Caring for our future generation

Most of us Kashmiris still live in the dark ages when it comes to career planning for our children. Outside valley people plan careers for their children as early as in 8th class (even before that). While we’re ready to go to any extent to invest in the education of our children, we tend to be obnoxiously conceited with pretensions to smartness. We think we already know a lot and don’t need any expert advice. The upshot is that the careers of our children invariably end up in disaster. The most natural thing for parents is to expect children to fulfil their own unachieved desires or to even follow in their footsteps. As the little fellows aren’t in a position to question the wisdom of their parents, the square peg invariably ends up in a round hole. A mathematical prodigy lands up as a doctor and a design wizkid fails himself as a civil servant.

During the counseling sessions convened by Kashmir Education Initiative (KEI), we observe that almost 95% of the students (and parents) want to become a doctor. Obsessed, they shut their eyes, and dig their heels. Our attempts to dissuade them and counsel them about other lucrative careers invariably fail. While most of them never crack the NEET, the starry-eyed whizkids that somehow enter a medical college (anywhere on earth) & graduate as doctors after spending heaps of money and years of youth kick themselves after they fail to find a suitable job.

Another bunch of starry-eyed youngsters—- many of them don’t know why—- are our Ph.D. scholars. They give up the chance to earn some real money in a steady job and lose the simplicity of regular hours and a boss who tells them what to do. Except, some exceptionally brilliant brains, a great majority of these scholars had failed to get jobs after their graduation; and hence joined research. Much to their chagrin, after years of toil and labor, cherishing the illusion that some plum jobs would be waiting for them on a silver platter, these goof-offs end up again as lose-outs. Jobs are scarce as hen’s teeth. While all this happens, counseling agencies rake in heaps of money. They churn out an army of unemployed graduates after selling admissions to the wide-eyed ignorant aspirants in the private engineering, technology, medicine, management colleges outside Kashmir.

We don’t know how the job market will look like in 2030 or 2040. This’s so especially in view of the total change in job dynamics in the post-Covid scenario of the hybrid-workforce model and the “virtual-first” enterprise. As most of what kids currently learn at school probably goes irrelevant by the time they’re forty, the traditional model of a-period-of-learning-followed-by-a-period-of-working turns obsolete. The only way for us to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout our lives and to reinvent ourselves repeatedly. As humans replaced muscles with machines people shifted into better-paying jobs where they used their minds more. Blue-collar jobs were replaced by white-collar jobs. Now things are on to gradually figure out how to replace minds with machines. Remember, horses were initially complemented by plowing which greatly increased their productivity. Once they’re substituted for by automobiles/tractors, obsolescence, as a source of moveable power, led their sale to meatpackers to be processed into dog-food, bone-meal, leather, and glue. Horses failed to explore alternative employment through which to earn their keep. It seems unless we wake up, a similar fate is there to befall us Kashmiris.

Our children must differ from us in terms of shifting goalposts and have a better idea of what they want from their life. Giving career advice when jobs won’t get entirely eliminated in the near future, but which will see many of their components automated, is very difficult. Careers that machines are bad at, and seem unlikely to get automated in the near future may be good. But then questions arise; what when the demand outstrips supply? What about those jobs that require repetitive/structured actions in predictable settings and won’t most likely last long before getting automated away? And what about the jobs that require interacting, using social-intelligence, involving creativity, coming up with clever solutions, and requiring work in an unpredictable environment?

We’ve to understand that education has become something to be endured. The generation that is coming up is internalizing the rules of achievement-based society; learning to run a rat race where the main metrics of success are your resume and your paycheque; and growing less inclined to color outside the lines, less inclined to dream or to dare, to fantasize or explore. As advanced economies are honeycombed with millions of social inventors, innovators, organizational risk-takers, dreamers, and practical men and women, the better education with access to more knowledge, the most powerful knowledge tools and skills are known to humankind and an environment free of political and physical uncertainties alone shall provide a chance for us to invent better tomorrow.

India has been getting benefited, e.g. from the demographic dividend to produce some of the most gifted engineering, computer science, and software whiz kids on the globe to be of great use to the developed world. In the talent based world, today your first management job out of business/engineering school could be melding specialties of a knowledge team. That takes a very special kind of skill (much in demand in the world) which in India is available at the premier institutions like IISCs, IISER, ISI, IIMs, IBS, IIFT, XLRI, FMS, IIT, NIT, DTU, BITS, IIIT, IISER, NID, NIFT, NALSAR, NLU, ICAI, ICSI, CIMA and other similarly placed premier schools. In India, there are only 50-60 thousand students from these institutions who matter when compared to the total of more than 15 million enrolled in higher education that people talk about. As they’re the whiz kids who man the important positions in the top-notch institutions across the world, it’s only when we guide our youth into these institutions that we hopefully have a breed of no-nonsense, balanced humans, who’re compassionate in action, not talk, and instead of locking themselves with theories, dogmas and bigotry roll up sleeves and make the world a better place.