Says Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman!
Education for all? Yes!
But only at the elementary and secondary levels, may be!
Higher education for all? No, not needed!

Education in India is now an obsession with all classes. The rich seeks it for status. The middle classes die for it. The poor are arm-twisted by middle class madness and the political populism!

Education is also an illusion. There are all types of education, genuine and bogus. There are poor schools all around and most are just teaching shops.

This is true for all stages. Even the BAs. MAs and MBAs can be bogus. So too the more sought after B.Es. MCAs and MBAs.

This is the days of struggle and every family begs and borrows and stands at queues for a seat. Governments thrive on false promises and sell dreams. Education is a great dream and a growing business.

But to say that you can’t have an English medium or a degree is a crime!
Such is the poorer education standards; most degrees don’t fetch a job immediately.
The unemployability of graduates is becoming a reality. Only slowly.

But here is a high profile Nobel Prize economist who says that jobs and skills are different and high wage jobs often don’t need a college degree. American job market is changing, says Paul Krugman who cites recent research and statistics.  Yes, this is an audacious thought? Yes, it sounds very much so.

But why, this statement, by a widely admired and widely read columnist and a highly respected economist with a reputation to defend?

The immediate provocation for this view is that just recently, yes in recent times, the US President Barack Obama has been going on and talking all over the place that the only way forward for the US is to invest more in education and the only future for America (in comparison with the fastest growing economies like China and India) is to compete with the Indian and Chinese competition in high wage jobs. This is now an obsession with all Americans. From George Bush onwards and with the current incumbent at the White House to others in high profile jobs like Jeb Bush, the son of George Bush the senior, now Governor of Florida with whom Obama conferred the other day and he again made the very same remark.

Commenting on this joint meeting with the Bush the junior and Obama Paul Krugman in his column says that degree don’t earn dollars, to put it rather mildly!

This the line of argument of Krugman and we in India must read his arguments carefully for here too in India from Sam Pitroda to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Kapil Sibal they all talk of expanding education, high education in particular with   a big promise of opening 1,500 new universities and also making higher education affordable to all who want it.

As it is, in India our college going students constitute only 11 per cent of the school leavers, and while the international average is just 20 and odd per cent and only in the USA it is something like 50 per cent. And yet, there are not enough students in the USA who can afford a college degree. Reason: the high costs of a college degree.

In India, we have a varied mix of problems.One, there are not enough colleges and universities. Second, there are also the high costs here. The government has introduced education loans. There is also the quotas, based on caste, minorities etc.

But there is the big promise of education for all, including the higher education sector.
While the education for all is alright for the elementary school level, it is also welcome and creates a widely shared feeling or consensus for secondary level education.

Now, why Paul Krugman says it is a wrong assumption that a college degree is a sure way to reach the next ladder of respectable middle class status.

Krugman points out that (he quotes a newspaper report) that currently software does a great many jobs like legal research and other such professional services through computers.
Whatever jobs that require routine pre-determined methods that can be done through computers, that are now increasingly done by computers and lately more off-shoring work is done that way, thanks to Internet and mobile, wireless technologies.

So, the great many American, high wage jobs have been taken away by Indians, Philippinos and other off-shore destinations.

As Krugman puts, “bright children from poor families are less likely to finish college than much less able children of affluent families-aren’t just an outrage: they represent a huge waste of the nation’s human potential”.

Says Krugmnan further, he quotes his university economist colleagues as well as other economists from other US universities to come out with some thesis.

It is like this:
Since 1990 or so the US job market is characterirsed not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”. Both high wage and low wage employment have grown rapidly but medium wage jobs-the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class-have lagged behind.

The sort of manual jobs, from house maids to various errand jobs, to use the Indian expression, from taxi and car drivers to truck drivers to others whom we need increasingly and we don’t get them (in Bangalore car and taxi drivers are in great demand and so too house-maids as they are so well-paid and they are in demand and they hardly require any education, let alone any college degree!

To quote Krugman again:
“The whole in the middle is getting wider. Many of the high wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low wage employment has accelerated.

It is simple common sense to see how the labour market, both in the urban, why, even in the rural job market is shaping up in India lately.

In the urban areas some types of skills are in short supply. Skills that are needed in some specialised fields like, say media and even TV media sector. These are creative industries and these require only individuals of high talents and these can’t be replicated in a computer-based training.

Says Krugman:”The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increases job opportunities for those who work with information”. Or, IT skills are important for jobs and it means a good degree from IIT or IIM or from any good college. This is also now becoming less relevant even in India where the IT industry now employs a significant non-IT, general degree hands.

Says the eminent economist:”It is believed that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands”. He quotes two researchers, economists, who point out that computers excel at routine tasks that can be  accomplished by following explicit rules “Any routine task-white collar and non-manual jobs-is in the firing line Conversely, jobs that can be carried out by following explicit rules, like truck drivers-will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress”. And there is a low per centage of 6 per cent jobs only in the manufacturing and not many assembly line jobs left to lose. And the great threat for US jobs, as feared and expressed often by Barack Obama, are “Bangalore!”
So, the link between education, college degrees in particular and the high wages is very tenuous and this needs to be recognised by the Indian educators and the education policy makers.

Already lack of manual workers in rural areas, for agriculture and many tasks are in short supply and in great demand.

This, not many seem to care about.
That will show off very soon.

Even as it is, educated youngsters from farming families are not coming forward to take up farming as a modern self-employed enterprise where also there is now good money. And much freedom. But India is still some time before to get a realistic picture of education and skills and job opportunities.

But already we can see some restructuring. Many mid-career changes can be seen. Some students from good families are returning home from the USA.As life here for them, with considerable landed properties are turning favourable. Already NRIs are also investing in their traditional family lands in a significant way.

All of these changes, trends and jobs and wages need to be studied with taking into consideration of class and caste and also socio-cultural status of the families.

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