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Education Is Overrated; Skills Aren’t

Education itself isn’t marginal or less unimportant; however, its impact on employment prospects is highly exaggerated and wildly misunderstood.

Let’s keep education out of learning.

It is a natural path for Indians to ‘graduate’. This is partly explained by the Government’s stated intent to ‘educate’ everyone, and largely driven by the industry to set this as a minimum qualification for any job. The industry creates the frenzy and the governments feeds it. This sucks us into the vicious cycle.

The state continues to build, ‘block by block’ supported by regressive taxation, a monolith that is neither effective nor useful in creating knowledge (skeletal faculty, outdated syllabi), nor disseminating skills (poorly planned, badly implemented).

Our policy makers (society too) have loudly and vehemently championed the cause of higher education as a key to employment. The shrill is often deafening.

MIT’s motto Mens et Manus (Latin for Mind and Hand) isn’t by accident. Knowledge is not the same as skill.

Education itself isn’t marginal or less unimportant; however, its impact on employment prospects is highly exaggerated and wildly misunderstood.Our elite institutions do a very decent job in the transmission, if not the creation of knowledge. What about transmitting skills for sustainable jobs?  ‘Not my job’ an IIM don gloats.

Degrees are neither the best proxy for human capital nor the rising sensex a sign of good economic health. However, edu-zealots and to some extent educrats believe that MA recipients in sports can score runs and that a graduate of philosophy can rigorously think. That’s not true.

The grievously misunderstood and undervalued human capital issue can be better solved by not focusing on the number of ‘higher’ educated but how knowledge is applied. Establishing correlations, let alone causality, between education and skill is onerous.

Mediocrity is at the heart of our education system that has encouraged the de-creation of learning. The academia must make effort to shake off several preconceptions, foremost, ‘skill’ based education is not fulfilling and doesn’t pay. Equally, every stakeholder must embrace that applied learning should be the focus of education, and skill is no longer the poor cousin of knowledge.

Industry disregards degrees and rewards skill i.e. the ability to ‘work’ knowledge. It seeks ‘appropriate’ levels of educational accomplishment but (and) will recruit people who have the demonstrable, impactful and adaptable skills.

The labour market is beginning to see an increase in the skills mismatch, with more ‘higher’ educated than there are high-skilled jobs available for them. The forecasts are scarier. Only a third of new jobs will require graduates.

Once we recognize the imbalance, and accept that education and learning must go together, we will still have mountains to climb. And the tallest being the contour of an innovative and yet robust learning framework that enhances opportunities & exploits the demographic dividend bestowed.

With a copybook demographic dividend, our economy is finally at the inflection point and still at the beginning of the growth curve. However, our demography is beginning to bulge as a result of the education system that we have embraced and loathe to change.

Let’s start afresh, and question the very purpose of education?

The prime minister’s long-term goal must include the foundation of a knowledge-based economy with skill an integral subset. The focus must include skill-based learning that creates entrepreneurs, thinkers, scientists, and writers. Education policy must embrace technology, encompass internship, and encourage the best to teach & research, and effectively deregulate education.

Read More: BusinessWorld