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Monday, January 28, 2013

It's the SAT now!

A coaching institute of India-wide repute has lately been advertizing lavishly in the papers, pushing a new program purporting to train young aspirants for the SAT examination conducted by ETS Princeton, so that they can bypass the whole rigmarole of trying to get into some so-called elite Indian college/university – such as the IITs – and directly go to the US of A (which is, after all, the ULTIMATE AMBITION of the whole Indian middle- and upper middle classes; the IITs have never, let’s face it, been anything more than undergraduate churning factories which serve as a stepping stone on the way). After all, says the ad, why waste time trying to get into one of the IITs? They don’t figure among the top 200 elite institutes in the world anyway. Especially when you can go directly to attend the ‘best’ colleges in the world?

The irony in this ad stems from the fact that this is being done by an organization which for nearly two decades, I think, has been both feeding the ‘dream’ of sending millions to the IITs,  the ‘finest colleges in India, among the best in the world’, and making a fortune out if it (they have started ‘preparing’ kids as young as class six). Obviously, their chief honchos are now beginning to realize that this particular milch cow is beginning to dry up slowly – the competition has increased manifold, the market is reaching saturation, and a still small but increasing number of parents are beginning to realize that getting into one of the IITs, especially these days, is something pretty much short of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the best that they can lead to is attempts to go off into a master’s course on scholarship somewhere in the US, or preparing to get into some decent B-school, or taking a shot at the civil services. And a lot of photographers and fashion models and lawyers and private tutors and chefs and airline pilots and musicians and restaurateurs are making far more money than IIT graduates on the average can ever hope for. But imagine: it’s  a big ticket tutorial which is saying so now, not just Suvro Chatterjee, who is just a small-town private tutor of English and who has been reviled, scorned, feared and avoided by a lot of parents and kids alike simply because this is the tune he has been singing for 25 years and more!

But caveat emptor. Unlike these big businesses/cram shops, I have never wavered from the true teacher’s credo in all my life: tell the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be, and even if it brings me no material advantage whatsoever. This SAT is no big deal; steer clear of expensive coaching for it. If you have an ICSE/ISC background and are in the 75%-plus marks category, to get a decent score in SAT which will get you admission to a fairly good college in the US, you need to do nothing more than buy a widely available guidebook for a few hundred rupees and practise daily for an hour or two for two months or three. Of course, that will not ensure you a full scholarship: for that, you need to score in the 99th percentile or higher, and most of you should forget about that straightaway, unless you really believe you are Einstein or Tagore. These newfangled courses will be designed for the wards of that newly-rich class of Indian parents who can afford to send off their kids to Umrica on their own, no scholarships needed – that’s anything between 15 and 30 lakhs a year or even more for four straight years. So if your dad makes something between Rs. 50,000 and 200,000 a month, don’t even think about it. The ad talks about sending you to Harvard. Well, I know a bit more about the ways of places like Harvard than the average parent hereabouts, and let me tell you this: the three best ways to get in there are  a) prove that you are the next Zuckerberg, even if not Einstein (it will not hurt to watch the movie 21 either), b) have a surname like Gandhi (not even an Ambani or Tendulkar is quite good enough), or c) tell your dad to make a $10 million endowment to the university fund. Note: coaching classes don’t figure in this picture at all!


Debarshi_Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards.Absolutely correct,Sir-and what a stinging slap on the faces of these fellows!The worst thing about this entire business is this,Sir- |i|These fellows have turned everything into a business,and everything about education of the best sort into some process where anybody can be inducted into their stables and made a Derby winner!They also have lots of victims to feed upon,literally,when for most people education means "a bigger pay packet than Mr.John Doe's son,and definitely trips to Umrica.." |i|

When they have started this process of selling everything on the streets,then as you have always said,Sir,the tempest is soon to come.

With best wishes,

Abhishek Anand said...

Sir, I agree. But there is certainly some consideration for the institute. Only 9600 students get into IITs. What about those who just miss the seats by about a hundred positions? To ensure those students get into good universities, the students are trained and so the institute conducts the SAT examination. This is to ensure they get the best scholarship possible. However, the number benefiting would be rather small. This advertisement certainly has a great businesslike attitude.

