'Neeya Naana' (You Vs Me)is a debate show in Vijay TV that occasionally very good. In all my years of watching TV - I have never seen this particular beaten-to-death topic being debated in such a brutal style. A few weeks ago there was an episode where the topic - 'does formal/school/college education help one become successful?' was brought to debate and I still can't stop thinking about it. One team was filled with "uneducated" people (as in 8th std pass) in veshtis and the other team was 'echukated' parties (as in M.Phil/ PhD / MBA ) in pant/shirt. The debate population distribution was biased, deliberately I may add. All the uneducated people were entrepreneurs, filthy rich and unbelievably successful. All the people in the 'educated' team were, to put it simply, losers.
While Gopinath, the moderator, did not say it aloud, the debate assumed that we educate ourselves to make money. Let us go with the assumption. It is a fair assumption. We never asked the question 'why get educated at all?'. We probably should but rarely do. The important thing is - We don't know why the people who funded our education did so in the first place. Every time a child asked this question, its parents yelled, "otherwise who will give you a job? What will you do for food?". So I'll take a guess - For middle/lower-middle and poor class people, most definitions of 'success' (one that is both caused by education and stated by people as #1 purpose for investing in education) that hovers around the mean and 99% of the bell curve - Money is the 'necessary' condition for success. People who don't have money for next N-generations invest in *formal* education because of its ROI. Everything else - satisfaction, happiness, contentment, pursuit of religion and bla-bla satisfies the 'sufficient' condition and is a by-product of having some money in the kitty. Importantly, these things don't operate in a world that is mutually exclusive to pursuit of money. You can have both money and happiness etc. The rest of the post holds this assumption to be true.
In the debate that spanned 3 episodes - The simple question that the uneducated team repeatedly asked and a question for which the educated folks consistently gave poor responses was - 'what the hell did you accomplish by studying? What have you earned?'. The educated folks kept saying crap like 'I am loyal to my employer' or completely nonsense like 'I do service to society by teaching' etc to defend themselves. Because in this crowd none of the educated people were really rich. On one hand there were uneducated Vanniyars from north (not south) Thamizh Nadu, more specifically Goundars from Coimbatore who had lost their childhood/education to father's death, sorrow and poverty. They just rocked in the debate. They were literally bleeding money. On the other hand we had losers like that Iyer mama and Mudaliyar type people who were 'middle-class' losers who had no major childhood deprivations, financial or otherwise, but were crying, and I mean literally, that they did not get a medical seat in 1965 because of 'reservation'. I found this interesting. Education has somehow taught people, directly or indirectly, to work in a 'profession' where work is bartered for money - but still put passion (or something similar) above money. People fundamentally do work in exchange for money. But they have been taught that maximizing the moneyreceived in that exchange is lower form of success and something else is a higher form of success. Children who were put in school to earn money in the future are taught similar things. Is it unintentional? Why is it fashionable to view money as a non-primary target and an inferior form of success?
The key aspect that was different in the debate from all the other debates that have happened before was that in this case - the rich people were happy people and unashamed/unapologetic of being rich. Completely different from MGR and Rajinikanth movies that the thamizhan was used to. Those movies glorified the poor by giving them credit for being happy and criticised the rich for being unhappy as a result of having money. Here in the debate, every time the educated people said something like 'Mere paas Ma hai' the uneducated-rich said "mudri naayee, I have mummy, daddy, gaadi, bungalow, bank balance and lots of happiness". Whatever the educated people said that they had by virtue of education, the uneducated-rich claimed that they already had, didn't need it, or could simply "buy it" - easily.. And this was hilarious to watch. Mainly because it was true - in their individual cases. Money could buy other forms of success. Not all types of success. But more than you think. In the past, the direction of such debates have always been 'orchestrated' by actors/politicians/TV-Channels to appease the uneducated-poor and to dupe them that they aren't any worse off. This debate was orchestrated to glorify the uneducated but used a radically different method.
