Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
MIT gave a fillip to the Open Course Ware (OCW) movement in 2001, when they placed nearly all their undergraduate and graduate courses, including many audio-video lectures, free online.
“Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds,” the legend on MIT’s homepage underscores the objective of the movement. Today MIT’s OCW includes nearly 2,000 courses, accessed by over 35 million users worldwide; 60% from outside the USA. A number of leading universities in every continent has launched similar projects to leverage the availability of the worldwide web.
In India, the OCW movement has been tentative, embodied in the government-sponsored National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), to improve the quality of engineering education.
It is anchored by seven IITs and the IISc, Bangalore. Another variant of OCW in India has been the Flexilearn portal of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which not only offers a lot of free course material, but also enables online enrolment of students. Both are largely limited to the use of technology in delivering education, rather than unlocking knowledge and empowering minds.
While OCW has found enthusiastic takers across the world, including China, our IIMs have been lethargic in seizing the initiative. The only exception is IIM Bangalore which at least has a portal OCW@IIMB.
But it lists a total of 10 courses across 12 of its departments (six having ‘No Published Courses’), and even for these 10, the portal provides only the course description ; no content. Other IIMs have no OCW.
This is sad. We have nearly 4,000 private business schools, most of which lack quality faculty, infrastructure and curricula. Qualified faculty with PhDs in management are few. Each of the IIMs awards doctorates in single digits annually.
We need tens of thousands of managers for our large infrastructure projects, industry, banks, automajors, airlines, defence, and our large manufacturing sector. We need even more managers to deliver quality education , health, skilling, and a thousand other social services to our 1.3 billion population.
And then there are the tens of thousands of SMEs, NGOs, micro-finance and other micro enterprises, crying out for managers in millions, of some minimal quality. With 90% of the labour force in the unorganised sector, we need even more managers to steer this manpower towards organised industries.
And yet, IIMs have not taken the initiative to take the pole position in addressing this need. Even though most IIMs have increased their intake in response to government prodding to do so in recent years, they can do much more to leverage their expensive infrastructure more effectively for the benefit of the country. Can the IIMs rise to the occasion? Can they learn from the prizewinning corn farmer whose secret of success was to share his seeds with the neighbours , because then, when the wind blew, their seeds blew his way enriching his corn.
They can, if they want to. They must know that their competitiveness does not stem from their course content. Their true assets are the quality of their faculty, students, systems, processes and infrastructure and what they can do with these. Ideally by now, IIMs should have been in the thick of the OCW movement.
But it may not be too late. They could yet do for OCW.2 what MIT did for OCW. What is OCW.2? Well, let’s call it, OpenClassWare, the Second Movement. What would OCW.2 do? It would take the classrooms of the IIMs, rather than just the course contents, online to millions of students out there. IIMs have better quality faculty than most.
What if each and every course taught at an IIM, by the best of its teachers in every course, were beamed online to hundreds of thousands of students in thousands of private b-schools across the country? Or even in Reliance Web-World-like outlets?
These outlets could be manned by coordinators trained IIMs to help coordinate assignments, clarify doubts, set and evaluate examinations and quizzes, and highlight learning points. Online classes could deliver superior understanding of management principles to online students than what sub-standard faculty can do face to face.
The private schools could decide which of the OCW.2 classes to subscribe to; students may opt for classes only in say, finance or marketing leading to certificate courses in those disciplines; they could pace their learning in an open university framework , say an IIM Online diploma . Thus, IIMs could penetrate every corner of India. The incremental cost of such ClassWare open to tens or hundreds of thousands of students would be negligible, compared to full-time education.
Would such OpenClass-Ware dilute the IIM brand? Hardly. Everyone would know the difference between an IIM Online diploma and an IIM full-time diploma. MIT’s brand is not diluted by OCW.
It added to MIT’s sheen across the world. Given India’s skills in IT and our need to ramp up the quality of our managers, OCW.2 may be an idea whose time has not only come, but is overdue. If we don’t do it, we may be passing on the initiative to an MIT or a Harvard. And IIMs would have lost the race again, if they haven’t already.
When he joins McKinsey & Co, US as strategic consulting associate later this year, Moid Mohammed will be armed with an MBA from Columbia Business School. Nothing unusual about that, except that this is his second MBA, which he opted for five years after completing his first one from IIM Lucknow.
One MBA is good. But two are even better. That’s the feeling among a growing band of professionals like Moid, rooting for their second MBA from topline international institutes, despite having one from a reputed B-school in India.
Moid joined IIM Lucknow immediately after completing his undergraduate programme in engineering. Five years down the line, after stints in management consulting at Pricewaterhouse Coopers and corporate strategy at Dubai Holding, he began his second MBA with the goal of moving into strategy consulting, an opportunity he says he would have found difficult to break into otherwise.
“At IIM, I had no ‘real world’ experience to apply my learnings to. With work experience, I understood that there were many areas I needed to develop further. The second MBA gave me the opportunity to focus on some of these disciplines and make me a stronger business leader,” says Moid.
“At Columbia, I also got to study with a diverse class which advanced my international awareness and understanding.” “You don’t just pursue a second MBA to accelerate your career but also to catch up with education and new trends. It’s especially good for people on track for leadership positions.
However, one needs to be selective about the institute one chooses for the second MBA,” says Yashwant Mahadik, VP, HR, Indian subcontinent at Philips. Networking opportunities are another reason for pursuing a second MBA, as Krishna Kumar, president, Philips Healthcare, testifies.
