Sunday, March 8, 2009

Education and Social Mobility

In an article published more than a year ago I had mentioned how education is proving to be the most important tool for social and economic mobility. In the past 5-8 years, large numbers of youngsters from deprived backgrounds (socially and economically) have found their way out to better prospects for themselves and their families through acquiring better education. The growth in the economy, especially in the IT and other services sectors, has been a boon for them. One cannot also ignore the sacrifices that the families of these youngsters have made to make their dreams possible.

Have things changed now? Or rather, do people now look at education differently now?

Why do I ask?

The fear that economic slowdown in the US and Europe will be pulling back growth in other countries of the world seems to be coming real. Even in countries like India and China which were reportedly growing at or above 10 percent and seemed to be poised to continue at the same rate for some more time, the effects are visible.

Companies depending on orders from the the US and Europe, and not only in the IT space, expect sharply lower business for a couple of years. The fear of their employees seeing lower pay packets or even of losing their jobs were compounded by the Satyam scam. Immediately after the scam came out there were reports that the company would shut down and almost 53000 would lose their jobs.

Around this same time, we saw a report of one IT graduate who had got into network marketing after his day job. "This way I will be assured of some income even if I lose my job", he is reported to have said.

People spend a lot of money (borrowed) and give up many comforts and even essentials to go higher education, because they believe that things will surely change after they have got their degrees.
If there is no assurance that things will improve, rather, if there is apprehension that the expenses on education will bring on additional burden, will families be willing to take the risk?

Will a tea-stall owner in Patna borrow for his sons IIT education if the prospects of a well-paying job are low?