This is an article that I had sent The Hindu. It never got printed :( . It was a long time ago and I felt that since it's been written it might as well be published, wherever :)
The sound of “IIT” rings a bell in the minds of most students in class 11 or 12, all most all across the country. The awareness level is fascinating considering we still have millions below poverty line who do not have basic education facilities. This is the effect of the brand name.
My article today is in reference to the article “IIT model ought to be replicated” by Prof Shreesh Chaudhary, in the Open Page (15th July). As the professor stated, we can have “a hundred IITs, teaching arts, business, humanities, sciences and engineering.” Actually we do have, not hundreds but a good number.
IIT, as we all know, stands for the Indian Institute of Technology. We also have a variety of other Institutes; equally known ones like the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management, and lesser known ones like the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, the Indian Institute of Architects and the Indian Institute of Banking and Finance (formerly known as the Indian Institute of Banking).
So what is it that makes the IITs different and more sought after?
The brand name assures certain credibility and so the companies and universities abroad seek IIT graduates. And everyone who wants to be an engineer wants to be in the IIT so that they have good opportunities, be it studies abroad or a fat paycheck. So youngsters all over India struggle to get in and the winners are the fittest. When these so called fittest of the lot enter the institute, even if they slack out a bit, they still do decently well, with the facilities that the institute provides. More or less all of them come out with flying colours and help uphold the brand name.
But what brought the brand name in the first place? It is not over one or two years, but over many years that IITs could establish themselves. The answer lies in the two pillars that Prof Shreesh Chaudhary mentioned. They have branded IITs and continue to make sure the saga lives on.
There is a third pillar which I see from a student’s perspective. It is the environment. The environment that is fostered in any IIT is freedom. A freedom of thought which enables you to think out of the box and a freedom of spirit with no restrictions imposed helps nurture the spirit of enquiry. Opportunities stare at you in the face; it is up to you to use them. Yes, there are cases of misuse, but there are always a few weeds everywhere. But overall, the “IIT model”, as the professor rightly put it, is successfully.
Why is it that the other “Indian Institutes” do not have this amount of credibility?
I think it’s because we, Indians, probably thought (and still think) that we are in need of only engineers and doctors. We apparently are under the impression that we do not need other professionals. Like in a house, electrical appliances are usually bought from branded companies who hire engineers to design them, where as, when a house is built, we do not call in branded architectural companies, we just call in the mason who built many houses that stood. Now, this mason probably has no idea of how many types of roofs exist, but he does know what it takes to build a house and keep it standing. Technically, that’s more than enough for us. So opportunities are less and obviously nobody would want to venture into these branches of education unless they are passionate. We do have a few global personalities; Nobel Laureates and Booker Prize winners. But the system is such that there is no urge for improvement, neither from the government nor from the public.
Replicating the “IIT model”
For India to replicate this “IIT model” it is not just these two pillars that Prof Shreesh Chaudhary mentioned. It is the third pillar of freedom that has to incorporated, not just in the “Indian Institutes”, but in the society at large. A society where a child is free to choose one’s own specialization after completion of schooling must be encouraged. The present scenario where a child is mentally prepared by the parents, right from class 5, to become an IITian, must change.
Ah! The word ‘change’, is very tricky. Yes, the society has changed in the past and will change in the future too. But will it change how we think is good for India’s progress? Who will change the society but those who make it, men and women like us. But then, another little word comes up, ‘how’. And the word remains.