So what if we know our math?

It’s been over a month now since I started interacting with students from other countries, cultures and educations systems and I think I know a little now to form a view and share it with others.

Let me tell you from the outset that I am not trying to establish better or worse in this piece. Just reflecting upon how we are different and maybe there is something for us to learn. Let me also warn you though that this is a highly subjective opinion and also my context is of above average and relatively competent individuals who have come to University of St.Gallen.

First thing I have learnt here is that at some level we are all the same. Similar kind of things affects each one of us. The object of concern is just in a different form. But the basic problem of young men and women remain the same everywhere. I will write about this some other time but let me write about things I can learn. Maybe stuff that even you may find useful.

I think a lot of Indians have a notion that they are the only hard working people amongst their contemporaries abroad. Also, the feeling that they are academically smarter. I don’t know what the definition of smarter means. Calculating faster? Speaking more grammatical English as compared to a lot of Europeans/Latin Americans? Memorising better and faster? Knowing our mathematics?

So what if we know our Math? So what if we get better grades? Now you might say we outshine people from other countries in college and school. Yes we do. But only academically. This whole argument brings me back to our education and social system. China is manufacturing products on an assembly line. India is producing human beings on an assembly line. (Thank god that we have so many states with such diversity of culture which still makes us all so different!)

Students of my age in a lot of other countries are better rounded personalities according to me. They have diverse talents and do a lot of different things. Also, they work as hard if not more. Just that the effort is in a lot of different things and not necessarily in academics.

The extreme competition in our country has just made us anxious in a way that we have forgotten to be creative. Let’s face it – We are not innovative. You might laugh on math abilities of people in different countries but has our country produced anything like Google? Apple? Microsoft? Mercedes? IKEA?

You should ask any IIM /Top MBA grad to put his hand on his (they are mostly men so ‘his’) heart and ask whether his work is something for which he needed to be at an IIM/Top B-school in India. I am sure over 70% of them (if they are true to themselves) will tell you that any graduate who knows basic Maths, English and Microsoft Office can do that job if properly trained. Even though people may argue against it, most of the jobs offered are one-dimensional jobs. They are clerical jobs with sophisticated names and relatively higher wages (equal to cheap labour for MNCs).

Indians are doing amazing work abroad because they are given an environment there to do so. NASA has a disproportionately high number of Indians because NASA respects their abilities and also gives them incentives to be creative. To do research. To discover. Dean of Harvard is Indian. Citibank CEO is Indian. Pepsi CEO is Indian.

Where is the quintessential Indian company/idea/concept which has taken the world by storm in the last century? According to me, it’s only Mahatma Gandhi. Yoga, Ayurveda, Indian classical music, Indian food, philosophy,mathematics etc. are all stuff given to us by our ancestors centuries ago which we have over commercialised and exploited to death. So much so that we don’t even respect its importance for our own well-being. We are just mass producing highly efficient and competent young men who are carrying forward other people’s ideas.

The amount of aping of other cultures that we do is actually ridiculous. Only Indians can be ashamed of speaking their own languages which have a really rich heritage. (On the other extreme we have people who overdo the language bit so much that they will keep speaking in their own language irrespective of the fact that there are other people in the group and it’s rude to isolate them and certain others who are ready to beat up people in the name of language!) Every non-English European I have met has an accent and many of them have awful pronunciations. But I have never seen any of them being ridiculed or made fun of. Neither have I seen them trying to ape an American or English accent. But in certain classrooms of Narsee Monjee College people smirk if someone rightfully calls Bandra as ‘Baandra or Vandre’ and not Band-ra. Or worse I know people who like to be called in a more western way and not in the way their parents named them. I sometimes wonder what’s so inferior about our languages and way of living?

Also the Indian context is so narrow with USA, UK and China (as a competitor) that we forget that countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe exist. I am pretty sure a lot of my professors are also unaware. So many of my friends don’t even know where Belarus is. No one has a clue what’s going on in Colombia. Actually we hardly know what’s going on in Sri Lanka forget Colombia or Ukraine or even Liechtenstein: P

(But I must admit here that the opposite is also true. People in a lot of countries hardly know about India and India’s rise. I have a theory on this but will save it for later.)

I now know people- who speak more than 2 international languages apart from their own, play a variety of sport, have a highly developed sense of music and play at least 1 instrument, who have been mainly on scholarships all their life, have worked in places from Starbucks to UBS, who have amazingly fit bodies, who have earned while studying, also people who are amazingly creative. And to go with all this they are NOT academically dull.

Students in other cultures are more independent and that too quite early in life. (No insight here!) Maybe that’s what gives them the freedom to take their own decisions and try different things before zeroing in on one thing. But I have observed another trait in a lot of people my age in India. We use burden of family responsibilities and social commitments as excuses to not get out of our comfort zones. Yes, some people genuinely have problems. But, I’m talking about the other overwhelming majority. Don’t tell me the entire country is crushed under the weight of responsibilities.

The money argument does not hold true either. Some of the gutsiest Indians I know come from the most modest backgrounds. If there is anyone who tells me that lack of money is limiting him/her to try stuff and really do what he or she wants to – please go and read T.Ganpathy’s story. He is the founder of Dosa Plaza. If he can do it, anyone can.

Finally, as an experiment take a random sample of 100 engineers and read their resumes. You will probably understand what I am talking about.

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