He has one from IIM Ahmedabad followed by another from Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management. “I also got to do some wonderful work on technology and biotech, whereas I was from an investment banking background. That year, I focused only on strategy, technology and biotech with a group of 90 students from diverse international backgrounds,” says Kumar.
Students are also keen on getting a global edge. “They are looking to enhance their experience in a multi-cultural setting and leverage our MBA as a launching pad for a global career. Career change is part of this motivation. Usually, about 80% of our student body achieves career change – whether this is function, industry or geography – after completing their MBA,” says Insead deputy dean, degree programmes and curriculum Peter Zemsky.
There’s also the need to catch up with those who have done their MBAs from Harvard or Stanford. Especially in India, where a majority of students go in for their first MBA practically as freshers, those placed in international assignments realise that after a point, their progress is restricted.
One of the reasons behind the popularity of a second MBA is that India’s best institutes are still not on par with the Harvards and Inseads, says E Balaji, MD and CEO of HR firm Ma Foi Randstad. “They are increasingly choosing this route in order to enhance competitiveness,” adds Prashant Mishra, admissions chairperson at IIM Calcutta.
The pursuit of a second MBA doesn’t come cheap, though. While an MBA from a premier Indian business school costs between Rs 7.5 lakh and Rs 14.5 lakh, one from a leading B-school abroad can set one back by several times more.
The current tuition fee for the MBA programme at Insead is 58,000 euros (nearly Rs 38.36 lakh) while the fees for the programme at London Business School starting in August 2012 are at £57,500 (approximately Rs 45.8 lakh). The figure covers 15 to 21 months of tuition and course materials.
At Wharton, the fee is at $89,200 (almost Rs 44.5 lakh) including tuition, room and board, health insurance, books and miscellaneous expenses for the first year alone. But Balaji says it’s worth it.
“The popularity of our institutes are at best confined to an Asia-Pacific level. On the other hand, pursuing an MBA from an Ivy League school means you are moving on a global career trajectory. It’s not just the money, it’s also the exposure. You are catapulted into a different league.”
Harvard University again topped a list of universities in terms of global prestige, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge held on to the second and third place.
Stanford University leapfrogged the University of California, Berkeley to take fourth place while the latter dropped to fifth on the list of 2012 World Reputation Rankings, published by the London-based Times Higher Education magazine. Oxford University again came in sixth.
In its second year, the magazine’s ranking gauged the world’s universities on academic reputation only, based on about 17,554 responses spanning 137 countries. Most of those surveyed were academics themselves, who were asked to rank the quality of teaching and the global impact of research. Among the findings was the widening gap between the top six “global super elite” and all the others, according to Phil Baty, editor of the rankings.
“It seems as if the entire world sees these six institutions as head and shoulders above everyone else, and that is strange,” Baty said in an interview. “There’s something about their brands that is extremely powerful on a global level. Reputation is an extremely nebulous concept but also a powerful one in terms of winning respect in the real world.”
Institutions from China, Taiwan and Singapore moved up, signaling the start of a power shift from West to East. China’s Tsinghua University rose five spots to 30th place while Peking University climbed to 38th from 43rd. The University of Hong Kong moved up three places to 39th and the National University of Singapore climbed to 23rd from 27th. National Taiwan University jumped to the 61-70 band from the 81-90 band.
“We have seen a noticeable trend that every leading Asian institution has risen,” Baty said. “There’s a significant trend of decline in bits of the West and exciting improvement in key parts of Asia.” The rankings are based on an opinion poll carried out by Ipsos for Times Higher Education’s rankings data supplier, Thomson Reuters.
The economic news is looking better lately. But after previous false starts – remember “green shoots”? – it would be foolish to assume that all is well. And in any case, it’s still a very slow economic recovery by historical standards.
There are several reasons for this slowness, with the most important being the overhang of household debt that is a legacy of the housing bubble. But one significant factor in our continuing economic weakness is the fact that government in the United States is doing exactly what both theory and history say it shouldn’t: slashing spending in the face of a depressed economy.
In fact, if it weren’t for this destructive fiscal austerity, our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the “Morning in America” recovery during the Reagan era.
Notice that I said “government in the United States,” not “the federal government.” The federal government has been pursuing what amount to contractionary policies as the last vestiges of the Obama stimulus fade out, but the big cuts have come at the state and local level. These state and local cuts have led to a sharp fall in both government employment and government spending on goods and services, exerting a powerful drag on the economy as a whole.
One way to dramatize just how severe our de facto austerity has been is to compare government employment and spending during the Obama-era economic expansion, which began in June 2009, with their tracks during the Reagan-era expansion, which began in November 1982.
Start with government employment (which is mainly at the state and local level, with about half the jobs in education). By this stage in the Reagan recovery, government employment had risen by 3.1 percent; this time around, it’s down by 2.7 percent.
Next, look at government purchases of goods and services (as distinct from transfers to individuals, like unemployment benefits). Adjusted for inflation, by this stage of the Reagan recovery, such purchases had risen by 11.6 percent; this time, they’re down by 2.6 percent.
And the gap persists even when you do include transfers, some of which have stayed high precisely because unemployment is still so high. Adjusted for inflation, Reagan-era spending rose 10.2 percent in the first 10 quarters of recovery, Obama-era spending only 2.6 percent.
