Work or Study?

Being an Indian, you are usually born into the idea that you need to study, study, study and this is the only path to success. A lot of people loose sight of why they are in a particular field of study and never think to question for a moment whether what they are doing is something they are truly interested in.

When I was back home in India about a year back, I met a family friend who asked me what I was doing, I explained that I had completed my undergraduate studies in the UK and started to work at an Investment Bank. His next question to me was not what I did at the bank, but rather when I planned to do my Masters. This is the attitude with which most people in India live in today, there is no questioning of why we want to do certain things, but rather follow a predetermined path because it is the “right” thing to do.

Having lived abroad for a few years now, I’ve grown more independent and started to question certain things. One thought that has been most pressing on my mind, especially for the past few months is whether I want to do an MBA. While this seems to be the general trend, and getting in to one of the top schools opens up a number of opportunities, I’m forced to compare this to continuing my professional career.

So what do MBA schools have to offer? Many boast about the average salaries ($150k-$200k, depending on the college) after graduation, but if you look a little deeper, this isn’t so surprising. Considering most of them end up in the Financial sector this is the average salary in the industry.

So salary is not a reason to do the MBA. Progression up the corporate ladder? Well, not quite. If you are not planning on switching industries, you probably have a better chance if you stay with the job you are at. Most multi national’s hire MBA graduates at an “Associate” level, which isn’t spectacular. Personally, if I stick with my current job and stay at the firm 2 years rather than do my MBA (which takes the same about of time in most schools), I’m pretty sure I’d make Vice President (one up from Associate).

That rules out climbing the corporate ladder. Am I being too superficial about what the MBA brings to the table? Is it more about the experience and the people you meet that could make an impact on your life in the longer term? This is the most likely true and in my opinion the only reason that someone should do an MBA. The academic content of the course you could learn anywhere, but the exposure in terms of access to glabal projects, and building a network that could otherwise take you a lifetime, is something the course could potentially offer. Most importantly, being in academic environment, generally gives you a breadth of knowledge and time to think beyond the present – work on the other hand, forces you to live in the now and be reactive rather than give you time to think, plan and strategise.

You could argue that this isn’t true for a lot of jobs, but irrespective of the field or the type of work you may do, there is only one reason you are doing it, to fix or improve the immediate business you are a part of. While in college, you are responsible for nothing, there is no business or money at stake and you are free to wander and dream of anything you want. You are never criticised for a mistake and encouraged to think out of the box.

While doing an MBA or continuing a professional career, both have it’s own merits, at the end of the day it is up to the individual to decide what their preference may be. Have I been able to make this decision? Not yet, and I have this very debate in my head everyday. So today, I decided that since I have a blog which I haven’t touched for almost a year and it’s about time I changed that!

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The Admissions Process

How does one decide to accept a student to a university or school? Is it the marks they get, their past academic achievements, personality? What is a “fair” process to evaluate a student? The answer to me is not simple at all. Educational institutions are places of learning, and to say that one person deserves it more than the other is, for lack of a better word, unfair. It is the most difficult decision for any individual to make and whether they realise it or not, they are deciding the future of individual. This is more so when it comes to schools as the individual is still very young and malleable.

Schools are entrusted to educate children, and if a student has low marks in his past performance is that not reason to accept them? to teach them how to improve themselves? You could argue that students who do not do as well as some of their counterparts have more reason be admitted to good schools, rather than those who are already doing well. To bring the world to a more level playing field, we need to provide a high standard of educate even to those who are not the highest achievers; provide them with high standards of education that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Education is not for the elite, rich or smart, it is for anyone and everyone. It is the one place left in this world where every individual is equal.

Most of the education systems today reward the successful and punish those who fail. To get into the best institutions today you need to have an immaculate track record and over achieved in every arena. There is no place for an mediocre student. Does this not create a greater divide in society? Does it not create a world where one section of society get better jobs, more opportunity and earn more money while others are left behind?

You could argue that this actually breeds a competitive spirit for everyone to do achieve higher goals, but it could also breed an unhealthy culture. The competition we see for some of the institutions in India such as the Indian Institute of Technologies (IITs) are so bad that students start tuitions for the entrance exams as early as the 7th and 8th standard. They go for these classes every morning after which they attend their normal school. I’ve heard that some of these tuitions which start at later stages (10th and 11th standard) are so competitive that they attend tuitions in order to get into “better” and more reputed tutoring classes.

Does this not sound like madness? We seem to be in a world that is becoming increasingly competitive. A competition that is growing in an unhealthy manner in some areas and one we need to keep in control and steer in the right direction.

My first blog: Education

I’m a little late into the blogging trend, but I think it’s about time I started. Why now? well I’ve come to realise that rather than keep my ideas, thoughts and philosophies in life to myself, why not share it with the rest of the world. So this blog is going to be an attempt at that.

The most pressing thought on my mind today is education. Either it has genuinely become a hot topic of discussion or it’s something that I’ve been exposed to in greater depth more recently. Education in India is something that has needed changes for many years now. They have been breeding the idea that in order to succeed in life, you need to score high marks in your exams; exams which are centered around Maths and the Sciences. Is this how we are preparing our future generations for world we live in today?

When I refer to education in India, I’m referring to the larger portion of schools which follow this generic path. These are the school that more than 99% of the population are educated in. I’ve been more fortunate in my education and attended two very different schools, Rishi Valley and Mallya Aditi International School, both of which invest time and effort in the education they provide and both founded by people who have invested immensely in the idea of education.

Did I get above 90% in my 10th grade board exams? No. Did I get all A’s in my A-Level exams? No. Does this imply that I am not successful in life? I sure hope not. My nephews who are now in their 8th and 10th grades seem to have a very different education from what I had. There is immense competition to get that above 90% grade and nothing else. The school seems to pride itself on the fact that more than 80% (or there abouts) got more than 85% average, and this was placed on a pedestal in their main reception! I found it amusing, but the true gravity of the situation was not one to be laughed at. The Indian education system seems to pride itself in generating an army of engineers and doctors. So what about the musicians, dancers and designers? Are they not relevant in todays society?

I think we are slowly coming to realise the significance of a well-rounded education, but the reforms that need to be made to the education system are immense and our Miniter for Human Resource Development (or more simply education) Kapil Sibil, has only taken the first step by talking of cancelling all 10th standard board exams. A step I believe in the right direction, but only the beginning of a long journey of reforms in this sector.

The video below is a talk by Sir Ken Robinson at a TED conference where he talks about education and creativity. I’ve watched this at least 3 times and I’m still not bored of it.

His talk clearly identifies and highlights the issues with our education system today, we teach our children to always be right. You are penalised for being wrong, and rewarded for being right. If a child does not make mistakes, how could they ever come up with ideas of their own. To always be right would be to follow a path that bas been treaded before and not adventure into new avenues. If this is education, then how will they invent new products, and solve previously unsolvable problems?

Narayana Murthy, Barack Obama, Sir Ken Robinson and probably many more people, have spoken about the important of experiencing failure and learning from your mistakes. Surely if our education system is an advocate for exactly the opposite, there must be something wrong?