Quite a number of years ago, I was invited to give a major lecture at my alma mater IIT-Kanpur (IIT-K). My lecture was an inspirational one where I told the students how they can, through their technological training, help in nation-building and in the process, achieve happiness. After my lecture a group of students wanted to discuss with me some issues on agriculture (an area which I had stressed in my lecture).
So, at a Cafe Coffee Day outlet on the campus, some of them said I stressed too much on idealism and the country. They said corruption is a part of life and they can factor that in their enterprise as increased service cost. Their cynical and street-wise behaviour shocked and bothered me tremendously and I felt that they had no empathy or honesty and were justifying their materialistic behaviour. One of them went so far as to tell me that he was purposely failing in his B.Tech so that he can stay for much longer time in IIT-K and use its facilities for running his business in Punjab.
I also felt dejected at what we, as a society, have done to raise this type of young generation which has no ethics or moral values and everything is based on money.
Since then, I have interacted with hundreds of students all over India and any time when I ask them to help in our NGO and do some work for social enterprise their first reaction is about the packet they will get. What work will they do is never in their field of vision or something that they want to discuss.
Yet, it is not the students' fault. I feel they are smart and want to do something meaningful in their lives. It is the fault of the broken education system, poor role models and society's pressures to make money at any cost that make them behave like that.
Around 30 per cent of India's youth are neither employed nor going to school. Thus, they are easy prey to social evils, and rapes, riots, burglaries or just general hooliganism are carried out by most of these youths. They are almost like ticking social time bombs since they have bottled up frustration and anger.
The lot of the educated ones is no better than that of these unemployed youth. They have all learned to pass exams with very few skills and hands-on experience and thus, are unfit to work. A generally quoted figure that only 7-12 per cent of engineering graduates are fit to be employed could also be applicable to most of the other educational streams.
Thus doctors, engineers, commerce and legal graduates -- to name just a few -- are not fit to do their jobs after graduation and have to be trained at the workplace for many years before they become practising professionals. The amount of time and money wasted in training these fresh graduates is tremendous and is a drain on the country's resources.
But more than simply learning some subjects and passing exams, what is not taught either in schools or in colleges is the ethics of work and how to become a good human being and a good citizen.
Once the qualities of a good human being and ethics of work are inculcated, one can work in any environment and learn new things. The education system theoretically should prepare a student for taking up challenges -- an important part of ethics of work. But it does not do so and what the students learn is simply passing exams with questions given in the question papers which are as removed from reality as possible.
To be a good human being and have ethics of work (both are related to each other) should be taught right from school onwards. In every course, there should be a short section on ethics of work. If all course work and books have examples of ethics of work of great people then slowly but surely it will start soaking up in the brain of impressionable youngsters.
It is also possible that what the students learn in school is unlearnt during their interaction with family members and surroundings. Yet we must persist in our endeavour to teach them ethics and good behaviour. This is a long learning process and will take time to infiltrate society since these youngsters are the future of our country.
In many institutes and organisations (both government and private) I have seen many examples of scientists and engineers employed by them try to "screw up" the system and quite a few also brag about how they hoodwinked their superiors and hardly did any work. Besides not doing work, the biggest tragedy is when they fudge or falsify experimental data. They seem to have no qualms in doing it because they have only been trained to pass exams by hook or by crook.
I think one of the ways in which this passing of exams mentality can be changed is that in all the school and college curricula, more focus should be put on carrying out activities in various courses and fields and much less on passing exams. Open book exams, many more marks for project activities and the like will help in this process.
When there is too much emphasis on rote learning and passing objective type tests then the elements of cheating, corruption and general thievery creep in. This mentality is then carried over in other aspects of life.
So the most important thing that youngsters should be taught in schools and colleges is ethics of work and how to become good human beings. This will reduce greed, help them have a perspective in life and can ultimately help in making India a great and happy nation.
(Anil Rajvanshi is the Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute in Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )