Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to engage with 31 bright students from Kumaran’s High School 1. These were chosen students selected for a special summer program and Prof Sadagopan 2 requested us if we could host them one afternoon in May. We were very happy to find this opportunity to interact with the kids. While most of the time was spent in demonstrating technology and a talk on the future of the semiconductor industry, we took this opportunity to engage them in a discussion on what they want to do in their lives and why.
The results were interesting. Before I discuss what we discovered, it’s important to understand the profile of the children we met. The students are going into 9th, 10th, and 12th grades in school. They come from one of the best known schools in the city of Bangalore. So it’s likely that most of them are exposed to computers in a big way, and probably are inspired by a computer professional in the family, too. So, they are not a “representative” sample.
Not surprisingly, the largest choice of career was engineering, and within engineering the overwhelming choice was around software, or electronics. However, there were a variety of interesting non-engineering choices, too. What were these?
* Chef, pilot, neurologist, and music were each mentioned by more than one student
* More than one wanted to start a company of their own, one of them in real estate.
* Other choices included: paediatrician, economist, cardiologist, advocate (fight for cause of the poor, for equality), creating animated comics, physics and astro-physics.
There were some non-ICT engineering choices too, predominantly automotive or aeronautical, biotech, robotics, nano-technology. One wants to find a “cheaper and more reliable” option to silicon.
Spreading happiness and “serving” found a chord with some.
One even had a step by step plan – join IIT, go abroad for higher studies, work abroad and make money, come back with the knowledge acquired to serve India.
There was a small discussion on serving the poor, and on learning abroad and coming back to teach in India.
The written answer I resonated with most said “whatever I do, I’ll make sure I enjoy it. I hope to become something that makes a difference, though…” Another student wanted to be a guitarist, so can be free to express feelings irrespective of what profession he chooses!
Concluding the discussion, I tried to explain the following:
1. The rules of the world or the apparent paths to success can change in their lifetime, and they need not base their choices just on what seems right today. India could become the predominant hub in the knowledge century they will live in, so going abroad need not be the only route to making money.
2. They must think inclusive. If they choose goals where many will benefit, they are likely to be more successful.
3. Don’t look at just finding a good job – see how you can create jobs.
4. If they want to lead, by definition, there will be no one in front. So they need to form their own rules and create their own paths.
Another trend emerged on analyzing their written choices – all in Class 12 were focused around software and electronics. But the fascination for research, for “exploring”, for doing something different, for pure sciences, was very much there in ninth (and even tenth) graders. It’s a small sample but I couldn’t help drawing one lesson from this – our children are curious, they do dream and want to explore. But by the time they have to make a choice (i.e. 12th grade), they are choosing the tried and tested, the safe route to finding a “job”. Is this desirable, or are the dreams fading away too soon in our children?
1. Kumaran’s is among the most reputed schools in Bangalore.
2. Professor Sadagopan is among the most respected and probably the best known professor in Bangalore. He is also the Director of Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Bangalore.