Seeking a career in a declining profession

Various reasons can be cited in public for choosing a profession.  One expects if one has chosen a career, he or she puts a high value on it. Those who are not able to put a high value on what they do as profession usually feel like ‘wasting their life’.  Karl Marx wondered why people act against their will when there is no apparent reason to do so. Sometime, one’s choice may not turn out to be a vocation and even after spending a lifetime; and one often looks for external symbols of success to overcome the feeling of failure. It is a fact of life that perceptions of different careers varies greatly from individual to individual. Lata Mangeskar is sorry for not being a classical signer; Bombay Jayashree argues that her single song “Jara Jara” has given her more recognition than her 25 years of classical singing.

I intend to make a career in the profession of teaching, and as a spin off, in research. The profession of teaching has nosedived to a very low level without showing any sign of pause. The reasons could be various. Among these, one is the low premium which Indian society puts on it. You can easily get some clue by noticing the idea of this society has about Ph.D.. Though the word ‘Research’ is much appreciated than ‘teaching’ at any given time. Not because many of them understand the difference between them and have a more respect for one. It is because the idea of ‘research’ is quite alien to Indians. We are used to the word ‘teaching’ much more than ‘research’. In fact, the Indian Universities were modeled on the line of OxBriges at starting: these universities were teaching based. Most of them are yet to grow a tradition of research on their own. To make matter worse, the culture of research has always been absent from Indian society at large. One often meets even bright and articulate “research scholars” trivializing the vocation called “research”.

Teaching and research in Indian universities of India are in dire straits for various reasons. Surprisingly, We were able to maintain a fair number of good professional institutes. But again, a large part of the product of some of these institutes are criticized for their coldness towards building these institutes. This is largely true that many of their students use these institutes for their personal gains with little or no care for ‘at whose cost’. While this ‘brain drain’ was heavily criticized, we have seen a rather opposite views on it recently especially in corporate Indian media as well as some leading international magazines such as Wall Street Journals. This sudden change in perception becomes rather clear once we consider who controls these magazines and newspapers. A lot of investment has been made by NRI’s in media and so they expect a vindication of their stand. As M N Srinivas wrote

Until recently some concern was expressed about ‘brain drain’ from India to the developed countries, and the need to ‘reverse’ the flow. But such concern seems to have evaporated quietly, and the expatriates have become NRIs, whose dollars seem to be more important to the country than their skills, qualifications and experience.The irony of this situation seems to be lost  on  everyone. Greenbacks are preferred to grey cells.

The institute where I post-graduated, is one of the leading Institute of India, at least in technology. It is slightly crass to notice that a lot of resources are being poured into training a vast number of students who are not at all concerned engineering. It really hard to locate a parallel in the world in which so much is wasted to train individuals with the guarantee that one has no intentions of using it. Distinguish alumni of this institutes contains lesser number of people in technical fields than they are in other fields.

Alumni of IIT Bombay in teaching and/or research are relatively few in number. While this is true that a lot of IITians have done a good job in their respective field, it is doubtful if next generation can maintain the standards. Going by the online account of blogs and social networking sites and some personal experiences, many students do not seem to have any other logic than salary/job to justify their brilliance which is much appreciated by the outer society at large. Ability to fetch a job in competitive market can be counted as one good parameter; and when it is treated as the only parameter, it speaks ill of a particular culture.

Those who are concerned with the future of IITs have reasons to be anxious. A lot of institutes in India have declined over time. Civil services and many of our universities can be cited as most prominent example. Civil services, an institutes which used to churn out the scholars as well as committed civil servants, have withered in our tropical environment.  As far as an IIT (or any other institute) is concerned; as long as its alumni keeps contributing to its intellectual health and the institute does not waste the public sympathy it enjoys, it may face the challenges easily.

As long as IIT is able to get moderately well trained students in place of it looses to other universities, they may be able to survive. But they will only survive as the cost of other university. Other institutes suffer no less than IITs when they loose their best students to IITs.

