Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Up in the Air

“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.

Shifting papers.

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'.


  1. Hi Rashmi

    Totally agree with the statement on aspiration and expectation. Vocational courses need to be invested in. Treach training colleges are another area where NCERT needs to invest heavily

  2. Hi Rashmi, let us also think about opportunities available for people who have dropped out of college but still have the capability to contribute in some way for an organization.

  3. but even if Mr Sibbal opens up colleges of nursing, daughter of your neighbor (hypothetical) is unlikely to take admission over there. she will still prefer to go for air-hostess course paying much higher fees.

    dignity/wantedness for a profession is more or less directly proportional to average income of a person in that profession.

    for what you want to happen - salary differences between sectors/skills needs to go down. i mean today an average engineer is paid much more than an average teacher. this vast discrepancy should narrow down. a brilliant agriculture engineer/agriculture science graduate should be paid equally well as an brilliant mechanical engineer.

    then people will pursue their passion and will prefer to become brilliant teacher instead of average engineer.

    PS: i understand we can/should not remove this difference totally as some of professions require more responsibilities and risk taking capabilities, hence better paid.

  4. Very well said.

    You have indeed put a great deal of thought in this topic. I hope it gets heard and that too soon enough.

  5. Very gud thought. It is the one thing that MR sibal should think of for the future along with opening new colleges.

  6. @ kaho pyare: I agree and currently its already happening. Engineering and finance is not paying as much these days - its a demand supply cycle. If there is a need for nurses and you build such an institute - graduates from there will get a job.
    Get your facts right than writing emotional statements - Every tom dik and harry studying from jhumritaliya can in no way compete teacher professions salary.
    @ all: I think that being practical with education is a neccessity and has been rightly displayed in the movie 3 idiots as well - couldnt have agreed to an idea more! There are institutes by the name of Eklavya and Fountainhead, degrees like International Baccalaureate which I read are working towards practically relevant studies.
    The awareness of this topic shows a mindset change : either do something or wait for others to do it for you - anyways you will c this change across india in a couple of decades.

  7. wow! kitne dino ke baad!
    was eager to hear from u: reminded me of reading: "kya aap copywriter banna chahte hain..." - one of my life changing write ups..

  8. Hi Rashmi,

    The hard part of life is having realistic dreams, which need to be strongly based on the person's IQ(simply because, if I don't know algebraic identities, there's no point of dreaming of writing CAT and joining IIMs) but alas there is this hysteria in and around us that if one does not have the coveted brand attached to his/her resume one doesn't 'succeed' and so naturally all of us start aspiring and this is when the real problem starts. As cliched as this may sound but we really need to recognize and value the "real person" within everyone and respect him/her no matter where they are in the pyramid.

    But will we do that as a conscious effort is what remains to be answered.

    Thank you.

  9. Fabulous fabulous piece. So true...

  10. By the way - the most interesting part of article was Pipal Tree ventures.

    There is need of more such institutes around and they are coming up too. The young folks - who don't join even Jhumaritalaiya engineering ,sooner or later come to terms with life.

    Issue is with second and third rate educational institutes those create hype of high prospectus.

  11. I agree with you Rashmi. I live in the US and there is a parallel world of Community colleges in almost every county in the US which people attend to enhance their vocational skills like Nursing, paralegal, Radiology,etc.

    The courses are conveniently designed, broken into small packets so you do as much as you can afford.Unlike the private vocational training institutes in India, these community colleges have earned a lot of credibility in their respective counties.

    The target segments for these colleges are people who have completed high school but cannot afford expensive college fees and 4yrs of undergrad studies.(Teenage mothers,single moms and retirees.

    College is relatively affordable in India and therefore this concept may/may not be well received. But in the US, these are good alternatives to unaffordable college education

  12. Excellent piece. Western nations have grown enough to ensure that even their citizens with vocational jobs can live a decent and comfortable life (ability to afford good food, shelter, healthcare and education for their children.) However, in India, only the top 30 odd percent can say the same. Everyone, for good reason, wants to be in this top 30% - for which currently there are few regular paths outside of engineering and IT.

