Ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Faisal Bari

CAN I talk to you for 5 min­utes?" "Sure." "I did very poorly in the quiz." "How poorly?" "I got a zero." "That is a prob­lem. A zero shows you could not even at­tempt the eas­ier parts." "I think I do not un­der­stand eco­nom­ics. And I am wor­ried. What hap­pens if I fail the course? And eco­nom­ics is my ma­jor." "What were your A-Level grades like?" "I got two As and a B." "Then un­der­stand­ing ba­sic eco­nom­ics should not be an is­sue." "I just don't seem to get it." "That can­not be. This is an in­tro­duc­tory course. And we are just do­ing ba­sic com­mon­sense stuff about de­mand/sup­ply." "I have not taken eco­nom­ics be­fore." "This course has no pre­req­ui­sites: it is an in­tro­duc­tion. Some­thing else must be go­ing on. Are you spend­ing time with books? Any ten­sion? Not fallen in love, have you?" "No. Noth­ing like that." "What are your hob­bies? What are you read­ing right now?" "This very fas­ci­nat­ing book on Napoleon." "You like history?" "Jee." "Then why are you ma­jor­ing in eco­nom­ics?" "My fa­ther told me to. He feels a de­gree in eco­nom­ics will lead to bet­ter job prospects."

There are some vari­a­tions on the de­tails, but I have, in my teach­ing ca­reer - now span­ning al­most two decades - had many such con­ver­sa­tions. Lots of stu­dents choose the in­sti­tu­tions they en­rol in, the de­grees and ma­jors they pur­sue, and some­times even the cour­ses they en­rol in on the ba­sis of ad­vice from par­ents and/or on the ba­sis of per­ceived no­tions of what would be more mar­ketable, will have bet­ter job prospects or will give them 'bet­ter re­turns.'

A lot of this ad­vice is just com­pletely off the mark. Un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees are not about be­com­ing an ex­pert in any area. They are about learn­ing how to learn. They are about de­vel­op­ing one's skills at de­bat­ing, at mak­ing log­i­cal and per­sua- sive ar­gu­ments, and about learn­ing clear think­ing. They are about tast­ing a lot of sub­jects and find­ing what one likes. And, they are about do­ing ex­plo­rations that al­low the full de­vel­op­ment and flow­er­ing of per­son­al­i­ties that young stu­dents are be­com­ing.

Un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees should not be seen as be­ing tied too closely to job prospects. Un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees should not be seen as be­ing tied too closely to job prospects. Job prospects change rapidly as economies have be­come and con­tinue to be­come more dy­namic. In­stead of try­ing to fig­ure out what job prospects will be like in en­gi­neer­ing or IT four years down the road, and even trends within sub-dis­ci­plines, it is a much bet­ter idea to fo­cus on learn­ing skills that al­low you to be more flex­i­ble and al­low you to gain the con­fi­dence and the abil­ity to adapt as the needs of your area evolve.

Young peo­ple also need to un­der­stand that there is al­ways room at the top of any pro­fes­sion. We pro­duce a lot of doc­tors. Does that mean we do not need any more 'good' doc­tors? Are you sat­is­fied with the doc­tors you go to? I still can­not find good doc­tors: no geri­atric care providers, not too many on­col­o­gists, etc, but more im­por­tantly, even to­day there are not too many good gen­eral physi­cians in Pak­istan.

The same is true of other ar­eas too. Even in ar­eas like Urdu literature or Is­lamiyat, where we do pro­duce lots of mas­ters-level peo­ple, it is not the case that we have a lot of qual­ity Urdu literature grad­u­ates or Is­lamic stud­ies scholars. There will al­ways be room for those who have a pas­sion for a sub­ject and can of­fer qual­ity. Such peo­ple will al­ways be able to make room for them­selves.

There is plenty of ev­i­dence now, from var­i­ous coun­tries, that peo­ple with a bet­ter qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion, one that al­lows stu­dents to adopt and adapt, are able to sur­vive and thrive much more easily in dy­namic set­tings, and they are also able to cope with shocks much bet­ter. And, shocks, one can bet one's last rupee, are bound to hap­pen over the life­time of any per­son and any ca­reer in any area now.

It might come across as trite, but it is a fact that peo­ple en­joy as well as work harder at things they like/love. "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." Whether Con­fu­cius said this or not, there is wis­dom in it. For those who saw the Bol­ly­wood movie 3 Id­iots, do keep the char­ac­ter of Farhan, who wanted to be a pho­tog­ra­pher but was be­ing co­erced into be­com­ing an engi­neer, in mind. When young minds are forced to study sub­jects they do not like/love, do not care for, or do not re­ally want to en­gage with, they con­sciously or sub­con­sciously re­sist and rebel. Many still make it through, but their dis­like for the sub­ject only in­creases with time. Fur­ther, their love for learn­ing is hurt and their abil­ity to en­joy life di­min­ished.

Some are lucky. They rebel suc­cess­fully and are able to switch to what they wanted to study. Farhan, from 3 Id­iots, was in the end one of the lucky ones. But there are some who are not. Some do so poorly in stud­ies that they are forced to drop out of their univer­si­ties and col­leges. These young peo­ple pay a heavy price for ei­ther poor ad­vice or the lack of ac­cess to proper coun­selling and guid­ance ser­vices. Even most of the elite pri­vate-sec­tor schools do not have proper guid­ance and coun­selling ser­vices. It is painful to see young minds be­ing de­stroyed or be­ing se­ri­ously dam­aged over is­sues that could have been avoided or could have been han­dled with just a sim­ple but wellinformed ses­sion with a de­cent coun­sel­lor. We have only scratched the sur­face of is­sues in the area of ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers. We will re­turn to these in sub­se­quent ar­ti­cles as well.

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