As I write this, that Penguin, the famous publisher, has abolished degrees as a requirement for their recruitment, is on the news (see here). They join a handful of firms at the top of prestige and professional hierarchy, such as Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and EY, in their search for a more diverse talent pool.
One could, and possibly many would, dismiss this as mere publicity, rather than serious moves. And, indeed, this may represent a fraction of their total new intakes. For every Penguin taking themselves off-Degree, there may be an Accenture who would not want to look outside a few elite universities. But the point here is philosophical - degrees having dominated our educational thinking so vigorously that we forgot what this stood for - and not statistical.
So, what do degrees stand for? Why did we come to accept that this ornate piece of paper, often deliberately evoking medieval imagery, come to signify our knowledge, and even our abilities? And, how did come to dominate our social being, our conversations, our relationships, our prospects and all our aspirations? Peter Thiel may have been very elitist in urging people to leave college and start businesses, as that may be an unacceptable risk for all but the most gifted, but does he not have a point that many smart people has done perfectly well for themselves without a degree? In fact, there is even some statistical evidence: A study recently highlighted a common trait among very wealthy people, that they tend to self-educate rather than seeking formal education (see story).
Degrees, at its core, represent the power of the modern state. It is one of the various ways of control that the modern state apparatus uses to shape our thinking, making us subordinate to itself. A few generations ago, a degree was needed for Civil Service - indeed, the modern university was created to serve the State - and then to serve the expanding public sector. Degrees, like the other subtle mechanisms, such as the standard weights and measures, define the parameters to live by, overpowering individual choices, and even our immediate communities, and imposing a bureaucratic overhang within our private lives.
People have different opinions about how much control of our private lives should be ceded to the State, and whether such intrusion does more good than harm, but degrees as an instrument of state approval change the nature of the degrees. Instead of marking an admittance in a community - the Bachelors degree was an acceptance of the person in the Bachelorship (of Science, or Arts, as the case may be) - it becomes an end in itself, a credential of state approval. As public services recede from view, we have let the degree to become a proxy of entire social being, using it for jobs, marriages and even friendships - and even the most earnest admirer of the modern state may not be entirely comfortable with such omnipresence. And, indeed, degrees have fallen out of sync with the modern times, not just of commercial requirements of practical skills, but more importantly, the democratic respect that a modern day society takes for granted. Follow, for example, the arguments of Harvard's Lani Guinier's The Tyranny of Meritocracy (Beacon Press, 2015), and one would see how the Middle Class deity of degrees have become a tool of exclusion.
However, when we forget the purpose of a custom, it obscures the possibility of all alternatives. Degrees have become the Gold Standard of our time, a relic which, once the reason for its existence is forgotten, assumed a life of its own, forcing everything else of the table. 'We do not have an alternative' is all too common a justification for doing wrong things, and I am least surprised when middle class families scramble to send their children to universities, who are known to be substandard, just for the sake of the degree.
If not degrees, what? The conversation has dramatically shifted in the recent times, as the 'Official' policy has embraced the necessity of 'Skills'. Partly to reflect the diminished role of the State in our economic lives, partly to embrace a new reality of contraction of public expenditure, and partly in a mistaken adjustment to new realities of work, the State doctrine has become, generally speaking, a search for new credential. Of course, the problem with this new alternative of Skills Certification is that it is still a scramble for a proxy, a state-mandate in another form, which is admittedly poorer, a degree alternative for austere times. It is not surprising that such credentials fail to take off, as people see them, justly, as poor cousins.
So, degrees as gold, skills certification as silver - this can only go so far! The radical departure in search of alternative credentials, as one of my colleagues put it, will be to construct the CV as credential. Instead of a proxy of one kind or another, this would mark a return to individual worth, the very thing that the employers like Penguin is trying to do. For educational institutions, this would mean constructing experiences, not just of work but of social interactions and connections, not towards earning a proxy credential, but a real projection of abilities. Instead of the mad search for degrees, this would be guided path to earning references and building a transcript of life, so to say. In practical terms, this may look like a Linkedin profile, perhaps with more validation, one that can not be faked.
This is a radical departure, but a practical one - one that rejects the whole idea of credentials as proxies, because the search for a proxy always assumes a life of its own, and installs real abilities at the core of educational experience. One may anticipate the complaints of all those who wants to hire people in the thousands - isn't this a huge logistical challenge exploring the individual worth of all candidates rather than screening most of them out by using a credential - but then, as we know instictively, this is both morally wrong and poor as a business practice (no wonder, these companies eventually get rid of more than half of those they recruit). If the point of degrees is to convey credible and relevant information about someone's true abilities, a CV with references can indeed be a more potent credential.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.