    However, there has been considerable oversupply of graduates in these fields in the past few years, as there is now an engineering college at every street corner. It's unfortunate that the government is playing along and opening more every day. The only people this will truly hurt is the semi-literate poor who pawn their homes/ lands to send their kid to a no name engineering college, only to find that he can't even get a job that pays the interest on the loan. A truly responsible government will limit supply of engineering/IT seats based on demand and build a middle market in manufacturing/ infrastructure/ service sectors that can pay decent (though not on par with engineering) salaries to other grads. The problem, of course, is that such a move would be very unpopular because every Tom, Dick & Harry thinks that his kid will be the next Abdul Kalaam or Narayan Murthy, even if he gets only a 35/100 at school.

  13. Private education in India is being too commercialised. They are many Private Engineering Colleges which advertise their students being placed (some 10 of their total 1000 strength) in some Infosys or TCS and charge 1-3 lakhs more donation for a engg seat the next year.

  14. Very well said. I think that the sooner the govt offers serious tax breaks to upcoming entrepreneurs, the sooner we'll see some good job creation. Vocational diploma courses do have a stigma on them right now, and that needs to go. We need to expand our horizon from the service sector (which runs on the dollar-rupee exchange rate) to a product sector. That's where China is scoring right now.

  15. Well written. There is a bias even among recruiters for the one with 'Degrees'. What they don't realize is that the so-called diploma holders have much more practical knowledge and are more likely to handle a situation effectively than a 'Degree' holder. Most of the 'degree' classes involve just sitting in a classroom anyway. The 'diploma' holders get their hands dirty.

  16. Hello Rashmi,

    You have very nicely articulated the inherent flaws in our education system. Yesterday, I came across an interview with the Head of Swiss VET (Vocational Education & Training) in ToI. Many European countries esp. Germany, Holland, Austria (the ones with a very strong manufacturing sector) have successfully leveraged vocational training. Switzerland is a case in the point because it is also a services economy, like us. May be we can learn a thing or two from them.

  17. Time to step up and create opportunities in an economy that is self sustaining. Government has to take lead, private players too need to be given incentive. Instead of them opening colleges, they should organize and invest in the unorganized sectors of India, like real estate agents, Life insurance agents, create opportunities across a wide range of skills, and equitable money distribution.

  18. the nurses link do not work in your post..

  19. Lets see why I would want to go to such futuristic jobs:
    - Average/ below average pay: check
    - No 'respect' for this job from society: check
    - Unpublicized future growth shown to the average student: check
    - Millions of wrong examples from IT /IT ES/ Aviation industry: check
    - No glamor in doing these difficult jobs (tell me how many nurses are hailed in the media): check

    In a wonderful lecture by Elizabeth Warren for University of Berkley, she has clearly lamented at lack of interest in US of A for non-collegiate jobs/ entrepreneurship! Ergo this is not an issue with our country.

    Why not walk the talk and promote the jobs rather than ranting out here?

  20. The correct link is

  21. our current education system is a system sans practicality. Role of Schools has already been undermined by coaching classes and now burgeoning private institutions have dwindled the quality of education further. It's time to counsel school children as per their interest so that they can choose right career, not following somebody else's supposedly successful path..

  22. You have put it in a very good manner. One more thing that I want to add is that Government policies have created schools but schooling is still missing. You can not build an empire on the hollow base. On the question of Higher education, everybody does not choose for job. There are many who choose entreprenuership and trends are in this favour.

  23. Hi Rashmi,
    Your post takes me back to good old Gandhi bapu who said - one should not be ashamed of any kind of work...idealistic notion, i know, but it can be implemented by rationalizing the payouts to every one who works....this will not only lead to decreasing inequality between the rich and the poor but also help create a culture that inspires free thought and action.

