On 28 Jan 2010 St. Euphrasia Girls High School, Bangalore, asked me to give career guidance to 140 girls of class 10 and to separately interact with their parents. The children were from lower middle and poor classes. Many parents did not have high school education. Most of them may want the children to start earning soon. Also, these children had not been doing well in studies. In the preparatory examination, less than 15% of them had passed all the subjects.
I met the students seated on rugs on the floor in a hall. On the wall were photographs of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Javaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, BR Ambedkar, mother Teresa, and Indira Gandhi.
I explained the concept of “role model” and then asked them to group by what they would like to be out of the people portrayed on the walls. About 70% of them fell in a group who wanted to emulate mother Teresa. The rest were mostly distributed between Indira Gandhi and Jesus Christ.
Considering that our education system did not grade these children to be bright and that their parents could not afford to spend much on their higher studies, I focused the discussions about career options after class 10, class 12 and on Science & Arts graduation. We had some fun with a few role plays and games. I also explained the difference between profession, career and a job. We discussed the main qualities needed for success and satisfaction in each profession.
After spending about 3 hours, I asked how many would like to become a teacher. Not one. Same response came for several other careers that made meaning for me and were open soon after 10th or 12th grade. 60% of them wanted to become software engineers – not that they knew about its job content. 35% wanted to become doctors. Not one wanted to be a nun like mother Teresa, their role model. Not one thought of being a nurse or a teacher. They were so determined that meaningful discussion was not possible with the time left.
In the passing, I asked the children if they know who PV Narasimha Rao was. No. They knew Manmohan Singh. When asked who the PM was when Manmohan Singh was Finance Minister, some thought it was Deve Gowda – no one could guess who it really was, despite several suggestions. I asked if they knew Indira Nooyi, Nirupama Rao, etc. who were then in the news. Not one person knew about these achievers among 140 girls.
Then, most of the children had long lists of complaints about how their parent treated them – the usual stuff about over-bearing and insensitive parents. Typical “I hate my parents” kind of anger.
When I met the parents of these children in the afternoon, it was a different story. They had anguish about the future of their children who did not take studies and life seriously; who fought, complained and sulked. The parents were willing to work hard to fund education of their daughters if only they would study.
Children wanted instant gratification and magic solutions, but someone else to work on it. They did not betray any trace of commitment, curiosity, or enthusiasm to achieve what they wanted.
Daring to dream and dreaming big is good for growth. But, if big dreams are not matched with commitment and self effort, result could be day dreams and castles in the air. Chasing glamor and vanity alone cannot take us far. Dissatisfaction about self, anger with no justifiable target, perceived failure for which excuses are outside – all lead to toxic emotions. Healthy as well as difficult emotions are contagious and cumulative. We have to continuously nurture the healthy and cure the difficult ones.
Luckily, the story is different with children in villages. A month ago when I spoke to children of Adarsha Vidya Samsthe in Addagal village, most of their ambitions matched with what they were committed to achieve. Same when I met school children at Kunigal and a village in Kasaragod District of Kerala.