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What is wrong with the competitives?

I received the following message today on the Lounge:

Hi, I heard that you'd be happy if most of us don't write JEE. May I know why?

To answer his question, I was motivated to write up what follows:

What bothers me is the unhealthy attachment to it. Many people in the +2 levels think that the only way they could prove that they are any good is to crack one of the families of exams.

Here is a bunch of incidents on the top of my head:

  • Alice, from our very own moderator's panel, once suggested that I should better be an IIT X aspirant because they provide an Y LPA package.
  • People have stopped trying to understand Physics because it is fun. They just care about it because they need to crack XYZ exam. I have seen ninth standard students trying to grasp physics through a series of Multiple Choice Questions. Bob literally asked me what the surface tension of a pendulum is.
  • Carol once said that he does not care about the proofs in Physics, because they are never asked in JEE. When I used to talk to him about some random field of physics/mathematics/CS that I found interesting, all he could tell me is that does not come under JEE and hence has no value for me, right now.
  • David wanted to study Philosophy. With the little idea of Philosophy that I have, it seemed to me that he'd make a good philosopher. He is now being forced to study Engineering.
  • Ashley Shamidha realized that she wanted to do mathematics much later. As is clear from her note, it is all because she was overshadowed with JEE.
  • People have asked themselves the question, Is JEE the end of life? Fortunately, Sandeep has been kind enough to address the issue in the comment section.
  • Oscar, on Brilliant, had been heavily affiliated with JEE. Going through his problems, I could realize how restricted his mathematical creativity was before he joined Brilliant. I am glad that he did join us and I'd certainly say that his wisdom has been enriched.
  • Eve is studying Physics. But as it is, she is not quite happy about it; she wants to study medicine. And no, she is not doing so because she is passionate about it, she has been brain-washed to think that the later is superior.
  • Frank, from the former moderator's panel, who was truly interested in Number Theory, a few years ago has devoted his entire time into NEET preparation. He had once been frustrated and asked me, What use is Number Theory to an apprentice doctor?
  • Peggy wanted to take Computer Science instead of Biology in her +2's. However, her family compelled him to take Biology, so that she has enough doors open if she does not get into engineering.
  • Grace is taking a drop for a year and is currently a NEET aspirant. She now evaluates the worth of her own self as the ability to do well in it. I am gravely concerned about her. My roommate also has a friend, Heidi, who is in a similar situation.

(Names have been replaced to protect privacy. However, these are actual experiences involving my close friends, my significant other and several people I know.)

Of course, this is an endless gold mine for several entrepreneurs who are profiting out of it. I once remember meeting employees from a reputed software company who had been bragging about their preparation app but couldn't open a PDF without my help. And indeed, I do not see the rationale behind their existence: Why not try to teach students science, instead of training them to crack exams?

If the right things did not click for me at the right times, I probably would be doing something equally depressing, right now. And maybe, I even wouldn't be here to post this note. I have been warned that doing mathematics is not a very good idea, I'd grow gray hairs before I get a job. (And no, you do not need to remind me that I'm not smart enough to be doing mathematics, or good enough to survive engineering. Thanks.)

Note by Agnishom Chattopadhyay
2 months, 2 weeks ago

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WTF I had heard this first time that certain people don't want you to give exams, are they stopping you from your way? Sahil Silare · 4 weeks, 1 day ago

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@Sahil Silare Sorry, I did not get your point. Could you please elaborate? Agnishom Chattopadhyay · 4 weeks, 1 day ago

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@Agnishom Chattopadhyay Hi, I heard that you'd be happy if most of us don't write JEE. May I know why? Sahil Silare · 4 weeks, 1 day ago

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@Sahil Silare That is what the rest of the note answers. Agnishom Chattopadhyay · 4 weeks ago

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Thanks for replying. Was an eye opener. Swapnil Das · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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Its true... now I realize how foolish I was not even knowing my interests. But whatever happens people never change i am being ridiculed by my relatives even now for choosing maths over engineering. Ashley Shamidha · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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@Ashley Shamidha I am glad that you're following your interests :) Agnishom Chattopadhyay · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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I do agree with you. Its like we are judged by the marks we get . These days nobody bothers to understand the subject , it's only that they do it because they want to reach a position. I am in class 12 and I do feel the pressure and you know what I am not giving JEE because for me enjoying the subject is more important:) Nashita Rahman · 3 weeks, 3 days ago

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@Nashita Rahman Why do you think marks are poor indicators of understanding of a subject? Swapnil Das · 3 weeks, 3 days ago

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@Nashita Rahman Ok. I see. Swapnil Das · 3 weeks, 3 days ago

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@Swapnil Das Basically what I mean is that marks should not be the criteria for judging somebody's love or knowledge for the subject. Because people just go after chasing marks and don't even bother to understand and love the subject. Nashita Rahman · 3 weeks, 3 days ago

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@Swapnil Das Oh Sorry . I understood the opposite meaning of your question! Actually I do think marks are poor indicators of understanding of a subject . Because the exam pattern is fixed in our country and so you cannot judge somebody's knowledge from an exam. He or she may love the subject but the person's marks may not say that! Nashita Rahman · 3 weeks, 3 days ago

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Very well written !! Now a days I am in love with medicine neuroscience and stuff inspired by VS Ramachandran and roger Sperry .There has to be flexibility for people to move from one fields to another .Terrence Tao has addressed this very nicely in one of his blogs .Its natural and common for interests to change and we need to respect this and accomodate rather than parents forcing their kids to follow what they think is better .But as far as JEE is concerned what better mechanism can we adopt in a country with so much population ??Its also sad that this system makes people abandon what they like Tejas Suresh · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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@Tejas Suresh Link to Terence Tao's post please? Agnishom Chattopadhyay · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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@Agnishom Chattopadhyay https://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/advice-on-gifted-education/ " Firstly, one should not focus overly much on a specific artificial benchmark, such as obtaining degree X from prestigious institution Y in only Z years, or on scoring A on test B at age C. In the long term, these feats will not be the most important or decisive moments in the child’s career; also, any short-term advantage one might gain in working excessively towards such benchmarks may be outweighed by the time and energy that such a goal takes away from other aspects of a child’s social, emotional, academic, physical, or intellectual development. Of course, one should still work hard, and participate in competitions if one wishes; but competitions and academic achievements should not be viewed as ends in themselves, but rather a way to develop one’s talents, experience, knowledge, and enjoyment of the subject.

Secondly, I feel that it is important to enjoy one’s work; this is what sustains and drives a person throughout the duration of his or her career, and holds burnout at bay. It would be a tragedy if a well-meaning parent, by pushing too hard (or too little) for the development of their child’s gifts in a subject, ended up accidentally extinguishing the child’s love for that subject. The pace of the child’s education should be driven more by the eagerness of the child than the eagerness of the parent.

Thirdly, one should praise one’s children for their efforts and achievements (which they can control), and not for their innate talents (which they cannot). This article by Po Bronson describes this point excellently. See also the Scientific American article “The secret to raising smart kids” for a similar viewpoint.

Finally, one should be flexible in one’s goals. A child may be initially gifted in field X, but decides that field Y is more enjoyable or is a better fit. This may be a better choice, even if Y is “less prestigious” than X; sometimes it is better to work in a less well known field that one feels competent and comfortable in, than in a “hot” but competitive field that one feels unsuitable for. (See also Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage.)" Tejas Suresh · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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@Tejas Suresh Thanks for the link. He makes some great points! Agnishom Chattopadhyay · 2 months, 2 weeks ago

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