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Anand

Sayan Datta said...

Abhishek, You have neither read Sir's post carefully nor have you got your facts right. The SAT examination is not held for the fringe rankers of the IITJEE. Read the post carefully and go through the links Sir has provided. That should rid you of the foolish notions you seem to harbour. Which "good universities" are you talking about and why are you telling Sir 'why' ETS Princeton conducts the examination? Or are you talking about the coaching institute in question?
The IITs don't figure anywhere on SAT's landscape, nor among the top 200 colleges, as Sir has said. I suspect, your naivety stems from a fanatical and sick obsession with the IITs. But at least some among the most intelligent of students don't think of going to the IITs anymore, which can only be a good thing, and I can corroborate that through direct experience. I can give you a few examples here, the ones that are popping up in my mind right now, I am sure there are many others among the ones I haven't heard about - last year a boy from kolkata (the city where I live) got a rank of 53 (if memory serves me right. It was certainly within 60, I think) but chose to go to MIT instead through SAT; and among my students one has gone to Tufts (again, inspite of having made it to the IIT) with a full scholarship. Cornell was willing to take him but with a 85 percent scholarship which his father couldn't afford. I can give you two more examples among my students alone - one has gone to St.Xavier's college with honours in computer science inspite of making it to the IIT and another is awaiting the interview of the KVPY exam (having cleared the written part) and hoping that he won't even have to appear for the IITJEE.

Shilpi said...

I can't help writing a comment for this early bird post of yours, Suvro da, and before writing one for your previous post because this matter of undergraduate (and in fact graduate) education in the US and those exams have been something I've thought, reflected and pondered and even brooded over, and from not just an academic and objective angle.

It is hilarious to think (yes, ironical too but the sort of stuff that one would imagine could only be portrayed in movies or satirical comic strips) that the same coaching centre making the money by selling the carrot of the IITs for so many years is now selling the carrot of not just undergraduate education in the US but of Harvard!

A few years ago I was awfully circumspect about any Tom, Dick or a very smooth talking, let's name him, Hari when he insisted that he was all set to sail the seas for an undergraduate education in the US. I knew twenty years ago that undergraduate education in the US was over-the-top expensive, full tuition waivers were almost unheard of, and that one certainly wasn't going to manage to earn the basic living costs by getting jobs on campus, and if anything this was made clear to me from what I saw of undergraduate education in the US. But this smartie-pants kid thought he knew more and he tried boasting to me that he could easily get admission to some engineering field at Purdue, and so my horrified question was, "but even if you do - what about tuition and what about living expenses?!"

As for what the cursed coaching centre says - I agree with you that if a student simply wants to ace the SAT exams. - s/he simply needs to buy the Barron's book for English and buy the Kaplan and Princeton books for Math, and practice systematically fand rigorously or three months. The other VERY important bit is that schools also look for much in the statement of purpose and also the list of mixed interests and extra-curricular activities, including wide reading...sorry folks, school text-books don't qualify and district level swimming in India does not qualify - one needs to have lots of published articles (newspapers qualify) if not a full-fledged book, get maybe at least a commonwealth gold or show the relevant school that one has got national awards in dancing, singing or social service (and if one actually has done all that, would one really be keen on going to a US university to do some undergraduate course is the question) - and all this simply to secure an admission to some school. Aspiring students, conned by those coaching centres, should do a very careful check on their own (through what is called the internet) to actually see how many institutions even bother providing full tuition waivers to international students (and a tuition waiver as I will repeat does not mean that the living costs will be covered), and for which fields of study. So no matter what glossy ads those cursed coaching centres are displaying, they are simply hoping that people are too stupid to realise that Harvard will NOT be inviting Indian students over unless as you point out, Suvro da, the said-students qualify on grounds of (b) and (c) because even with (a), I would not make any bets on a full tuition waiver and guaranteed living costs for 4 years through some stipend, and especially for international students.