Why did government spending rise so much under Reagan, with his small-government rhetoric, while shrinking under the president so many Republicans insist is a secret socialist? In Reagan’s case, it’s partly about the arms race, but mainly about state and local governments doing what they are supposed to do: educate a growing population of children, invest in infrastructure for a growing economy.
Under President Barack Obama, however, the dire fiscal condition of state and local governments – the result of a sustained slump, which in turn was caused largely by that private debt explosion before 2008 – has led to forced spending cuts. The fiscal straits of lower-level governments could and should have been alleviated by aid from Washington, which remains able to borrow at incredibly low interest rates. But this aid was never provided on a remotely adequate scale.
This policy malpractice is doing double damage to the United States. On one side, it’s helping lose the future – because that’s what happens when you neglect education and public investment. At the same time, it’s hurting us right now, by helping keep growth low and unemployment high.
We’re talking big numbers here. If government employment under Obama had grown at Reagan-era rates, 1.3 million more Americans would be working as schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers, etc. than are currently employed in such jobs.
And once you take the effects of public spending on private employment into account, a rough estimate is that the unemployment rate would be 1.5 percentage points lower than it is, or below 7 percent – significantly better than the Reagan economy at this stage.
One implication of this comparison is that conservatives who love to compare Reagan’s record with Obama’s should think twice. Aside from the fact that recoveries from financial crises are almost always slower than ordinary recoveries, in reality Reagan was much more Keynesian than Obama, faced with an obstructionist GOP, has ever managed to be.
More important, however, there is now an easy answer to anyone asking how we can accelerate our economic recovery. By all means, let’s talk about visionary ideas; but we can take a big step toward full employment just by using the federal government’s low borrowing costs to help state and local governments rehire the schoolteachers and police officers they laid off, while restarting the road repair and improvement projects they canceled or put on hold.
On the academic floor, the MBA programme was once supreme. Arrogantly and unambiguously, it became the final sign-off to schooling, attracting not only those interested in business but also all those who wanted to master the tools of management.
That hubris, thanks to its own profligacy, is now being shaken. The Indian management education sector grew so wildly when demand was rampant (today there are 3,900 management schools with close to 3.5 lakh seats) that supply overshot demand by a long straw. And now comes the fallout.
In a dramatic, though not entirely unexpected, development, as many as 65 business management colleges across India are planning to close down; these institutes no longer see business sense in offering an MBA course, preferring to use the land for more lucrative ventures. In fact, experts predict that many more management colleges may close down in the days to come. As S S Mantha, chairman of the All-India Council for Technical Education, puts it, “Colleges in remote India and institutes of poor quality are not getting students.”
For the students who choose not to apply to any of these lesser-known colleges, the decision is a no-brainer: the curriculum is far from business reality, faculty is minimal and, most importantly, very few respectable companies participate in the course-end recruitment drives. At one time, the archetypal Indian MBA did join anonymous business colleges. But now with no job offer at the end, the decision is no longer complicated: a young graduate would rather take up a job or prepare harder for another shot at an entrance exam which is the gate to a better B-school, says Stephen D’silva, director, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.
However, while the lower-rung management schools are being bypassed, there are still tens of thousands who make a B-line to join an IIM. Pankaj Chandra, director of IIM-Bangalore, boasts of the lakhs of students who sign up to take the Common Admission Test (CAT) for close to 3,000 seats that the IIMs have on offer. “It is a great time to do an MBA. The brightest ones still want to do an MBA,” he adds.
Having said that, the manner in which India’s business education sector has developed poses a vital question: Is the MBA for everyone? Across the country, academics, irrespective of the institute they are affiliated to, are relating to Henry Mintzberg of McGill University, Montreal, who devoted a book to his contention that “conventional MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences”. Mintzberg’s line ‘Warning: Not Prepared to Manage’ has become a popular catch phrase in internal meetings that B-school boards and faculty members hold.
More freshly-minted MBAs from top B-schools are likely to make their way into consulting this placement season. Record hiring by The Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Co at B-school campuses this year and fewer offers from the traditional top recruiters, investment banks, have shifted the focus from the high-paying finance sector to the all-weather consulting companies.
BCG kicked off the IIM placement season by hiring 17 at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad on Monday, six more than the previous year. Last month, McKinsey picked 17 grads from the Indian School of Business, stepping up its 2012 hiring by 50% at the institute.
Apart from BCG and McKinsey, companies like Bain & Co, AT Kearney, Accenture and Oliver Wyman visited IIM-A on the first day. An IIM-A alumni says consulting companies offered packages between Rs 22 lakh and Rs 27 lakh for domestic roles this year.
Higher consulting offers are a bright spot in what is turning to be a tough year for B-school graduates. ET’s recent reports on the placement season so far suggested there will be fewer recruiters, fewer jobs and lower salaries at campuses, even though the sentiment is not as bleak as 2009, the worst in recent memory. Top B-schools have been lowering student expectations to cushion the impact of a possible tough season. Tier-II B-schools are feeling the slowdown pinch a bit more.
IIM-Calcutta, which kicks off its final placements on Monday, expects consulting to be strong. “I-banking is looking tough, and some of the i-banks are not participating. We will see more offers from consulting compared with last year,” says placement chairperson Amit Dhiman.
