A lot of my work is about preparing our students for the future. Under the general banner of employability, I have a fairly boxed-in view about the future. We deal with college students and prepare them for jobs. Slightly ambitiously, we try to prepare them so that they can be masters, rather than slaves, within the context: You should be able to choose what you will do, and once you get the job, you should be able to keep it and grow in it, we say! Of course, more than anyone else, my colleagues and I know how hard a thing this is to achieve. The number of students in higher education and the number of middle class jobs (the type you keep and can grow in) are completely out of sync: A vast majority of university graduates, regardless of their degrees, will not find a proper job that can build their lives. Most will go from job to job, mostly staying at the same level all their life (job progression, the base that all middle class dreams are based on, usually only happen to 5% of the OECD workforce) until they can't do their jobs anymore because of technology changing or geographical shifts at work which they can't cope up with. Most will then slide down the job ladder, doing work which doesn't require any of their graduate level skills and those which don't offer any of securities a job is meant to offer. We are still trying to create a solution telling ourselves that even if a handful of students get benefit of it, our endeavours are worthwhile (they do and it's definitely worth it).
The essence of this work is to prepare our students for unknown, unknowable environments. We assume that the future will be what the media, Davos, Silicon Valley and Mark Zuckerberg say it would be. Automation will be everywhere, workers will need new skills, work will be more hybrid and multicultural and will increasingly demand complex thinking. These principles aside, we don't know what it would ACTUALLY look like. The only thing we know is that it would be something sophisticated and complex, which only a few smart men (usually men) will be able to shape. The rest of us just have to adapt - or we will fail.
Every day, I live with a nagging question though: How much do we have to accept this version of the future? Are there other possible varieties that may equally come to be? Could there be a fragmented world with multi-speed technological environments? Could there be changing social norms or political upheavals that draw us away from investments in automation to investments in education? Could there be a mass participation in shaping and implementing technology instead of a few backroom boys calling all the shots? Could the priorities of countries such as India and Nigeria come to shape the direction of travel as much as America's or China's do today?
These are not idle questions. In what we call the future, I see a set of choices. Choices made by people who are empowered to make such choices and who have the right mechanisms at their disposal to promote these man-made choices as inevitable. Therefore, I take the 'future' with a pinch of salt. While I have committed all my waking hours in making sure that our students will be ready when they eventually confront the changing workplaces, I also want to make sure that they know sufficiently about our assumptions. And, more importantly, their minds remain open about the alternative possibilities.
I find William Gibson's point "the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed' a glib Americanism that see one possible direction of travel for everyone. And what applies to communities, applies to people too: Everyone's ideal must be similar (richer, fitter, with better accent) is the claim. This mindless assertion now influences higher education too. That is the point of 'employability' - that everyone must go to the same destination! I am just mindful of the irony that education, designed for individual flourishing, has to be redesigned to fit everyone into one box or another.
This, I think, is the way to bring on a disaster, to ensure that we fail, we are unprepared when our beloved billionaires unleash their algorithmic apocalypse upon us. It won't happen automatically: We have to let it happen. We are increasingly letting it happen assuming that it is their job to decide about the future of our work and the fate of our communities and lives. We are narrowing our education to serve the 'people as passengers' paradigm. We are disengaging from democracy, gorging up false news and tearing apart the cultures of toleration and exchange, worshipping this false God of the future. Any dissent is immediately portrayed as ludditism, the machine-breaking zeal of those of us who won't buy into the limited and self-serving imagination of Silicon Valley and the Sand Hill Road (or Wall Street).
But that is exactly what I want to do, though would do this outside the confines of my current work. I am asking the question what would it take for people themselves to be in charge - of their own lives, of their own work and their own communities I believe investment in education rather than in labour-replacing machinery is a better way to build the future. For such thinking, though, we need a new generation of leaders, who should have a clear view of technology and how the power of these can be harnessed for making more sustainable societies.
If there was to be an existential moment, we are at it now. We are tinkering on the edges with employability as the main goal. Someone needs to take charge and make this happen.
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
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
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
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
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
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
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
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.