HSBC’s survey on “Value of Education: Learning for Life” surveyed ~10,000 parents in 16 countries on the ultimate goals they have for their children; and some of the survey results are startling in India’s context. The survey looks at developed and developing countries, including USA, Canada, Mexico, UK, France, India, Turkey, China, Hong Kong, UAE, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Brazil, Australia and Malaysia. It looked at the goals parents have for their children – being happy in life, successful in career, being healthy, having comfortable incomes, and fulfilling their potential.
None of the remaining 15 countries had a higher proportion wanting career ahead of happiness. In fact, India at 49% had the least proportion of parents who opted for happiness for their children amongst other nations (the average globally being 64%). Similarly, India at 51% had one of the highest proportion of parents who wanted successful careers for their children, second only to Mexico’s 52% (the average globally being a low 30%).
While these ratios may be startling, there may be opinions in support. For example, the intense competition in a high-population country where 1 million are entering the workforce each month, makes getting a good career option very competitive and tough. No wonder it is a source of tension for most Indian parents, who want their children to have a good career going. But there is a counter view to this. While countries with smaller population, like those in Europe, have lesser graduates fighting for the few career options, their sluggish economies are not creating too many jobs either. Moreover, another high-population nation like China had 63% parents wanting happiness for their children and only 15% wanting career. Does this mean the competitive intensity to get good jobs amongst Chinese youth is less – news reports hardly suggest that! This is probably a lead-indicator why there have been educationists and child-psychiatrists raising the issue of growing depression amongst Indian children, when they are unable to achieve their breakthroughs in studies or jobs despite years of grind. To be fair to the parents, perhaps the competitive intensity for good jobs and colleges, coupled with reservations restricting general seats in colleges and universities and lesser number of large corporations as compared to China is a valid reason to make Indian parents very tense for their children’s professional future. The results are in the above-mentioned figures.
An ironical twist is that while a very high proportion of Indian parents want their children to be successful in careers, very few of them want their children to earn enough to lead a comfortable life. It was only 22% in India, as compared to the global average of 34%. Only Mexico, China and UAE ranked below India on this scale. If you want your children to have successful careers, and assuming successful careers pay commensurately, then you would want the security of adequate earning to lead a comfortable life? But the data does not show that. It would suggest the motive of Indian parents is to see their kids get into good jobs, irrespective of whether it pays adequately or not. Given that corporate salaries in India are much lower than most other countries, you could never be earning enough to live comfortably in a mid/high inflation economy. Or maybe most Indian parents want the status of the good job, in terms of designation, role or company brand, rather than the level of salary it pays. A joke in India is a software-engineer is an ideal catch for an arranged marriage first due to his qualification and profession, and later due to his pay-cheque. Ideally, if Indian parents worry so much for their kids to have successful careers, perhaps they should worry equally about earnings!
Very few Indian parents want their children to fulfil their true potential. It is only 17% in India vs. the global average of 29%, with only Turkey, UAE and Malaysia scoring lower. One is reminded of the movie “3 Idiots”, wherein Madhavan’s dad wants him to become an engineer despite his own interest in wildlife photography. A line by Madhavan to his dad aptly sums it up – “even if I become an engineer, I will be a very bad one”. Pushing for successful careers is one thing; but if the true potential of the child lies elsewhere, then he will hardly make a success of it. Even if he succeeds, his meaning of happiness will lie elsewhere; and if he does not, then it may add to the spate in child depression.
Nevertheless, a good finding is that the proportion of Indian parents who want a healthy lifestyle for their children is near the global average, i.e. 33% vs. 34%. Most other countries, including some of the developed ones, rank much lower. To be fair to Indian parents, our corporate sectors, education sectors and entrepreneurial sectors are not as large as the developed nations, and have not grown as fast as China. Add to that our ever-burgeoning population, any rationale parent would want a stable career for their children’s future. Perhaps this survey is a bigger eye-opener for the failings of our policy-makers and administrators, more than anything else. Hopefully, Mr Modi can alter this!
*Sourajit Aiyer works with a leading capital markets company in Mumbai. Previously, he worked with financial companies in Delhi, London and Dhaka. As a personal interest, he writes for business publications and runs his comics page. He has written on over 60 topics in 30 publications across 13 countries. This article appeared in InBusiness.