Three Idiots in Action

“What we become is decided for us at birth. If a girl is born into the family, she will become a doctor. If a boy in born into the family, he will become an engineer.” --Pia                               (paraphrased from the movie 3 Idiots) Earlier this week, sitting in our air-conditioned classroom at the Save the Children India offices, we got the chance to watch a classic Indian Bollywood movie titled Three Idiots. It is a comedy, framed around a series of flashbacks centered on the college lives of three engineering students (all boys) in India’s best engineering college. The movie highlights the ingenuity and raw intelligence of many Indian college students through its plot (such as when an invertor is used to generate enough power to deliver a baby using a vacuum cleaner – for anyone who is confused I highly recommend watching the movie!) and makes fun of the importance placed on rote memorization (through the example of a speech delivered by one of the students) but there is more to the comedy than meets the eye. Certainly, the movie blew many components of the Indian education system out of proportion for the sake of entertainment, but quotes such as the one I have listed above suggest underlying critiques of the Indian education system and the pressure that it puts on kids to become successful.

Throughout the past two weeks in India, I have heard bits and pieces about the dark side of the Indian education system, hearing about the pressure students have before board exams, and seeing the strive for greater educational opportunities first hand with the Cathedral kids and even the Akanksha SLP students. Everyone attends tutoring classes multiple times a week beyond the classroom setting, and begins studying for the most important examinations of their high school careers, the 10th and 12th standard board examinations, more than three months in advance. Their careers depend on it. A single score on a single test decides their entire future as well as their future opportunities. Within the realm of higher education, the fields of engineering and medicine are often seen as the most prized fields of study, with doctors and engineers often times seen as professions guaranteed a high income following graduation. Yet as more and more articles in the Times of India carry the headlines announcing rising unemployment rates for engineering graduates I wonder if that is really the case. The quote from Three Idiots raises countless questions on anything and everything from gender imbalance in higher education, to higher education as a whole, to parental pressures, etc… From what I have witnessed this far, India presents such a radically shifting educational landscape that I wonder what will happen in the next ten years. Perhaps the world’s greatest experiment in education, it is a system filled with many flaws but also many attempts to move in the right direction. Will we continue to see a higher education system that produces engineers by the dozen and devalues teachers, or will there be some sort of shift in sought out professions? This is simply one of the millions of questions to which we can only get close to finding an answer.