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Showing posts from July, 2011

The Never-ending Question Of Return

Once you left home, my friend told me, you can never go back.

I said I must, as I only wanted to travel to see the world. To learn, as I believed in Gu Yanwu's dictum - walk 10,000 miles, read 10,000 books. I went only as a student, as an adventurer who wanted to live in different places, speak different languages, learn different customs and make different friends. It was very different from wanting to migrate, escape from my roots: Far from it, I dearly loved my city, my house, everything that wrapped around my childhood.

Indeed, my friend had a point, despite the copious amount of beer he would have drunk before he said that. That is the perennial question in a non-resident's life, the question of return. There is a constant weighing of opportunities, the choices being made at every step, the desire of self-renewal up against the desire of being yourself. Besides, home is only an idea frozen in time, not a house just, but the people and the voices and the habits that reside i…

Reflecting On Practice

I have been asked to keep a journal for one of the modules in my MA course. I am now trying to force myself into the habit, though I am never good at doing anything when I am forced. However, this is only required for a short while, with the final coursework due in early September, and I thought I can keep trying it for a month.

I am expected to write about my Professional Practice and immediately the confusion starts. This is for an Education course and for the purpose of the course, I should possibly focus on the part of my role as an educator. Indeed, I teach Marketing Strategy to Post-graduate students one afternoon a week, and this is going to go up to one and half day a week starting September. However, this is only a small part of what I do. Teaching is my adventures in the chalk-face, an element in my exploration of models that I intend to employ, some day, in the Online College that I want to set up. So are other things - the administrative functions that I carry out as the He…

Education is the Killer App

I don't remember who said this to me first, but it is something I deeply believed in and reorientated my career therefore. The premises are simple: In an uncertain world, in the context of post-industrial civilization, knowledge rules. Whoever thinks middle classes are gone, should think again: Despite the decline of middle class jobs in the Western countries, there is a huge increase in the numbers joining the Middle Class ranks all over the world, with similar aspirations, consumption habits and hunger for 'degrees'. Education is the 'app' that makes it happen: This is going to be the killer app for now and for future.

I am fully aware that in America, there is this discussion about Education Bubble. One can see clear economic reasoning, save one. It is improper to compare higher ed to housing, as the former is a super-portable merit good and the other is the model of illiquidity. You can't take your house along if you move to a better job in another city, so …

After the Social: Roger McNamee Talking About The Next Big Thing

Being A Student

I live with curious justifications. For example, I believe that since the leaps in medical technology in the last forty years added a good 20 years in average life expectancy of a person living a regular life, I am twenty years younger. Well, it works this way: I was expected to live 60 years when I was born, and can now safely expect to be around for 80, hence I am 22 years old. This makes some people jump, particularly those who have not been born by that logic, but they miss the point: This was a relative measure rather than an absolute one. They may accumulate as many years of extra lifetime by the time they may reach my age, but, for the moment, they are yet to earn it.

So, that is one way of extending my life: There is another. I keep coming back to this theme of living two days life in one day. If I could manage to do this everyday, this will eventually mean I end up living about 160 years' (80 real years x 2) worth, a pretty decent time to make a difference. But, indeed, so…

The Battle Against Plagiarism

The furore over the blog post of PanagiotisIpeirotis, a NYU Stern Professor, who vowed not to pursue cheating again (read the report here), is understandable. Cheating is seen as possibly the worst offence possible in a class environment, which undermines the trust between the teacher and the student, and makes all academic effort irrelevant. In my own experience, when I was given the responsibility of running the MBA programme in the college I work for, cheating was common, often perversely common. The colleagues in the MBA team wanted to do something about it, but didn't know where to start. Though there were clear guidelines on what to do with cheating, they were so punitive - mostly leading to an exit from the course - that the administration team will often desist from taking the final step. What made matters worse was the immigration policy: The UK Borders Agency mandates drop-out rates to be kept within 11% of the class, which is an unattainably low number for an adult educ…

Humanities under Threat?

