Saturday, August 26, 2006

The business of education

A comment by Alexis on the last post triggered this post. In the last post I described a typical working day anecdote. Small events that sometimes make you laugh. But behind this particular event lies a sad truth that is going unnoticed by the students and parents of today.

When I joined my first job in an IT MNC purely on the merit of my track record as a copywriter, there was a rush of girls in my family in Kerala to do English, Journalism and Mass Communication. Everyone thought that my present professional status was due to me taking English. Thank god for some frantic phone calls from me, which made them change their minds.

What a lot of people didn’t realize was that I have years of reading behind me that embellished my English. I am sure most people who write English have been through the same evolution. Copywriting, Content Writing, Creative Writing like Fine Arts is a talent-based profession. And the people who are now working in the communications arena are people who can pull it off. I mean make boring technical manuals into attractive and readable brochures, make website content appealing so that a potential customer goes through it and enquires about your services leading to sales. But there are thousands of students pursuing a course in Mass Communications, English and Journalism without even knowing what it entails.

Consider this. The other day a Journalism trainee was working with the Corporate Communications team as part of her College Project. The poor girl had never read any notable authors, nor could she write a line of English properly. She was near to tears when told to make a simple bulleted ppt presentation on a PR exercise done by the Corp Comm team. Over coffee I chatted up with her. She is graduating next year from a high profile private university. What she told me appalled me. She, like many others were ‘counseled’ about the scope of taking up a ‘Journalism Course’ without even checking if this girl could write English well. She is one among the 90 odd students doing this course paying almost 2 lakhs.

Another incident: My friend runs a small design studio. When she advertised for Graphic Designers, a lot of freshers turned up. All of them had been through the Multimedia course and knew the mandatory Photoshop, Corel Draw, Dream weaver etc. As I went through the process of testing them I stumbled upon another startling fact. None of these guys were artists. All of them were regular graduates who were attracted by the thought of becoming hotshot 'Art Directors’. What they didn’t realize was that Graphic Design is for artists and these softwares is just another means to transfer their art onto the computer monitor. What’s the point of giving a paintbrush in the hand of a guy who does not even know how to draw??? These poor kids knew how to operate the software but did not know how to ‘create works of art’ with it. And they too had shelled out 50 K apiece for their courses. In companies like mine only Chithra Kala Parishad or Art graduates with a Multimedia Course are allowed in as Graphic Designers. Which leaves scores of ‘Multimedia’ students out in the cold.

Students in the non-technical streams need thorough counseling so that they take up courses suited to their skills. Regular colleges don’t bother and the private universities and institutes entice students with visions of promising careers only to fill their coffers. The result, a large amount of money wasted in useless courses. These Institutes promise placement too, which is a clever arrangement with certain companies. For example students who pass out Travel and Ticketing courses are placed with small travel agencies for a pittance. The institutes have thus honored their promise, the travel agency gets cheap labor and the student soon quits, due to the abysmally low pay.

Once my Dad remarked sarcastically looking at the mushrooming institutes, that if car washing was a paying job then we would have an “ABC Car Washing Institute, 100% placements guaranteed!”

Vocational courses are big bucks now. And no one is bothered whether you have the vocation or inclination for the course.


Mind Curry said...

[i hope i am commenting on the right post and wont get deleted :)]

this is such a great post.. i absolutely agree with you..

the only positive thing i can think of is that..finally parents are beginning to realise there are professions other than a doctor or engineer! oh..and a nurse! :)

i can relate this to similar stuff that i have seen allover kerala: if something succeeds it has to be copied. even its a "murukkan kada", and preferably one has to start right in front of another successful kada.

Mind Curry said...

some of the recent colleges/courses that i saw:

National Inst of Fire Technology
National Inst of Lift Technology

National Inst of Car-wash Technology cannot be far away..I live in hope..

silverine said...

mind curry: Blogger playing up that's why I wasn't able to edit the post(s).

"finally parents are beginning to realise there are professions other than a doctor or engineer! oh..and a nurse! True but these professions are sure fire winners in the job market!!


