Friday, February 22, 2013
Education and Employability: Who's afraid of Knowledge?
Employability is the mantra of the day, because we sure have a jobs problem. Governments are making universities, in fact education system as a whole, the scapegoat for millions of unemployed that they have to deal with. The conclusion is straightforward: There must be an education problem if so many people can't find jobs even after getting educated. And, hence, increasingly, public policy is making employability the centre-piece of the higher education agenda.
I shall argue that this oversimplifies the problem and diverts our attention. I am not suggesting that the education model does not need looking at: Indeed, we need to revisit what the universities do in the context of the modern world. But, employability is not a problem created by the universities and colleges, it is a structural issue and everyone knows this. To start with, there are not enough jobs available. It is very good to say that there are vacancies for Rocket Scientists and Brain Surgeons while there is unemployment at the street, but no university in the world can, or would wish to, take a salesman and try turn him into a Brain Surgeon. It is important to acknowledge that the jobs crisis is triggered by, in a mundane way, by lack of jobs.
I make this point because I believe this quest for employability is misguided, and indeed, counterproductive. This makes us feel that the education is useless because it is not getting us jobs. It discriminates against certain disciplines, which are socially important and profoundly rewarding to people who pursue them, such as History or Philosophy, and make everyone follow the herd into disciplines such as Business or Accountancy, only to end them up in the disappointment of joblessness. Indeed, the business students learn assiduously the merits of productivity enhancement, but miss the irony that this means lack of jobs of themselves.
Indeed, this is not an argument for a return to the ivory tower: Education must make its recipient socially useful, and not a disconnected snob, or at least not any more. But, the central point is that there is a difference between being socially useful and employable, and when the employment opportunities are shrinking, it is the job of education institutions, in fact an essential reason for their existence, is to equip its pupils with perspectives and knowledge that helps them see the alternatives. This common sense point is being lost in the cacophony about employability, which is the easy route pursued by clueless politicians to drive restless young people to mediocrity and despair, and the chimera to avoid scrutiny, which an useful education, focused on finding a person's useful social role, would expose them into.
So, the way things are now, it is knowledge versus employability: Enlightening versus the useless, pitted against one another. I really don't want to make this sound adversarial, but this is how it is, the rhetoric about employability is all about demoting the role of knowledge, and even denying that one needs to know anything at all, and fitting the student attitudes and lives in the debt-fuelled consumption continuum. There is no one who is left to doubt this, indeed: No one standing up and yelling "Give it a break!"
Give it a break! Indeed, that's what we ought to say. The practise of education should push forward our understanding and instead of situated, choked shall we say, within the context of our current social reality, should empower us collectively to see the possibilities and to imagine. These institutions are the ones which should, before everyone, see beyond employability, see that the era of company man, lifetime jobs and pension-centred retired life is over. The educators are the ones who should explore the new ways of being socially useful, and how we transform our lives, and that of our next generation, to fit the era of diminished employment. But this stepping outside of the box has been forbidden, locked down, by this monstrous mediocrity called the employability.
This trade-off is dangerous, ultimately soul-destroying. A student should be touching their graduation parchment with a sense of fulfillment and confidence, that s/he has traversed the path and enjoyed the journey, and this point on, would seek to create value for all those around them, who have supported, facilitated, paid for that journey. This is not utopian, this is what it is meant to be. However, this is being eaten away: The debts, the crushing burden of being a consumer, makes the moment of graduation feel like jailbreak, a burst of freedom into uncertainty, identity crisis and extreme fear. In fact, most have been prepared that way: The media stories of millions of unemployed, the politician's rhetoric of employability deficit, the businesses moaning the lack of nuclear scientists who would work for nothing. The achievements are belittled, the education considered useless, knowledge a pretension one needs to leave behind as they enter the 'practical' world. The educator may be blamed for this dichotomy, and the student is its obvious victim, but it is this construct that needs redoing, and not what education is for.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the...
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are ...
There are two reasons why I am writing this post, which is really a retake of an earlier post - Should Britain Apologise? - which I recen...
There is no longer an automatic progression from higher education to work. There was perhaps never was one, but usually the jobs that need...
2016 has been a watershed year for many 'Liberals' - with its paradigm shifting events such as Brexit and Trump - but the writing ...
Calcutta Coffee House - Famed but Forgotten One of the key arguments in favour of urbanisation is that cities can be creative and inno...
University making in India is entering a new phase. The rushed expansion of the Higher Education system is perhaps over, with many of thos...
Italy recently apologised to Libya for its occupation of the country between 1911 and the Second Word War and offered an investment deal of...
As much as we, expats, try to deny it, we are at an inflexion point. The great global wave of migration, that set off in the 90s and that ...
Introduction “Nationalism is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of Nineteenth Century” is the opening statement of Elie Kedo...
How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.