I might come back to comment for this post of yours later - Suvro da - but I can't help writing this bit for now.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Don't be too hard on the Abhishek Anand kind, Debarshi, Sayan and Shilpi. See, he's only fifteen, and I have been urging his whole batch - nearly 150 kids - to read, think about and comment on my blogs,and he's the only one so far who has evinced any interest at all. A boy his age, growing up in a one-horse town with no libraries, hardly any access to good movies, moronic 'teachers' and parents whose ideas are derived from bazaar gossip that is outdated by at least three decades, can you blame him for not knowing better? You folks have the advantage of age, and having gone through most of the stages he is still to encounter, and being located in metro cities and/or in the US. See, thanks to the very lopsided view of reality that the net and TV and their immediate surroundings provide hereabouts, they know all about KFC and Gangnam Style and Facebook chat, but little about higher studies beyond what the Maal Sir/Rath Sir types drill into their heads, and most of their parents regard the local company MD as god, who is, of course, an engineer... so what can you expect? (yes, yes, they know about film stars and sports stars and rock stars also, but such people in their minds are not really real, they inhabit a fairytale world, which cannot be imagined to be accessible to 'ordinary' mortals like them), yet they too want to be 'successful' the easy way, by identifying with this or that fashionable brand label, and the IIT tag seems to be, obviously, the only thing they can aim for. They don't need to be scolded, they need to be educated in the realities of the big life out there. My old boys and girls could help immensely here. Until that happens, these people and their parents, like sheep, are going to be fleeced endlessly by the kind of tutorials I have written about: after all, that is why they exist (interesting point to ponder - many of these coaching classes offer far higher salaries to their teachers than IIT professors get: a classic case of the tail wagging the dog). Now they are drooling at the mouth at the prospect of making even more money by getting more sheep into the SAT cattle pen. The kind of countrywide campaign aimed at arousing consumers to their rights and the myriad ways they are likely to be cheated by every kind of businessman out to make a quick buck (they call it 'jaago grahak jaago') has become desperately necessary in the field of education. Let them start by learning that every parent or teacher who claims that a) there is any shortcut to success and b) success can be achieved only by reading science is either a fool or a crook. That will make me sufficiently happy...

umesh saha said...

Dear Mr Chatterjee,

One of my friends showed me this blog and I went through your post. I do not agree with your comment in the post.

I visited Durgapur because I realized that this town has some very good teachers of physics, chemistry and math. I found Maal Sir, Rath Sir and Subhash Rai Sir to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful. They took the pains to help me gain a very good understanding of the subjects. The tuition fees charged was affordable. This was important because I came from a humble background. Moreover the alternative in Kota and FIITJEE was very expensive. Due to the help of Maal Sir, Rath Sir and Subhas Rai Sir, I was able to get into IIT in the year 2002. Those days, IIT had only 3000 seats compared to 10,000 now. Getting into IIT was instrumental in me getting a very good job and finally paved the way to the best management school in the country. I am what I am because of Maal Sir, Rath Sir and Subhash Rai Sir.

In fact I shifted base from my town to Durgapur because I wanted access to the world class quality education services. Apart from Kolkata, there is no other place in Bengal which offers such high quality of education. In my class at IIT, my class mates were either from Durgapur or Kolkata.

Maal Sir never drills any nonsense into the heads of his students. In fact he goes above and beyond his responsibilities to help his students. People go to Maal Sir, Rath Sir and Subhas Rai Sir after they have made up their mind to take science.
People in Durgapur are lucky to have access to so many great teachers. I found most students in Durgapur extremely lazy and callous in their attitudes. While some of my friends and I worked hard and had results to show for in two years, a lot of students had no focus or goals. These callous students had thousands of excuses such as " The class room is over crowded " or " Mathematics is so tough". Later on, these callous students either flunk in exams or end up in low rank colleges. They blame their entire world for their condition rather than looking inwards.

Coming from Bankura, I know for a fact that many of my friends would have given their right arm for a chance to get access to the great education resources in Durgapur. I hope your students realize the advantage that life has provided them with and take full use of it.


Umesh Saha

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Umesh, first off, thanks for commenting.

Of course you need not agree with things I have said: I welcome criticism. Only, as I have said again and again, they must be fact-based, well-reasoned and politely worded. So you are welcome to comment again, on other posts of mine, many of which you might find yourself agreeing with.

