Published on: 2005-8-1
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The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) offers some of the top
school students in India a chance to work with real scientists
doing cutting edge research in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics
and Biology. A cousin of mine got a chance to attend an interview
conducted at IISc aimed at choosing candidates for this program;
his qualification was that he was one of the all India toppers in
the CBSE 10'th standard exam (and he is a *really* brilliant guy).
The candidates were asked what their favourite subject was and what they
would like to study in the future - almost all of them replied
`computers'. Nobody wanted to do Physics or Chemistry or Math or
Biology - it's `Computers' all the way!
You can't really blame the kids for this. There are many `social'
factors at work. Most important perhaps is the poor image of the
scientist as projected by the society at large. I was crazy about
Chemistry during my school days - I had a small lab of my own where
I conducted all kinds of silly experiments involving dangerous stuff
like Sulphuric acid. After 10'th standard, all my friends branched
off into `entrance coaching' for two streams - medicine and engineering. The general opinion
of family, friends and everybody around me was that if you have some
`stuff' in you, you will do either engineering or medicine. Only those
guys with birdy brains would do a Bachelors in Physics or Math or Chemistry!
Although nobody forced me into appearing for the engineering entrance,
I subconsciously imbibed the idea that the only way to demonstrate my
`intelligence' was to go for Engineering! I thus abandoned my first love
and got into `Computer Science and Engineering'.
We have a really serious situation here. The only way a large country
like ours can progress technologically is by building a strong base
in basic sciences - anybody who tells you otherwise is either misinformed
or is trying to fool you. Has anybody thought why the US and the
European nations still dominate the cutting edge of computing technology?
It's because these nations have the scientific prowess to `invent the
future'. Sophisticated research in Physics and material science results
in the design of microprocessors which can pack more and more transistors;
research into quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize the
way we compute ten years later. Who is doing all this stuff? The `software
engineer'? You bet not!
We need software designers to bring in all the $$. But we can't ignore
science and the scientist. Our best and brightest students should be
motivated to pursue Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The mad rush
for an `engineering' degree and the exodus of talented guys to
software shops should stop.
A small twist towards the end. Many of the students who were so
passionate about `computers' in their 10'th standard, by the time
they are ready for engineering admission, would back off and choose
something like Electronics or Mechanical engineering. They would be
told by some enlightened friend or neighbour that there is no
`scope' for software, and, anyway, you can always learn computers
`by-the-side'; after all, its just like typing, isn't it? So simple
that even grandma can do it.