Mindlessness to Joblessness

As always, I will tell a story. I am from India and in India, the education system is quite different from US. Till the 10th standard (sophomore year of high school), we study (and/or “learn”??) everything- science, maths, history, geography, politics, economics, languages and much more. From junior year, we have to choose a broad field(major) we want to continue our study in and the options are Medical, Non-Medical (Science), Commerce and Arts.

I was always genuinely interested in science, particularly Physics, so for me, the obvious choice was Non-Medical. But this was not the case with most of my other classmates. They had different criteria for deciding the major. The first criterion was “difficulty”. Med and Non-Med are usually considered difficult, so the students who have a higher GPA (presumed “smart” ones) usually go for these and the students who have lower GPA go for the other two. Now many of these “smart” students actually had no or little interest in science or math and they still went for it because “smart” students are expected to go for it (parental pressure and societal pressure). I remember one of my close friends ended up taking Science because of his parents’ pressure although he was really interested in Economics.

The second criterion (which is nowadays becoming the first) was “future jobs”. The usual mentality is Med and Non-Med lead to high paying and better jobs after college. Because of this, many “presumed not-so smart students” who would have taken commerce or arts otherwise, also went for med or non-med (mostly non-med, because it takes forever to become a medical doctor).

What happened as a result, the “smart” ones with minimal interest and “not-so smart” ones with vested interest, did not perform well because whatever they learnt was not mindful (I do not mean to generalize here because there are some who develop interest even if the chosen major wasn’t their first choice). Now most of them did manage into some pathetically low-ranked, high-cost private engineering colleges (these are the colleges, very high in number, with sole purpose to rake money out of students and give them a degree, with a little to no impetus on learning), but failed to get jobs after graduating or are working low-paying jobs (it is so ironic because the main reason for making that choice in school was to get a high paying good job) .

The rate of educated unemployment in India is rising at an alarming rate and one of the biggest reasons is the mismatch between the interests and learnings of students (I don’t want to discuss specific numbers here because the numbers go higher than the population of many countries). My post might have deviated from the main topic “mindful learning”, but I wanted to lay emphasis on how a small mindful advice from parents (to discover and follow interest and not money) and a mindful teaching from teachers ( to understand that the real aim of “learning” is not to get a job, but to gain knowledge) could have prevented my classmates to fall victims to this herd mentality and could have helped them to take a mindful decision towards their future.

17 thoughts on “Mindlessness to Joblessness”

  1. This is something I’ve never fully understood. I don’t understand how people don’t personalize their future. People spend roughly half of their waking lives working (or learning/studying), why would ever choose something that you have no interest in? To me, there is no point in making extra money if you’re just going to be miserable most of the time. You can make the argument of making it to the top of a well-paying field, making it rain, and retiring early. However, it is incredibly rare to make it to the top if you aren’t passionate, so you aren’t going to retire early and live happily ever after.

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    1. Totally agreed Brad. I think passion/interest should be the first criterion while making the choice. But then comes the argument that in age of 15-16 do you really know what is your passion? Most people do not. It is a bit unfair to have to decide a particular field at that time. I am not sure how things work here in US. Do students decide their major in the junior year of high school here as well?

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      1. Depending on the individual school you can start to specialize as early as the first year of high school. At least at my school, we had a lot of opportunities to choose special art, science, or math classes pretty early on. We aren’t nearly as locked in as you describe Indian students being though.

        You’re right about it being rough to be locked in so soon, especially if you haven’t had the privilege of a great teacher or group of teachers to really inspire you in one direction or another. But, at least in the US, you can often change course later on. In my program there is an artist who went from something like traditional clay sculpting to glass working to a graduate degree in plastics and rubbers. Right now she’s excelling in our MACR program despite not having a STEM undergrad. So there is hope, at least in the US.

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      2. Well it’s good to know at least somewhere it’s going in the right direction. I mean I also know many examples back in India of my friends who are doing completely different from that of their undergrad and excelling in it. But they needed a lot of hard work to make the switch. Or I personally know that they were never really interested in what they were doing in the undergrad but are much happier now.

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  2. The salient reason Indian society is pivoting around “STEM” education is because India is a growing economy/developing country with an even faster growing population, in urgent need for engineers and doctors. These are extremely critical professions, necessitating arduous training and education. Consequentially, “smart” ones are encouraged/pushed to take up these studies so the country might be able to meet the demand of engineers and doctors.
    Unemployment, of college educated engineers and doctors can’t be ascribed to “mindless” learning. As pointed out by you, the rationale behind this unemployment is “pathetically low-ranked, high-cost private engineering colleges”. You will seldom encounter an unemployed engineer, graduated from any reputable and accredited college (IIT’s, BITS, DTU, state colleges etc.)