I also admire you for being openly grateful to teachers to whom you feel you owe a debt. Few people have that decency nowadays.

Now, if you want me to point out things that I in turn do not agree with in your comment, please say so - otherwise I shall not bore you.

Any other reader who wants to write a riposte to Umesh, s/he is welcome too. Only, we are trying to have friendly arguments here, so no harsh words, please.

umesh saha said...

Dear Mr Chatterjee,

I wanted to add that your take on the SAT exam and admission process in foreign universities is absolutely correct. The same fact holds true for admission at post graduate level in US universities. I have friends in Chicago Booth,Kellogg and Wharton who had excellent academics, multiple promotions and letters from CEO of their organization to get admission.

I also completely agree with your view point on a lot of coaching centers turning into money minting machines.

I am sure your students have an opportunity to learn a lot from you.

I also appreciate the fact that you have encouraged your students to follow their heart and work hard in whatever they pursue. I think your students are lucky to have you.



umesh saha said...

Dear Mr Chatterjee,

I would love to hear your opinion on what you find wrong in my comment. I could have made mistakes. It would be a good learning opportunity.

If you do take the pain, I would like to thank you.



Rajdeep said...


Hope you are doing well.

I felt this post has a connection to your heart warming post "Evaluation" on your other blog.
Also, most people are probably more obsessed with quantity rather than quality. There is also a deeply ingrained thought process that the humanities are somehow, even if slightly, inferior to the sciences. I have found this trend wherever I have been, despite the fact that the entire mankind has only managed to produce one Einstein so far. However, I realize that not all people think like that though they may be few in number.
Some people are aware but do not know how to go about it.

Recently, I met a Singaporean, who told the Japanese people around, that their generation in Singapore has been brought up amidst competition in studies but since they haven't been taught to appreciate artistic things, their generation does not usually have the urge to, for example, go and watch a concert. That maybe the personal opinion of just one person, but it provided me some food for thought.

As for Harvard, well, here are links to two newspaper articles. "It" has started there too!


I remember my classmate who sometimes wore a T-Shirt on which the word Harvard was written in big letters, and below that, "I never went there."

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Umesh,

The post was not about some private tutors in Durgapur (about whom many of my best ex-students have very sharply different opinions), but about the SAT, and what sort of path young people should avoid in connection with that examination. So if you now agree with most of the things that I said in that regard, there is very little I have to add in rejoinder.

However, I should like to add at least a few things. a) No good student really needs a private tutor (I am an example myself, and every year we hear of many poor students who have done brilliantly in various competitive exams without going to any); b) When I say "I am what I am because of ...", I name people like Vivekananda, Gandhi and Tagore, rather than those you have named; c) I hope you have grown up enough to realize that if one does want to get into management eventually, going to any engineering college is a complete waste: I know lots of people who have gone to the IIMs with degrees in history, English, law and so on, and later got very highly paid jobs; and d) I hope you have now found out, as I said in the blogpost itself, that a lot of people have made splendid careers without taking up science at all. In any case, someone who is really interested in science rather than just a job would take up real science and continue till the master's and PhD level, don't you think? Besides which, of course, it never stops making me sad that even reasonably intelligent people like you confuse good careers with how much money they make, because business, cricket, cinema and politics offer vastly more money than any academically oriented person can make, whether he reads science or not. Lawyers and surgeons come after that; engineers, not at all. These are cold facts: you can dislike them, but you cannot disagree with them.

umesh saha said...

Dear Mr Chatterjee,

As we agree on the content of the post, I will comment only on the rejoinder.

Point a) It is true that good students don't need private tutors. I do not know if I would qualify to be called a good student. However, I did not need a private tutor till I had to appear for IIT JEE. A decade ago, there were 3000 seats for 1.5 lakh applicants. I could not deal with complex differential equations or sample problems from Irodov on my own. I needed help and so did everyone in my batch who qualified for IIT. I know that because I saw them at Maal Sir's and Rath Sir's place.

There were a few exceptions in our class at IIT. These were students who did not need private tutors. However I believe this number was extremely low. Students who did not need private tutors were ones who had represented India in the international Physics and Mathematics Olympiad.

