Literature degrees do not lead to unemployability. Over-Specialization does.

posted Jun 27, 2017, 11:12 PM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jul 6, 2017, 12:20 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji ]
Sundeep Khanna write in Livemint about how the mismatch between Literature grads and 21st century workforce requirements.


Language adds color and decor which may be ostensibly pointless like the lights behind the fishbowl above. But language might very well help in communicating a point which might not have been conveyed effectively otherwise. But, let us see what Sundeep says. I agree with the points he makes, but the primary issue, is a mediocre and over-specialized curriculum and not the degree itself.

"The honours course in English doesn’t incorporate conversational English or even business writing but largely English literature as part of which students will learn to appreciate Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, William Shakespeare’s Othello, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, besides many Indian authors and poets such as G.M. Muktibodh and Nissim Ezekiel. Hell, there’s also Alice Walker and Jean Genet for a global feel.
Which is all very well for developing the finer sensibilities and even for some fascinating conversations on a rainy day, but severely restrictive in preparing students for a future career outside of academics."

Just having one common layer of general and applied courses in all majors (whether Literature or Engineering) will help everyone a lot. A few compulsory courses spanning the natural science, mathematics, statistics, languages, philosophy, psychology, economics, history and law. These are necessary for everyone. That, in fact, is the old "liberal arts" model, somewhat in line with the Columbia core program.
For all the engineers with BEs and BTech degrees, which we annually churn out, how many people can build a simple Class 10 level program or circuit. There's only so far you can go by flinging degrees on people who shouldn't have been allowed to exit high school anyway,

The real issue here, is not the major, but the curriculum. Whether DU or CBSE, they should detoxify their English syllabus by purging out the works of third rate Indian authors whose works are most likely included only because they get to grab coffee with the right people in their cozy Delhi circle. Amitav Ghosh, Nissim Ezekiel, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth - what's the point in including t in their works in the syllabus? Might as well study some math or programming or economics instead of that. People whose books couldn't make it in the markets and sell on their own merits are artificially propped up by forcing them into text books to humor them about their writing skills. At the school level, ICSE gets it right. They don't include Indian authors just for the sake of it.

People will pay like anything for good English classes in India. With a little bit of exposure to somewhat applied courses, if even a handful of these grads somehow became more enterprising and started NIIT/FIITJEE like corporate chains, within 5 years the standards in English would improve dramatically. What's the reason for the disproportionate popularity of English Literature though, I wonder - beyond the top colleges? It is almost similar to our "engineering degree" mill. I don't see an obvious reason as to why it is preferred as a course of study to major in, over subjects like Psychology, Philosophy, Economics, Legal studies, Finance etc.
That said, some Literature courses for all, can be a great way to improve writing skills. Never underestimate the potential of a letter well-written, as Jane Austen says in Persuasion!

Ashoka University is perhaps the best place in India to study these subjects. They have a broad curriculum, the true liberal arts curriculum with multidisciplinary academics as a key theme. The article also makes comparisons with Literature in US universities. That, in my humble opinion, is not a relevant comparison. In an English-speaking country where most college graduates are prolific writers and fluent in English, Literature grads in US simply don't hold a currency so valuable in the surroundings they live in, in comparison to their counterparts in India. That valuable currency, is a command over English.



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