IIM-C’s 355-strong batch is going into final placements with over 93 pre-placement offers and 115-plus lateral offers in hand. Some 80-plus firms have confirmed participation in the final placements. “We are expecting lesser number of offers in banking and finance compared with last year, but at the moment, it is difficult to say whether, like last year, it will generate the maximum number of jobs, or slip to second position,” Dhiman adds.
At IIM-Bangalore, final placements start from February 18. Among top recruiters, ICICI Bank is expected to make a similar number of offers as last year. The bank was the largest recruiter with 19 offers last year.
Booz and Company, which goes only to IIM-A, IIM-Bangalore (IIM-B) and ISB, will not go to Bangalore this year because it has already picked up around 3-4 students from their lateral placements. Lateral placements are for those with more than a couple of years of work experience. An executive at Deloitte, which had picked up 11 students last year, said there is no reason why the consulting firm should not pick up a similar number this year.
IIM-Lucknow (IIM-L) placements chairman Rajesh Aithal says consulting will make up for a weaker finance sector hiring. He expects sales & marketing, human resources and e-commerce companies to hire more students this year.
IIM-L, which started its placement on Monday, will place 380 students this year as against 372 at Ahmedabad and 375 at Bangalore. Investment banks are the most preferred recruiters for B-schools because of lucrative salaries and fast-track growth prospects.
However, hiring by i-banks has been subdued owing to global economic conditions. IIM-A confirmed participation of Credit Suisse and HSBC in the 2012 campus recruitments, but two IIM-A students said these i-banks made only two offers. Another, JPMorgan, returned without making any offer on the first day of the final placements.
“After the global crisis of 2008, the finance sector has not increased hiring. On the other hand, batch sizes have gone up and as a result, the number of students joining the finance sector in percentage terms has decreased. However, the number of students opting for consulting sector is rising continuously,” IIM-A’s placement chairperson, Saral Mukherjee, says. I-banks and overall finance companies have continued campus hiring, but the number of offers has come down.
ISB started its placement process on January 19 and according to one campus source, the consulting sector hired aggressively. While McKinsey & Co hired 17 grads, Cognizant picked up 30 and Deloitte made offers to 15 students. Booz & Co hired 10 while PwC and E&Y together recruited 15 students from ISB.
“We were very bullish about this category and thought it would be an addition to a business phone or laptop. But it’s not taken off,” says a disappointed Nilesh Gupta, managing partner, Vijay Sales. Gupta is not the only one who expected tablet PCs aka tablets to take the Indian market by storm.
It seemed likely considering they worked their magic elsewhere. A Gartner report in September last year estimated total global tablet sales at 63.6 million for 2011 and 326.3 million units by 2015. In its last quarter, Apple sold 15.43 million iPads, a 111% increase from last year.
After over a decade or so in development and many cumbersome metamorphoses, tablets suddenly took the market by storm with the success of iPad. It made just about every electronics/computer brand bet on its own version of a tiny touchscreen powered device.
Many of these reached India, some of them via simultaneous global launches. And yet, the category’s performance has been lacklustre. Depending on who you ask the total sales hover between 150,000 and 180,000 units in India; everyone is in agreement the number is well below 200,000.
The most obvious obstacle is price. Apart from aberrations like the ultra low budget Aakash tablet (Rs 2,999 for the Ubislate 7+), most products start at a little over Rs 15,000 and go up to near Rs 45,000. Some of today’s budget tablets were launched at twice the price just a little over six months ago.
The BlackBerry PlayBook offered a massive 50% discount towards the end of 2011. While initially advertised as a week long scheme, the price cut was still in effect at the time of going to print. PlayBooks flew off the shelves and some retailers even reported shortages. Krishnadeep Baruah, director, marketing, BlackBerry, says the schemes had begun as early as Diwali when a free entry level smartphone was bundled with the PlayBook: “The tablet by itself is an indulgence. We wanted to make sure there was a good value.”
With the year end gifting season looming, BlackBerry decided to fill the market with PlayBooks and halved its asking price, doing away with the free phone. The price tag on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab plummeted shortly after launch. Ranjit Yadav, country head – mobile and IT, Samsung explains, “The tab came bundled with some special offers. After a couple of months, those introductory offers were taken away, and the product sold at a price which has remained more or less consistent.” Even the notoriously premium Apple made its original iPad more affordable once the iPad 2 was launched.
Price has taken many back to the drawing board. The so-called magic price point is missing in action: the tag at which a purchase seems a bargain to the value conscious Indian consumer; and the sheer volume of sales ensure the marketer is happy too. Brands and retailers alike are racking their brains over this conundrum, with high manufacturing costs leaving them little room to manoeuvre.
Skewing the mix is the market leader, the iPad which calls the shots on pricing. With a relatively small price gap between the most famous product and everyone else, many potential consumers opt for it by default, according to Gupta. He believes sales will rise once manufacturers supply a 32GB 10 inch tablet with Wi-Fi and 3G at Rs 19,990.
Vishal Tripathi, principal research analyst at Gartner is even more conservative: “The price needs to be in the range of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 for a 10 inch screen and connectivity via Wi-Fi, 3G and dongle.” Some brands see hefty discounts as evidence of a faulty strategy. Lenovo, Motorola and now Samsung have several different options at various price points thus appealing to a broad swathe of consumers, with at least one model in the super premium bracket.
However, price is only part of the problem. The larger issue is that brands have been unable to sell the concept of tablets to the Indian consumer. It’s a secondary device that sits somewhere between a notebook computer and smartphone. Giving people a reason to fork out cash, even less cash than before, is a huge ordeal.