Every year there are a few who get in through CMC Vellore, IIT and the CA exam without help. However that number I believe is very low.

b) I admire the fact that you have lived by the ideals of great men like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. Regarding your point b, I would say that it is a difference in approach and opinion. I respect the fact that you are what you are because of the impact that great men had in your life. For me, I focus more on the people who have spent time, resources, money and energy to have a positive impact on my life. Rath Sir and Maal Sir to guide me through JEE, my father for being a continuous support through out my life, my friends who provided and still provide encouragement and advice are just a few examples. Our difference in opinion and statement could be derived from the fact that I am focused more on the good deeds at the grass root level. I guess you are more focused on impact generated at a higher level for the mankind. I appreciate that and can understand your point of view.

umesh saha said...

Point C. I know that one does not have to do engineering to get into management. However I know for a fact that your undergraduate field of study and work experience are key factors that determine your career post management.

For example: Google, Apple and Amazon hire product managers from management schools for the BAY area. They make it clear that they are looking for people with a computer science back ground and experience in the technology industry.

I use a lot of math and programming language like MATLAB at my work. In some areas such as quantitative finance, one needs finance, economics, accounting, math and programming skills. No wonder financial institutions prefer people with an undergrad in math or engineering

One of my close friends studied journalism and was a journalist for 2 years before joining management school. When the big media houses came to hire for their strategy and finance units, my friend was on the shortlist of all the media houses. In fact she did end up joining one of the media houses.

I understand that one does not have to do engineering to get into management. One should take up a field of study which one finds interesting.

However, one's past experience and field of undergraduate study have a considerable influence in one's post management job.

umesh saha said...

Point D: You are right in what you have said. You can skip the section below as it might qualify as rambling.

I am sorry if I suggested I took up science because of the money. I took up science because I loved Mathematics and Physics. I enjoyed my two years solving problems and reading up a lot of text books some even beyond what the course material suggested.

I absolutely agree that students who are very interested in science do end up continuing till PHD level. In fact, post JEE I spent a month debating whether I should take up Mathematics or a field of engineering at IIT. I liked Mathematics but was not sure if I would like to spend the rest of my life doing Mathematics. I was not sure what else I was missing out on. I took up engineering because I wanted to explore more. Moreover I knew that in my field of study I would end up using a lot of Math. Many years down the line, when I reflect back I realize that I could not have gone wrong taking either of the two paths. If I would have taken up mathematics, I would have done my PHD at the intersection of mathematics and finance. Eventually, I would have ended doing exactly what I am doing now.
I took up management because I liked what I learnt in the elective courses taken in finance at the management school of IIT. I like the idea of experimenting more than being committed to one subject. You might conclude that my love for science was there but was not intense enough.

It was nice talking to you. I hope read more at your blog.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It will be nice if some people now got back with comments directly pertinent to the subject matter of this blogpost.

Sayan Datta said...

Dear Suvro Sir,

Trying hard not to digress and comment directly on the contents of your post -

Firstly the coaching institute in question has made its money by tutoring students for one specific examination which is the IITJEE, and by glorifying the IITs beyond the limits of hyperbole (which they still do). To now say that studying for the IITJEE is a complete waste of time and money because they don't figure among the top 200 colleges of the world even(true though that may be), just because the institute has found an economically more viable option, is the limit of hypocrisy as far as I am concerned. This says not a few things about the kind of tutoring (much less teaching) the said institute indulges in, the kind of people who teach there and the bogus lies they feed our youth. A person/institute that changes colour at the slightest pretext like a chameleon and abandons what it calls its goal indulges in the lowest kind of dishonesty there is. I for one will never associate with people/institutes of this sort and advice those under my tutelage to do the same.

Secondly, I do not know much about the kind of education people in America receive. But I can say this with sincerity and conviction that if the institute in question starts sending students in hordes to the USA (I don't know if that will happen...but if it happens - ) like they do to the IITs, with the kind of education/tutoring they provide, the level of education there will fall rapidly. So, God help them!

