Thursday, 14 September 2017

A strategy to address economic concerns in non-engineering / non-medical careers.


This post focuses on the economic concerns faced by folks entering non-engineering and non-medical fields of study and careers and presents one possible strategy to address them.

(I also think that our government needs to do far more than what it does today for our soldiers, hawaldars and people in other "essential services" such as school teachers and nurses - I'll make an appeal on this and present my views on the matter later in this post.)

But the proposed strategy first:

The central strategy I propose to address this concern is that more people consider taking up teaching positions at the school, college or university level. And alongside one's teaching responsibilities at different levels one can continue to pursue knowledge and work towards higher degrees (more on this below).

I think we as a society have lost sight of the fact that teaching is an extremely honourable profession. Perhaps the highest there is as Knowledge sustains everything else. We need to correct course on this front and have the very best in every field take up teaching positions. There is a dire need for good teachers in our country today in my opinion. So I propose this strategy both from the viewpoint of aspirants in different fields earning a decent salary while pursuing their own individual goals as well as to address the need for good teachers.

If there is a need to start earning money right after your bachelors degree, my recommendation would be to take up a teaching position at the primary school level. If you are unable to get a good teaching position right away, offer tuitions for a while. But be sure to pursue a Masters degree alongside. Don't stop studying yourself! That's the key. Don't lose sight of your long term goals. I know that salaries at the school level may be a concern. As I mentioned above, I'll make an appeal to the government regarding this later in this post along with presenting my views on the matter. But till such a time that the overall situation changes for the better, we still need to keep moving forward while negotiating any financial difficulties that may arise as best we can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with supporting yourself and your family using such a strategy as you work towards your goal. In fact teaching school children is such a great service!

But as I said above, be sure to pursue a masters degree alongside. Keep studying!

After you obtain your masters degree, try and obtain a teaching position at the secondary school or diploma college level.

Again, don't stop studying yourself :)! Enroll yourself in a PhD program alongside and work hard towards writing a good thesis.

Once you have a PhD, you can either obtain an administrative position (eg. Principal) at a school or try to become a faculty member at a College, Institute or University where you can also be involved with under-graduate and post-graduate education.

This is how it usually works out in my field too. Pure research positions in science and technology are rare to find and by and large those of us who are interested in research take up academic positions in an institute where one has teaching commitments to fulfill alongside research.

So teach, and alongside, keep working towards your goal of becoming an author or a poet or a musician or a mathematician or a scientist or a painter. If you are lucky the roles will flip eventually. You will become a mathematician who also teaches. Or an accomplished Sitar player or Odissi dancer who also teaches others. And who knows maybe one day you will (if you want to of course) become a full time painter or musician or author or scientist who earns enough directly from his or her profession and won't need to teach anymore from a financial point of view : it will then just be a choice based on whether you have a passion for teaching or not. The thing to realize is that there is a whole range of possibilities that can help you stay in the field and keep moving forward.

In extreme situations if the financial conditions are very difficult at some stage in life it may be necessary to take a break for a while and return to pursuing your subject after some time. That's fine. Just don't lose your inner focus and commitment. Or you can pursue your subjects through distance education or correspondence courses (example: http://www.ignou.ac.in/ , look for other avenues too) while being on a job. No problem. The important thing is to gain as much knowledge as you can.

In fact this reminds me of something I wish to share. I met a young man working as a server in a Barista cafe recently (his name is Harjot if I remember correctly, but I'll double check the next time I go there). For some reason I asked him if he was also studying alongside his job at the cafe. He answered in the positive and told me that he was pursuing a BA degree through correspondence. I was so impressed to hear this. I believe we need to encourage this mindset. Yes, work early in life if your situation demands it - but find a way to keep studying alongside as well.

This is something fairly common in the west. Most students work part time even during their under graduate programs to ease the financial burden on their families. It may not be necessary for everyone here in India and many may not prefer to if the family is in a good enough financial condition to support their wards' educational program but we need to respect this approach as well whenever the situation demands it. To give a personal example, I worked at a McDonalds during my masters program in the US for a few months till I got a teaching assistantship. I used to stand at the sales counter for a few hours in the day and help clean up in the evenings. To this day I feel proud of myself for having done that. And my fellow workers were mostly students going to the same university, including one girl who was pursuing her PhD in western classical music!