Says Shailendra Katyal, marketing director – Lenovo, “People find it funky but are not sure what they will do with it. It’s not an alternative to either PC or smartphone and more of a consumption device than a creation device. Education is the biggest challenge as people think they can do everything but find they can’t. These are category issues and not brand level issues.”
Many brands tried to create a splash with gimmicky launches, PlayBook was unveiled by Salman Khan and Lenovo launched its range on an air field. But the greater focus has been on hooking potential consumers: both tech savvy early adopters as well as people who are curious but not as well informed.
For the first category, what works are mentions and reviews in well regarded tech blogs and an effective social media presence. Brands hope the second category will get influenced by the first. Says Sachin Thapar, head – IT and mobile business, Sony, “Once we have first movers, we want to harness word of mouth aggressively. Hardly anyone in our friend circle owns a tablet. It’s easier to familiarise people with a new product via this route.”
Marketers are spending time and money training store staff, placing several unusual demands on their teams. For instance, making sure display environments have a Wi-Fi connection; something that many tablets are crippled without. Or making sure the other devices a tablet can interact with are close at hand. The ultimate objective is a demo calculated to wow a person who’d never considered the product before, to the point where it gets on the shopping list; even if the purchase is not made immediately.
Conspicuous by its absence are mass media spends, apart from Samsung and Reliance. BlackBerry’s communication strategy for PlayBook involves testimonials from satisfied users; however they can only be seen on its website.
Retailers like Gupta are starting to suspect the lack of mainstream brand building is perhaps another reason for the category underperforming: “Marketing and advertising is more important here than anywhere else. You need to make people feel this is convenient, easy to use and here to stay.” Experiential marketing works but only for people who walk in and have leisure enough to browse. Admits Gupta, “People are time poor. They come in, buy and leave.”
Tripathi adds, “Apple has not really marketed itself. More than any other player, Samsung made people aware of the category. There are currently 20 to 25 players but tablets have not been marketed that well. Even Samsung’s focus appears to have shifted to the Samsung Galaxy Note (smartphone). Efforts need to be made by other vendors, since one cannot market to 1.3 billion.”
Device manufacturers have a lot to talk about on the rational impulses to go in for a tablet. BlackBerry’s Baruah cites the many enterprise friendly features and the power of multitasking. Rajeev Karwal, founder & CEO, Milagrow Tab Tops, talks about how his firm’s tablets are customised to various professions. Thapar points to Sony’s tablet being an “ultimate convergence device”, incorporating games from PlayStation, doubling up as an infrared remote control and as a media player that can stream content to TVs and other devices.
What’s missing is a solid emotional reason to make what is as of now, a fairly irrational purchase. Maybe in the thick stew of social media connections and experiential branding, a good old fashioned commercial is just what the doctor ordered.
American schools offer a positive and safe environment for kids. The curriculum and level of learning in schools are constantly monitored by government bodies too. We could learn a few lessons from their system
Most American kids, even the rich, attend government schools in the United States. Education up to the 12th grade is free of cost. The medium of instruction is invariably English.
US schools have infrastructure better than our universities. With urban spaces least cluttered, zoning regulations very strict and almost every child being ferried to school by transport, the studying environment for children is highly safe. The per pupil annual spending by the US government is 10,499 USD.
These are a few aspects that bear no comparison with the scenario in India where resources are scarce and there is confusion of multiple linguistic mediums besides the three-language formula. Additionally, our system has to grapple with all kinds of divides such as the rich-poor, urban-rural, slum-upscale, English-vernacular, and traditional-modern syllabus.
Granted that America is a first world country and India is still under the ‘developing nations’ category. But some aspects that lend the American school education system a cutting edge, need to be emulated. Lack of resources is certainly not critical when it comes to emulating those aspects.
Last June, when my daughter took her first child for admission into the Maercker School in education district no. 60 in the Willowbrook neighbourhood of Chicago, I decided to accompany her out of curiosity to have a firsthand understanding of the American school system. This set me on an exploration taking me to almost 10 schools across the US.
What impresses you about American schools is the overall focus on making the child extremely comfortable with the school’s ambience. The enrolment form is accompanied by another form eliciting information on the linguistic skills of the child.
Parents are asked to mention the languages in which the child communicates with parents, siblings, nannies (or caretakers), peers in a gathering and with playmates. This prepares the ground for a homogenising exercise in which the kids are divided into two groups; those who are proficient in English and the ones who need special coaching before they attain the proficiency to pursue the regular syllabus. A six-month homogenisation exercise brings up the latter group on par with the former.
The teacher-student ratio is mostly 1:20, at the most and ideally 1:17. Chairs and desks are arranged as the occasion demands, sometimes in a crescent like fashion and in rows of twos or threes. If need be, the children squat on the floor (which is mainly wooden.). The value orientation begins with the kids being taught to lace their communication with five magic words such as please, sorry, pardon me, thank you and excuse me.
Some schools inculcate values clubbed under the acronym TERRIFIC — Trust-Equality-Respect-Responsibility-Fairness-Integrity-Caring. Teachers explain these values with the help of anecdotes. There are no fixed set of stories. Teachers are free to choose such stories from a variety of resources including their faith and religious books.
Teachers are required to constantly upgrade their knowledge and instructional methodology. Imad Tibbi, Principal of Genesee Academy in Flint in the state of Michigan says: “Teachers are required to secure re-certification every three years from the State Education Department.”