Thirdly (and this is where I might have to digress a bit..) - I have always thought that the hallmark of a cultured and educated person is to be able to instinctively recognize a person of greater learning and wisdom and never to converse with him/her as if he/she is an equal, at least until, if ever, one gains an equal amount of enlightenment. By not doing that one does unutterable harm by demeaning things/people/ideas of value. As far as I can see, a lot that is bad with this world stems from ignorance, rather abhorrence of the truly cherisable and valuable qualities of life, a warped, convoluted, confused view of education and the inability to distinguish the right from the wrong, the profound from the superficial and the phony from the genuine. These are just a few of the things that need to be corrected and our youth taught rigorously the art of discernment if we are to make any significant progress in any sphere at all.

I am tempted to say how Bethune, more than a hundred years ago, talked of education in India being geared for the purpose of creating a work-force of devoted slaves. He was talking about the best colleges of the land at that time. I wonder how little has changed and how little we have learned since then.

Education, true education, expands the mind and refines character. If it is not directed solely at this goal, it becomes cheap. Cheap - that is the word which I will use to describe the institute in question or anyone else, who cherishes, inculcates or fosters its credo.

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

I remember reading somewhere that people get rid of one illusion only to embrace another. That certainly seems to be the case here. If these coaching institutes have suddenly done a 180 degree turn and started talking about the American universities, rather than the IITs, being the Mecca/Jerusalem that all should be headed towards, the reason, as you have mentioned, must be that more and more people are realizing that getting into the IITs is not such a big deal after all. But rather than becoming more aware of the bloodsucking, hoodwinking nature of these coaching centres, these people are now willingly extending their necks for a different kind of fang. Some time later--two years; two decades; who knows, really?--they shall realize that they have been conned again. What new bait shall the coaching centre owners dangle before the masses then? A surefire way to become an American senator and eventually the US President? Or the shortcut to winning a Nobel Prize/Pulitzer/Olympic medal/Grammy/Oscar? And would people continue to fork out their money?

I won't drag on this comment, seeing that much of what I wanted to say has already been said by you and in the comments of others. I do wish, though, that fooling people was a little more difficult.

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Haha, Sayan - with reference to your third paragraph - we have just been vindicated by no less an eminence grise than Amartya Sen: look up this article in today's The Telegraph (see http://bit.ly/VAP1sv ). The title is self-explanatory. Even as so called 'education' proliferates (by which I mean every fool who can write some computer code or pull out teeth starts giving himself airs for being educated), we are drowning in ignorance even more than stupidity!

As for Bethune, Vivekananda used to say the same thing over and over again: we have sold our souls to become Rs. 40 a month clerks. Just replace 40 by 40K, and cybercoolies/BPO workers in place of clerks, and you'll see the picture hasn't changed one whit in more than 120 years. All the rest is bakwaas, love of science and all that crap. If tomorrow Indian parents became convinced that history brings far more status and money than science, the IITs would be empty, and millions of kids would start chanting from age 12 "I am passionate about history". I know what passion means, and I hate to see every lazy and greedy idiot vulgarizing that noble word.

Abhirup, yes, you got the point exactly. I wish this country produced fewer fools bringing up children. It's pity that makes me write, much more than contempt.

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I am rather ashamed to say that I can look back and find zero use for my engineering degree. I have no idea why I studied engineering; not just me, this is true of almost everyone I know. To be fair to my parents, they never pushed me towards engineering. That was my own fault Sir; due to an ignorance that now at twenty five I find laughable. So it is with some sort of rueful amazement that I read this post of yours. So many of my old classmates joined the herd in going to the US for MS and now work for places like Facebook and Google; yet they are not completely satisfied. Believe it or not Sir, many of them are now contemplating the GMAT for lack of anything else to think about. It is alarming to know that people have started chanting the America mantra to sixteen and seventeen year olds. Out of every ten people who go to America or the UK or Canada or Australia to study only three or four manage to go to the really "good universities" and fewer still manage to get jobs that will pay off their humongous student loans. I have come across just ONE person who set out to do exactly what he wanted to do and is now very happy in his field of work, it is alarming Sir that the rest of us have either already lost direction or were on the verge of doing so.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for owning up so candidly, Vaishnavi, for telling it like it is. Though many indeed in the IT industry and (junior-) management jobs honestly admit to me in private that both their careers and their lives 'suck', few still have the guts to go public with the confession: it's so badly tied up with the question of losing face and bruising egos, you see, admitting that one (along with one's parents and teachers) was wrong all along! This is precisely why, especially in the small towns around India, the great illusion still persists, still ruining whole generations like a war or a plague: merely because millions of engineering and management people, now permanently stuck in lousy jobs (where the comparative pay packets are the only markers of achievement and identity, and 90% per cent don't even earn really decent sums)don't have the honesty and guts to tell the next generations 'Beware, don't step into the quicksand, don't make fools of yourselves as we did!' As I said before, the saddest thing about engineering in India has been that the best and most ambitious of them have always turned away from it eventually to go into greener pastures, be it in corporate management or the civil services or business or teaching... now it's even writing books and making movies. What a huge national waste! Will I ever see it stopped in my lifetime, I wonder?

