‘Photo sculpture’ by Giridhar-Photography
India has a different university problem than Sri Lanka. We have too few seats that produce unemployable graduates. They have too many seats that also produce unemployable graduates. I guess I’d rather have their problem. I guess.
“Why do we go to school?” There are two basic theories, as per this great New Yorker article. It’s to get a better job, or it’s to just get better.
Theories Of Education
Human Resource Theory (Better Jobs): ‘Society needs a mechanism for sorting out its more intelligent members from its less intelligent ones, just as a track team needs a mechanism (such as a stopwatch) for sorting out the faster athletes from the slower ones. Society wants to identify intelligent people early on so that it can funnel them into careers that maximize their talents. It wants to get the most out of its human resources.’
‘Enlightenment Theory (Better Life): ‘College exposes future citizens to material that enlightens and empowers them, whatever careers they end up choosing.’ (New Yorker, my titles)
The Indian Model – Jobs First
India and Asia in generally is firmly in the ‘better jobs’ camp. I know countless lawyers (now graphic designers), business majors (now spiritual gurus) and engineers (now doing business). Even America is drinking this toxic Kool Aid, since the majority of uni students are studying business, perhaps the most incestuous and damaging way to educate a population. I want ‘work’ so I’m going to study ‘work’. Nice.
Indians at least study something vaguely skill related, like Engineering. However, this isn’t working out. The theory is breaking down. As Vikas Bajaj tweeted, ‘Has the engineering college bubble burst? IE story says vacant seats rise as more colleges have opened.’
Surveys have shown 75 per cent of technical graduates are unemployable by India’s industries, including information technology and call centres. In Andhra, only eight per cent find jobs, a NASSCOM study has shown. (India Express)
Why? Well, because the theory is broken. You can’t stick to either one of these theories, they have to be combined to have any relation to reality.
What do employers want? What does society need? What do students deserve?
I do a bit of help with recruiting at my current company (hiring, btw). What are they looking for? People that can read, write, do math and use a computer. It seems simple, but that’s the ideal candidate for 50% of jobs and a necessary substrate for 99%.
How do you get these basic skills? Basically, by studying something you like. Anything. You can study art, literature, zoology or even dance. With some supplemental math and a research component, those would all teach you those functional skills. This is more in the Enlightenment (better life) camp, but the thing is that enlightened students are better employees.
Students can study any particular subject as long as they learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Where I work, that’s basically what we look for, and you’d be surprised how hard it is to find.
Instead of those basic (and incredibly powerful) skills, schools are teaching really specific things to bored students who enter the workforce with dated information and no internal capacity to adapt.
In India, education has become a sorting mechanism and, instead of getting educated, students are just trying to game the sort:
“The common perception is that branches like civil, mechanical, computer science, electronics would entail them to better jobs. This perception creates demand for certain courses and not so much demand for other courses.” All India Council for Technical Education chairman S S Mantha
They’re not studying what they like or have the capacity for, they’re studying what they think will get them a job. Even if they suck at it. It’s like gaming a search engine. You set up a site full of keywords but no content or understanding. It’s a hollow shell. In the same way, people are designing colleges for HR algorithms, not actual company needs.
One solution is that Indian parents need to change their mindset, employers have to change their sorting mechanism, and Indian universities need to stop responding to dumb demand for ephemeral jobs and get back to producing educated human beings for a future they cannot predict.
This means encouraging students to study random, interesting things and ensuring that they learn to read, write and do math. Also use the computer a bit and have a conversation. That way a degree would do more than embellish a resume, it would enable students to actually get through the interview.
There’s already signs that the tide is beginning to change – ‘today, an estimated 10 to 12 per cent of 14 lakh seats lie vacant in the country’s nearly 3,500 engineering colleges’ (IE) but there’s still no telling if it will flow in the right direction. Faced with contradictions in the ‘Better Jobs’ theory of education, policy makers may just double down on stupid. One prays that they become a bit more enlightened.