Last evening, I attended a seminar at the British Academy under the title 'Humanities Under Threat?' which was immensely interesting. This was organized by the University of Cambridge and Arizona State University, and was attended by a great panel. Among the speakers was Jonathan Cole, whose Great American University I have read earlier. There was Stephan Collini too, whose history of intellectuals in Britain is an immensely interesting read, as well as Michael Crow, the President of Arizona State University, Robert Post, the Dean of Yale Law School, the famous British Cosmologist, Lord (Martin) Rees and Adam Roberts, the President of British Academy. Altogether, it was a greatly distinguished panel of depth and diversity, and the discussions adequately reflected that.

My impression after the listening to the lectures is that there is indeed a great divide between science and humanities. Most speakers, with the possible exception of Adam Roberts and Stephan Collini, denied that…

Elegies to Lost Love

I see time as a brush to paint my life's canvass with. So, nothing is ever lost: All the moments become a brush stroke as they seem destined to be. There will be no regrets either: There will be no claims to finality of a final masterstroke. Seen that way, life, my life or anyone's, becomes a beautiful rainbow of colours and possibilities, its each corner filled with a story of what could have been and its each ending filled with a tinge of beautiful sorrow.

The portrait, which must be hung on the wall one day and possibly take the form of my own face - old, lined with little spaces marked by each of these stories - can and should be somewhat anticipated. The little creases build up over time as all the people that loved me step gently in the background, some go sooner than they should have, some linger a little, some leave a mark, some don't. But they must go, as is the rule perhaps, and every brushstroke must reach a conclusion, and the endings be laced with a feeling of …

What India can learn from, er.., Finland

India has an education problem. A massive one. Its education system is broken, so bad that an official in Prime Minister's Office recently said that India has an examination system, not an education system. Most children in India go to schools that don't teach, and most adults will go to colleges which are desperately out of sync with modern world. Its education infrastructure is at the breaking point. Government's solution to this was to introduce, unthinkingly as governments do, privatization. So, basically, the government will let go the control and let the invisible hand take care of the problem.

What complicates this is that in India, no one really is in charge of education. It is in the joint list, which means both the Federal (Central) government and the State governments get to dabble in it. They can pass the blame to one another, and do nothing. But also that they don't want to let go - they fear that giving up control over education is giving up control over p…

After the rains

I am feeling free now. As free as the blue sky that showed up after the day of rain, unburdened.

I was weighed down by various things, the deadlines to turn in coursework for my Masters studies, the intense pressure on the private sector education in Britain due to the absurd immigration regulations, and the battles I had to fight with vested interests at work. On top of this, I had a very bad start of the year: My brother's death meant turmoil in my family life as well as implosion of a business I was trying to set up in India. It didn't help that this was immediately followed by other deaths in the family, and a rather prolonged sickness of my grandmother, who I love dearly.

None of these material problems have been resolved. I turned in some coursework and have a six week pause, but there is more on the way. The UK Home Office is intent on destroying the attractiveness of UK Higher Education - they don't care as it is not their department - and their campaign is continuin…

Return to Radicalism

The economic crisis, that we lived with for the last few years, is finally changing the intellectual landscape: After years of conformity, radicalism is again back in fashion. It is no longer daft not to be at the centre, no longer funny to believe in some sort of world's end theorem - grand narratives are back in fashion.

Is this a neo-modern turn then, in our history? The post-modern thinking, the grand narrative that established the absence of grand narratives, robbed us of beliefs to live for. The fragmentation of working class - every man as an island bounded by mortgage - was complemented by a theory of doing so. The pursuit of happiness, the grand narrative that it is possible to be happy by winning a lottery ticket, took over the mantle of the struggle for rights that the earlier generations waged.

Indeed, there was nothing to fight for. The shopping malls were there, the bewildering choice of objects as a proof of existence of happiness: The TV laid out the perfect life and…

Strong and Weak David Cameron

The Economist explores the two sides of David Cameron's leadership: He is self-assured and confident in the matters of High Politics (read, making speeches), but radar-less and weak when faced with the raw politics of mass fury and indignation. Examples abound: His approach to the crisis in Libya and war in Afghanistan is markedly dissimilar to his handling of NHS reform and now, the News of The World saga.

It is possibly easy to see why. David Cameron is a showman rather than a politician. His skills of communication, something akin to Tony Blair and far ahead of Gordon Brown, hides an important weakness: He is indeed out of touch. His government has so far done a good job painting a grim picture of economic crisis and unveiling the Welfare State under the cover, but the success of this depended more on 'selling' the story to gullible public than taking thoughtful action.

