Articles

Where Will the ‘Mediocre’ Go?

by Sachin S. Solanki

It doesn’t have to be but at times when perfection and excellence are fetishized to the extent of exclusion of substandardness as a sin- ‘Mediocracy’ can cost you dearly.

It is despairing to note that when The Republic of India celebrates its 75th anniversary of freedom, a major chunk of its demography still lives shackled under the burden of vanishing hopes. As the world finds itself shifting into a new era, the present educational landscape of the country is not in conformity with its aspirations anymore. Reasons abound for this grim reality. The existing arena of higher education is one of them.

A FORTRESS WITH NO FOUNDATION

Higher Education is a crucial phase of one’s life. It is where we step out of long years of a grueling schooling phase into a world of freedom of thought and creativity. It is where we learn to do away with our orthodoxies and give a voice to our hidden selves. But that is about it. The issues plaguing the Higher Education System (HEI) today are many but can be broadly clubbed under two heads.

The first is the paucity of good institutions that offer quality education. This could be attributed to the triad of affordability, availability, and accessibility. Availability and accessibility deter students, primarily from small towns and villages, from achieving the required education of their choice. It’s no hidden secret that unapproachability disincentivizes students from realizing their full potential and being a part of the workforce. This has a disproportionate impact on women, who due to patriarchal conventions, are shepherded into early marriages. Affordability of education is another back-breaking concern as private colleges are undeniably unaffordable, while those that are affordable are either far and few in between or are notoriously unreliable. Those who can pay their way out move abroad and rarely return, but for most people getting a higher education abroad is not even in the realm of possibilities. As per the recent National Statistical Organisation’s ‘Household Social Consumption: Education in India’ Report, the cost of education is still extravagant for a large population to afford. The quality of education is another crucial ingredient of the aforementioned triad. However, the 8th edition of the India Skills Report (ISR 2021) shares a grim picture where a huge section of college graduates is unemployable due to a lack of essential skills.

The other issue is the scantiness of seats in existing institutions, particularly in the premier institutions, and not least, the job vacancies which are filled through various recruitment exams every year. Lakhs of students confront arduous competitions and high cut-offs for a very limited pie of seats. Each year the number of students fighting for these seat increases, but the number of seats remains woefully inadequate and do not conform with the mounting requirement. Those who chisel their way into premier institutions get to keep themselves abreast with quality education. However, those who don’t bear the luxury of choice have to ultimately surrender and subordinate their aspirations to whatever they can get their hands on. Having to compromise is the new normal. Such a sorry state of affairs does not augur well for India’s vision of becoming a ‘Vishwa Guru.’

THE VICIOUS WEB

The bitter truth about ‘Mediocracy’ is its cataclysmic form. It not only limits your options towards betterment but also drastically diminishes your self-esteem. From this point, it simply turns into a devious cycle where mediocracy begets more mediocracy.

Today India has one of the youngest populations in a fast-maturing world.  We have entered a demographic ‘sweet spot’ with half of our population being under the age of 29. With such a vital fraction of the population in the working age, we can ill-afford substandard quality of dissemination of ideas and education. When students have to settle in for the next best option, and sometimes no option at all, the law of diminishing returns starts to creep in. This has negative impacts on the workability of the workforce. The recent India Skills Report has uncovered that a significant portion of Indian graduates is unable to find decent employment.

Such a poor fund of skills translates further into economic losses. The ‘National Employability Report for Engineers 2019’ published by Aspiring Minds, indicates a disturbing scenario with over 80% of engineers in India incapable of taking up any decent job. College graduates who do not get to be a part of the workforce end up becoming a liability on it. Such dependence in the long-term fuels class divisions and sometimes even social oppression- where those who wield control over resources ensure the repression of those who don’t.

Furthermore, we have to admit that inequality of opportunities translates into inequalities of output. The recent edition of the World Inequality Report has confirmed the society we have become. In a very unequal society such as ours, this leads to reduced social mobility, the rise of low-income groups, low productivity in the economy, and ultimately a narrow tax-paying bracket for the government to tap into. This ultimately degrades the quality of human capital.

Over some time, these minor disparities fuel intergenerational poverty where the next generation has to endure the dual burden of having to perform twice as hard as the previous generation. This largely shapes the disenchanted mental landscape of many a student in our system, where most of them just wish ‘they didn’t exist.’ India’s dismal performance in the much-touted World Happiness Report can be a great opportunity for reflection. The education system which already impels students into exhaustion doesn’t shy away from giving more reasons to despair. The ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2019’ report published by National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) conveys a tragic reality of the growing youth suicide rate in the country.

There are also ramifications for the Internal Security of the country. Unemployment is categorized today as one of the main threats to society. When the education system is so hell-bent on disincentivizing people from attaining quality education, people get fatigued over time and resort to other means of asserting themselves. Poor education (sometimes no education at all) transmutes into polarisation, unemployment, and economic disparity which render certain sections more impressionable to unlawful activities. This is nothing short of an irony, where you cut the very branch you sit on.

WHERE WILL THEY GO?

It’s a tragedy that our students have to bear the burden of having to push forth their envelope, and still, be aware of the hopeless conditions of the education system which is not potent enough to accommodate the ever-increasing demand. It’s depressing to observe that premier institutes both in India and across the world, who identify themselves as the flag-bearers of student diversity often indulge in discouraging people from modest settings in the garb of ‘Experience-based’ admissions, excessive requirements, and unapologetically irrational eligibility criteria. This is nothing short of an utter disregard to the lived realities of many who bear neither the privilege of a good start nor the power to change.

Quality education is the fundamental tool to gaining ownership of dignity and self-respect. And if that right is compromised, the growth of an entire people is compromised. India today needs a reckoning where the role of higher education must shift from dispensing degrees to more tangible outputs where graduates have more than just a paper to show their mettle. The right to quality education is more than just a constitutional right. It is a human right. But at times when this very right is jeopardized, our very existence comes into conflict. So, if India wishes to realize its dreams in the present global order, all Indians will have to ask themselves one simple question- Where will the ‘Mediocre’ go?

About the Author:

Sachin S. Solanki is a writer from Aligarh, India. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Science from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. You can reach out to him at Myselfss87@gmail.com

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