Born and raised in India May 1st was like any other day. That it was a holiday (International Labour day/Workers Day) was a bonus. Not that as kids we understood the reason or importance or paid any heed to it! We were just happy that it was a holiday in the sweltering heat of summer, also marking the beginning of long summer holidays. That blissful May 1st holiday continued through all our moves in various countries/continents until we reached the United States where May 1st, while not Labor Day or a holiday has an unusual importance of its own and is actually anything but an ordinary day.
May 1st gained a haloed prominence in my world as recently as 2015 when the daughter had to accept an offer from a college she thought would be best for her- academically, socially, monetarily giving her a safe, secure, grounded, valuable, far reaching, all encompassing, life enriching college education and experience, preparing her to face the world, all at the age of seventeen! I have not studied in the United States but I do not believe that the whole college application experience even ten years back was as huge a business or lengthy stressful process as it is now. Right from childhood through, middle school and high school the children and parents seem to be preparing for that big day when the kids go off to college. Parents I hear, start saving at birth or even when expecting a baby to pay those big bucks which may entail additional exorbitant college counselor fees. Like a friend said, “I told my son that after he gets into the college of his dream, he can frame the offer letter because we will be broke after paying the counselor!”
May 1st came and went but the stories continue… The son, a rising senior at high school regales us with who is headed where this fall, the happy surprises and the unexpected disappointments. We hear of the hits and we hear of the misses. We listen with acute interest and increasing alarm at the GPA cut offs in some of the California colleges, the University of California and Cal Poly have crossed a 4.0 GPA (un) officially. We marvel at the kids getting sports scholarship or a full ride for academic excellence and are equally impressed with those who are foregoing a 70,000 per annum private education to head to community college thereby saving their parents and themselves huge amounts in debts. We are super impressed with the resume of the high school seniors, their grades, club activities, volunteer work, sports, music, oh they have to be such all rounders! Striving to accomplish a balanced portfolio I fear they are heading towards more confusion than solution, fitting their already packed schedule with more. I so feel for them and despite being a woman, am outraged that competent male candidates may be overlooked with an encouragement and focus on women in STEM. A disgruntled parent wondered what more could her son have done beyond AP Calculus, AP Physics and more AP subjects, extra curricular activities to get into his dream college. I heard a parent talking about the loan they would need to fund their child’s education in a renowned east coast college and I heard about the kid who dropped out after all the application processes, just to take a break from the never ending rat race and back pack before heading to college next year. So long one has willing ears, the stories are never ending, scary, encouraging, horrifying, touching, inspiring, discouraging and more. I wonder at the aim, cost, outcome and the value of college education today. I confess that at times I am disheartened but at others I am left in awe listening to the kids sharing their experiences.
Having said that, my thoughts went to a village near Mumbai, India where yours truly has a little mango orchard taken care of by a couple with three children. I recall when the oldest daughter wished to study nursing, the dad, our caretaker threw a fit at the exorbitant cost and suggested she get married. We were delighted with her wishes and supported her education. A few months back when we heard that she had graduated and begun her career as a certified nurse I thought, now this is a valuable outcome of education without the lengthy performance of college prep to reach the grand finale of a dream job. Her aim fulfilled, she the daughter of an uneducated farmer is working as a nurse at the age of 22. She aims to go further and our farmer is now looking out for his two other kids to follow her footsteps.
The next generation looks brighter already…
What are your thoughts on the current education scenario? Be it India, Singapore, the UAE or the USA, does the story change? How do countries like Canada, Australia have colleges accepting students based on high school scores only, without standardized tests? What in your thoughts would be the best scenario?