The great flaw in Cameron's governance style is that his publicist instincts make him follow the p…

Coming Home: Globalization in Reverse

Santander's decision to bring back its call centres to UK should not come as a surprise: The bank had a bad record for complaints handling and something had to happen. However, this is part of a wider trend which should worry Service Outsourcing and Contract Manufacturing companies everywhere.

It is interesting to note that the global economic meltdown led to shortening of supply chain by European and American companies, rather than rushing to find lowest costs elsewhere. What is happening is indeed globalization in reverse, a far cry from the go-go days early in the millennium. In fact, Mckinsey is now talking about 'Globalization Penalty' after noticing that companies that stayed home are continuously outperforming the big multinationals who are struggling to pull together their global subsidiaries. If we thought the world is flattening, surely it is going round all over again.

Add to this the protectionist thinking in Europe and America, and increasingly right-wing approa…

End of the News of The World and The Beginning of Cameron's Watergate

So, shutters down at the News of The World, and welcome, probably, to Sun on Sunday. It is not just the saddest moment of British journalism, a trade that sustained the world's oldest surviving democracy and helped, I shall argue, to make the case for free speech all over the world. It is an epiphany about what happens when a trade, a profession loses its purpose, and becomes a tool of production of profit and power. Lessons have to be learned, not just by the Murdoch mafia and their cronies, but by the man on the street perhaps: That the freedoms we take for granted are hard-earned and must be protected every day, and such.

But, first the bad news. News of the World paints an astonishing picture of a business at its worst, when responsibility was thrown out of the window in pursuit of profit and power, and little people, sadly and cynically engaged in keeping their jobs, carried out heinous crimes, no less serious and offensive than sex abuses and murders they reported, at the be…

How To Teach Creativity: Six Lessons

I just read a piece by August Turak on the Forbes blog (read it here). My takeaway is the six lessons on teaching creativity that Turak claims his mentor, Louis Mobley, embedded in the IBM Executive School. It affected me deeply and made me think; hence, I am trying to reproduce these six lessons here:

One, the linear methods of teaching - books, workshops etc - do not work in teaching creativity. This is not about giving answers and formula, but about encouraging a person to ask questions. Radically different questions! And these need to be generated in a non-linear way.

Two, teaching creativity is more about 'unlearning' than 'learning'. So, the whole experience was designed to be a humbling experience, even in a frustrating, infuriating way. The end objective was to make people feel - wow, I never thought that way before!

Three, one does not learn to be creative; one must BECOME creative people. So, the learning experience was designed so that no answer is ever adequat…

My Life in Britain

I left India on 2nd July 2004, and traveled through Singapore to Britain. It was a rather strange day, not just because the day lasted almost 30 hours due to my traveling route and English summer; I was embarking on a journey completely unprepared and in a way, unnecessary. In a way, I was okay: Had a decent job in a decent company, just moved back to Calcutta with my parents after a stint overseas, and been rigorously advised, by my parents and friends, to start a family. I was 35 then - so my chances of playing with life were written off - and had no particularly transferable skill, as my computer skills were largely forgotten after years of working in a General Management role.

I ignored all the advice on the contrary and came to Britain. It was a wrong decision, I knew instantly. I knew no one in London, except an old friend from my Bangladesh days who migrated earlier and who tried to find me an accommodation in one of her boyfriend's flats (which did not materialize). I had a…

Evolution Versus Revolution

Keynes said - in the Long run, we are all dead. Let's leave this evolution business to God: If we want to get something done in our lifetimes, let's go revolutionary.

I am a rather placid character. I don't like violence. I don't even play the World of Warcraft. I cringe at the sight of blood. But, when it comes to doing things, I never thought evolutionary mindset would work for me.

The reason is that everyone knows evolution does not work, but want to hide behind it. Because it is easy to do so: That's the way everything else work. If we follow nature's rule, we look natural: Won't we? But this is an excuse for inaction. Remember Louis the Fourteenth, looking at the bread riots in Paris and thinking that at least his time would pass. It may, but we are most likely to be caught up in the revolutionary mess as we are born towards the end of the twentieth century.

This is because revolution takes less time to make these days. This is because while you are think…

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