We needed an ugly word like 'employability' because we have a crisis: Despite all the promises and all the efforts, an unacceptably small percentage of people that we educate in our schools and colleges find the employment they expect, aspire for and deserve.
Never mind the statistics here. I am weary of it though there are plenty of 'studies' that will confirm the observation above. But the trouble with these studies is they are often motivated, and make big claims based on small efforts. It is easy to make headlines such as 'Only a quarter of engineering graduates in India are employable' but dig deeper and you will see that the basis of that is some executive's offhand remark, which ascribes all the blame to the graduates and their educators but says little about what employability meant in context.
Ask the educators and often they don't see what the fuss is about. It's a bit dated, but there was one McKinsey study, perhaps very skewed on US data (as these studies often are), which showed a big gap between the perception of the employers and that of the educators on their students' employment prospects. Again, indeed, such data does not explain the differences in disposition: Educators, who know their students, are more likely to take a positive view than the employers, who are talking about abstract students or only have a superficial view of the person.
But, then, universities regularly fudge the employability data, mixing up how many of their students go into employment with those who continue their studies at a higher level (often because there were no interesting jobs in sight). Universities also make the big claim that graduate employability is higher than non-graduate employability, forgetting to mention that graduates often do non-graduate jobs these days and once they are into one, they get stuck there. The lifetime earnings of a graduate tower over nongraduates, but again, that data reflects broader social inequality (as some professions earn a lot more) than the magic of the university.
And, with so much fudge, the way to see the employability problem is not in the statistics, but on the street. It's in those broken promises of college transforming lives and the struggles of those first-generation college students. And now it's manifesting in other areas, in declining standards of life, in extremist politics, in shrinking productivity data and the constant struggle of businesses to find and retain employees. And, indeed, this is now showing up in stagnating college enrollments, drop out rates and, most importantly, in the cluelessness of the institutions about how to make the students employable.
It's this last bit that I wish to write about here. I can classify all the discussions I have had on the subject into two categories: First, there are those who consider employability an information problem. Students don't know where to find jobs, how to write their CVs, how to prepare for and approach an interview, etc., and therefore, they are not employable. Second, there are those who see employability as a structural problem. They hold that the workplace is changing faster and demanding new skills, whereas education, higher education in particular, is not changing fast enough and remain too academic and focused on knowledge acquisition. This mismatched approach makes students less employable, they hold.
So, the first group emphasize the style and presentation over substance and education. The finishing school may be a detested and elitist concept in Britain, but that's the buzzword in education in the developing countries, where employability problem is the worst. There are whole two year curricula focused on preparing the student for the interview etc. Style over substance, these efforts show that they are getting students jobs, though they are often riding onto the trend of hiring graduates for non-graduate jobs. Their graduates speak better English and get work in call centres, making this a very poor return on time and money spent. If we define employability in a broader sense as I tried above - not just of getting a job but the job the person deserves and can do well in - these efforts make the problem worse.
The other group, the neo-liberal, market fundamentalists among them, know the limitation of the first approach and therefore, seek redemption in skills training. Their method is to get students into internships, practical situations and additional micro-degrees, and to discount what public education does. As expected, they forget to see that this approach really works for the socially privileged, building on their existing strengths. The poor boy with the wrong accent only reconfirms his inferiority in these sink-or-swim enterprises. The educators' trade, that of creating possibilities, is abandoned swiftly in the quest of an employer-led flat world, where the students exist only to be pawns of the big businesses. It's the latter that defines what counts; the students' aspirations do not matter. And, as is expected, these enterprises only favour the privileged and solve the part of the problem that does not exist.
So, the first group, which operates primarily in China, India and other developing nations, want to export their 'success' to the West and believe that making graduates in England speak in correct English is the solution to the problem. The second group, primarily the 'disruptive' venture-funded American start-ups, believe that they can solve the developing world's employability problem by training a segment of its graduates - the IT-savvy English speaking segment at that - employable. Indeed, in universalizing the employability problem, they discount both culturally-specific individual aspirations and unique structures of national labour markets. Their failures, if these did not have such tragic consequences of broken lives, would be good comic stuff.
In my practice, I want to go beyond the hubris of global transformation and yet address the employability challenge. I am yet to figure out how to build a business model out of it, given that I believe that this needs to be solved one person at a time. This is not about the slickness of presentation or skills injection; it is more or less what any educator's mission should be - helping the person find his place in the world. Employability is not about employment; it could be about a whole host of things - charity, enterprise, creative independence, migration included - and it's both about the search and the destination.
In this quest, I know the solution lies in cultivating the whole person, as an educational engagement rather than outside it. There is no 'royal road' here (as Aristotle told Alexander) but a gradual exploration: Like happiness, the overt pursuit of employability is often self-defeating. Esoteric it sure sounds, but I am on the quest of a whole person 'employability' solution, rather than the superficial and meaningless ones that I have so far come across.
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
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
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
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.
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,
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
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
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. Reli
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.