Parents want what’s best for their children. Parents want their children to have a better, more successful life than they themselves have had. Parents push for their children to excel at school and get accepted into the highest ranked universities.
Is an academic career the best, is it the only way imaginable though?
Each year, pupils sit standardised tests. Each year, pupils become stressed over sitting these tests and the marks they do, or fail to, score. Their parents and teachers come under pressure as well, as poor assessment results shine an unfavourable light on them too. Private tutors are hired or little ones are sent to tuition centres after school. Hours upon hours spent in academic pursuit at the expense of social interaction, sports or artistic interests.
Like many a modern day phenomenon, this race for higher education degrees seems to have originated in the United States, but has firmly taken hold on our shores since. I remember a good friend once telling me that without at least a Masters degree, one need not even bother trying to enter the workforce. As if to prove her point, everybody present started listing their own as well as their children’s scholastic accomplishments.
Reaching home that day, my automatic gate malfunctioned and failed to close. To add insult to injury, I was confronted with a clogged drain in my kitchen sink. Finding an experienced and reliable technician to fix my gate turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. To find an equally competent and available plumber, too, was simply impossible.
All of my family’s, my neighbours’ and my friends’ families’ combined college degrees did absolutely nothing for fixing my gate or my drain. The dexterity and expertise of a good handyman, on the other hand, would have been worth the man’s weight in gold.
Unfortunately for me, such a person was nowhere to be found. Instead, someone appeared three days later and agreed to look at my gate provided that I kindly equipped him with a selection of screwdrivers, pliers and something he called a cable puller. He had arrived without a single tool to call his own.
The plumber someone recommended never came, claiming heavy rain in Cheras to be responsible for his inability to find his way to my house. Not very tribulation-proof got me very upset at the fact that there simply aren’t enough good handymen to go around.
In turn, I know a roofer who, a few years ago quit his job in Europe, relocated to Asia and made an absolute fortune here. He is excellent at what he does, he is reliable, punctual and customer service oriented.
Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the appeal of a desk job, the glamour associated with a business suit and shiny footwear. I do, however, believe that many of our children are pushed and pulled, shoved and pressured towards an academic future that they neither aspire to, nor excel at.
A comprehensive vocational education programme would see many talented, creative, reliable, and, most importantly, happy plumbers, electricians, technicians, landscape artists, carpenters, welders and metal workers enter the workforce. Let’s also include the goldsmiths, cooks, cobblers, tailors — the list is endless. People who can work with their hands, who can think out of the box, who can build a very successful career for themselves, and who will have learnt in the said vocational training how to run their business, balance their accounts and file their tax return forms.
Today, there are not enough individuals without a college degree, but with a sound education to be found. There are, however, many university graduates without the employment their parents had envisaged for them.
All in all, that makes for many unhappy, unfulfilled young people.
Young people with a multitude of possibilities to have a successful career, if only they had dared to say no to additional tuition. If only their parents had understood that a happy handyman is a happy man (or woman, of course).
The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate