Yes, a person at age 17 may have 'no idea' what he or she really wants.But isn't he or she partly to blame for that?
As a 15 year old 11th class student at St Xavier's college I took an aptitude test. It was remarkably correct.
In essence, the test concluded that I had a gift for language and would do very well in anything related to that, without having to put in much effort. Aptitude for maths and science was there, however I would have to really work hard because I had no great natural flair for it.
In my heart, I knew this already, but it was really useful.. coz I was studying science then. And expected to go the IIT-medicine way, being the school topper and all.
Still, it took a long time for my parents - especially my dad - to accept. And, only recently did he really and truly agree that I made the right decision. Although, to be fair, I took a pretty circuitous route (Science to Economics to MBA) to reach where I knew I wanted to be in the first place.
But things are different today. Clearly, many more professions have 'scope'. Yet, we make decisions based on old and faulty information.
Secondly, the point about 'IIT vs Other Excellent Institutes', 'branch vs college brand' is that granted, you don't really know that Computer Science is "the" branch for you. But you think you will like it more than 'core' engineering branches.
And what you think is the basis for your mental acceptance or rejection of anything in life. An academic subject, a girl, a brand of car...
The liking for CS is based on certain assumptions/ experiences. For example:
- Core branches = shopfloor work while
Computers = desk job
- You have a layman exposure to what a computer is, as opposed to mining, mechanical or chemical engineering
- You can see yourself working on something related to computers in the future, but not the other fields
In an ideal world, everyone who made it through to a college would have a common course for the first year and then choose a specialisation - after being exposed to the different subjects.
In an ideal world, liking for a subject would be the basis for choosing it - and not the pay packets or jobs that are likely to accrue.
But this is not an ideal world. You have just one lottery ticket - a JEE rank - and that determines which branch you get.
So what happens if you do join IIT - jo bhi branch miley.
I think this is perfectly OK, but every engineer who does this must at least make a sincere effort to immerse himself in their subject. Instead of feeling 'I deserved better' and plotting an escape.
In that sense I feel the MBA/ software job boom is very detrimental... The moment a person enters engineering, he knows that the option of 'switching streams' exists.
Again, this is like agreeing to get married to someone because your parents have picked him / her and then saying:"We'll be together for four years.. I'll make no attempt to like you. And I can leave you at the end of that time without paying any penalty".
Naturally, the average student makes little effort to get drawn into the subject and fall in love with it.
I am not, for a moment, saying individuals should not have the chance to switch streams - people can and do make mistakes. Or change their minds.
But no one (outside of saas-bahu soaps!) enters a marriage plotting a divorce. And the same thinking should apply to engineering or geography, or whatever it is you choose for the sake of attending the 'right' college.
Lastly, granted that IITs are superb institutions but we can't raise them to such a high pedestal that other great institutions are unable to bloom in their shadow.
A combination of media, coaching classes and word of mouth has turned the idea of entering an IIT into a national obsession. In this context, recent changes in the JEE rules are more than welcome.
For example, the famous Bansal Classesat Kota which boasted of sending over 700 students to IIT every year... The truth is that just 200 of the 700 odd were 'first timers'. The rest woud get in on the second, third or even fourth attempt! Some, in the hope of 'improving their rank' took JEE again and again.
Now, you are allowed to take the JEE only twice.
Finally, if I were BITS Pilani, IT BHU or IIIT, I would put efforts into PR. You have to keep your institute in the limelight. Not once or twice a year, but constantly.
Most importantly, you have to establish a positioning in the public mind different from the IITs.
One institution to emulate in this regard is ISB Hyderabad. Every rickshawallah may not have heard of it yet but in the minds of the consumer of education, ISB has a clear identity. "The MBA for those who have more work experience".
Additionally, the MBA which aims to be a 'global' B school and hence is not competing with IIMs (not true.. but that's the subject of another story!)
I'm not sure what BITS Pilani stands for besides 'being around as long as IIT, and as good'. There may be many more USPs to the institute but that is the public perception. IIIT Hyderabad - suna hai CS ke liye bahut accha hai. But it needs to market itself and its achievements more aggressively.
Granted, even then, IIT may remain a first preference but surely IIIT should be able to convince a few students every year that CS at their institute is a better bet than at a 'baby IIT' like IIT Guwahati. And if that's happening already, it needs to communicate the fact to potential students.
See, it's not about who is actually better or worse but PERCEPTIONS.
Unfortunately, the very name triple-I-T first brings to mind IIT. Never mind if one is "International Institute of" and one is "Indian Institute of.."
Ah, but to do all this and more we have to start seeing our educational institutes as 'brands', with due respect to the fact that learning is not to be 'sold' like soap or detergent.
The IIT brand was created by a mix of accident and destiny. The rest cannot rely on accidents! They must create and fulfil their own destiny. Just like the 17 year old students they attract.