Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Devaluing education

The past week has been both exciting and hectic. Sometimes, exhausting too. But, in four days, I learnt more than I have over the past year. It's been absolutely wonderful in some ways, and annoying in others. One particular incident made me see red. P is someone I met over the last week. She is a teacher. Just like me. She has a daughter, who studied at Sciences Po. Just like me. She learnt that I too belonged to her daughter's alma mater and that somehow pricked her over three days before she finally broached the topic with me.

"You studied at Sciences Po, right?" she asked, in a rather patronising tone.

I looked up startled, wondering what I did wrong by studying there.

"Yes, I did," I replied.

"So, what the hell are you doing here at the Alliance?" she volleyed.

Eh? What did my working at the Alliance française have to do with my studying at Sciences Po? I asked her that and she came up with the weirdest explanation I have ever heard. As I said before, her daughter studied there and came back home, having changed her mind about the direction her life was going to take. She did finance, came back, and decided she did not want to work for any company any more. She was going to work for an NGO and do some social work.

So, what is the problem? Precisely that. Her parents could not digest the fact that she chose to come back with a Master's degree in finance and choose not to work in a company and make loads of money. Why? Two reasons:

  1. They spent 12 lakhs on her education and expected to get some of it back
  2. She was a girl, and the fact that they spent so much on sending her to Sciences Po meant they could not get her married with as hefty a dowry as they could have.

So, why did P have a problem with me? Because she sees me working as a teacher at the Alliance and decides I have lost focus by virtue of having spent two years at Sciences Po. Just like her daughter did.

"But," I protested violently, "I have not lost focus.I have just decided to diversify."

"Ha! Diversify indeed. That's just a bloody euphemism for losing focus," she retorted.

By this time, I had lost my patience and simply walked away. I don't need to justify my life's choices to some random stranger who thinks I am ruining my life. But, this incident set me thinking. Why exactly did P think her daughter was wasting her life? Was it really money? Or dowry? I doubt it. I think this reflects a deep-seated attitude in the Indian psyche that only education that results in monetary gain is worthwhile. It was never supposed to be this way. Education is supposed to enlighten. My heart bleeds to see well-educated people equate the value of education to the quantity of money you make. I may not make millions. I may not even make a few lakhs. But, the fact remains that I love my job. I chose to do what I am doing today. I was not forced into it. Also, I believe that no education is useless. I have learnt something every year of my life, irrespective of the effect those years have on my financial status. Why do we forget that every little piece of information adds value to our lives? Why do we forget that no education, however "useless" it might seem is really so? Education has a value that is far beyond simply monetary. I only hope parents realise this truth when there is still time. It makes me grateful to have parents who think like me. Life would have miserable otherwise.

4 comments:

Meghna said...

Interesting post which taught me so much!
parents are certainly covetous and over-react at times...but what they do is for our own good after all :P

Ms Cris said...

Wow! Why do I feel like you were writing my story? Cause I quit my software job and chose to be a writer and am going through the same phase. And I have a long way to go if/before I ever reach where I want to. But as you rightly say, you choose your career and you choose where you know you belong!

Well-written! Nice blog :-)

I have written on similar lines in my blog :-)

Indian Home Maker said...

This is so common! I went through Science and Arts struggle too. I am glad you are doing what you love to do. There is no other way to be happy. I have seen people slog at work, hating every moment of it,, and waiting for the evening or the weekend to truly live, when they do what they love...You have chosen to do what you like o do, you don't need to wait for our retirement/weekends etc to start living.

The Minking Than said...

Well well, birds of a feather flock together. What else can I say when I see Cris also here. I have to agree with you 100% on your opinion about education and decision about a career. Indians (with an orthodox mindset) have a warped view about education and career choices. I feel that people should follow their passion. They should set their own goals and pursue it. At least they should try it. Good to get in touch with people who share similar ideas. Persist in what you love to do and I am sure that lakhs you mentioned will come to you :)