Doing leads to internalising
Thanks to improved teaching methods, American students learn to internalise concepts when it is put to action. They grasp even the most nettlesome concepts in Natural Sciences and Humanities, the lack of which compels a child in India to mug up lessons instead of comprehending. This is the hallmark of the American education system.
At the Canton School in Ann Arbor (Michigan), the children were working on book writing which involved designing a title page for the book and making cutouts of the characters they had envisioned for the content of their book. Students of a geography class were working on a cutout of the map of South America, marking the borders and courses of rivers and fixing their flags. Fifth graders were engaged in organising a writers’ workshop while another class was engaged in preparing a concept map for healthy living and ecosystem.
S Pembe, Principal at Canton Academy, a private school in a Detroit suburb, says that the American system does not insist on adoption of the prescribed syllabus, but there are fixed standards in matters of linguistic proficiency, knowledge of Science and Mathematical skills. Evaluation is strict. Value-orientation is embedded in every chapter. Diversity of existence in America is emphasised both through textbooks and programmes. There is simply no rote learning.
Says Nader, Principal of Iklas School in another Detroit neighbourhood, run by an Afro-American community, “You are free to teach kids that Columbus was not necessarily the one who discovered America because there were people in America even before Columbus who made the continent known to others!”
Laura, Principal of Rahmah School in Baltimore (Maryland state) says, “Since the majority of kids in the area are of Indian, Arabic and Afro-American origin, additional languages such as Arabic, Hindi and Urdu can be opted for in my school. Safi Khan, an American of Indian origin, who runs Al-Huda School in College Park neighbourhood of Baltimore, says the area has nearly 30,000 children of Indian origin and the school could include additional languages and even chapters of history of the countries to which the kid belonged to.
Khan says most parents were earlier afraid that their kids would suffer if they attended a school where linguistic curriculum carried some additional languages. “But we have proved them wrong. The school has won the accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools (CES-MSA), a 120-year old body offering accreditation based on its rating of Quality Assurance,” she adds.
Whatever may be the curriculum pattern, all schools will have to subject a report under the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for periodic assessment of students’ progress conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics and the US Department of Education.
The assessment covers areas of mathematics, reading/writing, science and more. NAEP results are released in the form of a ‘Nation’s Report Card’. This document becomes a reference point for policymakers. The NAEP assessment is conducted on representative samples of students at grades 4, 8 and 12 for the main assessments and samples of students at ages 9, 13 and 17 years for long-term trend assessments.
These grades and ages were chosen because they represent critical junctures in academic achievement. The deplorable state of government schools in India urges us to learn a lot from American schools, where efficiency of teachers and the level of learning are under constant monitoring. We need to make the schools and the pedagogy child-friendly.
|All of us would agree that an organisation’s greatest asset is its skilled human capital, irrespective of the prevailing economic conditions.
Effective management and employment of this asset is even more critical in today’s business climate and highly competitive environment.
In a tough economic climate with unrelenting pressure on training budgets, companies, today, are increasingly demanding reduced time-to-production.
Further, training vendors are constantly challenged to demonstrate the value, ROI and business impact of training initiatives. For organisations, the challenge is to keep the skills of human capital updated within reasonable budgets. It is, thus, imperative that when a skill augmentation/update is required, a suitable training vendor is engaged that can deliver Complete Learning Experience (CLE TM) while reducing Total Cost of Learning (TCL TM).
The rapid changes in technology landscape, coupled with vast array of technology options available to professionals, are making corporate training requirements increasingly complex and challenging to manage in-house for the Learning & Development Managers. These demands make corporate training a totally different ball game as compared to retail training delivery.
The scenario today is different, with an increase in awareness of corporate training in Indian industry, a gradual shift from general to specific approach has been realised.
This translates to moving to “tailored” in-house/customised training, as opposed to openhouse/ public training courses. With the high churn rates that IT companies in India are witnessing, training today is considered as a retention tool than a cost, by most managers.
Despite the current challenging market, Gartner predicts, that the ongoing need for qualified IT personnel in Asia Pacific will fuel major opportunities for IT training and certification in the region and estimates that around 1.5 million IT experts will be needed by 2012.
Key drivers for this longer term growth include enhancements in collaborative tools and technologies, backed by increasing Internet penetration to deliver online content. Although majority of the employed IT professionals hold relevant “qualifications”, the industry still faces declining numbers of qualified (read: ready to deliver) and skilled manpower.
IT spending in India is projected to total $79.8 billion in 2012, a 9.1 per cent increase from 2011 spending of $73.1 billion, according to Gartner Inc. Despite the global economic challenges, enterprises will continue to invest in IT.
A corporate training delivery must be process oriented, understanding business drivers behind the training requirement, scoping the delivery content requirements, assigning subject matter expert/industry consultant as a trainer, pre-training assessment, preparing trainees, delivering business specific customised course, post-training assessment and followup/ assistance.
The process must be supplemented with training lifecycle management – planning, management, administration and advisory. This must relieve Learning & Development Managers from the rigour of organising and managing the trainings – they must be focusing on understanding the learning and development needs of the employees; not spending their time and effort in nuances of organising and facilitating a training.
Few training vendors offer LPO, and those who do immensely help their clients in addressing the challenges by taking complete ownership of end-to-end learning process right from the inception of the training requirement, thus ensuring a rich and complete learning experience and not just a classroom training.
