21 August 2011

BSc - a degree but no learning

I am reading a book called "Timepass: Youth, class and the politics of waiting in India" by Craig Jeffrey. This book offers an academic view of how youth (mostly male) in Meerut College and Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut indulge in "timepass" and its socio-political ramifications. I am yet to finish the book, yet half way through I am already provoked.

My feelings right now are of sadness. The research elaborated in the book takes place in 2004/2005. A section of the students indulging in timepass are in their late twenties to early thirties, accumulating degrees because they have not been able to secure government jobs or any other salaried job. The book does not record what percentage of the youth in the college belong to this category of the chronically unemployable, but this struck a chord. I have interviewed many people for assistant positions at my organization. Many come armed with an MBA and are applying for the receptionist's position.

Imagine doing a postgraduate degree just to become an office assistant?

It's a cruel joke that our education system is playing on the students. It is acknowledged and accepted by parents of poor economic and social means that education is the ticket to upward mobility. So they toil and sweat to send the child to an English-medium school where with each passing year in addition to regular fees they have to cough up for some fund or another. Then to be able to get a seat, despite our quota system, many will go for tutions and yet, ultimately may only end up doing a BA or BCom or BSc. Of this, having completed a BSc, I can confidently say that in the BSc I got a rubbish education. We memorised heavily for an annual exam and there was no thinking or logic needed for any of the subjects. The course material was archaic and the exam was a test of your ability to reproduce from memory. The only thing I did enjoy was poking around in the laboratory and thinking of the cool experiments we could do with the resources we had. And also Sanskrit - but that's another story.

My point is, we don't have a system where acquisition of a degree ensures employment unless you are at a top school. Even an engineering degree from a B grade place appears to be insufficient (at the last bank adventure N and I undertook, our FD processing agent was a BE in computer science!). This is just wrong. Heck, I am sure that many of the ATM watchmen I worry about are lettered folk who just were not able to find jobs. I have even chatted up autodrivers with postgraduate degrees! And then you see a headline on what the topper in IIM is going to get as her starting salary.

I am all for free market but about about a free and fair market? How can our education delivery spectrum be this wide and importantly, be so redundant?

All countries struggle to determine the best approach to education and we too are learning. But I worry the pace is not good enough, so this demographic dividend which we are all supposed to be thrilled about is going to turn out to be a demographic division; unless, manual labour becomes a major economic force or may be, just may be, we are able to scale up quality of education in this country.

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