Imagine yourself taking up the case of Nidhi. Nidhi’s parents want to know what her strengths are. There have been various aptitude tests to check skills: spatial, numerical, creative, communication, analytical etc. You advice them that instead of starting with a battery of tests, it would be a better idea for Nidhi to start with some introspection. You ask Nidhi to talk about her likes, her hobbies. You ask her to talk about her achievements. You confirm that her likes and achievements correlated. If you had not found the correlation in Nidhi you would have asked her to rethink. You would have pushed her till you got an achievement in which she has a sense of pride. If you could not find even this, you would have asked Nidhi to take some more time off to think. A child’s strengths cannot be foisted onto her. That idea should come from within.
Fortunately Nidhi is quite clear that her interests are in the creative field. She has cleared both her elementary and intermediate exams in drawing. This can be taken as a validation of her creative interest. You look at her school mark sheet to check for clues about any other strengths – any subjects that she has RELATIVELY scored better in.
You talk to Priya, her FAVORITE teacher at school. (You assume that Priya knows more about Nidhi than her other teachers.) Priya thinks that Nidhi is quite good at science. You are puzzled – because Nidhi thought herself as a creative champion. You need to postpone the time for judgment. What Priya should have done was to write down a letter of recommendation for Nidhi – an honest one. You make that request to Priya – who actually takes an hour to write a very insightful letter. You gift Priya a copy of ‘The Sabre Tooth curriculum’, a book that is received well by progressive teachers.
Your next session is with Rahul, Nidhi’s father, an engineer working with TCS and Anu, Nidhi’s mother, who used to be an accountant, but has been a home-maker since the time Nidhi was born. You actually had a problem getting Rahul to come to meet you. He has been travelling for some on-site work. It was only when you insisted that you will only meet both the parents that he agreed to come in late in the evening on a Saturday. It is important to have both parents come in for this meet. (Nidhi was not invited). You expect Rahul and Anu to have different perspectives – and you would like to know more sides of the story.
Rahul is as expected, an engineer. He feels that Nidhi should also be one – as ‘engineering’ is a safe option. Anu on the other hand feels that her daughter has a good future as a ‘commercial artist’. You ask Rahul and Anu about what they think Nidhi wants to become. Rahul is not sure, though he once her speak something about some design shesign. You find from Any that Nidhi loves animals – which is why Puggles – their dog – was adopted. Nidhi is a reserved child – she has taken part in a few debates at school – but did not win any prizes. Rahul on the other hand is a bit worried about her marks in history and geography – after all she has to perform in the board exams, that are due soon.
The next week Nidhi lands up at your office. You have planned out a few exercises for her. The first exercise is a team one. You pair Nidhi up with one of your other clients, Alex, and ask the duo to work together to create from some craft material that you have given them, a design for a new computer. You have invited Ashwini, a NID Ahmedabad Passout, to observe and comment. Ashwini is impressed by the fact that Nidhi took time to make sketches before she started her construction work. She is methodical, but it takes time for her to realise her mistakes – and change her approach. Ashwini rates Nidhi to be amongst the top 33 percentile as far as her computer design modelling is concerned.
The next workshop planned for Nidhi is designing a science experiment. She is given some junk from day to day life – and asked to come up with an experiment to demonstrate centrifugal force. This workshop was also done with another client, this time a girl Swapnali, who is a commerce student who has shone good promise in science. Ashwini rates Nidhi’s science experiment in the top 10 percentile of experiments that she has seen students perform. Ashwini also notes that Nidhi has demonstrated good team working ability in both the workshops.
Though there are counsellors who believe that all students should be put through the paces of a wide variety of tests, but you believe that Nidhi’s preliminary interview and her parent and teacher feedback suggest that these are the two more important tests she needs to concentrate on. In a rare case, you do get students to take a third test – but that is the absolute upper limit. Otherwise you are like an incompetent doctor who enriches a lot of pathologists and radiologists in his own ignorance. In today’s world the real challenge is reducing data, not increasing it. Before Nidhi leaves for the day, she goes through one psychometric test. The test reconfirms Anu’s feelings that Nidhi is indeed an introvert. It also reveals that she is a ‘big chunk’ person rather than a detailer.
The stage is now set for the review. On a bright Sunday morning, Nidhi, Rahul and Anu all three show up at your office. Over coffee and Horlicks, you start by reviewing Nidhi’s strengths based on the perspectives of Nidhi, Rahul, Anu and Priya. You arrive at an intersection set: ‘Nidhi is good at working with her hands to create something new.’ Nidhi is then asked to think about what her goals are. Sheela, Nidhi’s best pal from school, is into IIT training right from her 6th Standard. Nidhi does think that she could also look at getting into IIT. She thinks a BSc Physics may also be a good idea – if she does not get into a good engineering college.
Time for you to encourage her to think. She feels that medicine is definitely out. You interject to tell her that the objective of the session is to create options, not start ruling them out. What does she have in mind, apart from engineering? You advise her to look at the 5 year graduate program at AISSER, which are the newly started Pure science institutes. She is lucky that she stays in Chandigarh, which has an AISSER campus in the neighbouring Mohali. You arrange for her to visit the campus and meet Milind, who is a Professor over there. Milind will also ensure that Nidhi works on some small lab projects and interacts with his graduate students.
Another program that you recommend for Nidhi is the design program offered by NID, IITs and some good schools like MIT in Pune and Shrishti in Bangalore. Rahul offers to get Nidhi to intern at MS Fab, a company run his friend Mehboob, which is into manufacturing bespoke furniture. You discuss the rationales for your recommendations.
You schedule an appointment with the three of them a year later – with Nidhi expected to come up with a clear definition of her goal. She should have either zeroes in one of the three, or at least should be know what her top two priorities are going to be. Turned out that AISSER did not thrill her enough. When she talked to Milind’s grad students she found that most of them end up in academics. Teaching is something that Nidhi does not particularly like. MS Fab was a mixed experience. The internship was boring to start with – when Mehboob Bhai made her go through the sales manuals. It became more interesting when he put her on the shop floor – and she was actually assembling kitchen units. Design, says Nidhi, is it.