If You Study Hard, You Can Be Teargassed And Unemployed

In my country, higher education leads to higher unemployment

I went through my entire education on the assumption that the adults knew what was going on. I followed the kids in front of me and the kids behind followed me. This was all based on the assumption that education led somewhere, to a better life.

I grew up in peak America. We stayed in line, went to college and ended up employable. Which was the deal. There are layers of privilege under this deal, but it was offered to me and I took it.

It turned out fine.

In the US and basically every country, the unemployment curve looks like this:

The higher the education level, the lower the unemployment rate, and the higher the wages. That’s the point.

I’m not even saying that the US is a good example of anything, their social protections are laughable. It’s just that I grew up there, and even such a socially backwards country can get this right. This graph is literally the point of education.

Today, however, I live in one of the few places where this curve is completely inverted. In Sri Lanka, educated people have higher unemployment rates. Statistically, you’re better off dropping out in 3rd grade, as my grandfather did almost 75 years ago. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Somehow, our education system takes young people, consumes their time, and makes them less employable. The social contract is broken. The point of education is lost. And people still keep feeding their children into this terribly broken machine.

Sri Lanka children wake up at 5 AM to study. They go to tuition classes on weekends. They stress over highly competitive exams, they retake exams, they spend years and years studying. Only about 15% of qualified students get into university at all, and only about 2% get into Medicine or Engineering — the two reliable paths to jobs. It’s a very tight, very competitive funnel that leads, effectively, to a buzz saw.

Only about 3,000 people a year have a clear path to the job market. The rest are completely unprepared for the private sector, and there’s no room in the public sector. If they protest and get tear-gassed enough, they can get a clerk’s job in a government department, by which point they may be almost 30 years old. They sacrifice their youth for nothing.

So these kids protest. And we ignore them every year, because their solutions are also wrong. They protest against private education or ask to be given government jobs, neither of which fixes the system. People call them entitled, but honestly they are.

If you study hard you are entitled to a better job. The system is broken and of course they don’t know how to fix it, they were educated in a broken system. They did what they were told their whole lives, and responsible adults have completely let them down.

I won’t even get into solutions here. The system is so fucked that its main skill is fucking itself. We have a slogan (free education for all) competing against economics (price controls lead to shortages) and of course the slogan is winning.

I honestly do not know a way out. I just wanted to point out that it’s a tragedy. I see kids going to tuition class every weekend and I just want to scream at them ‘save your money! Go do anything else!’ But they believe in it. Their parents believe in it. Of course they do, it’s what I believed. Study hard and have a better chance at life. Unfortunately in this country, that’s a lie.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. indi@indi.ca. Videos: tiny.cc/indication and podcast: anchor.fm/indication. patreon.com/indication

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