Like any other immigrant from a developing country, I was conditioned to believe that education qualifications are the only gateways to success, economic independence and prosperity. White collar jobs earned you the respect of the community, comforts, professional networks, status and marriage proposals from affluent families irrespective of your gender. Labourers were associated with low socio-economic status and were looked down by the upper middle-class society as their standard of living did not match with those leading comfortable lifestyles. Under the circumstances, one can understand the significance attached to higher studies or university degrees in these countries and why people are willing to pay through their noses for university degrees or professional degrees if they do not qualify for the desired courses through merit.
In the early years of migration, while I was a ‘Graduate Diploma in Education’ student at University of Technology Sydeny, I had the opportunity of working with tutoring agencies such as Action Coaching, Agarwal Coaching etc who sent me out as home tutor to students’ residences for tuitions. I tutored students hailing from different cultural backgrounds such as Greek, Chinese, Singhalese, Lebanese, Australian, Tamil Sri Lankans, Indians etc. Most of the students whom I tutored were born with a silver spoon in their mouths as they resided in palatial homes. When I had a few sessions with them, I mustered up some courage to enquire what their parents did for a living. I was expecting to hear the titles of impressive positions or ranks and almost fell of my chair when their responses were ‘Cricket Umpire, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters etc.
Examining my perceptions about labourers and pre-conceived notions retrospectively, I came to the realisation that I knew very little about the people around me and the world in which I lived. It was enlightening to know that the people whom I used to call labourers are referred to as tradesmen in Australia. These tradesmen worked for other companies in their early years, however, with experience, became self-employed and ran their own businesses. They earned more than the salaried class and hence were able to afford affluent lifestyles and own a few properties.
My acquaintances worked in the transport industry as State Transit and City Rail employees as Train Guard, Customer Service staff, Bus operators, Train Drivers etc. whose earnings were equivalent to a DEC teacher with minimum ten years’ experience. Am I exaggerating? Not if they are paid three times more than the usual for a shift for working on public holidays, two times more than the allocated pay for a weekend shift and more if working after 6:00 pm during the weekend etc. Besides these opportunities, extra shifts come their way if employees on a rostered schedule absent themselves. Except for marking opportunities, avenues to make extra income for educators are limited unless they choose the secondary employment option.
It does not come as a surprise when secondary school students fail to give importance to academic achievement for their observations have influenced them to believe that university education is not necessary to be successful in life. They are surrounded by tradesmen who are leading prosperous lives sans university qualifications. Hence, the disinterest and disengagement of Stage 6 students in classrooms. They only engage with the subjects that they think are relevant for their livelihood. A university qualification need not necessarily guarantee an employment in the specialised field. A student who opts to be a tradesman often gets paid even before a university student completes his course successfully in three years’ time as he or she is provided with a job on training.
These developments have led to a reversal phenomenon, according to which, the less number of years an individual spends at the university the more chances he or she has to earn a higher income. An unexpected turn of events. Indeed!