National Inst of Fire Technology
National Inst of Lift Technology

LOL that was so funny, I hope you are joking :))

Jiby said...

Our young people are so confused... they just cant decide what is good and bad for them...everybody wants a job quickly once they are done with studies...they dont realize the slush they'll get into if they didnt take the right choices. well i am an example.

and i was smiling reading wht u wrote of ur getting a job influencing others. my quitting the IT industry had raised alarms in my native place coz a lot of cousins are in engg college now and the only explanation i cud make(they demanded one!) to cool the relatives down was it was a personal decision and their wards wont be thinking like me! i realized then that society is such a crucual factor in every decision we take.

Seeing mindcurry's comment i am reminded of a friend who joined the National Institute of Biotechnology or something like that in delhi...he saw the ad in the newspaper from kerala, paid the fees and joined and when he arrived he realized the whole thing was a scam.

superrb post...ur thinkpad is sure becoming a place for us to scribble down our thoughts too.

Alexis Leon said...

A well written post. I think this should be posted in the career guidance and placement centers of all colleges.

You are correct. The specialized jobs require special skills and to learn, master, and practice those skills one must have the aptitude. For example, I can do copyediting, indexing or proof reading. But I wouldn't even consider becoming a fulltime copywriter, proof reader, or indexer, because I don't the aptitude.

So even if a person is good in English and has excellent writing skills he/she will not be a good copywriter if the aptitude part is missing. Same goes with writing, designing and all related professions.

So it is important to give the students an idea about each profession and what jobs they are expected to do and what will be their typical duties and responsibilities so that they can make informed choices as what course to take or which profession to choose. This is where a good career counselor can help.

But good communication skills—written and spoken—are a must in any profession. That is where most of the students and professionals fail to impress. I get dozens of mails from professionals and students (my readers) seeking advice, asking help or clarifying doubts. But the language is really pathetic. It is very difficult to find even a single sentence without grammar or spelling mistakes. This is one area where all colleges (Engineering, Medical, Business Management, etc.) can make a difference—teaching effective communication skills.

Fleiger said...

Commenting on something you said to mind curry: "True but these professions are sure fire winners in the job market!!" Not to mention marriage market, which is a major consideration, at least for parents of girls.

Re:post, I agree with you that the "Arts" field is not "the last option" people choose when they haven't got enough marks in 10th/12th. You need aptitude for that field, much like you need it to be a successful engineer or doctor. In fact, considering the salaries/income, you need more inclination and liking for the jobs like copy-writing, reporting or writing. (The engineers like us use cultivated style on the blogs to get called authors ;))

b v n said...

Another great (intelligent) post from you !! And this is not just like any other issue,it probably impacts every one of us at some point or the other. Especially striking was the 'multimedia' example,many guys i know were doin 'multimedia' for a long time,the only reason was the 'assured placement'.finally for a few of them,the placement was -the institute absorbed them.(as peanuts are repelling,lets forget the pay).for some of them it was okei (dads got money,so can float for some time),but there are really poor souls who'd put in the last penny their parents wud put on 'educating' them after graduation...they are like 'stuck'...and thats the saddest thing when you are out of college.

On the other hand,a friend of mine from fine arts,trivandrum - we met at first durin one of their roadshows. he used to do bill-board painting at night for our college events n all(part time,dad not much money) but he still had the courage to choose his way. last time i talked to him,he was out of fine arts collge and in some welding technology institute in cochin - 6 month course,assured placement - he explained his household problems and his choice in a beautiful way *i'm sure he's a great artist* - but still it was sad.

Again nicely done,i rambled a bit:(....loved this post.

silverine said...

Jiby: Thank you :) Our young people are confused because our
education system does not cater to the special skills of students. It is assembly line teaching :( If children's potential can be ferreted out and nurtured then the child would have a definite idea of what he should take after school.

