Saturday, March 5, 2011

India’s Culture of Education

Classroom in India - Compliments of Parafrasi (Flickr)There are so many woes about the education system back home. While I have not found the education system here to be necessarily better, it is definitely prioritized higher. The school system leading up to college is extremely competitive. You may think that the system in the US is competitive as well, but this is truly on a different level. Nearly all school children take tuitions (essentially extra classes after school) throughout their elementary and high school years in order to keep up. Kids are routinely held back to repeat a year, and many don’t make it through the system at all, and (for that or financial reasons) go on to menial labor jobs.
In the school system here, all of the grades are based on tests, and the test scores follow you on your record starting in the 10th grade. Not too dissimilar to the US, but unlike the US, the job market is largely based on your scores from school and standardized tests (Not just overall GPA, but employers actually look at class grades), so there is never really any reset button for a bad semester.
Possibly because of the importance of grades, educational scores are held in common conversation as a way of defining yourself. As an outsider without common test scores to compare, I’m routinely judged based on my past work at Microsoft, a much lauded employer that all Indians seem to hold as a holy grail. Others include educational institutions like the Indian Institution of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institution of Management (IIM) and most any school of Medicine. All have exceedingly tough entrance parameters, and allow far less than 1% of applicants.
In the US, we define ourselves by our careers (“So, what do you do?”), our possessions (“He drives a Ferrari!”), and our hobbies (“He’s a rock climber.”), among other things. This exists here as well except maybe defining by hobbies. However, I’m consistently shocked by how often test scores come up. Possibly because they are often considered inappropriate topics of conversation in the US. (Of your group of friends, how many of their SAT scores do you know?)
A cousin of mine scored exceedingly well on an entrance exam to a post-grad program a few years back. Since initially hearing this a couple weeks back, I’ve been in contact with many family and friends who know him. I have not been in a single discussion that contained his name and did not contain his exact percentage score on the test. Interestingly, none of these discussions was he present for, nor has the topic come up directly with him.
I’m not yet sure how I feel about how education permeates the culture in this way. On one hand, it seems rather crude to compare people openly in such a black and white way. However, it does keep education at the top of everyone’s priority, which can only help India, as a whole.