Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The missing ingredient

Got this wonderful question from Marginal Revolution, in turn linked to Econlog.

I don't think we have a recipe that says, "Take a child of two non-college educated parents, add primary education ingredient X, bake, and out comes a college-capable high school graduate." The mystery ingredient X has yet to be discovered.

Tyler gets it almost right in his assessment.

The mystery ingredient X is a very simple thing, in my opinion. Peer pressure that works at multiple levels. Peer pressure to do well from a parents perspective - that is send children to school and invest in their education. Peer pressure from a kids perspective that puts "not going to school" as infra dig and results in not being considered as part of their group.

In many migrant communities whether the migration is from India to US or from within India - rural to urban, communities that are educated are quite simply that ones that focus on it like crazy from the start and that have this kind of peer pressure. It is an almost unwritten code. Not going to school or dropping out is never an option. A lot of success, for good or for bad is measured by how well you do in studies - and in an aspirational society like India, studies is directly linked to getting better jobs. Considering that there are tons of qualified people out there, education is the easiest way for companies to select aspirants. Today, even children of uneducated maids want to study - in a city like Bombay or a place like Krishnagiri. If it is not peer pressure, I cannot think of a reason.

In communities where this peer pressure is not such a big deal (or offers alternatives), kids drop out, parents cop out and the results are there for all to see.

Genetics etc., is an overrated factor - perhaps yes for toppers and high achievers yes, but for just completing a education or getting in and out of college, surely no big deal.


Kavi said...

Peer pressure is sure a big reason. But am not sure if it is the all consuming reason !

It finally boils down to individual drive and need ! We had somebody who worked for us some years back, keen on bringing on her small child as a household help.

When we refused, she just found another house where the kid was employed. We confronted this lady with examples from her own friends, whose children went to study !

She dismissed it all with a disconcerting wave of a hand and a cryptic comment of 'their realities and dreams are different' !

Neelakantan said...

Yes, but Kavi, if there were peer pressure in her community, she would also send her kid to school, right? The question you ask, is not from a peer group :)

Juniper said...

Good observation.I've seen people being provoked to study harder with grinding of teeth and clenching of jaw, to say the least!But some people seem to thrive on competition, and if it spurs them on to do something worthwhile better, then why not? I'm not talking peer pressure with undertones of jealousy, discontent or aggression here.
Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.