The Restive Youth

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Joblessness, Alienation, Reservation, Education and Desperation among the Youth

By Arun Kumar *

Patel youth movement for reservation in Gujarat is not showing signs of abating and is likely to spread to other states if it is not settled soon. But, whether or not that happens, is there a solution? It may be that the Patel movement only aims to strike at reservations in the country. It is also true that while some Patels are well off, a majority of them are not and they may be genuinely protesting out of frustration.

Signs of desperation and frustration among the youth are visible all around. In UP 23 lakh people have applied for 368 posts of peons. Among them are a few hundred Ph.D. and many B. Tech, M. Sc and M.Com. The minimum required qualification is only Class V. Over qualified people applying in such large numbers reflects despondency and hopelessness. But this is nothing new. Some years back a similar thing happened for railway jobs but the scale is now larger reflecting a growing crisis in the lives of the young. No wonder jobs are sought to be ring fenced by a variety of means and reservations is one of them. The recent Maharashtra government order requiring knowledge of Marathi to drive autos in Mumbai is another example.

Such moves for ring fencing jobs are a consequence of the acute employment problem in the country. There is rising enrolment at all levels of education but commensurate jobs are not being generated by the economy. So, opportunities for the youth, corresponding to their degrees, are lacking. It is another matter that the degrees may not reflect capability and are a mere passport to jobs. Nonetheless, a degree raises expectations of a good life and when this is belied it leads to alienation among the youth. This is especially so when families spend enormous resources in capitation fees or in private high cost courses. The future of the family is put at stake and some who dispose of the few assets they possess even slip below the poverty line in an attempt to get their children into higher education. No wonder, communities are trying to protect jobs for their young by whatever means possible.

India has little social security so people cannot afford to be unemployed as in the advanced countries. To survive, they pick up any menial work which is then counted as employment. No wonder data shows little unemployment. The problem is under employment – people working at jobs for which they are over qualified or working for a few hours in a day or a week. It is not uncommon to meet courier boys or taxi drivers or daily wage labourers with graduate degrees.

The crux of the problem then is job creation and building capability among the youth. The pink press highlights reports of IIM graduates getting jobs paying 7 figure salaries or an entire batch getting a job before they complete their degrees. But, this group represents less than 0.1% of job seekers. It is often said that people should generate jobs for themselves - they should display an entrepreneurial spirit. 

The reality is that few can create a job for themselves; that requires capital and capability and in a country which is as poor as India and where the education system is as weak as it is, both of these are scarce. Few have the training that enables them to work independently. ASER reports suggest that 50% children in the 5th class have the skill of a 1st class child. Malnourishment stunts the development of many children. 80% of the children drop out of the school so that even formally, they have little training for good jobs. 

Further, 93.5% work in the unorganized sectors at low incomes. If child labour is included, the percentage would be 95%. The desirable organized sector jobs that pay well are few. For 12 million children joining the work force annually only 4% get the organized sector jobs. Most of the investment goes into this sector but it is so capital intensive that it displaces labour. That is also true of modern agriculture and modern small scale sectors. Business argues that to compete globally, it has to go for modern labour displacing technology. That is why there is a fight over the public sector jobs since the private sector does not have reservations. But new public sector jobs are few since the government has been downsizing since 1991. This makes the fight for reservations even more acute. 

Alienation is accentuated by the failings of our education system which is increasingly delinked from the lives of people. Teaching is of poor quality in a vast majority of even the good institutions. It does not enable students to understand but focuses on rote learning and reproducing that mechanically to pass exams. To get into the IITs large numbers attend coaching classes and schools which specialize in exam techniques. 

Passing exams is a passport to a job. When learning is secondary, this is best achieved by cheating which has become rampant. The other way to get the passport is via reservation in educational institutions. Capitation fee is also used by the well off to get this passport which is often worthless because of the poor training imparted in many of these institutions.

Teaching is poor not only because teachers themselves learnt by rote and lack understanding but often there is shortage of teachers. In the Central Universities, IITs, etc., up to 40% posts are vacant. Many private institutions have poor quality and ill paid teachers. Often classes are held by over worked part time and ad hoc teachers who are paid minimum wages or less. Their motivation to teach well is minimal. Good teaching comes from commitment but even many permanent teachers lack devotion. The conditions they work in and the facilities they have do not encourage originality or research.

Whatever students learn is soon forgotten so that a key role of education in converting facts into knowledge to gain understanding is singularly missing in our education system. The content of education appears tedious and boring rather than fun. Skills need to be built step by step but if the base in the schools is weak, it persists and becomes a handicap difficult to overcome in later years. Thus, few students acquire the skills needed for advanced sector jobs. Industry complains of shortage of talented students and research is of poor quality all around. 

Education that enables citizens to gain a wider understanding of life also gives hope for the future. In its absence and especially when the chances of getting a good job are remote, students lose hope. Even good students believe that jobs require the push of someone influential. One’s own merit counts for little. All this brings about despondency and hopelessness among the vast majority of the students. It opens them up to the idea of a glorious past when things were better and alienates them from the present. This is fertile ground for subversive ideas and a divisive agenda.

To tackle the reservation issue, the nation needs to reform its education system and create productive jobs on a large scale. For this it has to decide on the appropriate choice of technology and the investment pattern. The pendulum has swung too far in favour of markets and technology and away from the needs of the youth; an appropriate balance is required.          

* Arun Kumar is a retired professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, JNU.. He is the author of `Indian Economy since Independence: Persisting Colonial Disruption’. Vision Books. This article was published in The Tribune.

JULY 2018

Vol. 12 - No. 12


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