It is that time of year when course choices must be made. Some points for guidance.
The summer break is going on in many schools but all students of Class XI may not be anticipating fun in the holidays. Sudha, a student in suburban school in the Science stream, is busy collecting material for entrance exams she wants to write next year while her friends in other streams are making plans to visit relatives or vacation spots.
Class XII brings out the same nervousness about their future in most students stepping out of a long period of formal schooling, educationists say, but current social norms add pressure on Science stream students compared to those who take Commerce or Humanities.
“Some parents have false notions that their children will do well in life only if they do engineering or medicine. This adds pressure on the students. Even among science stream students, many opt for engineering because medicine requires a longer period of training,” says Ramaa Subramanian, principal, DAV Matriculation Higher Secondary School.
But over the last few years, the pressure has reduced a bit because of the increase in the number of engineering colleges and the removal of the entrance examinations in the State engineering colleges, she adds.
R. Natarajan, former chairman, All India Council for Technical Education, and former director Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, says that the peer pressure and the social pressure for students to take engineering is unavoidable given that there are more jobs for engineers. However he says that it is too early to choose a career at that age.
Core strengths the key
“Engineering will be an important part of the job market. But it is too early to decide based on the market or to predict how it will behave when the student comes out of college. When one joins college, it should be based on personal strengths, attitude to the subject and aptitude for a particular course of study,” he says. In the long run, it is better to choose based on core strengths rather than by anticipating what would pay more as a career.
Counselling becomes important, he says, pointing out that the best inputs usually come from seniors in school or college, teachers and educationists, and people in the profession. Although choosing the Science stream in Class XI already narrows the field of study in higher education, within the boundaries of science there are multiple options including emerging areas like biotechnology, nanotechnology, nuclear physics, and students should look at these areas based on their strengths instead of opting blindly for engineering alone, he says.
“The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has also been emphasizing skills-based training, and polytechnics are an option for those who are good with specific skills and are good at hands-on engineering but are weak in mathematics or theory. Right now polytechnics are looked down upon, but if the CII initiative takes off, that will also be an option for many students who find formal engineering and technical education difficult,” Dr. Natarajan adds.
Arts and Sciences
Apart from engineering, there are a number of options in Arts and Sciences, says Albert Muthumalai, principal, Loyola College. There are a number of students applying for Commerce from the Commerce groups but the college prefers students who have studied business mathematics in school.
There is always a high demand for B.A. in English Literature and Visual Communications, he says. While an aptitude test is conducted for the Visual Communications degree, there are no pre-requisites for the Literature degrees, he says. With the market situation in the IT sector worsening, he says that the number of students applying has increased. Some students actually have discontinued their studies in engineering colleges to join Loyola, he adds.
“Evaluate the college”
A. Ramasamy, vice-chairman, Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education, says that apart from choosing the stream, students should carefully evaluate the different colleges. Some of the criteria that he suggests are: the fees being charged — whether it is on par with the best colleges, the number of qualified teachers, the admission criteria including entrance exams and cut-off marks, the syllabus being followed, the examination system — whether the college adheres to the best practices of internal and external examinations, and the general infrastructure available.