degree or no degree.. that is the question

The latest polemic in town is the issue of our new Education Minister not having a degree, the hallowed piece of paper that opens doors in India. To me is it is absolutely a non issue and will elucidate my take as we go on. However it has become a free for all that may just boomerang on the initiator! It is the question of the day on some channel, and has created a TwitterStorm so let us try and see which side we stand on.

For the past decade and more I have had ample proof that degrees and certificates mean nothing on their own. I am well placed as for the past that many years I have been working with a bunch of great people who have no degrees or certificates but are doing jobs that I challenge anyone to do. I am taking of my staff at project why which was selected after an intuitive decision of mine to source all my staff from within the community. I needed 'teachers' to 'teach' kids from class I onwards. Now the community where I was on the prowl had scant degree holders and had this been an imperative in my search I would have found no one. I knew what I was looking for and also what I wanted from them: passion, dedication, motivation and the desire to learn. I realised many women had some education that had often been stopped in the tracks because of marriage; I also found some very bright souls that had 'dropped' out of school not because they lacked ability but because of some decision of illiterate and over caring parents. The feisty woman who heads a large part of project why is one such kid. When she came to me she had been taken out of school by her doting mother who did not want her daughter to go back to school after she was severely punished for being a few days late in paying her fees. The young girl had been made to stand in the sun and had subsequently fainted. Today she has certificates and degrees more for form then anything else and runs the project with great aplomb! This kid, as kid she was when I met her, is an indubitable proof of the fact that common sense laced with a passion to learn can move mountains.

My other co-ordinator may have had a degree but that was not why I selected him. I selected him because when I first met him and discussed some social issues, I was amazed at how alike was our thinking processes, our values and our approach to social issues. I decided that I needed him by my side and have never regretted what one may call my impulsive decision. He runs my women and children centre with tact and flexibility and has a solved many a thorny issues that even I couldn't have.

Both these wonderful souls have been my guides and given me not only support but the best advise I could have hoped for and unable me to grow project why to what it is today. Without them I would have stumbled, fallen and even failed. Yet they do not have swanky degrees, do not speak the Queen's  English or have the 'profile' that is usually sought for such posts. What they have in ample measure is compassion, understanding, street smartness and belief in what we do. I could not have asked for more.

The team my two stalwarts lead is also partly  degree less or possesses degrees that have no value at all as is the case in India where 33% is still the passmark to graduate. It is sad that our education has come to this. I have had young men with BAs and even MAs from other States and the street worthiness of these degrees is nil. Actually they more often than not, prove a hindrance as in many cases it gives the 'graduate'  a sense of false superiority. We have had such young men who have 'refused' to work under a woman coordinator with less education. Obviously we bid them a hasty farewell. But that is the exception to the rule. Team project why is five star and as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, kids they have taught have never failed and some are now gainfully employed. As I write these words I just got a call that one of our students has secured 96% in his XII class! I am waiting with bated breath for all the results though I know it beforehand. My kids have never failed me. All this, with teachers who have scant certificates!

Before I end this post I must mention one more person who proved beyond doubt that diplomas and certificates are not needed when you have a mission. Somewhere circa 1998 I had to make a decision that, though incomprehensible to most, was the only one I could make if I were to be worthy of being a mother. I decided to withdraw my younger daughter from school as I knew it was destroying her spirit. This wonderful kid had told me when she was 9 that she knew what she wanted to do in life: care for people with disabilities. I nudged her as gently as I could and as far as I could down the conventional line of diplomas and degrees. She played the game to the best of her ability but there was a moment when we both knew we had reached the end of the line. Even if I had the whole world against me, I knew that I had done the right thing for my child. She began training with autistic children at the age of 15 and has never looked  back. Today she handles the special children of project why with √©lan and confidence and has years of experience that no one can match. She is to the manor born!

Over the past years I have had the opportunity of testing some candidates with so called degrees. We had an MBA from one of the new universities that love blowing their bugle and come at a heavy price. I was shocked by the total lack of skills of this young man who barely could write a mail in proper English or for that matter handle any of the tasks assigned to him independently. I am glad he found a job as he did not meet our criteria.

We have also had a few persons with certificates in special education but sadly they have not met our standards as they lacked the compassion and common sense approach that is needed when you deal with students with diverse disabilities and varied ages. In a way I am glad that they too found greener pastures. Come to think of it, the ones who have stayed on came with no degree in special education but with their heart in the right place.

So to me degrees and super degrees do not matter; what matters is how you perform on the ground and more than that how you tackle challenges. Our new education minister may turn out to be a better one than someone armed with Doctorates and Post Doctorates. I am sure she will master in thinking out of the box and come up with the solutions our children urgently and desperately need. She comes with a fresh mind and the desire to prove her detractors wrong.