Education On The Rocks!

“My marriage is on the rocks!”

“Scotch on the rocks, please.”

I can understand why people say a marriage is on the rocks. I am quite certain the expression came to be originally borrowed from the evocative, if distressing, image of ships being wrecked by unseen rocks in the water. Or, the term could have begun as a metaphor for a marriage torn apart by cross-currents and under-currents before being finally wrecked on a rocky shore.

But why is the expression ‘on the rocks’ used when asking for a drink to be served only with ice and no other mix?

Is it meant to be sardonic, as in implying that by downing this drink, I am going to end up wrecked on the rocks?

Food for thought, that:)

On the rocks. A fairly innocuous expression in its usage. But one that still warns of impending disaster.

So, what happens when education is served on the rocks? Or, to put it differently, when education is on the rocks?

Wherever the Homo sapiens species congregates, politics and the jostle for power follows. So, history tells us.

I don’t know if I am alone in feeling this. But lately, I have been feeling that the jousts for establishing superior prowess and gathering power has intensified in degree. Especially in the corporate world.

Puzzling over the phenomenon, one day enlightenment dawned.

The stakes had got much higher.

Prior to the 1990s, salaried employees worked their way up the corporate echelon slowly and steadily. Expectations of the next increment, promotion and perquisites were lower and more realistic.

The stakes were lower. Consequently, so were the politics.

The 1990s brought an explosion of sunrise industries, intense competition in existing business categories, globalisation, venture capital, private equity funding and a talent crunch.

Executive compensation went through the roof. As did campus placement offers. In India, campus recruitment offers even made it to front page headline status in daily newspapers. Here are some examples:

IIM-Bangalore grads see spurt in overseas offer and 15-20% increase in average salary.

ISI Kolkata student bags $100,000 offer from Google.

IIM-A students hone selling point on gruelling day.

The value of placement offers kept shooting up but in an inverse relation of sorts, education (I think) went on the rocks.

Serious educationists should have seen it coming the moment educational outcomes began being measured by the success rate of student placements and the number of top dollar offers bagged.

So should have world and business leaders with a modicum of understanding of human nature. Surely they knew that work cultures and social values would get negatively impacted?

Why am I saying this?

Because, in hindsight, the issue is that once you start earning top dollar, you embark on a high maintenance lifestyle. Not to mention develop egos fatter than the wallet carried.

Then it becomes all about bragging rights over your CTC, the size of your house, the showy cars, first class travel, luxury Armani suits, Rolex watches and luxury holidays.

Unsaid and unexpressed is the constant pressure to prove one’s value to the employer and the underlying insecurity that it can all come toppling down any minute.

There’s just too much to lose. Hard work and sheer competence may not be enough what with competition from peers and even eager-beaver juniors jostling on the rung below.

And so, many a politico is born.

This, I have come to believe, is the result of a world where ROI of education is measured not in terms of graduates who possess a rich bank of knowledge and are upright young men and women but in pure dollar terms.

Forget the politicos.

An education system on the rocks is beginning to now cost society dearly in young lives.

There is a terrible price being paid as is evident by the recent tragic death of the 24-year old Sarvshreshth Gupta, an analyst at the Goldman Sachs office in San Francisco. According to news reports, Gupta called his father a few hours before his death to say, “it is too much. I have not slept for two days, have a client meeting tomorrow morning, have to complete a presentation, my VP is annoyed and I am working alone in my office.”*

Gupta is not the only case. There have been a number of suicides and unexpected deaths among financial service employees caused by untenable work hours and pressure.

In India, the ‘death by dollar’ starts even earlier, as evidenced by the rise in the number of student suicides*; an outcome of parental, peer and even educationist pressure to pass examinations with high grades. All eyes clearly are on getting into Ivy League colleges – the perceived ticket to top dollar campus placement offers.

India is not alone in seeing young lives destroyed. In an article in The Guardian, George Monbiot asks “The political system that delivers these outcomes is sustained by aspiration: the faith that if we try hard enough we could join the elite, even as living standards decline and social immobility becomes set almost in stone. But to what are we aspiring? A life that is better than our own, or worse?”*

In the same article, Monbiot points to some concerning statistics. Apparently, mental health beds for children in England has increased by 50% between 1999-2014. Do read the article and when you do, you will discover the kind of lives society is now condemning young people to. Here’s just one more verbatim quote from Monbiot’s piece in The Guardian:


They spoke of parents who had already decided that their six-month-old son would go to Cambridge then Deutsche Bank, or whose two-year-old daughter “had a tutor for two afternoons a week (to keep on top of maths and literacy) as well as weekly phonics and reading classes, drama, piano, beginner French and swimming. They were considering adding Mandarin and Spanish. ‘The little girl was so exhausted and on edge she was terrified of opening her mouth.’”

In New York, playdate coaches charging $450 an hour train small children in the social skills that might help secure their admission to the most prestigious private schools. They are taught to hide traits that could suggest they’re on the autistic spectrum, which might reduce their chances of selection.

One can blame parents who should know better. Or, one can ask hard questions of world leaders, captains of industry and above all, educationists.

There is a glimmer of hope though. It appears that youngsters may take matters into their own hands. I recently came across this article Millennial Entrepreneurs Find New Way To Work For Social Good*. The article cheered me no end because it indicated that people and blue chip business firms may be waking up. Do read it.

#education #workculture #employment


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Featured Image Credit: Graduation Cap by John Fowler ( CC BY 2.0)

*Shreya Biswas. February 17, 2014. IIM-Bangalore grads see spurt in overseas offer and 15-20% increase in average salaryET Bureau.

*Devina Sengupta. October 1, 2013. ISI Kolkata student bags $100,000 offer from Google. ET Bureau.

*Aparna Kalra. March 10, 2007. IIM-A students hone selling point on gruelling dayLive Mint.

*Julia La Roche. June 10, 2015. A 22-year-old Goldman Sachs analyst’s death has been ruled a suicide. Business Insider.

*Kelly Kislaya. May 1, 2015. Student suicide scare before CBSE board results. The Times of India.

*George Monbiot. June 9, 2015. Aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate joyless life. The Guardian.

*Katie. June 11, 2015. Millennial Entrepreneurs Find New Way To Work For Social GoodLiterally Darling.

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