Our exams often generate and encourage stupidity and push forward the least talented of the lot. I am not an IIT student, and will not pretend to know much about the CAT since I didnâ€™t crack it, but it is rather interesting that almost none of our wonderful IIT-ians (for whom such pitted battled are being fought) have made any earth-shattering discoveries or inventions
I tend to avoid writing posts that are critical follow-ups of posts from other blogs. There are several reasons for that—the principal one being that by discussing such posts, I give them more importance/mindspace than they deserve. As a result, there was an urge to let this Annie Zaidi post about reservations (Update: The OtherIndia website was down for a few hours and it’s up again. One difference: my trackback to Annie Zaidi’s post has been removed–it was there earlier. Ahem ahem.) pass outside my off stump, with a sad shake of the head.
The post itself can be summarized as follows: Since the examination system is bad, merit is not a criterion for admission into IIT/IIMs. Consequently, the “merit” argument cannot be used to deny quotas to OBCs.
I am not going to spend time in analysing the logical consistency of the above argument—-just like I would never worry myself by trying to understand the causalities in “Military Raj” or “Mirchi–It’s Hot”. [Of course it very well may be that so astute is the logic, that "stupid" people like me, who made it through the education system, are blinded by its sublimity and our refusal to comment on it is a blatant ruse to hide the fact that we have been perfectly "gotcha-ed".]
However, there is one line in that paragraph that compels me to comment, and so against my better judgment my bat is drawn in to the shot outside the off, conscious not to edge it to the slips or “play on” onto my own stumps.
This is that line.
..it is rather interesting that almost none of our wonderful IIT-ians (for whom such pitted battled are being fought) have made any earth-shattering discoveries or inventions
I do not know Ms. Zaidi’s definition of “earth-shattering discoveries” —I presume they mean concepts of the magnitude of Newton’s Laws or the General Theory of Relativity and “inventions” mean things like the television, the light bulb, the steam engine and perhaps the hair-dryer. And if so be her definition, it is perfectly true that she is not waking up every morning reading about discoveries/inventions of this magnitude made by “wonderful” IIT-ians.
The reason for that is not, as she says, because IITs produce talentless hacks.
It’s because science has attained such a level of maturity that it is becoming more and more difficult to be able to have a single amazing, newsworthy breakthrough that comes about as the result of the genius of one isolated individual. I am not saying that there will not be another Einstein or Pasteur, but the fact remains that most of the innovations that people see now and in the future will be the result of incremental, small breakthroughs (and hence not newsworthy) that will come to fruition through the collaborative efforts of multiple researchers over a period of time.
So what Ms. Zaidi perceives as a lack of merit on the part of IIT-ians (for whom her contempt is barely concealed) is merely an artefact of the way scientific research is done in today’s world—by her logic there is no merit anywhere in the world: because even MIT-ians and Princetonians are not shaking the world every month or every year with what you call “earth-shattering” discoveries.
Let me personalize this. I am not an IIT-ian. I am a Computer Science graduate from Jadavpur University and a PhD from Stonybrook. I do research in software engineering for safety-critical automotive systems—in other words work on tools and techniques for mathematically proving that a system meets its requirements. I will never make the front page of a newspaper (or even the science section) because the way I work (like countless other researchers) is that I stay abreast of the latest work in my sphere of interest and try to expand and improve on it, in a small way. So that when years down the line, Drive ByWire vehicles become the order of the day providing for lighter, fuel-efficient, cheaper and safer modes of transport for everyone in the world—-my efforts, insignificant and anonymous though it be in the larger context, will hopefully have contributed in some infinitesimally small way to a paradigm shift that everyone will take notice of.
And the story is the same for thousands and thousands of the products of Indian higher education (I use that to generalize from IITs) who, all over the world, work day in and day out, in their own small way, driving the revolutions of tomorrow like busy worker bees. Most of them will remain anonymous, a few of them will become stars of the community (experts in their field but still quite unknown to the general population) and even fewer will make the front pages (a Vinod Khosla for example).
What’s common to all of them is that they all have undisputed merit. By obtaining advanced degrees from educational institutions all over the world (and thus passing through the filters of hopefully “better examination systems), by being able to, at the very least, keep their jobs in corporations and research institutes, by dint of having powerful positions in academia, industry and research—-products of the Indian education system have proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that , in spite of the flawed examination system, they are by no means the “the least talented” that Ms. Zaidi talks about.
And with IBM, Microsoft, Google, GM, GE and many other powerhouses opening research divisions in India, the market has spoken. Loud and clear.
Indian scientific talent is the flavour of the times.
Of course with 49.5% reservations, this may change very soon.
But that’s a different story.