Making Higher Education Available for all at a decent cost- such a pressing need.

Recently I saw a movie titled Hillbilly Elegy, which was launched on Netflix in November 2020. Perhaps the only reason why I chose to watch  it  was that the name was kind of weird to me and that made me checkout what that movie was. I did not have any inclination as to what would be in store while watching the movie, at least going by the name.

The movie has a wide range of reviews, and was negatively received by critics -many of them rating it as bad on multiple fronts like screenplay and storytelling. However I think watching it was a great learning experience. I personally would rate the movie as excellent in the social context- for any country for that matter, not just the U.S..

Hillbilly Elegy is based on the 2016 memoir of the same name by a person named J. D. Vance. The film stars Glenn CloseAmy AdamsGabriel BassoHaley BennettFreida PintoBo Hopkins, and Owen Asztalos, and follows J D Vance the Yale law student who makes it to the prestigious school after a huge effort, overcoming obstacles all the way- economic and social .

I guess, as Indians one must watch this movie too- though it is an American one in a specific American setting. The movie focusses on issues with the economic and social state of the people living in the hills of  Kentucky. The story is a personal memoir no doubt, and signifies many things connected with that setting. Of great relevance to me, ( which many reviewers have not seen through & beyond the natural ) is the important learning that – unless you  make higher education compulsory, cheap or free, and accessible- your country is not going to progress.

Hillbilly Elegy –what does it mean?  Hillbilly means person from a mountainous area of                        the U.S. who has a simple way of life and is considered  be slightly different/ stupid by people living in towns and cities.  Elegy means a poem of serious reflection.

A real life story of  1980s and 90s, “J.D” Vance struggles through many serious problems during his days as a young boy, and later as a college student and even later when he has to take up a job. He even joins the U.S. Marines to fight in Iraq to fund his education in his home country. All the time, his progress is impacted by the problems that his mother and other members of his family face, back in the hills.

What is the underlying essence of the movie? :- Higher Education should be treated almost as a right, and can never be made exorbitant  for the masses.  If you have an economy of USD 20 trillion, and a population of 330 million, ( as in the USA ) you are short of a work force at all levels. And if you do not educate a growing young population who finds the education costs/ tuitions / fees  etc. extremely expensive- you are doing a great injustice to them. Many talented young Americans do not make it to University only because they cannot afford it.  Plus you make your own education standards very high and entry into colleges and Universities a challenge.   What’s next?  People from other countries ( with a much cheaper and easier education system- read “manipulated”) come into your colleges, specially after their Bachelor’s degree  as they can afford the costs. ( Mind you, there are millions of families across the world who can afford American university costs.) They then take away a huge number of jobs that you are creating because of your strong economy and your own innovativeness. The millions of young people who were talented from your own country ( read “USA” ) lose out thus in their education and later in opportunities despite your strong and large economy.

What ever strife that  has been shown in the movie, in essence is linked to income of individuals, which in turn is linked with education- may be of their earlier generations. For decades education has been expensive and that has taken  away the charm and hopes of the poor.  A degree is important, and a professional one more so, for a proper job and income.  Some countries like the USA need to realise that fast. What the capitalist educators and also young educated people  do need to know is that real education & knowledge too in most cases commences with your first job and working experience, rather than the 3 to 4 years your spend in college. If you make college education inaccessible and difficult for the masses, then they are not going to take it to the next stage- which is good work, good jobs and a decent income.

The internet and on line education is however changing the concept of higher education very fast. What now matters is also how we manage, recognise and validate on-line education and degrees- so that a huge number of  intelligent and deserving candidates like “J D” do not miss out on good life in the USA- like how his earlier generations in the hills did. The hills in the movie  are also comparable to rural India geographically and economically in general.

India too needs to keep this in mind. Since education and  college degrees all these years were affordable, millions got educated. Then they got jobs and started working in companies which did work for western economies or more developed nations, in areas such as software, engineering, IT/  ITES etc. Then many got posted in developed economies. But the start of all this was due to a low cost education- government aided or cheaper private education institutes. Now it is any government’s responsibility to keep higher education costs cheaper and ensure more and more people learn.  Also to note is that we must not ignore / marginalise our  ITI’s while scaling up our IITs. The back bone of a strong and meaningful economy is strengthening our work force at all levels of the work spectrum- something which seems to be have been forgotten in our race for getting recognised as born intelligent  people.

The other fallout of an uneducated or less educated people on a mass scale,  are protests and rallies by millions who do not even understand what they are protesting for- but that’s another story altogether.

On a soft ending note, in the movie, you have an Indian girl named Usha, played by Freida Pinto who pacifies and guides “J D” her American boyfriend into achieving his ambitions. Now India everywhere- work and the social front both?

More about the Memoir by JD Vance

More about the Netflix original

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