Another important aspect of corporate training is to increase the value and return on training investment by designing a course that is clearly aligned with corporate strategy, in terms of program objectives, solution design and content.
By leveraging the business strategy as the framework for people development, corporate training companies can deliver powerful and precise training framework that is directly aligned with key business goals, thus helping the professionals to connect points between training and actual requirements at work.
Given the hectic schedule and frequent travel of professionals, corporate training must be available in multiple modes like in-house, open-house, private, public, instructor-led, online, virtual, which can be consumed by the trainees on schedule as well as when possible.
Further, companies expect same level of professionalism from its training providers, that their customers expect of them. If training vendors want to develop a serious long term engagement with their customers, offering “Service Level Agreements” has to be an integral and a standard practice.
The many Englishes of the world have always provided much entertainment. But, how right are we to expect the foreign language to be spoken in the ‘right’ accent? And, who decides what the ‘right’ accent is? Tejaswi Uthappa lends a thought.
|Considering the oft-considered consideration that “English is a bhery phunny language”… (Namakhalaal). Bachchan’s top order verbal unleashment stays top across common conversation even decades since Bollywood officially endorsed the extent of funniness the English language lends itself to.
Very funny then and as phunny now as the proficiency and intent of the speaker, spoken English, the way we know it and the way many would have us know, enthralls with vagaries sometimes hilarious, sometimes misleading, sometimes downright offensive, but mostly, different, in a different sort of way.
Its manifest boon or bane, ultimately, depends on how varied our reasons for speaking it are and where we speak it — all, always, ultimately, considerably considerable.
While non-native speakers continue to cook its broth most relentlessly, only those who have had personal experience with the in-house battering of this phonetically-challenged dialect, mother tongue or not, can sympathise with the fact that the murder spree of Queen’s English is a heritage that is as old as the very origins of its speakers.
History notwithstanding, the scope for sheer variety underscores the speaking fraternity of its faithful, where strong accents make for individual languages in their own right. So, while there is the Geordie or the Brummie from its land’s own, we have our own ramifications, that stand proud, as far as the empire stretched then and as rampant as its influence has spread since.
Compounded by phonetic similarities between words among the multiple languages we speak, while they hold no semantic parity, the results of their combinations become epics in themselves.
Hold that in your mind while I relate this rather unfortunate event — one from a long list that, dear readers, I am sure you will be able to add to, given our transcontinental existence today and the requirement that it creates to converse in a language that to most of us is, essentially, foreign.
Someone declares at a wake, “…inde naake vurrk ille” (today I will get no sleep). It is but natural to wonder, even aloud, why someone not even remotely related to the deceased should go without sleep prior to the funeral.
Turns out, the exclamation was a classic dual language utterance, where “vurrk” was actually the English word ‘work’ used as itself, but articulated in his typical accent. After much confusion among the guests, when the situation got quite out-of-hand, someone was kind enough to intervene and clarify what that sentence originally intended to convey. It goes thus: “inde naake work ille,” meaning quite simply and unpretentiously, “today I do not have (to go to) work.”
Can you imagine how foul uncontrollable guffaws would have seemed with the head of the family lying in a coffin two teak chairs away? Let us not even venture into the predicament of the mourning widow and the distraught children.
So you see, language mutilation is not obliged to protocols of any sort and in the wake of habit and opportunity, anything vurrks. And. It is always very sentimental.
The enthusiast will plough on. And you dare not interrupt.
Especially on a busy road when the only one available to ask for directions is a modest enough youth revving a 1985 converted van loaded with live chickens. He will vigorously point left on the fork in the road that bears right and insists that to get to where I need to be in less than 15 minutes, I should go “striiiiitu”.
Decode time. Going ‘straight’ would take me into a road with no point of return until four kms on that traffic-heavy stretch, going ‘right’ would steer me out of the city. So, trying my diplomatic best, I enquired again. Enthusiastic, confident, and even more persuasive, pat came the reply, “Go to striiitu, Medem”. You might have heard this a million times before, but there was no way I could break his heart. Yet, experience told me to make for a polite getaway.
While I drove away relying merely on the compass of instinct and sheer common sense, the ‘bridge’ (breeze) ‘rand’ (ran) through my ‘airz’ (hair). The chaos outside, ‘tasted’ my resolve and I hated the ‘test’ of the orange flavoured water a friend had most kindly forced upon me on another such mercurial day.
Was I flummoxed, though? On the contrary, it was another heartening testimony to why progress will always make its way. For, if connecting effortlessly on a local level is important for me to become an integral part of the framework that will now be home, and speaking in the regional language properly, counts for a valiant effort (guilty, and not proud), there is this rank of greater valiants that also dares to dream big. Like us, and in fact, sometimes, more than us, they know that prosperity rides on cultural amalgamation.
They have seen it happen and they are part of that wave. So, while no one can take away from them their staunch roots of identity, they are forever eager to adapt to and adopt every semblance of prosperity that makes them more one with the rest of the world.
Make way now, for the Truce of Necessity. Having never had to speak a word of English to get by, born and bred in happy naadus and oorus, and then even more happily married off to jobs, prospects or spouses in Amreeka, Staitsu, Kennaada or Brimanghaam, there is an increasing community dealing with ‘first exposure’.
These newbies neither identify with the land they have been transported to nor with the hair-raising cultural adjustments that will have to be made in the land of the white, light-white and not-so-light colour tones. Never mind the spectrum of expectations that come around them. But, if one must fetch that first meal, one must speak. Their speak.