The summary given by the 'expert' guest had a lot of common sense in it and probably reflected what everybody was thinking - that one should view the uneducated's success as an inspiration but they are an exception and not the rule. We all get the fact that education increases probability of getting employed in IT firms and other salary paying companies and decreases the probability of a person remaining poor. It has been successful in delivering some sot of minimum money back guarantee. I am not contesting that the process has no value. But there was a common thread that I noticed in this argument about educated people. They took 2 different positions on education depending on the context. When challenged 'why should one get educated at all?' most arguments assumed that earning money (employment) was the primary purpose of getting education. But they quickly disassociated themselves from that purpose once the context changed to a time when people have finished education. When asked "now that you are done with it, are you earning good money?" - they rambled on about satisfaction and happiness. Let us keep aside the bias in the debate sample population, all the cliches surrounding 'padikaatha medhai', exception vs rule arguments and answer the simple question posed by Gopinath - "is education a disadvantage? Does it make you less prone to be an entrepreneur?, does it dampen your money earning spirit? does it cripple your freedom of thought?"
The answer is yes.
It simply is. Over time - formal education has put man in situations where he will get locked in as a salary receiving person. It give man something that he will later become afraid to lose. It teaches an ordinary man, who started off wanting to earn money, things like principles, passion, happiness. Education overemphasises these factors and makes him believe that these factors are mutually exclusive from money. And he uses these factors as excuses for not earning money. There are people who are naturally passionate about something and don't care about the money. There really are people like that. But not all the people who claim to be satisfied with 'passion' 'happiness' and 'principles' are genuine. They say this as an excuse to complain against their lack of success. The reality is education makes people inflexible, conservative and pursuers of the comfort zone. The very same person who draws Rs 6500 in a govt job every month might behave differently if he weren't educated and had no prospects of getting a govt job.
I also have my doubts on whether educated children of rich-uneducated men will go a level-up on their parents. Let me take an example of 2 friends, one of whom is very close. Both these friends had reasonably uneducated parents. The parents went through a difficult childhood but they had the drive to make it big. They made big money. Their sons did engineering and M.S with the hope that education will make them more successful (as in rich) than their parents. Both faced some very tough moments getting a career started/going-on. When talking to them in their most frustrating moments, I found that they were trying to make things work in the salaried construct. They couldn't unshackle themselves from the purpose their M.S or other 'formal education' stuff had built them for. They were sort of aware that they were falling into what they called 'this middle-class mentality' but they still wanted a job in Mechanical Engineering or software. They weren't passionate about the field. But that was success to them. An immediate one too. After a while, one guy said 'screw this' and became an actor. The other guy is still doing a job for salary. However, both were less dynamic and less entrepreneurial than their fathers. I thought 'Education' was the reason.
The common thread I observed after hearing all the educated people defend themselves (by making escapist statements) was that education killed some passion in people to earn money. Person wants a job that correlates to his most recent education and so becomes myopic. The minimum cash flow that happens when one is in a salaried job becomes a burden. If one wants to really become rich, one almost always has to give up that sustenance cash flow. And when one fails to sum up the courage to do it, one quotes vague things like principles, work-life balance and other stuff. The reality is that one does not need to give up any of those factors to become rich but education makes one think otherwise. The small fraction of educated and uneducated people who turned out to be filthy rich entrepreneurs were people who were clear in their objective. They wanted Return On Intelligence. Maximum money for their time spent working. They were clear about that and worked towards that. This made them more agile and more flexible to do things (very very legal legitimate things) that an educated man would refuse to do. In fact they would love to do things an educated man would not like to do, ever.
In short, the commercial purpose of education has become diluted. People lose the drive and the passion to become rich as a result of it. They become blunt instruments. Education tells them that pursuit of money is an uninteresting and superficial process - When the opposite is true. A business man who runs a chain of restaurants is viewed with the same disgust as a scientist who pursues the $1 million that a Nobel prize comes with. People view seekers of money as less of a person. So, they settle in salaried jobs and wait for death.