Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the fairly long recess…:-). These past few months gave me an opportunity to deeply contemplate about life and my interests. I had also been waiting for an appropriate topic to blog about and wanted it to be thought provoking for the readers as well as myself.After all, it is the quality and not the quantity that matters …;-).
Over the last five years, we have seen, heard and read a lot about the India Success story (unprecedented growth on almost all fronts, booming real estate prices, skyrocketing sensex, overflowing foreign exchange reserves and so on) and the factors fuelling it – Burgeoning middle class, cost arbitrage, easy availability of high quality english speaking workforce etc. Of all these, the last one has interested me the most and I decided to dissect the pros and cons of this factor – ‘Easy availability of high quality English speaking workforce’. I hope this article exercises a lot of neurons in you, the readers…Happy brain gym’ing!
There is no doubt in my mind, that the availability of English speaking graduates and their sheer number in India has been one of the major accelerators for India’s growth.
However, I’ve started wondering if the persistence of this trend is sustainable and even acceptable! While it may sound ironical that a product of this trend like myself should make such an emphatic statement, I believe that it also qualifies me to write about this trend and give others an insider’s view.
Let us start by looking at Andhra Pradesh ( a state in South India) as a case in point. A.P has about 650 engineering colleges and produces about 1,50,000 engineers every year.The scene has not been too different in neighboring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This frenzy of starting and joining engineering colleges has been set off largely due to the swelling number of jobs in the I.T sector and other allied sectors of the industry. Today, youngsters are virtually assured of a seat in engineering colleges and many a time in the recent past, the supply of engineering seats has far exceeded demand. Parents of youngsters also view the engineering stream as safe and secure and an investment with guaranteed returns in the shortest possible time. This trend is evident from the number of students joining other professional courses, including medicine, which for long was considered the best and also the toughest. All entrance examination numbers point to the steady decline in the number of students opting for non engineering professional courses. Today, youngsters join engineering colleges where the quality of faculty is questionable at best. They manage to complete the course with minimal emphasis on concepts . However, the lack of these hardly affects them as they are often recruited in their penultimate year of graduation by one of the I.T majors or other BPO companies (often known in campus lingo as ‘the bus companies’). This trend has set off a vicious cycle and we shall pay a heavy price for it in the long term if we do not realize the problem on hand and take appropriate remedial measures to correct it. The promise of easy jobs in the I.T and BPO sectors has blinded youngsters and parents alike to the importance of conceptual learning in professional courses and the potential of research careers. After having seen several people in the I.T industry, it is fair to say that these companies hardly leverage from the knowledge gained by students in their respective professional courses and more often than not, it is the English speaking skill and the adaptibility of students to learn and excel at this skill, that the companies are interested in.
In complete contrast, we may want to look at our other Asian neighbors namely China, S.Korea and Japan. These countries have witnessed equally stellar if not more spectacular growth rates in the past few decades and their ability to sustain their performance in the foreseeable future can hardly be doubted. While such spectacular growth rates in China and South Korea can be attributed to their dominance in the manufacturing sector, all three of the above mentioned countries have also been able to maintain a consistent supply of highly exceptional people for their research facilities. The huge number of advanced degree holders (Master’s and Ph.D’s) emerging from these countries shows the preparedness of these countries for conducting high quality, indigenous research. In the midst of all this, we shall not forget that the primary language of instruction in these nations is their respective national language. The lack of fluency in English inhibits the employment of a large number of Chinese or S.Koreans in call centre jobs and jobs that primarily require such fluency. While, this deficiency can be seen as a lost opportunity for these countries, I have reasons to believe otherwise. I won’t be surprised if this lost opportunity infact turns out to be a boon rather than a bane for these countries. In a few years, they would have realized that shielding their young graduates from such sectors has assured them of quality research scientists and highly exceptional talent in areas of strategic importance.
While the purpose of this article is certainly not to discount the importance of English in shaping Indians as highly adaptable people, it is time policies are formulated that would make research careers more attractive in India and ample opportunities need to be created so that research oriented graduates enter the career of their choice rather than entering an industry where their innovative abilities are hardly relevant and more of language translation machines than anything else. The next few mmonths are expected to be turbulent for the I.T and B.P.O sectors in India and this may not be a bad time to pause and reflect for a moment, the way forward.