Indian Education System – It Needs More Students Like The “3 Idiots”

In our first article* on the differences between the Indian Education System and American Education System, we discussed the cultural importance of education in Indian families & society.  This is one of the most important driving forces behind the success of India’s middle class in education. 

But the laser-like focus has its dark side as well. Since education is the critical key to financial success and social status in Indian society, children are placed in what has become a system of educational silos. Each of these silos leads to a upwardly mobile profession like Engineering, Medicine or Law.  These silos get narrower as you get higher in the silos. At each step in the silo, students have to pass rigorous exams and get high scores for admission to the best schools, colleges and universities. The scores are becoming so important that what one learns is getting less and less relevant.

Every year, there is a new class of eager students waiting to climb the same silo. So if you want to get out of the silo and take some time off to find your true passion in life, you don’t because you might lose the one chance you have for success. There are countless talented young people who are trapped in this system of education silos, students whose passion is being throttled in the race for the few places in narrowing silos.

Students that try to break free are often derided as idiots by their families, colleagues and society. If you want to see 3 such idiots, go to your neighborhood theater and watch the film “3 Idiots“.

This film made us realize again why we are proud to call ourselves Cinema Rasik (aficionado plus aspiring connoisseur) on this Blog. Cinema is an incredible medium. Great Directors and great Actors can bring life to a subject and tell a story in a way that ordinary writers simply cannot. Look at the way Francis Ford Coppola changed our way of looking at the Mafia. Danny Boyle changed the way the world looks at urban slums. Aamir Khan changed the way we look at Autistic children with his groundbreaking film “Taare Zameen Par“. 

Well, Aamir Khan is back and this time with the brilliant Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It was Mr. Chopra that gave us the terrific “MunnaBhai” series and the exquisite remake of the old classic “Parineeta“. This incredible duo has brought us “3 idiots“, a terrific film about 3 students that are pushed into an elite Engineering School and break away from it to pursue their own dreams.
When we watched this film, we thought of some of our friends who had to put away their own passions and dreams to pursue a career in a traditional Indian silo. Two of these friends had the talent and the passion to play professional Cricket for Mumbai and India. But their parents said no. Cricket did not pay for a decent livelihood at that time. Trying to achieve their dreams might have meant giving up any chance of financial success.

A few of our friends were bright, beautiful women with the talent and passion to be writers, actors or fashion models. At that time, these careers did not provide either financial rewards or social status. So these women went to Medical school and became Doctors.

Today, the economic system has changed. Young boys vie to be cricket players because the game now offers big money and social status. Young girls want to follow the several Indian Miss World or Miss Universe winners into a career of fashion, media and arts. But these professions are still more risky than the traditional engineering or medical professions.

Despite the explosive growth of these new career opportunities, the attitude of most middle class or upper middle class parents has not changed. In some cases, the people we described above, the people who gave up their own dreams 20-25 years ago, find themselves unable to see the dreams, the passion of their own children.

To them we say, watch “3 idiots” first without your children and then again with your children. Then have a real conversation with your children about what they want to do with their lives. If you think they are being rash or foolish, by all means express your views. But respect their passion, their dreams and above all, respect the profession they wish to pursue even if that profession may not have the same respect in today’s society that your profession has.

In contrast, the American education system excels in the freedom that the film “3 idiots” preaches. This is one reason why most bright students in India want to come to graduate school in an America just as much as our group did a couple of decades ago. This freedom is a part of the American ethos and a result of the strength & depth of the American economy.

We hope the success of “3 idiots” is a sign of new freedom for Indian students and a harbinger of change in the Indian Education System. 

* Our earlier articles on Indian Education:


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