Showing posts from August, 2014

'A Just Society By Just Means'

India was to be, as Nehru told AndrĂ© Malraux, 'a just society by just means'. 
67 years on, as we seek to redefine India, we should return this vision. It is the time to make a fresh start perhaps, as we haven't achieved a just society and lost sight of the just means - and indeed, any appetite, as it seems, for such grand imagination. But that should precisely be the reason to reimagine!
Ideas such as these are often laughed at, as rhetoric that means nothing. Yet, here is a poor illiterate country, which instituted a liberal democracy, and managed to hold together despite its diversity and difference. One must be conscious of its many failings, but this should not undermine what India has achieved. The current ruling generation, which has seen none of the privations of colonialism nor made any sacrifices, may want to mock the struggles Indians waged, but such ignorance can only lead to a return of history and continued dependence. Ideas such as these, successful or not,…

Conversations 14: Challenging The Educational Status Quo

In the last few weeks, I travelled to several cities in India talking to employers, listening to their plans and concerns about people hiring. I got some numbers - it is evident that they are hiring people in thousands - and I also realised how hard it is to do so. I met some of these employees, bright ones, and listened to their aspirations and how employers help and do not help them in furthering their careers. This was not one neat piece of market research, I was not going around with some kind of questionnaire in hand, but rather a series of overlapping conversations. However, they collectively give me an idea on what's happening in India, though this perspective is limited to the middle class, 'white collar' jobs.
Admittedly, my engagements were actually quite specific. It was, first of all, limited to certain industries, those which could be serviced by the new kind of Higher Education I am engaged in. The agenda was narrow - I wanted these employers to partner with…

A Moment for Return

It rained heavily while I waited to board my flight at Pune's Lohegaon airport. It is only a short walk to the plane, but it was the kind of downpour that won't allow even those few steps. The ground staff, who can't but be out and about, were struggling even with their big, workmen-like umbrellas. My cheap folding umbrella, a companion I learnt to keep while living in London, has to remain safely tucked away: This rain is just too mighty for its makers to have imagined. So I waited in the erratic queue ful of busy-looking people, for the bus to do the one minute ride, which the bus was doing, with all its elaborate maneuver around the plane and along the pre-set routes, once in every fifteen minutes. That's when I started writing this post - partly to get around boredom, but also to remember this smell, the smell that comes from such rain. It may be my imagination - in fact, must be my imagination - that I was smelling the wet soil even through all the mixture of fue…

Conversations 13: Of David and Goliath

My weekend, spent boringly in Bangalore, was about catching up on some readings and watching some TED videos, including this fascinating talk by Malcolm Gladwell.

In fact, this made me so interested that I ended up watching his longer talk at Google (below) which covers the same ground and more. In fact, this next talk highlighted one more issue close to my heart, which is, when you are at a disadvantage, you need to learn to play a different game. Indeed, this comes from the story of Vivek Ranadive, recounted here in this second talk, and this has profound implications, or so I think, for what I do.

Without saying much more about Gladwell except that I shall surely read his book next (and recommend everyone to see his profile on CBS by Anderson Cooper), let me try to summarise what I am learning from all these discussions. My obsession remains with how to educate someone who did not have the advantage of a selective education so that s/he can live a productive and happy life in a mo…

Conversations 12: Re-engaging With India

I decided to write a personal note almost for the record, my own record, so if I ever look back on these blog posts several years later, this will serve as a bookmark: This is where and how my thinking changed, it would record. Not that I have done anything truly significant, but more than a week in India and I have started feeling comfortable with it. I am engaging with India with more substantial intent this time than before, and the nature of my engagement is also slightly different: Hence, it matters.
Despite being Indian, and a frequent visitor, every time I come to India, it takes time to adjust. This is nothing to do with the country, which indeed remains the same, but it is me - every time I go back, nostalgia and memories overlap with reality, justifications mellow down experiences, afterthoughts make emotions benign. So, every time I walk out of the airport, I bring an image of a country with me, which must go through a series of interactions to get real. This happened to …

