“If you have 150 million or 160 million children who don’t go to college, what is going to happen to them 10 or 15 years from now?” asked Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education. “The demographic dividend will become a demographic disaster.”
- quoted in The New York Times this morning
Mr Sibal, let me put the opposite question to you. What happens if 160 million children DO go to college? Another demographic disaster, if we continue to define 'college' as it is today.
Let me give you a small example. The Indian Express carried this poignant piece a couple of days ago:
Maharashtra AHA moment: ‘Tribals don’t fit aviation bill’
About three years ago, every time an aircraft flew over Pen in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, children in the tribal village would look at it and say Bharti Sheed, one of their own, was on it.
It was a matter of pride for the community as Sheed, 24, had made it to the first batch of a course specially designed by the state government for the tribal community at the privately run Air Hostess Academy (AHA) in Pune. And even though she was still pursuing the course then, she was already a star for her community.
Three years on, those dreams have rudely crash-landed for Sheed and more than 100 other tribal youngsters who had joined AHA. None of the students who passed out of the first batch of the course in 2008 or the second one a year later has got any aviation jobs.
Following a lack of response from airlines to students who passed out of AHA, the government has now scrapped the course.
Commissioner for Tribal Development D S Rajurkar goes on to say...
“They are not physically appealing and because of their strong local accent they are not good communicators too. I had met (Civil Aviation Minister) Praful Patel to push for jobs but nothing concrete came out of it”
On the bright side, many girls have got jobs - in the hospitality sector. But, they feel cheated because sarkaar ne unhe ek bada sapna dikhaya. A job with glamour, a chance to move into a new social and economic circle.
And that dream has crashlanded.
The point is: As more and more Indians get a 'higher education', their aspirations rise. Even if I have done engineering from Jhumritalaiyya Institute of Technology, I see myself as an engineer in Infosys.
Is the economy and the job market growing fast enough to fulfil these aspirations? Not by a long shot.
Yes, there are jobs but according to the Ma Foi Employment Trends survey, the top three sectors creating these jobs in the near future are as follows:
1) Healthcare (283,000 new jobs on a total base of 3.6 million workers in this sector)
2) Hospitality (137,000 new jobs on a total base of 5.9 million workers in this sector)
3) Real Estate (136,000 new jobs on a total base of 730,000 workers in this sector)
Real estate is seeing extremely highest growth, thanks to the sundry infrastructure and building projects across the country. But when I met Santosh Parulekar of Pipal Tree Ventures, a social enterprise which trains disadvantaged youth to work in the construction industry, he was blunt.
"Our brochures show pictures of exactly what is steel fixing and bar bending - it is a field job. Otherwise, boys join and then drop out saying they don't want to do this kind of work."
This, despite the fact that placement of Rs 6000 p.m. is guaranteed, the fee is nominal (taken from the student only when he starts drawing salary) and there is opportunity for growth.
But even an 6th class dropout has a picture in his mind, about what kind of job he wants.
The vast majority of India - thanks to higher education - want naukris in air conditioned offices. Jobs with 'officer-like' qualities.
Working on computers.
Supervising someone else.
Nothing wrong in wanting, but there just aren't enough such jobs. It's a mismatch of skills with requirements; expectations clashing with reality. The problem exists right at the very top - in the IITs and IIMs. And extends all the way down to the grassroots.
So, what can be done? Well, yeh expectation ka virus aaj ki hawa mein hai. Like dry grass, the young 'educated' person awaits the baarish of opportunity.
The least we can do is refrain from lighting a matchstick and setting off a forest fire.
Instead of pushing tribal girls into aviation, can we motivate them to take up nursing? Because it is estimated that India needs one million nurses.
But certainly not more than a few hundred air-hostesses.
Instead of offering MBA (Finance) to all and sundry can tier 3 bschools be practical and stick to Sales and Marketing? Because every kind of business needs salespeople.
But only a handful require investment banking.
Minds can be moved, attitudes can be changed, students can be gently nudged in the required direction right from school.
Let us communicate that 'ITI' or diploma holders are no less than those with 'degrees'.
Let us make vocational courses a real, alternative career track and not just for have-nots and 'losers'.
Let us not wave around pieces of paper with acronyms printed on them and feel pride in our 'educated' status.
What matters is the skills you have, the ability to contribute and become a valuable member of the workforce, Mr Sibal.
Not merely attending 'college'.