  24. Hello Rashmi,

    What would you like your son or daugther to pursue? a vocational couse or a degree course? and why?

  25. I'n proud to be an Indian. Every Indian child goes to primary school and can read and write and can dream of higher education.

  26. The problem is not of just meeting expectations, we also have the problems such as social and economic gaps between the different professions. Until this is filled, change is just a dream

  27. What is the harm in studying fron Jhumritalaya eng. college and thinking of working in Infy?Everybody has the right to dream of what they want to be.And we have seen so many cases that people who dream also make big in life!Then what the point in snatching away their aspirations from them?
    On the one hand,you carry forward the point of thinking big and making big in like through ur books and on other u pen down such passimistic blogs!
    That only shows,the hypocrisy present in so called famous educationist and bloogers like u.

  28. And where is he going to find the teachers?

  29. Hi Rashmi,

    What a way you have of expressing yourself!! True it is that everyone , no matter what their capabilities, want the "best job" -the "white collar job" as they say. But not all can get that. I think it has to be dinned into the public minds that you cannot get the best if you are not the best. And if you do well whatever you do, you will still be respected. "do well your job and there the Honour lies" .
    Your article is very thought provoking.
    Rashmi Desai

  30. Agreed with the article but all this atmosphere has been created about high salaries, thats why all future aspirants are looking at high paying jobs only, without knowing the realities !

  31. Anonymous7:21 PM

    Why should we think in a negative way.Who knows how many Narayana Murthys can come from future India.& why cant a student from jhumri talaiya dream of an Infosys job, is it just because he/she is from rural sector.My view is that one should take up a course in which one has aptitude or interested in rather than following the herd blindly.There are software engineers working in banking sector, govt offices because they had little programming knowledge & did not get placed.

  32. narayan

    i agree with you.but i would like to see it through from different glass.


    problem doesn't start because of expections..i say expections are good..but fake expections are bad.

    since middle class family is putting their kids in the rat race.( which they lost during their life).

    people want to fullfill their own dream with kids.they are not bother about what the kids want..what are his potential...and interest...

    expection are as good as anything till the time its not fake.if you able to find out interest of ur kids by closely obserbing him can make him genius..

    but kids has ability to become a athelete and we are trying to make him scientist...!


    let the kids should decide what he want to do..? what is his interest..? let him feel free from all obligation... parenting should be such that he should bother about rat race...

    if the kid take decison on these parameter he would definately take very practical decison..bcz once the kid is mature he knows about himself ...more than any one else..

    EXPECTION should be real.then only it will motivate you to work hard and actually bring the desired result.. else life wld be miserable...

  33. errr not to spoil the party or anything but we dont have an engg college at Jhumari tilaya(thats the right spelling and its a real place in jharkhand)although we do have jhumri tilaya college of commerce, and the graduates from there do go on to study at IIMs.. yours truly is just one example.. regards

  34. @rahul

    That sounds funny, but i totally agree, everybody should have the chance to pursue their dreams. Without dreams theres no desire. Desire is the driving force for everybody.

  35. Seems like some of us are missing Rashmi's point here. She is simply advocating some realism in career choices. Sure, some jobs pay better and earn more respect and glamor than others. That doesn't mean that those jobs are available to every one. No amount of "dreaming" will make me tall enough to be an airhostess!

    It is the responsibility of educators and career counselors to guide students into fields that match their aptitude, abilities and have some scope of growth. Not to herd them into a "fancy" job that they might be unsuited for.

    The (expensive) AHA training was funded by taxpayer money. It is therefore legitimate to question the amount of thought put into this experiment. Was it just a gimmick?

    I would be thrilled to see tribal women advance in life but some realistic guidance and foresight would go a long way.... for ALL young men and women.

  36. @geek goddess

    Agree that may be so, but expecting everyone to meet certain pre-conceived notions of "beauty" for becoming an air hostess is totally different from being tall enough.We should have clear demarcation of wats a necessity and wats a social evil in a modern form.


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