India 2014: The Democratic End

India is a proud democratic country, even more so after the magic of a clear majority has been achieved by the new administration in Delhi after quarter of a century of coalition politics. Everywhere one goes, democratic pride is in display: If some people started doubting if a democratic system will only produce politics of division, they have now been thoroughly convinced that Indian democracy is a system that works.
In this rather triumphalist environment, it is rather blasphemous to question whether democracy is enough in itself. Indeed, blogging with a contrarian opinion is quite hazardous in India, where people are commonly arrested for political opinions using colonial era gagging laws. Besides, even if there is no legal ground to arrest someone, smashing up people's houses by agitated supporters of one party or the other is quite common. TV channels are routinely silenced, either by political mandate or by corporate takeovers, with the objective of squashing any critical…

Rethinking Education's Value Chain

Managing and optimising the value chain is the big thing in business strategy. Numerous innovations have taken place since businesses have started thinking about it, and such innovations revolutised the businesses. The biggest change with regard to this is perhaps how manufacturing companies moved away from production activities, and instead focused on the activities directly related to the customer experience. So, however nostalgic we may be about a team of Engineers hacking together a working personal computer out of someone's garage, Apple is the company it is by producing machines in Foxconn factories in China and by being in control of the customer experience through its design, development and retailing and channel operations. In short, the current paradigm is that the value resides with the customers.
As Higher Ed comes under financial pressure and told to be more business-like, the Education leaders have also started innovating with the education's value chain. They h…

Education and Ideas of Economic Growth

It is commonplace to talk about education for economic growth, but our ideas about what leads to  economic growth somehow defines what kind of education we may want. 
As Joel Mokyr highlights in his eminently readable 'Lever of the Riches', there are four 'ways' to economic growth that the standard economic history brings forth. 
First, what he calls the 'Solovian Growth', after Robert Solow, the doyen of economic growth theorists, which hinges of capital formation. In this model, the entity, the country in the standard formulation, saves more than it produces, and build capital stock in terms of infrastructure, human capability and investible capital.
Second, what Professor Mokyr calls 'Smithian Growth', this alternative route to growth hinges on trade, either within the country, between the villages and cities, or between regions. The more trade there is, greater the rate of growth.
Third, there is a theory that population growth itself bring about e…

Education for Employment: What Private Businesses Can Do?

Because businesses need more and more skilled people to do the jobs, they are the key beneficiaries of education. This has not always been the case - the Church and the Government needed educated people more than businesses until very recently - but in a secular society and with the age of small governments, that has changed. Today, the businesses are perhaps the largest recipient of the educated people, and for most students, education is about preparing for a career in business. Indeed, this does not mean that education does not have any other purpose, but it is best to recognise this changing perspective about education.
What the educators should, or shouldn't, do in this changed context gets discussed all too often. However, what does not get proportionate attention is what businesses need to do. The businesses often complain that they don't get the trained manpower that they need to remain competitive, and they expect the education sector to deliver them what they need, …

Content Side of Education: An Indian Opportunity

As I travel in India and meet with education providers, I come across this popular view that there is no business in educational content. So, the business models of private education providers are predicated on innovations in delivery, technology or financing, but content is by far the least popular. This is not surprising - this is indeed the view most financiers of education hold - but slightly puzzling particularly in the context of India, where most content is so poor.  
It seems that the argument is when so much free content is available, what is the point of making more content? And, secondly, the business model for content seems very difficult to crack. These are apparently valid points, but the 'content gap' in education in a country like India remains apparent, and some business model innovation is needed.
Indeed, there is some work happening already. There are companies adapting MOOC content for Engineering Education, in partnership with an Indian university. I have…

Conversations 11: The 'Skills' Conversation

I am in India and experiencing a new country from the one I knew last time I lived here, in 2002, as well as very different from the one I experienced when I engaged in 2007. The hope is somewhat muted, the denial is somewhat more obvious and the new India has somehow arrived. It is both sophisticated and coarse: I watched its new Prime Minister deliver the Independence Day speech with great sophistry and touch, but the message he gave out is somewhat nonchalant and pedestrian. His vision for India rested on India grabbing some businesses away from the increasingly expensive China, as the latter finally catch up on Health and Safety and Environmental protection. With rousing language and intense passion, he laid out a case for India which will beat the Chinese in providing cheap labour, and invited the companies of the world to 'make in India'.
I have long given up taking political speeches seriously. However, this particular speech was significant not because of the occasion…

