Overcoming The Math and Science Bias in Student Career Choices

“What was your JEE Rank, was it double digit ?”, – Seriously this is how my day started today! I had just sat down to breakfast with my tray of crispy hot masala dosa, when an ex-colleague and friend popped this question to my face – almost like a substitute for good morning. He went on to question me about my motivation to study and prepare for the IIT entrance exams when I was in 11’th and 12’th standard. I had to tell him that my drive at that point had nothing to do with learning engineering and had everything to do with ‘scoring a point’ or ‘proving’ to friends and family about how smart I was. Our conversation drifted into wondering how many children really pick their educational streams based on their interest and how many do it based on the ‘advice’ they get from outside on what is an ‘appropriate stream’ for their rank. A quick check around those seated at our table made us believe that pretty much most people fell into the latter category when they were students.

On one hand this makes me sad but on the other hand it also makes me very curious about what drives (and what should ideally drive) education and studies. It is easy to take a philosophical stance and say that our choices should be driven by our intrinsic curiosity and deep interests. Yet when I see that for 90% or more children (at least in India) the reality of the choices they make are still based on extrinsic motivators (like status, peer acceptance, proving, or even job insecurity), it makes me wonder if I am missing something here?

Perhaps the change needs to come in at a stage even earlier to 11’th and 12’th standard when students are trying to make their ‘choice of what to study further’. Perhaps if children did not feel an underlying pressure to ‘prove’ themselves then they would not chase achievement just for the sake of proving themselves and their worth. Perhaps if children did not feel insecure and afraid of their future then they would not settle for an option that is a ‘safe bet’ to get a job. Perhaps….perhaps…..the list goes on.

The other point that came up in our conversation at today’s breakfast table was on whether ‘IQ is overrated’. As I look back over my own life I definitely feel that this was very much the case when I was a kid. Hence the pressure many of us felt to prove one’s self worth through achievements that signalled ‘High IQ’. Today I think there is a bit more awareness (thanks to Howard Gradner and his framework of Multiple Intelligences), and yet I think we have a long way to go as a society. ‘Maths and Science’ is still the dominant choice for ‘toppers’ in most schools and we literally need a cultural (mindset) revolution to empower our children to truly start making ‘authentic choices’ about what to study further (if they want to study further).

What is your view? Is IQ overrated? How can we start to shift this bias?

Published by Ramya Ranganathan

My identity is crafted around four Ps - Poetess-Philosopher-Parent-Professor. You can read more about my journey here (http://craftingourlives.com/ramya/)