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Children from Kumarans

Posted on: 18 May '09

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.

  • Geetha Manichandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,

    Thank you for a very timely and topical article – all the Board exam results are just coming out!

    Our marks oriented educational system (most of the Boards at least!) mainly stresses on learning by rote and thereby, it effectively stifles our children’s intellectual curiosity.

    And the passion to become an entrepreneur and thereby create wealth and job opportunities is also not encouraged. How does one change this trend please?

    And it’s all about I, Me, Myself! So, how do we bring “inclusion” into the picture please?

    As Wayne W Dyer says: “Believing in your own ideas, abilities, and decision-making ability is the first step to achieving success in life.”

    And to quote Michael Jeffreys: “Often children’s dreams are unwittingly squashed by the people around them. Parents and teachers tend to foist their own limiting beliefs on the minds of the young and impressionable. And because children are raised to think that adults know more about life than they do, they come to believe that if mom or dad or a teacher says something can’t be done, or that it’s foolish, then that’s the way it is. This results in their little dreams being chopped down before they even have a chance to take root.

    We would also do well to remember what David Orr has said: (http://www.rainbowbody.net/Ongwhehonwhe/Enviroeducat.htm)

    “….The value of an education cited most often by its vendors is that it increases the graduate’s upward mobility and lifetime earnings.
    Accordingly, we aim to prepare the young for what guidance counselors call “careers.” We rarely mention what used to be described as a “calling.” In a larger perspective, this is foolish. Students ought to be encouraged first to find their calling: that particular thing for which they have deep passion and which they would like to do above all else. A calling is about the person one wants to make of oneself. A career is a coldly calculated plan to achieve security and have a bit of “fun” that turns out, more often than not, to be deeply unsatisfying, whatever the pay. A calling is not the product of calculation but of an inner conversation about what really matters in life and what difference one wants to make in the world. A calling starts as a hunch. It is risky. It operates more by inspiration than by premeditation. A career is a test of one’s IQ; a calling not only tests for intelligence but for one’s wisdom, character, loyalty, and moral stamina as well. A person can always find a career in a calling, but it is far more difficult later in life to find a calling in a career. Once a person opts for safety, the die is cast. A career is, finally, a failure of imagination and a sign that one believes the world to be poor in possibilities.

    We ought to encourage our students to find their calling in good and necessary work. The best and most necessary work for our age involves in a thousand ways the recalibration of humanity’s values, institutions, behaviors, and expectations with those of the Earth. This is the task of education in our time.”

    And finally, we would be doing our children a huge favour if we follow what Kahlil Gibran has advised:

    “Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts…..”

    Am sorry for quoting from so many sources but it is just that your articles are really and truly thought provoking and I definitely need to thank you for that!

    Thanks and regards,

    Geetha

  • Hi Kalyan,
    I am so glad they got a chance to meet you. I do hope many more school children do get this opportunity.
    I think aptitude tests must be made more popular to enable students to make the right choice. However, even aptitude tests do provide a multitude of options (trust me, I had undergone one, in the “good old days”), when such tests were relatively lesser known.
    That said, as regards point 3, I don’t think everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. I know that I am not. I do not have the resilience to be an entrepreneur. I can do new things, such as set up new service lines and do it well, but within the comfort of an existing organisational set up.
    Further, entrepreneurs do need people to join them, so well, I follow in the latter category.
    What you said is bang on. Peer pressure, parental pressure, societal pressure, ensures that students do a rethink of their dreams.
    It also happens because our society does not appreciate (leave alone reimburse) an artist as much as say a graphic artist. Or a phd in wildlife who is risking life and limb to save tigers is forced to rough it out, whereas a dentist enjoys a better material life.
    Sometimes, dreams are not sufficient to live on, hence the transformation to reality while in the 12th grade or later.
    That said, dreams need not completely fade away. Perhaps they can lie buried deep within. They can resurface again during the age which Subroto calls the “mid life transition” in Go Kiss the World. People do branch out later, either out of choice or out of necessity – such as loss of a job, loss of a close one etc. Po Bronson’s book: What shall I do with my life is a good read, in this regard. Some sample chapters are available online. The url is below.
    http://www.pobronson.com/WSIDWML_Sample_Chapters.htm
    Geetha has distinguished between a career and a calling extremely well. However, sometimes or rather most of the time, even a chosing a career is not an option. A student who obtains a distinction and opts for the arts steam is unlikely laughed out, of society. Sad but true.
    Best,
    Lubna

  • Slight error, in the last line I meant : “and opts for the arts stream is likely to be laughed at”. Sorry.

  • I think a big problem is that most of students in the 9th, 10th and 12th grade do not know the ways to achieve their ambition. For example, if someone wants to become an economist, he doesm’t know how.

    But perhaps the biggest obstacle for them in realising their dreams are – ironically their parents. They prevent them from taking any road to success, other than the tried and tested Engineering and Medicine.

  • harsha

    Thank you Kalyan for a wonderful post.

    I agree with the conclusions and the insight they hold.

    Especially w.r.t the first conclusion, I would like to add some supporting thoughts.

    I have noticed that many Indians who are in the US (read indians who have moved to the US in the past 5 years)especially because they went to average or mediocre schools here, or are here just because its important for them/their families to project their life in a country abroad are having many issues off late.

    The visa process has become stringent and many students are asked to return if they don’t find jobs, which means they have loans that are large and may not be able to repay soon.

    There are also others who have lost jobs and have been asked to find one in a month’s time or head back if they are on H1.

    Considering the current realities, its important for children to be educated on developments and not encourage their views by the perceptions we as parents may hold.

    Possibly, if a majority of these children have parents who were in the US in the 90s and had benefited from the stock option plan then,it may have resulted in the perception that there is monetary comfort in a software career abroad 😀

    As it stands today, its important that one’s choices are based on informed reasoning and one should travel not only for the monetary benefits but for the additional sometimes intangible benefits of learning through travel, interactions and exposure.

  • Hi Kalyana,
    I read an article recently (in Utne Review) that showcased the work of Aimee Mullins, a woman whose legs were both amputated below the knee but who, undaunted by the lack of precedent, became the first woman with a “disability” to compete in the NCAA, doing so on Georgetown’s nationally-ranked Division I track team.
    Outfitted with woven carbon-fiber prostheses that were modeled after the hind legs of a cheetah, she went on to set World Records in the 100 meter, the 200 meter, and the long jump.
    In the article she is quoted as describing her experience showing to a group of pre-schoolers the several sets of prosthetic legs she has used.
    She wanted to talk to the kids before anyone had had a chance to talk to them about the difficulty of disability, or to advise them, out of consideration for her alleged sensitivity, not to look directly at her legs.
    So, in came the kids! The first question she asked them was, “If you had the opportunity to have a new pair of legs made for you, what would you like them to do for you?” The kids’ eyes shined as one child, then another, and another sang out greater and greater possibilities. Jump over buildings! Run faster than a car! Never get tired! And so on.
    Not one child in the group averted their eyes; they were very interested in her legs and in the variety of prosthetic devices because, as Ms. Mullins observed, children are by nature very curious. And they don’t know limits, until we, their parents and teachers, tell them that they can only do this, but can’t do that, can only inquire about this, but for heaven’s sake not that.
    As you suggest, our children’s dreams fade away too soon. We need to feed their dreams and their courage.