What’s the ROI on our education?

Anuradha C

It’s that time of the year again. It’s time for the great seat hunt. No, I am not talking about the priced MLA seats of Karnataka or Rajasthan. There are even more precious seats at stake you see. It’s a race against time to secure that seat for your ward in a school/college that figures on your wishlist and also fits your pocket.

However, this tiresome exercise brings different shades of anxiety and dilemma depending on where your ward stands on the marks scale. Let’s broadly divide the little ones (not so little actually!) into two overarching groups – “I have the marks” group and “I let it slip” group. Now, let’s trace the narrative for each of these groups and see if it could lead to a happy ending. Or to put it in crude financial terms, we’ll see if the education choice is likely to bring good ‘Return Of Investment’ for their futures.

The road oft taken
Socially accepted career path with a high probability of success
If you thought a superhit movie like 3 Idiots has brought a sea change in the attitude of parents towards the choice of ‘safe/reputed’ graduate courses, think again. The average urban middle class parent still covets that pricey engineering seat for their wards, preferably computer science – prevalently seen as the gateway to the big bucks! The MBBS fan club among parents is equally gung-ho!

The bottom line however is: Do you have the requisite marks in your kitty? Wonderful, the choices in front of you are more enticing and plentiful than your Amazon shopping cart. And available at the best prices too! You still have a problem at hand, but that’s a nice problem to have – the problem of plenty. There isn’t always consensus on what you want for your kids and what the kids aspire for themselves. To be fair to the parents, kids at this age do not have sufficient exposure to the world outside to know which degree course would suit their aptitude and temperament. So, the parents need to take a call, often overriding the kids’ choices. However, the bottom line is that the kid is smart and knows the value of education.

Your ward has fallen short of the magic cut-off numbers? Now, this is a conundrum of sorts. It’s easy for an outsider to say to the parent – “Take a principled stand, let the kid enroll into whatever course he/she can get by merit.” But there are two caveats to this moralistic advice. And they are the reasons why there aren’t many takers for this principled stand among parents.

Caveat #1 is simple – Why shouldn’t my ward take a seat in a prestigious institution? I can afford it! Simple and unbeatable logic. The parent is used to ‘buying’ everything the kids aspire for in the growing years. The college seat is just an extension to this indulgence. The parent chooses to ignore the point that entering a prestigious institution is only half the battle won. Everyday, the ward has to fight innumerable battles of aptitude, learning gaps, and peer pressure. A harried mother of a 17 year old recently asked me, “Engineering mein tuition nahi hota hai kya?” She couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that degree courses mostly leave the students to their own devices. She was earlier convinced that spending about Rs 20-30 lakhs for an engineering seat was a smart move. But now, she isn’t too sure. She couldn’t imagine student life without private tuitions!

Caveat #2 is more nuanced – I can’t entirely afford to buy a seat in a hot shot college. But I am sure of my child’s potential, he/she just needs a good push, a great learning eco-system. Most 15-17 year olds are incapable of realizing what a life altering milestone the 12th board exams turn out to be. So even kids with good learning abilities flitter their time away and land up with mediocre marks. An extremely uninspiring school system might also be equal to blame. How does a parent handle this scenario? Spend a little, take an education loan to bridge the gap, do what it takes. But ensure you get that precious college admission. There are hordes of success stories of such kids turning out to be great students later. The parent’s sacrifice and leap of faith turning out to be an eye opener for them, inspiring them to take their education seriously henceforth.

Now let’s do the math – to evaluate the recovery on investment. Just like any profitable business proposition we expect the money invested in a child’s education to yield life-long financial stability and increasing earnings. Take this bizarre case of spending Rs 20-30 lakhs for a computer science engineering admission. That’s about Rs 5-7 lakhs per annum. Statistics from the Indian labour market show that more than 70 per cent of the BE graduates earn something between Rs 2 and 4 lakhs per annum in the first few years of their career. More likely the ones who secured a merit seat are the ones in the 30 per cent bracket who earn a lot more. For now, let’s ignore the lakhs spent in exorbitant school fees in the early student years. In crude financial terms, this is a very poor business deal your child is entering into!

The road less travelled
There is a small but steadily growing voice among some parents that the education system at present is actually hindering and handicapping the natural learning abilities of a child. Apart from being a money guzzler, the system also saps the creativity and confidence in young kids by subjecting them to a cruel rat race.

With the advent of Covid, a child not attending school but learning from home became a distinct possibility. Why not extend the idea forever, some parents argue. Just like how the stigma around ‘working from home’ fell away, the ‘homeschooling’ concept is also slowly taking root. Not as an exotic idea for privileged kids, but as a smart move made by an educated and aware parent in ordinary circumstances. The parent gets to finetune the pace of learning to suit their ward’s aptitude and interests. The children are free from insane competition in their early years. They tend to grow up as confident and independent individuals. The requisite milestones such as 10th and 12th boards need to be tackled but there are plenty of private learning aids available for this to complement homeschooling. I recently heard the story of an entire class of 26 children who dropped out of their school in Chandigarh and took their boards individually through the NIOS route. And scored excellent marks!

A major upside of this option is the sheer amount of money saved in school fees! My cousin returned with a coveted admission form of a reputed private school in Bangalore last week. But he is flummoxed at the idea of paying Rs 1.75 Lakhs for putting a 3-year-old in school! Since then he has been busy building a WhatsApp group of parents willing to try out homeschooling. Will keep the readers posted on how that story goes ….

However, the idea of homeschooling is viable only when the parents are totally secure in their decision and capable of devoting time and energy to mentor the child full-time. Although it’s easy to preach about the superiority of this option, it is extremely difficult to implement and subject to social prejudices.

A vast majority of parents are going to stick to the tried and tested path during the school years. But I urge parents to exercise caution before making the ‘paid seat’ leap while picking a graduation course. It’s a risky choice, best to be avoided if the only motivation is social acceptability or making a feel-good choice.

Just as an aside. Did you know that the paid seat rates in Karnataka this year are slightly higher than usual? Its election year you see, college managements need to use the fees earned through the management quota to offset the expenses incurred by their political masters!

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at anuradhac@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply