A: It is wonderful that you decided to come here… overcoming so many challenges
N: Why thank you! Though it is really more of an adventure than a challenge…
A: No I meant how you broke off your engagement
N: ?
A: And escaped the old guy
N:?????????????????????????

The above confusion was a mix of stereotypes, letting rumours pester, and, above all, the genuine confusion of a Singaporean as to why several people from several different countries suddenly decide to come to their educational institutes every year. Being one of those persons, I am also confused as to why so many of us suddenly made that certain decision. In this column, I decided to share tid-bits of a journey I never thought I would be a part of and so it feels correct to start things off from the very beginning- not the first step but the decision to take it.

Why does anyone decide to leave the things they knew and loved for the remarkably unknown? The reasons were as diverse as the people I met. A certain someone believed it to be the firm will of God that she was there. Several others knew it to be the firm will of their parents. Many more would shrug and say ‘Why not.’ While no one was running from an elderly, oppressive fiancé to my knowledge, the theme of escape was nonetheless ubiquitous. Someone was tired of being bullied in DPS RK Puram, someone was operating on the logic of ‘bigger is better’ and was leaving a town for a cosmopolitan city and everyone (really, everyone) was escaping the IIT entrance.

But which one is it? Were we leaving for a place, or were we leaving India? For a country that loses 153300 students every year, it is important to decide whether we are dealing with an over-ambitious lot here, or a failing mechanism which cannot even hold the basic ambitions of its young.

Judging by the Little Indias they leave in their wake and the unholy amount of Lay’s Masala Magic they carry, I don’t think Indians are ever running away from the motherland. The other option, sadly, seems more likely. Often, it is the carrot of competitive pay and wider opportunities for “unconventional” careers that Indians chase across oceans. This, for extremely obvious reasons, devastates a country which seeks to be a superpower. Every Sunita Williams and Fareed Zakaria is a source of pride for Indians, but a waking call for India. While efforts are being made to improve the higher educational institutes, it has so far not shown many concrete results.

I really didn’t care about any of that when I signed the fancy looking documents. And I was in good company amongst the sixteen-year-olds who hardly had a clue what they wanted to do in life, much less how much they wanted to be paid. For us, our adventure was simply that- an adventure. Perhaps never lacking bread-and-butter had made this group jump up in Maslow’s Hierarchy to seek happiness and self-attainment. Before thinking of the six-figures to be earned, I found myself thinking of the places to be explored and people to be met.

Does Indian education bar all that? Perhaps not, but it certainly doesn’t offer it up on a platter.

Did Singapore? A tale for another time.

Certainly, despite a diverse country that offers ample chances for exploration and personal growth, the Indian student is largely dictated by theory and pragmatism. At the beginning of class X I was told “Beta bas yeh saal hai, ek baar stream mil jaaye phir to enjoy karna…” At the beginning of class XI I was told “Beta bas yeh saal hai, ek baar engineering mein ho jaaye phir to enjoy karna…” So concerned are we with the end (that hardly ever seems to come) that we forget the process. Not all things are supposed to answer a calculated call; some things are just, to be. And today, we are losing students who want to enjoy not just an interesting education, but a fulfilling life as well.

As we undergo many revisions in our education system, perhaps it is time that a rewarding student life finds a place in discussion along with a rewarding degree.

“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”

Francois Rabelais
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