Alexis: Thank you and thanks for the intuitive insights. Aptitude is a must as you said in certain fields and one cannot take a profession just because of the glam qoutient. I think students taking up a course say, like "journalism" should be shown articles written by professional
journalists so that they realise what is expected of them. This would weed out half the applicants as they realise that strong command over the language and knowledge of politics, economy, social issues etc are a must for this profession. Such a session would be an eyeopener and should be made mandatory. What you say about communication skills is also true. It reduces time taken to understand what the other person is saying thus saving time and speeding up work.

Fleiger: True, you need aptitude to be an artist or a good engineer. And if a student is sure that he is going to pursue a certain profession, then his conditioning for the same begins early.

b v n: Absolutely no problem with long comments :) I feel sad for
your friend. This girl I was talking about in the post is from a middle class family, her Dad is a bank clerk :( And that is what this is all about. Most students are from the middle and lower class and it is the hard earned and saved money of their parents that is at stake. In such a situation it is imperative that good counselling be made available so that this money is not wasted. Maybe your friend can still continue Fine Arts in his free time. There is a big market for good paintings.

calvin said...

dude , THis is happening everywhere. People with zero math talent are graduating are engineers. People who cant visualize design buildings . People who hate C end up as programmers and bitch about it. And with the latest laws from state in effect , people might become doctors without knowing about the life processes. i wonder whether to accept it and live on , find a way and escape from this nation , or give myself to change this..with the latter falling far behind in the list because of how worthless it will be..


Fleiger said...

True... but then, not everybody can work in the area he/she finds interesting. Examples of people who venture outside the engineer/doctor/MBA trio are very and far between.

On the other hand, some training might help in nurturing the talent. Like somebody said, 10% imagination and 90% hard work (correct me...)

Anoop G said...

Very good one..! We need to focus on our strengths..

"But good communication skills—written and spoken—are a must in any profession."

Yes true.., I wish I had better communication skills.. "Kerala" education and software companies need feedbacks..!

silverine said...

Aashik: Don't lose heart buddy! People will learn eventually... these are birth pangs of a born again nation :)

fleiger: Very true :)

anoop g: Thank you. Nice to see you and your son here :) Even in rural Karnataka, English has been made mandatory study from 5th Std onwards to prepare Kannada speaking students for a cosmo job environment.

mathew said...

invigorating post..These stories that we guffaw at is infact the sad tale of overzealous ambitions and lure of big money!!..

Parents cant be blamed at entireity..They miss what it takes to make a career for the sake of "the-hot-job" in market..But ultimately the onus lies in the hand of the career aspirant..

Each man creates his own destiny!!

Sadly few schools have a proper career guidance unit..they make a lot of difference..

silverine said...

Mathew: Thank you :) I hope this is a passing phase because a lot of money is involved earned the hard way.

Dhanush said...

I remember learning a lesson in Malayalam at School. It was an essay by Mahathma Gandhi, where he emphasizes the need of Thozhiladhishtitha Vidyabhyasam. He was visualising that in free india there should more vocational schools than normal ones, so that the common man can learn a job along with education.

Looking at this scenario, I think in one way his vision was achieved (may be), but if he now knows what is the process behind those courses and what all sufferings layman has to undergo, he would have been devastated.(For that matter whatever is happening around would have hurt him). Nice post silverine. I think as Alexis said, this should come up in a Career Weekily or any leading newspaper so that people understand what is happening around.

Gautam said...

Super post. Such a fine reflection of where the world is heading today.

I am an event manager with one of the largest event management companies in the country. I see tons of kids who are attracted to event management, associating it with a whole load of glamour, not realising the back breaking work that is involved.

Three years ago, two Event Management Training Institutes opened up in my city as well as other cities across the country. That made us event managers feel good because our industry was being recognised as being a career option for people today.

By some quirk of nature, I was asked to be guest faculty at one of these places. I was asked to make a couple of ppt's on event management to a whole bunch of keen college kids who also now, did this course. I did. I also asked to see the course curriculum. To my shock and dismay, I realised that there was no such thing.