Education for Employment: What Employers Want

In course of my initial approach to understand India's skills landscape, I have been interviewing a few recruiting managers over the last few days. The issues I came across ranged from wholly predictable to somewhat surprising, underlining not just the drift of the modern workplace but also the unique challenges an Indian recruiting manager are facing.
I am conscious that these conversations are, by no means, representative. I was talking to people from only two specific industries, and it is obviously quite a small sample to draw conclusion about the Indian labour markets. But this was still worth writing about as the starting point of a more complete project I want to embark upon, to understand the interfaces between employment and education.
When I asked my correspondents what their greatest challenges were, the responses were somewhat mixed. Almost everyone talked about, in one way or other, about finding people with right abilities in the numbers they need: A straw poll tell…

A Great Indian University: Starting The Conversation

I discussed some ideas about how a new Indian university could be imagined (See Imagining A New Indian University and Imagining A New Indian University: Part 2). As the university creation reaches a fever pitch in India, with states jumping in to grant university licenses, this discussion is relevant enough to indulge in. Many new universities have started out without a clear sense of purpose, or even a sustainable 'business model' other than build-it-and-they-will-come, an assumption based on India's swelling student population but one that underestimates the essentially pragmatic nature of Indian students. An urgent debate about what an university should be needs to happen in India.
At the very basic level, the new Indian universities should approach the Education and Employment gap. This need is well understood - with students demanding 'placement' and universities bending over backwards to attract employers - but the methods of it are often muddled. Well-endow…

Conversations 10: Changing The Conversation

I wrote this blog for almost ten years now and its purpose has changed. I started to this as 'morning pages', to practise writing to break the 'writer's block', an aim I successfully achieved. Writing a few hundred words every other day has now become habitual, and though I spend little or no time editing - leaving out some errors at times - this has served me well as I eventually started writing for work. By then, though, the purpose of writing the blog had changed. I tried to turn this into my scrapbook of ideas, a sort of recording place as I go through various experiences and learn new things, and I still use this as such. This has also become my way of reaching out to people with similar interests, and I have made some remarkable friends through this blog (and this blog alone, as I have never met them though corresponded regularly). 
It is also interesting to note what I have not done with this blog. During the period I wrote this blog, I 'discovered'…

Conversations 9: A Migrant At Large

Immigration is one of those issues where everyone has a view: I have mine. And, indeed, everyone has a view which is determined by their own experience, plus Daily Mail: Being a migrant myself, I have the first part but not the second. 
I am also an unusual migrant: I migrated not to settle, but to experience and learn. As I always maintained, my roads finally lead back to where I started. But I did not think my education would be complete unless I travelled, and so I did. This is why I seek out experiences which take me to interactions with different cultures and set me challenges to do different things in different countries: For me, all of these are accumulating knowledge and experience for an eventual return.
This makes me a permanent outsider. I am an outsider to what I should call my native land, but also to the one I live in. Whatever practical difficulties this may entail, there are some significant advantages of being in this position: You get to escape Daily Mail, or its ot…

'The New World Order': A Conversation

We live in an exceptional time. Though this isn't a quote from the excellent Foreign Affairs essay written by Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee and Michael Spence (read it here) but somewhat its central message: That automation is now reaching a certain tipping point in capability, and with it, it is changing the dynamic of globalisation, ending the party for low cost labour and instead creating a Power Law economy, where a creative elite reap most of the rewards and most other lose out even more completely. Indeed, the authors argue that this is already happening: They report that China may have lost over 30 million manufacturing jobs, 25% of the total, since 1996 (though, the authors note, the data is unreliable because of a change in the way it was gathered) , though at the same time, manufacturing output has expanded at an exponential rate. Foxconn's (and of others) automation projects appear to be the obvious reason. This also bears out on anecdotal observation: Joshua Co…

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