flame of general lack of imagination and ignorance. In this chapter we look into this detail. For this, we need to go back to the beginning. The Indian obsession with engineering in its present form originated in May 1950 when the first IIT was inaugurated and engineering entered mainstream Indian consciousness.

India’s Tryst With Engineering

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, co-founder and first Prime Minister of the polity of the Republic of India, believed to his very bones that it was science alone that could solve the myriad problems India faced from poverty to superstition, and could end the irony of India being a “rich country inhabited by starving people”. The first four IITs were launched under his auspices with great fanfare to create world-class engineers who would lead the transformation into a science-enabled republic. While this is of course, justified, Pt. Nehru’s overtly romantic fascination for technical higher education came at a huge price: the almost complete neglect of primary education. The entire foundation that molds Homosapien younglings into rationally thinking human beings was left to rot. In his zeal of creating gleaming, modern temples of higher education, Nehru forgot to lay solid foundations for it in the form of early education, leaving that to Macaulayism instead. This was his biggest mistake while building the young nation, glaringly visible today as the basis for almost all the problems India faces today on account of its ill-mannered, indisciplined, unruly and uninformed populace.

When we look at the India of today, it becomes apparent how enormously fallacious this course we took was, as the IIT experiment seems to have turned counterproductive. Instead of creating a rational populace and scientific thought in the country, neither have the 4 original IITs (plus the 18 that came after) or their alumni (other than some notable exceptions) managed to “scientify” India on any scale, but have only generated a kind of mass frenzy where people “study” science only to get into IITs and then out of India. We remain a traditionalist, irrational and emotional society who don’t believe in applications of science other than for entertainment. We have produced brilliant engineers who were surrounded by not-so-brilliant irrational people up to their necks in Macaulayism, making said brilliant engineers flee India in search of greatness in other countries. While the first IITians might have escaped India out of frustration, this later became a kind of ritual, resulting IITs and in extension engineering degrees becoming coveted as passports for the better life in and the ticket out of India. In recent times, the IT boom ensured “engineers” of any type and quality all got all the perks above, along with Green Cards and American lifestyles.

IIT

The ultimate dream of many, most Indians is to ultimately settle in a developed, preferably English-speaking foreign country for a peaceful and prosperous life, away from all the chaos and uncertainty that is India. And those who do, do get really prosperous. In the past generally and for the last three decades, the driver of this migration has been generally always engineering. The basic motivation and driving force behind the engineering (and nursing in Kerala) craze has always been this equation (above), a mantra programmed into the minds of parents and students (who are tomorrow’s parents) to an extent that they are unable to even see anything outside of it, driving them as an obsession so intense and all-consuming that it is difficult to describe, just like it is difficult to describe an incredibly beautiful sunset. What is stupendous to see is new parents of today, products of the same warped education system push their kids to become part of the same soul-sucking system. More on that later.

The Question of Stability and Perpetuity

It has to be noted that engineering itself is not the reason why it is viewed as the favorite career choice, but the job and income stability it supposedly offers (not anymore). Since the time of our Kings, later the British Raj and now the Republic, Indians have always vied for stable, government-office jobs which guaranteed perpetuity and stability with no uncertainties or risks attached, where life progressed in a predictive, linear and boring fashion with no creative destruction and a steady stream of income, the ultimate aim of which is to perpetuate ones clan and family with no hiccups in an uncertain and chaotic nation. And engineering always came close to these kinds of jobs. A career in say, fashion designing is much more risky and unpredictable even if it is more fulfilling to a person who has his heart put in it. Engineering is (relatively) cheaper, easily available, more “glamorous” than say, a B.A. or B.Com. In addition, everyone seems to be an engineer and in IT and making money and settling in America. So why the hell not? This preference for the “safe” option also goes a long way in the push for engineering as a preferred career choice, which has been for a long time the “high-class” life-time occupation that generated power, respect and wealth. Which brings us to the next point.

Dignity of Labour? What is That?

The dream of any Indian parent is to get their child a good education. For lower-income people this comes as a hope for them to escape the poverty that had bound them to low-sustenance existences all their life, while middle class people they hope education will enable their kids to achieve all that they could not, like becoming top dogs of software sweatshops. But what all parents irrespective of economic status expect for their children is to earn a white-collar job and to go to sanitized, air-conditioned glass-and-steel office buildings in nice clothes and earn wealth, class and status in society. It would be unthinkable for a child of middle/upper class parents to get into a “blue-collar” job, even if it pays well. Unless the job in question is a government job, because the “stability” those jobs offer offset any other disadvantage. Yeah, we Indians are strange.