Some of alumni of IITs have shown a remarkable resilience in these ‘modern times’. But they are not presented in media since these news are not as catchy as the big placement news. Firstly, it is naive to expect a big level of maturity from UG’s, after all they are born in this society. Second, the level of illusion one have in one’s teenage takes time to fade. And in India, the level of illusion is way too profound. Look at these glossy magazines and advertisements (and unfortunately newspapers too) and one wonders whether one lives in this country or in somewhere else.

The overall picture of some of these Institutes are good. Few universities of India has survived the test of time. Once the great universities of Bombay, Delhi, Aligrarh, Benaras, Kolkata have been reduced to regional entities. The process of their ruin was started under the middle class pressure. It is hard to agree with the people that external turmoil was responsible was for this undoing. JNU faces as much of externalities as DU does. Still, one could maintain the very high standards of academics.

Though the monetary situations in teaching has improved to a very considerably high level (given the per capita income of India, this could as well qualified to be obscene), the support from political class as well as from general public has not seen any considerable improvement. Barring few Institutes of high repute, most of the universities are struggling to attract faculty. Lack of interests in joining the profession of academia among people of a particular culture has nothing to do with its institutes. It is intellectually mischievous to expect that universities should create pattern of minds which appreciate academic life. Universities can moderate or consolidate some patterns of mind, they can not create or remove them.

Perhaps, the time will tell at which direction Indian educational system will go. With all the foreign universities are allowed to set-up their branches in India, it is very unlikely that they will pour resources in any domain but profit making. The decision was taken by the elites for the elites with little or no consideration for those who are not able to pay the cost to educate themselves. Fortunately, we could still maintain government funded Institutes and those who are in favor of privatization of education should take note of their colossal success.

Studying and teaching in a technological Institutes as as IIT’s, IIM’s, and other engineering colleges  which generally do not put high premium of social sciences and humanities could well be a bottleneck for intellectual growth of an individuals. Students of these Institutes have a very skewed social profile and find it very hard to understand or appreciate the social order of the day. The demand and very high level of pressure on faculty to teach them professional courses leaves this void unfilled. Even in few of the courses of HSS dept provides to some of these Institutes, only economics attracts a large number of students. The reason is simple, it helps their resume.

Indian industries have been crying loudly that universities should be more industrial friendly. They suggest indirectly that what is good for them is good for universities. Industries have been doing very well with these kind of trained people. One may wonder whether there is any logic in Industries argument that students should be taught skills which are favorable to them at the cost of those which universities generally put a high premium on.

This could well be a big bottle-neck while teaching. Students are generally get attracted to those courses and projects in which potential for success/career in Industries are high. That leaves a lot of the classroom of pure-subjects largely empty. In ‘Advanced Network Analysis’ or ‘Algorithm in Indian Astronomy’ courses the strength of the student was about 2-7% of what it was in ‘Hardware Description Language’ course during my post-graduation. Prof Narayanan once advised me when I shared my interest of research as ‘Pure Mathematics’ that what is important for ‘them’ might not be important for ‘us’. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ usually are ‘industries and allies’ and ‘academia and allies’. It is not necessary that what is good for industries should be bad of universities.  But when industries do work which is little creative and very much routine, they should be careful in making demand from universities.

At the end of the day, when all said and done, the quality of teaching in schools in colleges will largely depends on the amount of value a soceity as a whole puts on the profession of teaching. No matter what they say in public on teachers day, and I speak from a personal experience, most of Indians — including those who are inthe profession of teaching — share a belief widely held in Indian society, namely, if you can do, do; if you can’t, teach.

Dilawar

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

One thought on “Seeking a career in a declining profession”

  1. why do you refer to teaching as declining profession ?I think Teaching is the best option in india.I don'ttrust the so called IT industry as a future for our country.what weneed is production and manufacture not service centres for some banks or testing centres for some foriegn firms.. We needteachers and researchers not the so called 'techies' ( a word used by newspapers).

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