What does the phrase "the 3Rs" mean to you? Chances are, depending on your age, you will recognise it as relating to a comment coined in the late 1700s, when Sir William Curtis referred to them as: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. (No, I was not around at the time before you ask!). But even if you didn't know the phrase before, I am sure you will have picked up the irony of the fact that they don't all start with an "R". But they sound as if they do! Nearly.
So, moving swiftly to the 21st Century, I have an alternative version - not of "R"s, but "U"s - although sadly two of them do start with the letter "U" - but then we're not all perfect.
I refer to Unemployment, University and You.
First of all, what I am about to write is less likely to appear as an issue in Asia for some time to come, but then who knows..., particularly if unemployment becomes a more serious matter than it is already. The pressure on educating children in Asia has become quite obsessive and stressful to both children and parents, all in the hope that a great education, as long as you get into the right university in some countries, will lead to the best jobs. That is, as long as there are sufficient jobs to go round. But if not, then what happens?
Let me try and make some sense out of where my line of thinking is going. Succinctly.
In case you think I am having a go at universities in particular, but education in general, let me state categorically that education first and foremost is essential. A well educated world, starting with the children, are generally less likely to be proponents of war. If we neglect our duties to educate everyone, boys and girls, every race religion, beliefs, and colour, we are setting a bonfire that someone will light at some stage in the future.This is something acknowledged by a variety of leaders, many of them presiding over poorer countries or at least living in their shadow. Although this will take a long time, generations indeed, to achieve, it must nevertheless be undertaken.
In this Blog, though I am dealing with something more immediate. I am focused for the present on well-educated children who are joining a real world where there is a lack of jobs, and a growing phenomenon in the West by some potential University entrants to try and beat the system.
Simplistically, you earn good grades to secure a good University place. You work hard for three or four years to come out with a good degree. But you emerge into a market where jobs are hard to come by - and you have a pile of debt.
Unemployment in developed and developing economies is not a new phenomenon, but in many places it is too high and is stubbornly refusing to come down significantly. When you add to this the increasing use of technology in many workplaces, the cost of paying people, and therefore the substitution of jobs by "robots", you have a situation that is not going to add many jobs any time soon. But please remember I am being quite general here. I am not talking about the important specialisations such as the medical profession although even that over time will surely be taken over by technology. With unemployment in the USA and the UK both over 7.5%, France and Italy over 10.5%, Spain and Greece at a staggering 27% - and others, there are no "quick fixes". Factor in the demographics of the unemployed by age and you have a good number of young people making up a large percentage of the numbers.
So you come to the question of how are people getting round it. Easy. They are opting not to go to University!!
Now, if you speak to many people especially in Asia such an idea is almost heresy. (Heresy, as in any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs). And some Western friends are also somewhat sceptical that opting out of University is likely to work, but here's the thinking.
If you work hard at school and get good results, to the extent that you would have been offered a place at a decent University, you opt instead to go look for a suitable employer and immediately enter the work force. If you are lucky enough to find an employer of course. And heer we are back to the old system of learning on the job. You start the process of taking any relevant professional exams which, given a fair wind you should complete in 3 years. Then, when your peer group graduate from University straining under the burden of having to repay a large student loan and apply with the thousands of other graduates at the same time to your company for a job - guess what? They already have on their payroll a trained, qualified, bright committed employee (who is doubly happy because they have no debt!) Possible? Why not?
If employers get creative and open their doors to potential advancement for early joiners - rather than only fast-tracking University graduates - then I see the potential.
So, what is the You part of this? Well it can be you as in the potential University entrant trying to decide on a pre-emptive course of action to avoid the debt and unemployment trap, or it could be you as in a potential employer looking for talent early on in the workplace and not believing that only University graduates are the ones who can do a better job because they are supposed to be intellectually superior - or some such nonsense.
Mind you, as someone who left school at the age of 16 I suppose I might be slightly biased, and I used to feel a little disingenuous when trying to convince all my children they needed degrees to even get an interview!!
And You relates to every one of "us" really who is in a position to be open-minded about such a radical change, and also to do your bit to ensure we work towards an educated world.