Why Rural Students Find It Hard to Get a White-Collar Job

I was travelling to work last Monday with a friend. Both my friend and I have migrated to the city from our respective villages, first for higher education, and now jobs. I work in the city for five days, spend two days of the weekend in the village and then travel back to the city on Monday. But I am one of the luckiest among my peers to have a stable, fair-paying job where I have to work only for five, and not six, days. And this, the job situation and how our peers are faring in it, was the topic of discussion on our two-hours’ bus journey that day.

Many students migrate to the cities from Wada, Vikramgad and Palghar talukas every year for professional courses, especially engineering and medicine. But they find it hard to get a well-paying job after graduation. The reasons are multiple. To begin with, they cannot compete with city students for seats in eminent colleges, so they are forced to take admission in sub-standard institutions, which lack laboratories, good teachers and any extracurricular activity on campus. Therefore, even though they manage to scrape through the course and graduate, the actual learning is little. And it is too late when they realise that a degree certificate is not a passport for a job.

The lack of fluency in English, as well as communication skills in general, acts as another major hurdle towards that coveted white-collar job. But it will be quite ignorant and insensitive to blame the students here. It is not their fault, really. Corporate sector is the fiefdom (and I don’t use this term pejoratively here) of upper class/upper caste urbanites. If a village boy/girl aspires to get entry here, they have to play by the rules that are set by these upper class/upper caste urbanites. The knowledge that these corporations are run on is theirs, the language is theirs, the workplace culture is theirs; even the food is theirs!

Students cannot stay back in their villages either. There are no well-paying jobs. Agriculture is not profitable (it never was). And the contact with cities and the incessant consumption of ads through television has made them “aspirational”. So village is no more good enough for them, and cities are not very welcoming either. No wonder most of them feel frustrated and depressed in general.

English, Mother Tongue and Effective Communication

I love words. I love the way they delight people, make them laugh, blush, enthrall. Words have power — power to transform a dull moment into a cheerful one, anger into laughter, jealousy into love and dislike into companionship. I do not like people who misuse words, abuse them, treat them carelessly: I wish they could understand the beauty words possess, a language as a whole possesses.

Effective communication is important in every sphere of life — from relationships to jobs. India is a multilingual country. Most of us are bilingual and some even trilingual. But the tragedy is, very few of us are proficient in even one language.

A growing number of students are learning in English medium schools. All professional courses are exclusively taught in English. English is the language of the courts and government institutions (at least at the higher levels). It is also the language of mobile phones, computers and internet. It is the language of aspiration. It opens the doors to white collar jobs, and makes the road towards upward mobility easier. If you know English, you have “arrived”. So it is not difficult to understand people’s fascination with English-medium schools or the coaching classes boasting to churn out fluent English speakers in a month or two.

But the starry-eyed obsession with English has at least one major casualty — effective communication. Our pathetic education system ensures that students remain grammatically challenged and have pitiable vocabulary. (Sample this sentence from my textual conversation with a friend: I didn’t knew that. The sentence made me cringe; I felt like throwing my phone away.) Mother tongues remain confined in the four walls of our homes as they do not have “snob” value, nor do they give us fancy jobs in multinational corporations. So no one takes the pains to master them.

Though the importance of English cannot be denied, it doesn’t need to come at the cost of our mother tongues. Indian languages have a history of centuries with a treasure trove of literature and rich vocabulary. You can ignore them at your own peril. Also, there is research which says that students learn English more quickly and effectively if they maintain and develop their proficiency in the mother tongue.

Philosopher and linguist Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” And therefore, bilingualism (or multilingualism — depending on which part of India you live in) is a gift that we Indians are naturally bestowed with and which we rightfully need to acknowledge as such.

How Important Is It To Find Your Element?

I managed to read the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything over the weekend. The book, written by Ken Robinson, talks about the importance of finding the one thing that you like the most and then pursuing it passionately for a fulfilling life. Paul Graham more or less says the same thing in his famous article How To Do What You Love.

Robinson’s book triggered a number of thoughts in my mind. It is full of examples of people from various fields, including sports, dance, music and entrepreneurship; the people who made it big. When I was reading about these people, I found an unmistakable similarity among all of them. They all wanted to live a meaningful life. They all wanted to achieve something. They were also determined to put in the efforts, and were passionate about the things they chose to do.

What separates these people who are so full of life from the ordinary people is not that they found their element as Robinson puts it. I think it’s the zeal for perfection and the passion for life and the passion for everything that they choose to do is what makes them extraordinary.

Our education system is designed in such a way that most of the students hardly get an opportunity to try out anything in their school days. It also defines a very linear path to success. Perform well in academics, go to a decent college, get a degree and you will get a decent job. It is only after college that people realize that it doesn’t work that way. You need to have much more than just a degree to not only get a decent job, but also to live a decent life.

Our society fosters a false notion in children’s heads that to succeed in life, you only need to clear exams with good marks. Forget extra-curricular activities, even learning and understanding of subject matter is considered secondary. Independent learning is not encouraged. Students are provided ready-made notes, have tuitions outside schools and are taught formulas to clear exams. This approach proves very dangerous as students remain weak academically as well as do not develop important life skills such as communication skills, critical thinking, or appreciation of art.

I agree with Robinson that you need to find where your interest lies and then pursue that interest for a happier life. But I do not agree that this interest is innate, or it can not be created/manufactured, or that we can not have multiple interests. As a child, I was not exposed to either reading or writing. But I still developed an interest in them. Most of the people who go on to become artists have a natural interest in those arts, along with the talent of course. But I also know many people who develop an interest after they get exposed to something. One of my friends took up Fine Arts because his uncle told him to. Before that he had never thought of it as a career option. But in his fourth year in college, he said that he was really enjoying it, and liked the idea of pursuing a career in it. You develop an interest in things as you dabble in them.

I think having an interest is secondary to developing a passion for something, because it can be manufactured (provided you have talent and have taken enough training for that particular thing). What is important is the positive approach to life, zeal for perfection, being open to try out new things, open to learn new things and not caring much about the conventional definition of success. Life does not have a final goal (Death can not be a person’s final goal. If it was, everybody would have committed suicide). There is no such thing as an ultimate success. We can only have short term goals. But it is very important to enjoy the process as we strive to achieve them.

Educate Yourself

A friend of mine was telling the tale of his schooling. He took the Science stream in FYJC because everybody coerced him to. His schooling till then was from Marathi medium. When he took the admission, he did not know that science was the English term for Marathi vidnyan, nor did he knew the difference between Science, Commerce and Arts streams. Later he did graduation in Science, again because his ‘advisers’ told him to. And finally he did MBA this year and is looking for a job now. When I asked if at least doing an MBA was his own decision, he said, “I wish I could I say so.”

He is not alone in this respect. Eight out of ten students I meet have similar stories to tell. And it surprises me a lot, because my own story is a completely opposite one. Every decision about my academics was a planned decision. As a child I wanted to do a lot of things. I wanted to be a writer, a social worker, a teacher, a scientist and finally a journalist. But I finalised to be a journalist when I was in ninth standard and then stuck to it.

It is a pity that our student population is a confused lot. They don’t know why they are studying and how it will help them in life, except that it will help them get a job, earn money or get a good husband or a wife. The main reason for such a pitiful situation is that we lack critical thinking. We never question things. We are programmed to accept things as they are served to us. We lack the motivation to dig deep.

There is no dearth of information, if only we are willing to look for it. Students never explore things on their own. They either depend on their family or family acquaintances to guide them about their own career. This needs to change. Students need to get more assertive about their own life. They need to carve their own niche.