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

I totally agree with your views expressed in this post. These coaching institutes have only one motto - 'Make hay while the sun shines'. Having realized that the ship of IIT is sinking, they are now selling the 'Umrican' dream to the masses. From my experience of taking the GRE and TOEFL tests (SAT has almost a similiar pattern), I can say that the requirements for scoring a good percentile is basic knowledge of English and Mathematics (which needs sincere studies up to plus two level) supplemented with mock test practice from some standard books like Barron, Peterson's Guide etc. The real test begins after clearing the SAT when the universities will demand a host of things like personal statement, achievements outside academics etc and coaching centres will be of no use at this stage.

But as Lincoln once said that 'You can fool some people all the time, all the people for some time but never all the people for all the time.', the likes of FIITJEE banks on a certain section of the people who are blinded by the propaganda of these money minting organizations. Kudos to you Sir that you have almost single-handedly tried to warn the people of Durgapur against such malpractices. Yet, the sad part is you have been shunned and disapproved by most for saying the right thing and more so because these people themselves have realized their follies later but are too arrogant and conceited to accept it.

With regards,

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Sir, do excuse me if I digress from the main contents of the post but I would like to say something specifically to Mr. Umesh Saha.

(1)I was born and brought up in Durgapur and I don’t even know what world class educational services Durgapur has to offer. It is home to numerous private engineering colleges and at the most it can paint a happy picture of a government engineering college which is the NIT (which is also nothing more than an engineer churning factory). Renowned school like St. Xavier’s is a mere shadow of their former glory for almost over a decade. Great teachers are a rare breed and there are no good public libraries. Still, facilities might be better than in Bankura but that cannot be the hallmark of a world class education and anybody would be a fool (especially the type FIITJEE looks for) to give up his right arm for so little.
(2)It is good to know that you are grateful to your old teachers but at the same time I would like to know whether you are in touch with them still now and whether you share a personal bonding beyond studies (after all, you called them great teachers). I would also request you to look up the post titled “Evaluation” on the other blog of Suvro Sir.
(3)I was a student of Maal Sir and Rath Sir for two years (not out of my own will but due to persuasion of parents). Around fifty students sat almost on top of one another in a room that could accommodate a maximum of twenty to listen to their ‘sermons’. They didn't give a damn about the minimum comfort of the students and the last benchers got their attention only on the first class of the month when the fees were due. Maal Sir, a miser in all respects, taught in one of my classmate’s house from 5 to 8 pm twice a week and never used to leave before having dinner (indeed a great way to earn a free meal as bonus apart from salary). I would hesitate to call them human beings, leave alone great teachers. If you have the time and will, you can look up Bertrand Russell’s ‘The Functions of a Teacher’ and then rethink about your conception of a great teacher.
(4)As far as being knowledgeable is concerned, they couldn't explain the subject matter in a plain and lucid manner. Many students in their batch had a second tutor to further simplify and explain the problems solved by them. While Maal Sir at least tried to answer, Rath Sir avoided any new problems outside his solved question papers. And all the while, there was incessant boasting about how great mathematicians and physicists they were and so many boys cleared IIT JEE just because of them. But even if the number of successful JEE students is compared to the total student intake by them, the signal to noise ratio is pathetic. They are just miniature, solo versions of money minting organizations like FITTJEE and nothing more. It is a shame that our ideals have stooped so low that we should call them teachers...even in ‘Umrica’, they have a separate designation called instructors and not teachers.