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    1. Hey Vibhav, but how many people actually make it to the reputable colleges? Millions of students enroll in college each year in India( around 1 million students sat for JEE mains in January this year) out if which even if 100,000 make it to reputable colleges, and assuming all those 100,000 are quality doctors and engineers, what about other 90+%?? I think we are producing engineers in quantity and not in quality.

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  3. I think one of the biggest highlights here are the parental and social pressures. Two of the rationale points seemed to focus on getting a high status job and/or proving your worth by doing the hard thing (i.e. being a doctor). It’s a shame when these pressures dictate your path when it’s clearly not the best path at all. Here in the states it’s not uncommon to see similar things happen (i.e. choosing a college major or even choosing where to go to school). I have a friend who’s family consists of lawyers and was disowned partially because he wanted to be an audio technician. Sadly, I don’t think there are easy solutions to these problems.

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    1. It’s sad to know that these things prevail almost everywhere in the world, the numbers may vary though. I think the only solution to these problems would be to stick to your choice and I think it’s better to get disowned than to repent the decision your entire life. I remember last Ben’s last week blog (https://benkirkland.home.blog/2019/02/03/am-i-in-the-right-room/), where he shared how his parents supported his decision to change his field. I think parents’ role should be to guide or advise and not to dictate. Thanks for the comment, Tim !

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  4. Some similar story we have in Iran. The result is having smarter engineers and physicians who might be good at their job but many of them wish they had a chance to follow their passion.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Setareh ! I think it is the same story in most developing country, some more than the others. But in developed countries too there are some aspects of this that are true.

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  5. I enjoyed reading your blog and definitely agree that it is difficult for young people to decide career paths at such an early age in life. A common mantra in the U.S. is “Do what you love” and “love what you do.” Sometimes this is easier said than done because somebody has to pay the mortgage or rent. If one can find something they love to do and make enough money to enjoy life, they are fortunate. Another mantra is YOLO – You only live once. Since it is your life and you only get one, I believe you should pick what is going to bring you the most happiness. No need to keep up with what others think you should do. The older I get, the less I care about material things and status.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Cindy ! These are really good and useful mantras for anyone who wants to succeed. I really like the YOLO one ! Do whatever brings you happiness.

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  6. Setareh mentioned that somewhat the same is happening in Iran. We have thousands of engineers with wildly varying levels of skills, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how society can thrive without good teachers and expert psychologists. Can a prosperous nation not have good musicians? Who is going to study and defend our natural environment? Sorry for the rambling, I definitely feel you Adbhut.

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  7. Thanks for the post Adbuht. I agree with you that it a big problem. I would say even in my home country “Saudi Arabia” we have a similar trend. I think it starts with teachers and parents as you said encouraging young kids to find their passion and learn what they like. But also there is a need for governmental efforts, public policy, investors.. to open job and markets in different fields and create a culture of appreciation for al field of knowledge. Also, academic institutions need to create interdisciplinary programs that integrate various field of knowledge to fulfill the passion of the students and integrate it with some vocational education that will prepare them for work if they needed to get a job. Also, there is a need to restructure what determines the value of work and education in society. Why some graduate of important majors get very low wages or might end up with no job while there are huge demand and large salaries given for other less important jobs for society ( you can think about many examples here)
    It is hard to tell someone just follow your passion if he/she sees many external indicators that tell him/her that he would not find a job latter while he/she needs a job. I remember one of my friends who studied computer science and he is from the US, he told me that he does not like computer science, he likes psychology. But he did not choose to study psychology because as he told and I am quoting his words” I want to find a job, I do not want to end up a homeless”. WIthoug huge large scale efforts it is hard to solve such problem in community level. It is important to advise the students to follow their passion but we need also to make huge efforts that decision not to make them feel that they are risking their future by following their passion.

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  8. Nice post! I just want to follow up on Arash’s reply. I think the mindset in developing countries like ours is a bit different. Every generation is “developing” a bit more than the previous; by financial status, by standards of life. And hence, the parents always tend to push their kids towards the career which would land them “better paying jobs and thus give the kids a better life than they had”. This being the dominating mindset, it is difficult to make them realize that “better” life doesn’t necessarily mean “happier” life. The society as a whole has created this false stratification where any other profession is considered inferior to engineering and medical, leading to this frenzy of students rushing towards these fields.

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