I’m Indian. That means I’m stuck in the 1960s.

I sent this particular letter to a few newspaper editors in Chennai. One of them asked me to “start speaking like a 22-year old”.


Dear Mr. Editor,

I am now a holder of an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from an esteemed institute in India. I joined it in 2006 after mounting pressure at home; there are many things that contribute to this particular phenomenon — that of persisting in believing that engineering is the ONLY way to go — but a very significant one is that of the obsession with scores.

I’m no longer a student, and whatsoever I say now is not as a result of harassment at home. I say it because it is strange, severely unproductive (if not counter-productive) and, more importantly, it is reinforced year after year by the same establishment that also professes any capacity to put an end to it: the information broadcasting industry.

I don’t mean to point fingers at anyone at this point; news is news. However, objectively speaking, I don’t see any valid reason for high-scoring students in the state-instituted class XII examinations to merit any prominent mention right on (any of) the first few pages of a newspaper that sells 5+ lakh copies each day. This sort of coverage may have been justified if the examination in question was the UPSC entrance test, which is perhaps more consequential by orders of magnitude.

The Kothari Commission report submitted to the Indian government in 1966 established that India’s needs were better met by engineering or medical science degree holders rather than those who had studied the liberal arts and/or the social sciences. However, times have changed significantly. In fact, India has been acknowledged for its scientific output repeatedly in international academic and political circles alike. What more do we want? Is it not quite palpably perceived that we lack the understanding required to bridge the gap between a country struggling under ancestral burdens and a country the greatest resource of which is its burgeoning numbers of youngsters? Is that not a need better met by studying the social sciences?

Why is it not sufficient to only declare the announcement of the results? Why does it seem pertinent to photograph each of the many toppers? Through this process of aggrandizement, scoring high becomes an incentive. I concede the threat presented by over six lakh competitors in each of the examinations, but that fact alone does not validate the celebration of these high-scorers. They have my heartiest of regards, but I think you will agree when I say that their accomplishments are monumentally insignificant when compared to so much as the discovery of an indigenous method to manufacture high-efficiency batteries — something that any engineering graduate will put his mind to if he or she knows any celebration is in the offing.

There is one last question I wish to ask: if there is any celebration at all, why must it stop with the class XII exams? It is popular opinion, and not quite wrong still, that given the voluminous syllabi, most of the students have not learnt anything as much as they have managed to remember it till the D-day. If there is to be any celebration, why not celebrate those exams that have an assuredly formidable practical component? Why not celebrate those achievements the incentivization of which promises tractable good for the nation?

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