Another cue we need to take from the west in my opinion is how the willingness of people to pay for experiencing art forms such as music helps keep these art forms alive. I am not just referring to concerts and performances by famous artists here. Pretty much every weekend you will find music performances happening at different venues where often local upcoming artists perform and one can go and see these performances for a nominal price. Of course the performances have to be of a certain minimum standard otherwise the concerned musicians don't succeed. So they have to continuously work hard and keep improving themselves. But the point I am making is that this culture enables artists to support themselves and stay focused on developing themselves and their art further which in turn enables art itself to progress further.

I think we need to move in this direction a bit. From what I have seen most of us who are fairly well off financially would easily spend a few thousand rupees on food in an upscale restaurant but would hesitate to buy a ticket for even a few hundred rupees to go for a concert or dance recital where say a local upcoming Sarangi player or Kuchipudi dancer were to give a performance. Or for that matter an art exhibition featuring paintings by a local upcoming artist. We could perhaps occasionally forego an outing to watch a bollywood flick and spend perhaps half the money to watch a theatre performance featuring local artists in a regional language. If we can bring this shift in our mindset, we may suddenly be able to create avenues for our artists to express themselves and our society would be culturally far richer that it is today.

Coming back to the teaching profession: I promised above that I will make an appeal to the government regarding salaries for school teachers and personnel in other professions such those who enroll themselves to become soldiers or hawaldars or hospital nurses. So here goes:

I refer to the professions I have just listed as "essential services". People in these professions are fundamentally important to society. Our children need to be taught by the most loving and knowledgeable teachers we can find. Our patients and the elderly need to be cared for by the most caring and competent nurses we can find. The security of our villages and towns and our borders depends on the bravest, fittest and most committed people taking up careers in police and army services. And all these people and their families have needs to fulfill and aspirations for a decent life for themselves and their families. We must ensure that we pay them well enough so that these concerns are addressed and financial constraints do not become a factor that blocks people from taking up these professions. At the very least, complete medical care for the personnel in these professions and any dependents, education for their children, salaries that ensures a basic living standard at the level of food, clothing and shelter and a provident fund type option that ensures a basic level of financial saving and security for the future must be guaranteed. If we do any less than this we are doing a great disservice to not just the personnel themselves but to ourselves as well.

Here's an example to emphasize the appeal I am making:

I once took a cab from Delhi airport. Now I am in the habbit of striking up conversations with cab and auto drivers occasionally. It makes the time pass and I get to understand a bit about them. So I asked this can driver how much money he makes per month. I still remember him telling me (this was about 4-5 years ago) that business used to be much better but he now manages to make about Rs. 30,000/- to Rs. 35,000/- per month. I'm not completely knowledgeable about salaries in the professions I have appealed for above but in case we have allowed a state affairs to set in wherein it is more lucrative to be a taxi driver (with due respect to their profession and an acknowledgement of their hard work as well as the fact that they too have their needs and aspirations and a right to earn enough to fulfill them) than to be a nurse or a school teacher or a soldier or a hawaldar, then it only reflects our immense lack of maturity and foresight.

It is my earnest appeal to the state as well as central governments to put thought in this direction and ensure that all "essential services" related professions deserve the respect and monetary compensation they deserve.

To end this post: I believe that for quite a while professions of medicine and engineering have been emphasized the most, at least in our country, and a sense of these professions being more "prestigious" than others may have set in. I hope I have been able to convince you that if this is indeed the case it is based on nothing but ignorance. Choose to pursue these professions, just like any other, only if you are really interested, motivated and inspired to be a doctor or an engineer. Otherwise, do not choose to be one. Be who you want to be and do what you want to do with your life. Just remember to work hard and move towards your goal without hurting or disadvantaging anyone else in the process.

[The only exception I would make to this advice is if your family has been struggling financially. For people in such an extreme situation it may be important to sacrifice personal interests for some time and choose a career that beings economic independence to oneself and one's family fast. Even then, if possible, my advice would be to try and choose a path towards economic liberation for your family that is best aligned with your interests and aspirations. Hopefully some of the suggestions I have made above will be of some help.]

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