Revise the learning curve

Sep 28, 2011, 09:20 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Every journalist in India knows that looking for an 'expert' to comment on some natural calamity or event or almost anything at all can be close to impossible

Every journalist in India knows that looking for an 'expert' to comment on some natural calamity or event or almost anything at all can be close to impossible. That's partly why you see the same faces night after night on your television screens. Part of the reason is, you're right, TV journalists are a bit silly and ignorant (okay cheap shot but irresistible) but the bigger reason is that we are woefully short of experts.

I think some newspaper wrote about this the other day, colleges which have had to close down sections on meteorology and archaeology because no students want to enroll. Helping a friend's son get into college in Mumbai earlier this year, prominent college laughed at the idea that anthropology would be a difficult subject to get into -- the truth is, few wanted to do it.

All is not well: Most students want to be doctors or engineers while
there are no takers for art, literature and other sciences 

There are two problems here. One, we've known for a while. Parents only want their children to become doctors and engineers and then the engineers want to do an MBA. This not only makes Barack Obama's blood boil (Americans are not becoming engineers as fast as Indians and Indians are getting all the techie jobs), it also ensures that India becomes a cattle market for the IT industry the world over, leaving no one else worth anything in the country.

Ironically, while everyone wants to become a doctor in India (except for those who want to become engineers), we are short of primary health care in rural areas. Of course all the parents who want their children to become doctors want their investment back. Working in Indian villages is not going to get you that, so most doctors would prefer to become cardiologists and charge exorbitant amounts for angioplasties (let's not even talk about bypasses).

Of course, really smart parents would nudge their doctor offspring towards cosmetic surgery so you can make lakhs by taking fat from some rich person's bottom and injecting it into their, well, whatevers. Then there's the other problem. Not only have we seriously annoyed Barack Obama, we are also wilfully turning ourselves into a nation of dumbos. The other popular choice in colleges, for instance, is a media course. I don't know what they teach at these media courses, but judging from the recruits I have met, it is very little. Usually, they have to be trained all over again.

Yet parents spend lakhs for their charming little cash cows to study at media courses and of course you've met so many of the results on television every night. So maybe we need a movement to get us back on the learning curve. To study all those things which made us great as human beings -- art, literature, music, the sciences (engineering is not a science), philosophy, history, economics, mathematics, biology, zoology, botany. Let us have more archaeologists, agriculturalists, meteorologists, anthropologists, environmentalists and not be condemned to becoming a nation of technicians and salespeople (I feel like putting doctors and MBAs in this same bracket).

So we stand on the brink of losing our heritage and our future to a bunch of mechanics. Nothing against mechanics of course, they are vital to our existence. But they are not the only profession which we need to keep us going. Incidentally, for all the doctors and engineers (and MBAs) that we have, can you remember the last great Indian invention? That is, something invented by an Indian living and working in India? Please don't mention the zero. That happened a long time ago and is only relevant if you mean that a big fat zero is what we are in danger of becoming!

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist

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