Mismatch? With absolutely no offence to anyone, if what takes your imagination now is a tight, coconut-oiled braid cascading down, Rapunzel style, swaying frantically left-right-left-right on a small NYC street, as the owner it sprouts from, hollers, “staaap” to the taxi approaching, only to be stood up, you are not kidding!
Mercie for nothing, but, maybe, just maybe, she missed out the slight roll of the rrrr there, as in ‘staarrrp’, because ‘stop’, simply said in whatever accent, would go uncomprehended in that land of otherwise ‘wunnerrful’ people.
In his classic matter-of-fact fashion, a friend puts it quite rightly when he says, “When someone learns English for the first time, abroad, there is only one way he can speak it.” This deems true for any language, really. The oddity of an Indian rural upbringing, spouting, for instance, a heavily accented Yankie-twang, is but an occupational hazard.
Provokes some thought there and a reflection upon how much importance we should warrant the ‘correct’ way of speaking an acquired language that is in itself an occupational hazard.
This new English speaker might not get as much attention for his accent where he learnt it first, as for his skin colour and deference, but when he comes home to his people and mingles with the more urbane crowd where language barrier might never have been much of a challenge, his manner and style of speech, far removed from his strong origin, make him the perfect laughing stock. Where his accent is ‘at home’, he is an alien. Where ‘he’ should be at home, his alien accent makes him the butt of jokes.
To turn this dilemma on its head, let me remind you of another nasty joke from the other side of the west — the world of crumpets and tea. Remember Big Brother UK?
And remember that embarrassing slur cast upon the diplomatic visit of the UK premier to India? The landmark ‘declaration’ by the reigning Ms Great Britain of the time, with her Liverpudlian scouse and seriously impaired articulation skills, concluded that Shilpa ‘princess’ Shetty, “can’t even speak English properly”. Even the very British anchor of the show couldn’t stifle her sheepish giggles at that and much air time was devoted to lame damage control! But, who is to tell?!
What is right and what is wrong? With the multitude of different accents that English is spoken in Britain itself, when someone walks into an east London hardware store and makes a quick Scottish request for ‘fork handles’ only to be handed ‘four candles’, who is to dictate to the rest of the world what constitutes the right way of speaking it?
Why do we get so miffed when someone tells us that “here, in India” we pronounce p-a-s-t-e-l, as ‘paste-al’ and not ‘pastl’ as the expert would have it said? When, after constant correction, someone decides that English is not their mother tongue and they are ‘verrrry vell thank you’ without more badgering, why does that tiny group of phonetic experts, that constitutes an equally tiny fraction of the entire English speaking world, get so offended? Whatever happened to ‘respecting regional differences’ and ‘majority wins’?
Though I believe that every effort should be aimed at perfection or somewhere close to it, falling short at something as nebulous and transient as lingual ability and accents, mainly due to regional deflections, should be the last thing to linger on.
After all, the British themselves, sometimes, struggle to follow strong modulations among their own. The French are graciously forgiven and the Italians are imitated. Let’s give our own some flak — we are culturally and racially much more diverse than anyone in the west. This must be acknowledged. On a lighter note, revel, but keep the humour mutually palatable because many among us who speak a foreign tongue would really much rather not do so at all.
Above the underlying determination to rise beyond the ordinary, these light moments of comic relief (in afterthought, even the worst situation brings a smile) make every bead of sweat, worth the while.
Living in India, these moments come on a platter with the maid insisting on “making you tough” (making dough for me) — she has to learn English perforce because she has two “foreigner” houses to go to after mine, to “cook them”. Being in Bangalore, the triumphs come along at some particular traffic junctions.
My now-familiar-face cop insists on replying in English, relentlessly flourishing his modest linguistic prowess over a language (imported, like his Malaysian ‘Ferrari’ jacket) that he clearly looks up to, for every query I put to him in my equally laughable Kannada. It provided moments of immense comedy initially, but now, I have a different take on it.
The local vernacularisation of a language from a land far, far, away, creates something ‘different’ — not ‘wrong’. The localised diction and usage — more far-fetched the better — makes it worth the while. In this very common situation today, where education, aspiration and resolve come together, every time you come across a deflection, multi-lingual, grammatical or phonetic, it gets you. It is worth the ‘vile’.
While we rave about the extinction of ancient pure languages like Latin or our own Sanskrut, English’s non-phonetic conformity and scope to coin phrases that can mean anything depending on how they are used, ensures that however mongrelised it gets, it will always survive.
Blame it on the far-flung British colonies and effects thereof, ‘color’ it tan or ‘colour’ it teal, throw in a ‘psychedelic’ range (with a p) or trace in a ‘cyclic’ pattern (without a p), this language will prevail. With every new accent and word that gets added to its ever-expanding palette and dictionary editions, the more popular it will grow as a linguistic choice.
As long as you get it, and as long it ‘vill’ be spoken, in all its forms, all considered, ultimately, it will always be, English. And talking of contortionist phrases, let me leave you with a line from a card attached to a loving letter I received this week. Sitting pretty on my mantelpiece, the cover picture is a beautiful, textured graphic print of the Alps, calligraphed with the words, “Peace and merriment” across its width. On the inside page, amidst all the smilies, the handwriting reads: “This joyful season, may you be full of it. Much love…”
Seasons Greetings, everyone.