Indians, especially the middle and upper classes look down upon and treat with contempt, disgust and royal snobbishness all those who do their manual work, from house help to drivers to waiters/support staff and even flight attendants. This could be the legacy of India’s ancient and entrenched caste system, where people doing manual labour of any kind were at the bottom of the caste pyramid and were treated as slaves, while those who did all the “white collar” jobs were at the top and enjoyed high status and perks. The caste system is still alive and well and has adapted itself to modern times, translating itself into economical terms, reinforced by the omnipresent, judging society. While we are today no longer obliged to choose careers based on our social castes, the subconscious aversion to jobs that involve getting our hands dirty remains and has translated itself into our career choices today, even if those so-called “dirty” jobs earn more in terms of money, accentuated by all those reports of people employed in trade professions like plumbing, carpentry, electrical works etc earning more than engineers do in India. People view these old-age artisan jobs as “low class” and want to “move up in life” by taking up professions that seem “high class”, once bastions of the upper classes, like engineering.

Sadly, his means that if you are caught doing what the lower castes used to do back in the day, you will be treated as such, again, unless it is a government job, no matter how good you are at it or how well you might be earning from it. This is why a guy who can turn a piece of wood into a beautiful chair and earns 2000 Rupees a day is seen and made felt “lower” to the “white-collar” guy, only because the latter sits in an airconditioned office building of a foreign MNC, though he has no skills, does no productive work and earns only 500 bucks. This is also why parents prod and pressurize their wards to take up engineering because they believe it is the only way to “move up” in life to the “higher class” level.

The Great Indian Engineering Rat Race

As a result of all this, millions of students, regardless of their passions or interests are forced by their parents or themselves, as they don’t know what they want, to cram and get into that hallowed portals of IITs to achieve the nirvana of “zindagi ban gaya“. Students sacrifice their childhoods and youths spending long hours mugging up texbooks and in cram schools like the ones in Kota, and parents their health, wealth and hair on their heads to ensure the IIT dream is realized. The results are stupendous. In 2015, 1.3 million (13 lakh) students took the IIT-JEE entrance examinations vying for just around 10,000 undergraduate IIT seats. Only 0.77% or 1 in every 130 examinees would make it. JEE results are accepted across NITs, IIITs and other institutes as well, so in total each year around 150,000 students clear the total. However, the race is always for the IITs and the top ones thereof.

IIT KGP

What will happen to the others who fail to realize the IIT dream? (Of course, a large lot will be secretly happy that they can give a “I told you so” to their parents.) Some break off another year to re-try the exam, while most will never recover from this shock of their inability in attaining their only supposed goal in life as has been hammered into their heads from their earliest days of consciousness, hampering their confidence and personality forever. Having failed to get into IITs does not mean the end of the engineering dream. The others try to join either of the second-tier government engineering colleges (REC/NITs, IIITs and others) or private (BITS, Manipal, BMS, IIITH etc), which all in total can probably take in another 150,000 applicants or so. The still remaining lakhs and lakhs of non-IIT taker/crackers will then go on to join private engineering colleges that have sprouted all over the country but especially in the south, which they believe will help realize their engineering aspirations, but only to end up as B.Tech Victims. All that these kids end up learning is how to drink, copy assignments and footboard on state buses like pros.

And this process of the rat race starts very early in life, of which the “brat race” of schooling is only the beginning. Growing up in middle-class India is a terrible experience. If anyone asks why kids seem to be unable to choose any career option outside technology streams, it is mostly because they are not allowed to, because most times it is not the kid who makes the decisions, but the parents, who as per Indian Culture always “know what is best for their children”, no matter what the kid’s choices are. If anyone asks why kids cannot try to do what they like, the answer is that they usually don’t have anything they like to do, because they are not allowed to. This system has created generations of Indians who are broken, over-emotional, indisciplined, can’t think or act rationally and of course, devoid of any discernible skill useful in contributing to the nation or society. Read on to know how Indian kids are molded and conditioned as human robots from their earliest age, to have only one goal in life, to become an engineer.

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