Saikat Chakraborty said...

(5)It would be nice to know what you actually meant by your focus on the good deeds at the grass root level. In a country where the state of primary education is shocking and open defecation is still rampant, it is the mark of immaturity to keep on harping about the great services of IIT to our nation. The main purpose of IIT was to create a class of entrepreneurs and engineers who would create job opportunities for many others and help build a modern India. Instead, it became the platform for job-seekers and a gateway to abroad or other more lucrative career options like management and civil services. It is true that undergraduate field of study determines the career post management to some extent but when almost everybody moves on to some completely different things after a B.Tech, doesn’t it indicate the miserable failure of the IITs. And about focus on generating impact at a higher level of mankind, it can be done best at a grass root level and Suvro Sir is one of the very few people who have dared to walk down that path and encouraged students to discern fact from fiction and follow their hearts rather than giving in to peer pressures and herd mentality.
(6)Lastly, I would like to add that I don’t have any personal grouch against Rath Sir and Maal Sir nor did they ever humiliate me. This comment is also not an attempt to be in the good books of Suvro Sir because we share a relationship that is much beyond the tuition classes (and indeed many others like me and I can assure you many are even IITians too but that matters the least; you can also read the post titled ‘‘ Abhirup on my ‘critics’ ” ). I did appear for the engineering entrance examinations (which was again due to the persuasion of my family) and fared modestly in all and stopped short of clearing the IIT JEE by a narrow margin. Since I liked Chemistry, I chose this subject for undergraduate and then post-graduation from IIT Delhi and will be going to so called ‘Umrica’ for doctoral studies. I was never that poor a student who would use the overcrowded room as an excuse to cover up for lack of so called ‘intellect’ in understanding IIT maths and physics. I mentioned all this to let you know that I have an inkling of what happens in the name of IIT JEE in Durgapur and what is the actual condition inside an IIT. But all this doesn’t mean I am somebody and I deserve respect as I am an IITian…because let us face it that we are a non-entity, we have not yet contributed anything substantial to mankind in any sphere of life. The least we can do is to admire the truly great personalities rather than saying ‘I am what I am’ because of somebody who perhaps taught us nothing more than ‘a little algebra’.

With regards to Sir,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Saikat, that allusion you made to Scout's last remark in To Kill a Mockingbird requires a far higher level of education and culture than 99% of today's young engineers, managers, and, alas, even so-called teachers (actually mere instructors) would recognize, understand and appreciate. I feel too soul-weary to prolong this comment much further. As I keep repeating, when education is reduced to learning a few technical skills, shorn of any kind of values beyond the importance of making a living, all appreciation of the finer and higher things of life is bound to go out of the window. Then you measure your 'achievements' by your pay packet and designation at the workplace, not by what you have created or done for your fellow man; then you lose the distinction between teachers and mere charlatans peddling notes for money, then living boils down to shopping and preening, culture is reduced to pubbing and leering at item numbers, politics comes down to street hooliganism, wisdom to mere manipulation, and civilization to the smelly gutter. We are passing through increasingly darker times, and too dazzled by the surface glitz of technology-driven consumerism to even understand how far and how quickly we are sinking. As Shakespeare said, 'Gilded tombs do worms enfold'. All we can hope for is that the tide will turn sooner or later...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I saw in another ad by the same institute in yesterday's paper, saying they are offering teaching jobs for the same course with pay packets ranging from half a million to four million rupees a year, depending on 'proven capability'. Imagine the kind of money they have smelled...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Four years down the line, I notice that this post has made it to the top-ten most-read list. I am curious to know why. But anyway, nothing has happened in the intervening years to change my advice: your academic results depend far, far more on your own merit, hard work and luck than any coaching class does, so be careful with your/your dad's money. And if you have money enough, getting into any Ivy League college in the US has now become a virtual cakewalk. Unless, I suppose, you are a Muslim: but that too doesn't really matter if your dad is an oil sheikh.