Thursday, August 04, 2005

Purpose of the IITs and the Way to Live

The title will sound strange. Please be patient and by the end of this blog, I hope, you will understand it.

The new semester has recently started and I’m once again doing five new courses and have five new teachers. All the profs are okay, a couple are good. But one fellow is strange. Let me not name him. He’s taking the Design of Steel Structures course. Now this fellow seems to be least interested in design or steel or structures or the course itself for that matter. There have been four lectures till now and he’s talked to everything but these three words and any combination of them.

His favourite topic of conversation appears to be the flaw in the IIT system. I don’t think it’s his fault at all. That actually happens to be the favourite topic of conversation for everyone around here. People related to the IIT have this strange notion that nothing except the IIT is important and therefore discussion related to the IIT fills up most of their time, free or otherwise.

Let me get to the point fast. In this professor’s view, the IIT philosophy of imparting a holistic education is flawed. We are supposed to be an engineering institute and there is no point in teaching so many courses from humanities or pure sciences. The remark affected me emotionally which in itself if some news because it is very difficult to move me. At least that is the impression I have of myself. Once I was watching Charlie Chaplins Gold Rush with Jimmy John, a good friend of mine. After the movie he asked my opinion about it. I said it was a good film, quite funny. But, he said, you were hardly laughing!

Anyhow, the remarks affected me because I myself belong to that category of students who are more than busy getting a holistic education and screwing up their academics, or rather the engineering part of it.

The question is – which way is correct? Should the IITs target to develop your overall personalities or should they just concentrate on making world class engineers. For the starters, India has hardly ever produced world class engineers. Why waste your time then?

Dr. Suchitra Mathur, who I’ve got to know quite well over the last couple of years and who has been a guru to me during this time, emphasizes that the IITs were not set up to produce engineers but leaders. And leaders need versatile personalities. Some people, unfortunately, do not agree with her.

The question is also larger. As a student it faces you at every moment of your life. Do you make a bee-line to your goal or do you meander towards it? I’ve always been the meandering sorts, even during JEE time, and I don’t think I can ever be anything else. I believe it has paid off well for me. Being very good at some particular things take you a long way ahead in your life – I’ve always envied JEE rank one. But being average at many things has its own advantages. I find myself to be comfortable in more situations than most people. I can carry out an intelligent conversation on more topics than others. I enjoy more facets of life than others.

Life after all is not a one way track. It’s more like a jungle. You have to wade your way through, never knowing what you will encounter at the next step. What you thought you’d do ten years hence you might never actually do in your entire life. Why concentrate on one thing then and miss out on all others?

Still, I withdraw any harsh words against the above mentioned professor for it is my belief that every individual is correct.


  1. There you go Mr. Karnick. And if I'm unable to submit my assignment tomorrow, you'll be in the headlines the day after, and me under arrest for murder.

  2. The purpose of the IITs. Well, it's hard to say what it is. I don't know whether it to produce leaders or engineers or scientists. In a sense, I think almost all education systems fail miserably. Even the best do only twenty percent of what they claim as the purpose of education.

    And I think the main reason for that is because we expect it to do too much for us. In the first few years of my life, I never even thought about education. Once I did, I felt quite depressed, realizing how limited it was. Now, however, I've realised that it is not the system's fault (It can and should be improved of course) and that one should treat it as a part of one's education.

    The purpose of any college or school, first and foremost, should be to teach its students to think independently and creatively. And to be good human beings. I know both statements sound cliched but that is what I believe. In any case, IIT trying to produce only skilful engineers is, in my opinion, a rather foolish idea. If it claims to be a good institute, its got to make a real difference. A lot of students who come here have mugged for two to three years and have no idea about what is happening outside of their Phy, Chem and Maths books. That's a poor way to live one's life and the insti., as it claims it is great needs to help them do that, directly or indirectly.

  3. Hi Vinod :

    I never knew you are doing such a good job.. specially opening these topics for discussion..many may say it's bullshit.. but I would say that we at IIT should take a pause and think...

    just to write here, I opened a blog account :)

    I certainly don't go with ur prof..IITs were never conceptualised to produce engineers.. infact nobody joins IIT to become an engineer : people join IIT to become IITians ! That's what I feel after my stay at Roorkee and Kanpur.

    If IITians are today successful, that is not because they have practised engg but because they have practised everything except pure engg..IIT is basically a pool of good sudents who can excel in anything they do.. not just in engg..If IITians had practised engg like other graduates did, they would have ended up as superintending engineers and chief engineers rather than becoming Rajat Guptas and Vinod Khoslas..

    so the training at IIT should be multidimensional rather than focusing on one dimensional growth..the training shouldn't be only to understand engg but to develop more complete and balanced individuals who can take greater responsiblity and for that u need a holistic approach...

    so try to get an "A" in design of steel structures but in real life that may not take one long if he is not an "A" as an individual..

    shishir rath

  4. Hi Vinodh I just passed by ur blog and found this post of yours really interesting, its true that today the govt seems to be a bit confused as to what it want from the IITians, there was news some day before that they are going to combine engineering and MBA to open a dual degree program. The reason they have quoted is that most of the IITians anyway go for IIMs then why not merge them all. Although I am not totally against humanities courses but there shud be a limit to everything, i think govt is interfering a lot into our business. Hope this get over soon...

  5. i am a student at iitk , but we don't know each other . i would prefer to keep my name hidden . anyway , you are a great writer.