As per a survey [pdf] done by HSBC of 5,550 parents in 16 countries, Indian parents prioritize career success over and above happiness for their kids. Now, this is a small sample size ( ~ 350 Indian parents if one assumes equal sampling from all countries), but I am not surprised. This rings true from personal experience.
Now, the procedure was very simple, parents were asked to pick top 3 goals for their kids. In India, ‘Be successful in their career’ was picked by 51 % parents, as compared to ‘Be happy in life’ (49 %), ‘Lead a healthy lifestyle’ (33 %), ‘Earn enough to enjoy a comfortable life’ (22%) and ‘Fulfill their potential’ (17 %).
Now, by itself, the results may not seem striking…after all there is only 2 % more Indian parents choosing career success over happiness and about half of the Indian parents are choosing happiness as well as career success, so what is the big deal?
It becomes a big deal when we put things in perspective. The average percentage of parents who have happiness as a major goal for their kids globally is 64%. That is, two out of three parents globally want their kid to be happy at all costs, while only half of Indian parents do. Moreover, in some countries like France, as high as 86 % want their child to be happy, first and foremost!
Contrast this with a focus on career success. Globally, only for 30 % parents, career success is a cherished goal for their child; or stated another way only 1 in 3 parents is focused on the career success of the child globally, while this figure becomes 1 in 2 parent in the Indian context.
I hail from Kota and know first hand the tremendous pressure that children are subjected to as they prepare for engineering/ medical entrance exams conforming to their parents wish.
The HSBC report also talks about career ambitions parents have for their children. Its a worrying fact that globally 4 in 5 parents(83 %) have a specific career in mind for their child and in emerging economies this number is even higher. What room does it leave for the child to pursue what their own dream/ passion is?
I coach students too and make it a point to be true to my clients interests (the student) rather than their parents interests ( the party making the payments) cause often the interests may not align!!
The report also talks about how traditional streams like Medicine remains a popular choice (of parents for their child) globally (19 %) ; while Indian parents prefer Engineering ( 14 %) and Computer Science (18 %) over Medicine (14 %) for their kids. Also as many as 89% of parents have either paid for, or plan to pay for additional tutoring. (no wonder coaching business in Kota, and elsewhere, is blooming).
I have nothing against getting additional tutoring or coaching for your child( given the reality of competitive entrance tests, that is unavoidable) and I myself had taken coaching with a Kota institute for clearing my JEE (way back in 1994); but what I find unacceptable is the subtle, and at times not so subtle, peer and parental pressure to either become a doctor or an engineer.
By not considering what the interests, passions and strengths of the child are , we preclude them from being truly happy and successful in their adult life.
What the report uncovered was that globally, about a third of parents base their career preferences for their child based on income generating potential while an equal number base it on benefit to society or how well suited the job would be to their children’s strengths. With just 29 % parents globally having ‘Fulfill their potential’ as a major goal for their children, this sorry state of affairs is understandable (but not acceptable).
It might sound like preaching, but if we can learn from the appalling case of the numerous suicides in Kota, it is perhaps evident that unless we align students strengths and interests with their future career and ensure that happiness and fulfilling one’s potential does not take backseat to a sole focus on career; we will not only continue playing with precious human lives, but also leave many more to keep living lives of quiet desperation in their adult life.
One solution comes to mind: Making well-being and character strengths a focus early on since school and that is what the promise of positive education is. Its hard to reach out to parents and make them change, but perhaps we can make the children themselves aware of their need to prioritize happiness and equip them with tools to discover and capitalize on their strengths for resilience and well being throughout the life. IPEN is a step in that direction and I welcome you to reach out to me to take it further in India.