There is a mad rush for seats. Not in local trains, but at colleges.
Actually, it's not 'seats' which are scarce but seats in certain institutes are more in demand. Others, students don't wish to attend at all.
Over 56,000 seats in Mumbai lay vacant after the first round of FYJC (class 11) admissions. As the TOI put it: "There are enough seats for everyone in all streams, say principals, but even average students want to get into reputed colleges" .
And there just isn't enough reputation to go around. This is the 'hearsay' education economy where people believe there are only a few stairways to professional paradise. They're only partly right. The mad rush for commerce seats is a case in point.
The state education department found that on the 4th of July - the day on which the first round of admissions closed – only 4706 students confirmed admission in the arts stream. 22,692 joined the science stream while 53,188 confirmed admission in commerce colleges.
Most students sat on the fence, waiting for second and third lists to come out. But cut-offs dipped only marginally, leaving thousands dejected.
The desire to join a 'reputed' college one can understand. It's a different thing that most of the repute is paint-deep. But lack of inspired faculty or overcrowded classrooms is hardly an issue. Who's planning to attend lectures anyways?
The number one concern for the 10th class student entering college is:"Is there any attendance ka jhanjhat?" The idea is to enrol onself in college but spend all your time in coaching classes for engineering/ medicine.
But fashions change - and not just in clothing. Like white becoming the new 'black', commerce is the new, cool alernative to science. There are still a lot of takers for the engineering-medicine slogathon. And another bunch plod through science in order to 'retain all options'.
But a growing number of students believe commerce 'has it all'.
Prestige bhi hai (cut-offs for commerce rose by 4-5% in Mumbai colleges like HR and Podar this year).
Padhaai bhi kam hai ("One week study before the exams is good enough!" BCom students gloat).
And most important of all: Attendance ka koi locha nahin hai.
HR college - one of the 'most wanted' commerce colleges in Mumbai - claims to have compulsory attendance. The reality is quite different. "The reason most students take up BCom is so they can do something else side by side," explains a second year student. She has just completed an event management course.
College timings are just 7 to 10 am. And attendance isn't actually enforced.
It's the same at Podar, where admissions closed at 87.08% this year, up from 84% in 2006. "I attended 15 classes in 3 years," says a recent Podar graduate. The majority of the junta is busy preparing for CA or CFA alongside. An enthusiastic few focus their energies on extra curriculars. The rest are busy working . College is for recreation - ek tarah ka mental 'recharge'.
That leaves us with Arts. It's the 'dumb blonde' option as far as the average 16 year old is concerned. Why? Because. That's the way it's been for a long, long time.
Argument 1: Arts does not teach you anything 'useful'
Well, neither does commerce, unless you want a job as a book keeper.
Argument 2: You have to attend classes... even study!
Believe it or not, Arts may actually require more attendance, more extra reading, and a lot more writing in exams.
Who wants that?!!
Degree college is something like an airport waiting area. As far as students are concerned, Arts is the general plastic seats - plebian and uncomfortable. While Commerce is executive lounge. You're both stuck in the same twilight zone before your career actually takes off. It's just that the latter is so much more comfortable.
And if more and more ‘bright’ students are opting for comfort as their primary motivator – surely that is cause for concern! And it's not just a 'commerce' mindset.
The 'bright' and the bored
A recent audit at IIT Delhi found that at least half the students skip 25% of the classes and around 10% fail to meet the 75% minimum attendance criteria.
Faculty say this trend has become more pronounced in the last 3-4 years. "Most students are extremely career-oriented and so much pre-occupied with preparations for tests for higher studies abroad and CAT that they neglect their engineering studies," said IIT D’s R R Gaur to the TOI.
The irony of it! First you spend 2-6 years of your life preparing to get into IIT. Once you get there, there’s no desire to excel anymore. Maybe there’s no bheja left after years of entrance exam bheja fry. But at a more fundamental level it’s knowing you’re not there to gain knowledge or skills.
IIT is a ‘superbrand’ - it prepares you for anything.
Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck disagrees. "Labels, even though positive, can be harmful", she says. "They may instill a fixed mind-set and all the baggage that goes with it."
People with a fixed mindset view themselves as fundamentally good, or fundamentally bad. The good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.
On the other hand, there are people with a ‘growth mindset’. They view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving.
Essentially it's a performance mindset vs s learning one.
India is a performance oriented country. Reach X or Y institute and ‘your life is made’, is what we’re told. Until we reach the ‘destination’ we learn and grow. Once we get that label fixed on our foreheads, we too become fixed. “Hum to smart hain hi. See the proof!”
The lucky thing is, so far it’s worked. Because many employers also have a fixed mindset. They minimise their risks by putting their golden eggs in a few, known baskets.
But the other, more potent reason is this: the guys who fail to get into a cool college or a happening stream also develop a fixed mindset. "We’re no good… hamara kuch nahin ho sakta." Naturally, they remain stuck where they are.
We are not born to stagnate. We are born to seek and explore. To discover our potential, to give wing to dreams.
Let our dreams not be small and restricted. College admissions, choice of streams - these are only small victories, or minor setbacks.
As a nation, we've managed to get out of the ‘fixed’ mindset – grown far beyond the ‘elephant and snakecharmer’ labels. It’s time we grew as individuals as well!