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Education isn’t always the solution in poor countries, new research says


As western nations move their back-shop operations to India, the country has become known as the help desk for the world, but there’s an underside to all the growth: educated workers who can’t find jobs.

Millions of young people in India, particularly young men, are discovering that education, either in high school or college, doesn’t necessarily mean better lives. They cannot find jobs commensurate with their schooling, found Craig Jeffrey, a geography and international studies professor at the University of Washington; and Patricia and Roger Jeffery, sociologists at the University of Edinburgh. (The Jefferys are husband-and-wife but not related to Jeffrey.)

This frustration about jobs is leading to a growing class of desperate, possibly volatile young citizens, the researchers say. They lay out the problems in a new book: “Degrees Without Freedom? Education, Masculinities and Unemployment in Northern India” (Stanford University Press, $20.95).

“Education is nothing; what matters here now is source and force,” a young man told the researchers. “Source” refers to upper social classes, and the entrée they provide. “Force” refers to money and social muscle applied to the job hunt.

In their study, the researchers focused mainly on young men between 20 and 35 in rural Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India. They heard hundreds of stories about desperate searches for work, including what happened when the police department in the city of Meerut advertised for a sub-inspector last year: thousands of people applied.

Many of the young men interviewed have sisters, but job expectations for women in rural India remain lower than those for men. Ironically, wages from some sisters are used to maintain unemployed brothers, part of family efforts to avoid embarrassment because the brothers don’t have jobs.

Those unsuccessful in finding decent, permanent jobs often face parents who resent scrimping and sacrificing for their son’s education. The job hunters and their families also face the steady attraction of shiny new cars, upscale restaurants and name-brand clothing.

Faced with the job dilemma, some young men -- mostly those in the middle and upper castes -- use social ties to secure positions. Other young men take on political organizing, become craft workers in urban areas or do religious work in mosques or schools. Members of a last group simply wander the streets, blaming education for what some call their “useless” status.

As the frustration plays out, the researchers say, it could destabilize India. “What happens,” Jeffrey asked, “when the second most populous country in the world can’t absorb a huge number of educated men?”


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