The last two decades were a great time for educational expansion. The ideas of mass education caught up, not just in the West, but also in the rest of the world. Population is no longer seen as a problem, but a source of strength, of consumption and of production, and 'demographic dividend' was added to our lexicon. Personnel quickly became Human Resources and then Talent, and in this transformation, education came to be seen as the key to unlocking the great wealth that lies hidden in the teeming masses. Especially in the last decade or so, schools, colleges and universities were built at a furious pace. Governments accepted the fact that they can't build the educational capacity fast enough, and looked for ways to build private capital into education, and entrepreneurs saw this as the new frontier of opportunity. The importance of education is one thing that everyone agreed upon.
Now, it is perhaps time to look back at all that has happened, and start asking an uncomfortable question: Are we mostly preparing for a wrong future? The underlying reason for asking the question, indeed, the shifting patterns of the labour market and the dis-alignment of educational institutions and ideals (see my earlier post). However, this disconnect is even more crucial when seen together with another key policy-making assumption - that of the hierarchy of the labour markets.
There is a model in the world in every policy-maker's mind about how their countries can develop, and usually, they follow the patterns followed by the industrial west: Increasingly mechanised agriculture releasing the surplus labour, which gets absorbed into factories and service sectors, producing goods and services for globalised trade. And, in this model, the world's jobs gets sorted out in an hierarchical order: Developed economies lose out their manufacturing and low skilled jobs to the developing ones due to cost disadvantages, and the developing economies cede the high value activities, design, branding, research, to the advanced economies because of their advanced education systems and pool of qualified manpower. This is a common sense narrative which has been accepted all across the policy-making circles, high finance communities, development business and even educators. This is the model that drives both the perceived need of education in developing countries and its intended outcome.
So, in lay terms, this means developing countries need to 'catch up education', prepare their students for basic jobs in manufacturing and service back offices, while the advanced nations need to move up the ladder and train for higher order thinking skills. This model is not just common sense, it also has empirical evidence: The rise of Asian Dragon economies, and then China, chipping away the manufacturing from North America and Europe, proves the salience of this theory of 'hierarchy of labour'.
However, this may be a wrong view of the future.
To start with, the view that the countries will specialise in some areas come from the ideas of David Ricardo and its later refinements as done by Swedish economists Eli Heckscher and Bertil Ohlin, which states that if a country has comparative advantages in some trades due to the advantages in factor prices (cheap labour, for example), it will tend to specialise on the same, and import other products in which it does not have an advantage. But this, as we know now, despite its common sense appeal, may not hold in reality: The countries may develop similar industries based on the similarities of domestic demand, rather than supply side factors. So, a booming demand for cars in China may mean that China will develop a car industry and world-leading automobile companies, despite the fact that it may not have a comparative advantage in car manufacturing (which was true twenty years ago) compared to some of its Asian neighbours. [The Economists will call it the Linder Hypothesis] Given this view, the convergence of demand will mean a global convergence of jobs and work, and this means designers may be as much in demand in India as they would be in Britain.
The second problem with the assumption of hierarchical labour market comes from the supply side. With the advancement of computing, the national comparative advantages may matter less than a global competition between human labour and mechanisation. There may be a prevalent view in developing countries that while computerisation may be destroying office jobs in the West, Indian accountants, underwriters and clerks are so cheap that they will remain in demand in the foreseeable future, but that may precisely be the wrong way to think about the future. Even overlooking the efficiency-adjusted costs (Indian back-office workers may not be as cheap given a level of efficiency), the costs of the machine-driven alternative is going down and the costs of efficient manpower in India is going up: It is this competition we need to be mindful of. And, indeed, one can't just win this game.
These twin reasons prompt the observation that all the 'skills agenda' adopted by the developing countries, mostly with the aspiration to develop a 'catch up' labour market, is completely misdirected. These initiatives are mostly failing to deliver, but those failures mostly relate to implementation. The bigger failure, which seems to lay in the future, is the fact that this may all be about preparing for the wrong future.
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
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 was gui
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
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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, as
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
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.
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
As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.