What’s in a degree?

(I wrote this article in year 2014 when a supposedly less-educated woman had been elected as Human Resources Development/Education related Minister in India. My arguments are valid for any place in the world)

Smriti Irani, the newly elected HRD Minister in India is facing controversy over her educational qualifications after it emerged that she is a college drop-out.  She has also been accused of making contradictory declarations about her degree, in two different Upper House elections, those in 2004 and 2014.

We commonly say, what’s in a name? And here, what’s in a degree?  Like any other thing in life, do we end up over-valuing the importance of degrees as also sometimes under-valuing them? These are two antagonistic clubs.

I have personally seen it all.  I was almost victimized by the pompous attitude of those who had higher degrees. And at a different time, in different social circle, I was made to feel guilty by those who had somewhat lesser qualifications than I have.

At times, I directly experienced the self-opinionated and high-handed attitude of those with so-called very elitist engineering or MBA degrees from very reputed institutions of India or abroad. For years I was surrounded by professional friends working in high-end multinationals, some of whom openly and snidely blurted out that their scientific and technical degrees are superior to that of my M.A ,and so is their job compared to my teaching, public service or later Relationship Banking. This kind of categorizing me in arts stream had one benefit, that I ended up with a degree in IT, thanks to such comparisons. But such odious comparisons can be eventually fatal to people’s career, and also to relations or friendships.

On the other extreme, I also observed and sensed the frustrations and envious insecurities of age-mates who could not complete their basic degrees (for whatever reasons) but gave vent to their angst, as we, the one’s who got better chances fro education, had ended up with some success in life due to our seemingly better degrees. Often, people do not realise where they went wrong. They are not motivated enough towards studying when they are younger, but as the realization dawns, they feel left out and regret. Sometimes it’s too late to catch up.

All in all, having a degree or not having one can seriously damage somebody’s self-esteem and self-worth, and often the impact is life long. Such is the importance of a degree amongst people of Indian origin.

Well, that was based on personal experience. In general, how else is a degree important?

Ask those students who pay heavy fees to avail coaching for entrance exams to get admission in high-demand, lucrative medicine or engineering courses and still fall short of few marks in a competitive exam.
Ask those poor Indian students who cannot get admission in engineering or medical college, as there are others who can afford to buy a seat by giving capitation fee (donation).
Ask a diligent student appearing in a CA exam how bad it feels to fail again and again, and yet again. His/her CA degree becomes more precious than any amount of money, any big diamond.
Ask those parents who sell their ancestral property to arrange money for their son or daughter to get them a foreign degree in a non-Indian university, with possible future settlement in a western country. This kind of degree/diploma can mean better life and better future generations, even if it comes with a cost, that of deserting your own country, a brain-drain that your poor country suffers if you leave it.

Furthermore, for students, their degree is precious as they have spent years upon years slogging, writing notes, typing projects, clearing difficult exams. All this to get a university degree. Such trudging followed by a very tough competition, only to secure a humble entry-level job.

Coming back to the topics…it’s amazing to see how Smriti Irani has been made in-charge of Education Ministry. Without a B.Ed one cannot be a school teacher, without an M.Phil or PhD one cannot be a Professor.  Ask those PhDs who aspired to be a University Professor but could not even get a job of a lecturer or school teacher, thanks to the competitive job market or the corrupt selection committees.  But it seems as if it’s easier to be education minister without even a basic degree.

Am I being judgmental? Not really.  Because there is absolutely nothing wrong in not having a high degree.  images (4)There is no importance of any paper documents that merely declare your graduation results if you are a successful business woman or man. Moreover, an all-rounded progressive society needs all professions, including those jobs that do not need lots of theoretical education but they do demand practical hand-on experience in that trade. No work is in any way inferior to the other. We have a physical body so we need to be healthy, pleasant-looking and stylish if not outstanding. Hence, we need fashion designers who are deft at their job, thus saving us from time spent designing our own clothes. Likewise, we need chefs, beauticians and veterans from all spheres of life. But these jobs may or may not need university qualifications to certify their expertise.

One such hard copy of degree is also not needed by a woman who is an intelligent homemaker and teaches high-level textbooks to her own smart kids. She will not be expected to show a paper degree to anyone. Her children are the evidence of her job well done.

But in a ministerial position related to education, that too of an HRD minister?  The less said the better.

Smriti Irani could have been given any other position than that of Education Minister.  With her background, she will make a fabulous media related minister, could very well be in-charge of some Film Institute. So if she can bring greater success to a department where she her real expertise lies, then why make her slog willy-nilly in a field which is not her domain but is extremely vital for the country’s success.

The HRD Ministry is a serious issue because it, more or less, deals with the intellect of the country. Whatever decisions she takes, will influence every person in the country directly or indirectly. India needs a farsighted vision, a huge overhaul in its education system from Primary to Higher research levels and should avoid taking such political risks.

Thus, the issue is not about her being less educated.  It is about her education related job. Otherwise, what’s in a degree!!

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Also read the next part of this article: What’s in a degree – the counter argument