Can you imagine any kind of institute running with NO fixed curriculum? Not a text book? All they did, was get different people connected to the business (event managers, sound engineers, light engineers, decor pros etc) to come in, speak to these kinds and make presentations.

All this happened in year 1. The annual course fee was 10K a year. In year 2, our ppt's (all those who presented in year 1), became part of the curriculum and the course fee went to 50K. The course was sold out.

This time however, I was glad to see that the students were not as gullible as the first batch. Two years hence, there is no Batch3.

I have ranted enough. Have a good day!

quills said...

This is a great post!

I think any profession you choose, if you don't have the aptitude or the passion for it, or you did not take it up for the right reasons, then I am sure it is doomed from start. For eg, teaching. A noble profession like that should be chosen, only if you are seriously interested in imparting knowledge and not because a B.Ed or an M.Ed or a UGC qual gets you a job. I mean, I have come across many teachers, and the ones you are really in it for the love of teaching, succeeds in making any student's academic life most memorable and creates in her/him a love of that subject. And not to mention an eagerness to explore and learn further. And I truly respect those teachers, who inspires you to work harder, who encourages you to perform better, and who make sures you never lose sight of your goals. And in my academic life I have come across a few memorable people like that who have inspired in me, a deep love of a particular subject just because of they way they taught.

But in many schools and colleges, sadly this is not the case all the time.

And therefore all the more important, like you suggest, to have job counselors at hand, when u graduate from high school, who can counsel you, give you tests to figure out where your talents and abilities lie, and then direct you based on what you want, and not really what anyone else around you want for you.

silverine said...

dhanush: Gandhiji would have migrated if he were to live in these times :)) I hope the experiences of this generation will make the next genration more cautious. We have to learn the hard way as there is no one to look after our interests as our law makers..the politicians are also into the 'education business'.

gautam: It's apalling!!! And to think they cooly used you guys!!!
A colleague of mine was telling me about how an air hostess institute made her hubby come in and address the student posing as an Air India pilot. They used such gimmicks to get students. Some of the students were not even SSLC passed. It seems to be a well entrenched racket now :( I feel pity for the parents shelling out the money.Thanks for the long comment, rant way..... :)

quills: Very true, aptitude is the key. And we need counselors. Lots of them...I think if some of those institute wallahs read this they may start a "National Institute of Academic Counselors" too :))Thank you for the insights :)

Jeseem said...

There is an urgent need for colleges and schools to give proper industry guidance.
people atleast search the net. there is such a wealth of information on any job profiles.
however that doesn't mean one shouldn't try a new domain, just 'cause he/she has no prior experience. so many writers have started penning, very late in there life. many software engineers have become lawyers and doctors and finance guys ( ofcourse it pays better :))
the young people also need to test the waters, before they enter. that means more schools and colleges and industries giving small one-month like internships and ofcourse people like you ( smooth talking, laughter infecting ones) going back to school and talking about your job. maybe you can get your employer to have young people come-in for a month and have short internship stints, so they know what they are getting into and how far they have to go.

silverine said...

Jeseem: Very good observations. I do go to my college and so do many of the old students as we have past students and present students sessions. But I notice that I am too late, most of the students, in say in the English and Journalism stream do not have the ability to write and they get scared when I tell them about my job.
Then I feel bad because they are already into first year or second
year :( Which is why pre admission counseling is needed. I have talked to our Princi too and she tells me that most students have already made up their mind on what course to take influenced by what they percieve is a good career.By the time Internship happens it is too late as they have spent a good three years to discover they are in the wrong stream. Pre admission counsellors for non technical streams are rare and pre admission counselling for non technical students is a must.
You are right,some people discover they are good writers much later in life...but we are talking not about exceptional talents here :)

Thank you, as usual you have given a fresh prespective to the issue.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Sorry, I've been trying to avoid commenting where its just a compliment(oh boy!) on think pad or an ROFL on poomanam, but this article is beautiful! You bring out such a valid point. I just wish I could go stick this on the front door of all colleges/universities taking students for the finer arts.