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'Caste' like Hierarchy of Indian Education


"What has your child studied?"  

That is the first and only question that matters amongst most Indians when they first meet.  Based on the answer, they will decide how best to proceed further – if at all!  This is especially so when considering prospective marriage partners for their sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, neighbours children….  (Indians are forever looking out of ‘ideal partners’ for everyone around them.)

If the answer is ‘Doctor’ – (doctor of any sort will do) – the conversation is reverential.  The immediate impression of being a doctor is that your child is ultra intelligent, you are dedicated parents with excellent sense of upbringing and that you are rich (or soon will be).  Doctors and parents of doctors are worthy of total deference in any conversation.  Whatever they say, even about the most mundane thing, is worthy of attention and consideration.  Doctors and their parents are at the pinnacle of Indian society. 

Anything other than ‘doctor’ is a failure.
Failure of the child.  
Failure of parenting. 
Failure of family and its upbringing skills.

In the pecking order of things, after the Doctors are the engineers, scientists, lawyers, accountants and then everyone else.  The ‘everyone else’ category is massive and everyone in that category has failed their family by being in there.  Ofcourse, they are free to mock the Doctors and lawyers above them, but they must do it with due deference and an intense sense of jealousy.  They will all nurture dreams of making their children doctors.  Like king Bhagirath of horary past, parents all over India dream that even 3, 4, 5 generations after them, someone from their family will become a doctor to redeem the sacrifices of their ancestors.  They must!!!  It is their eternal duty to do so!!

Why do Indians think like this?  Why do they consider one or two professions to be better than all others?  Why do we force all our children to study to be doctors and then get terribly disappointed when they become journalists or teachers?  Even an entrepreneur or a person with their own shop or business is second best to doctors.  Infact when considering marriage prospects, many prefer a wage earner to an independent business(wo)man!

The answer seems to lie in the limited ways Indians could advance during the British Raj.  During the Raj, Maharajas were a class of their own.  Rest of the Indians were just coolies, unless they were ‘educated’.  Only education that mattered for coolies to advance themselves was, doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants – in that order.  

Doctors were useful for prolonging the life of British subjects who laboured so hard to make India the jewel in its crown.  Engineers helped bring rapid advancement in infrastructure to the vast subcontinent (and rest of the empire in Africa, South East Asia etc).  Pesky lawyers were useful to enforce the British laws.  Fact that some of them rose to oppose them was an unfortunate consequence of being educated in England.  Accountants and bureaucrates were an unfortunate necessity in running a vast empire with a minuscule number of Britishers.  Teachers were good, because they helped raise future doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants.  Journalists were useful to perpetuate the myth of the empire.  Rest, well, the rest were good as long as they helped run the empire.         

Victorian British were only interested in educating Indians to be useful members of the empire.  Having Indian businessmen competing with their interests was not in their interest.  They actively discouraged entrepreneurial efforts of Indians and converted a nation that prided itself on small businesses to loyal wage earners.

Congress Raj of the last 67 years has only perpetuated this hierarchy in education.  They have not really opened up their thinking on the range of careers available in the 20th or 21st century.  Consequently, the vast majority of Indians have not opened their eyes to the future either.  In the last 10 – 15 years, programming, IT and MBA and have been added to the bottom the list.  But it is still a finite list.

Sadly, even seven decades from the end of the Raj, we still have the mentality imposed on us by our ex-imperial masters.  We still think of only ever filling the offices of others in towns and cities, abandoning small rural businesses that once made India so rich.  I am not saying we need to go back to farming and making coir mats, but we do need to explore how India can expand its businesses without having to abandon the countryside.  With modern advances in communication and transportation, we should explore how we can improve the quality of life for Indians workers without having to have them migrate to crowded cities.  

Apart from historical and political reasons, Indians still hold on to this hierarchy of job titles because until recently, usually Doctors earned more than engineers who earned more than lawyers who earned more than accountants.  Unless you get a cushy job in the government, rest of the population had mediocre opportunities working as wage earners for others.  No matter how altruistic most students (and parents) may have sounded, no one became a doctor to improve the health of the poor.  People became doctors to start their own practice and mint as money for themselves.  Lawyers, engineers, accountants – they all want to get rich.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to do that either.  But it is wrong to pretend that you are studying a subject for the good of the world when you only have your own benefits at heart.

If a well paid job is the end goal of studying, we really need to wake up and explore the vast array of new career opportunities offered in 21st century.  Marketing, media, finance, insurance, investment, sales, sports, aeronautics, arts, cosmetics, fashion, energy, transport, design, communication, entertainment..... the list is endless.   Some of these provide salaries as good as doctors if not better.  Unlike doctors, accountants and lawyers, who can't transport their skills easily outside their country, these new qualifications are totally transportable and can be useful for doing jobs and businesses across the globe.  When considering foreign employment, doctors, lawyers and accounts are at a distinct disadvantage as they often have to re-qualify and sit a number of new exams to keep practicing their profession.  Whereas qualifications in IT, marketing, business etc are easier to transport and can afford lucrative, well paid careers abroad.    

Indian students and parents really need to expand their horizons and look beyond the narrow confines of what was considered to be good or lucrative careers in the past.  In the age of internet, they have no excuses for not exploring these ideas and opportunities to improve their careers and lives.


Why do Indian students chose a course vs career?


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