In 2011, CN Rao, former head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India had remarked, “India has no system of education, it only has a system of examination.” Rao’s statement rings true in the context of today’s education system and bleak employment scenario that pushes our youngsters into a never-ending labyrinth of competition and mental stress. They are expected to fly with jet packs for fear of being left behind in the rat race. The suicides of students in Rajasthan’s Kota, the hub of coaching classes, has painfully thrown into sharp relief just how teachers put students through the wringer with the sole objective of making them succeed in engineering, CA or MBA examinations, come hell or high water. After all, a student in today’s society is seen as an exam warrior and is expected to possess the killer instinct, where the seats for most courses and exams are few as compared to the huge population of the country. Those who fall through the cracks develop psychological and emotional problems with far-reaching consequences.
Remember, a student is indoctrinated into believing that he has to be the best among all other students as winning or losing becomes the defining parameter of our society. The student is made to see others as a threat; after all it is all about the survival of the fittest. Having said that, it cannot be denied that there is an urgent need to set up more colleges and universities in both professional and general degree courses. Isn’t it ironic that despite jobs being on the election agenda of political parties every five years, the same age-old issue persists even after so many years?
In a country of 1.35 billion people, where 356 million are youth aged between 10 and 24, a large chunk of the population feels demoralised and demotivated due to stiff competition and limited jobs. Those, despite being well-qualified, have no other option but to take up low-paying jobs for shorter periods which don’t do justice to their talent and aptitude. It leads to improper utilisation of the huge human resource capital of the country.
Between 2018 and 2021, India faced its longest period of slowdown since 1991, with unemployment averaging 7.2%, as per the data provided by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Global unemployment averaged around 5.7% in that period. India’s rate exceeded most emerging economies like Bangladesh (5.3%), Mexico (4.7%) and Vietnam (2.3%).
When it comes to the question of the jobs shortage in a country like India, things become extremely problematic where annually 12 million people reach employment age. In keeping with the bulk of job-seekers, the economy has not grown fast enough to absorb so many people. According to CMIE, India’s unemployment rate rose to 8.30% in December 2022, the highest in 16 months, from 8% in the previous month.
So, is there a way out from this situation where a law graduate in our country applies for the post of a driver? There is a need to encourage startups to cope with the problems of youth unemployment that stare us in the face. In this respect, the Bangladesh government has come up with a policy to generate self-employment by training and encouraging small businesses. In most countries in the West, startup companies have turned out to be a unique solution to the youth unemployment problem. With big tech companies laying off employees in recent months, it is high time entrepreneurship in India is seen as an alternative. There is a palpable fear of machines edging us out of brain jobs as there has been remarkable progress in such areas as artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing and genetics that has enabled computers to perform the tasks of medical doctors, architects and even music composers, with consummate ease. Technology has become a double-edged sword now as it both creates and destroys jobs globally.
These days, more and more youngsters are making waves as social media influencers with a steadily growing fan base. Brimming with an alchemy of wacky and creative ideas, they have eschewed the rat race to find fame and popularity in the digital world.
Famous novelist William Golding once said that the problem with society is that people cannot imagine alternatives to the way things are currently. He called it “failure of imagination”. For our youngsters, life should not always be about running towards the mirage of a settled and successful life as the ultimate objective. The purpose of education should be to activate one’s creativity, give an individual the courage to dream and imbue her with an alternative imagination. Today’s youngsters need to weaponise their business/creative ideas to make a name for themselves in various fields instead of making a beeline for jobs. The time has finally come to be self-employed and become one’s own boss.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist