The joke that Indians aspire only to become a doctor or an engineer is so old, it is now a reliable cliche stand up comics rely on to get an easy laugh. But, as with most stereotypes, it arises from a collective mentality we all seem to buy into. This is reflected with the rapid development of local economies in Guntur and Kota built around engineering coaching classes, massively successful films about medical school life spawning a legion of sequels and copycats, and the popularity of an entire genre of books where the protagonist is invariably a luckless engineer or engineer in the making.
What is ironic here is that despite the fact that a significant number of Indians live and die by their engineering dreams, the actual number of engineers found to be employable in core engineering roles is a measly 7%, according to a recent study that surveyed 1.5 lakh engineering students who graduated in 2013.
Indians are the masters of jugaad – cracking an exam is not about the concepts we learned in class as much it is about the strategies we apply to maximize results with minimal effort. This attitude is born in school, and understandably so. Our future depends on our GPAs, exam scores, and the college that we eventually end up graduating from. But we are now starting to see the ill-effects of such an attitude. The system we have all been working so hard to beat is falling apart. Our brightest have been relegated to mindlessly repetitive tasks, and we have essentially become the support function of an innovative world.
It is undeniable that we, as people, dream of more. The same minds that are stuck making pivot tables in spreadsheets day in and day out head to western shores to build the most interesting and successful products in the world. It is not lack of ambition that is trapping us in this status quo. Industry-level and Government support through incubators, accelerators and State and national level schemes for our young entrepreneurs exemplifies this. But we are sorely under-equipped to take advantage of all that is being offered to us.
What makes someone employable as opposed to just employed?
In addition to the technical know-how taught in our institutions, it is vital that we build a more entrepreneurial bend of mind in addition to some practical reasoning skills. It is not enough to merely mug a textbook and vomit it out on the answer sheet every few months.
But how does one build this into the curriculum?
While we speak of engineers, these are skills necessary for everyone, from future-lawyers to future-artists. We have previously spoken about how smart schools can hyper-personalise education, resulting in increased student success and how Fedena can be customised to offer curated modules to select groups of students. Incorporating group work, assignments that are built around problem solving, and opportunities for discussion are the skills we end up using most on our jobs and that are inherent in Fedena’s functionality. Studies show that likeability (i.e., the ability to work with people in a pleasant and congenial manner) is one of the most important hiring determinants.
It usually takes us until our first job to realise how little our schools have actually taught us, but this doesn’t have to be the case anymore. A fresher should not be derided, but a fount of information for organisations to glean new ideas from. Education technology in our schools is key to eliminating the caveat of “Minimum 2 years experience required” from a job description for entry level positions and the time to implement it is now.