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Showing posts from January, 2014

Sanctioning The MOOCs

The US Government's decision to stop Coursera (and presumably other MOOCs) from delivering the courses in Syria, Iran, Cuba and Sudan is astonishing, if not outright misdirected. Indeed, I come to know of this as I am doing a course 'Constitutional Struggles in The Islamic World' from University of Copenhagen, and the notification tells me that the students taking the course from the above-mentioned countries will be stopped from taking the course. The act of sanction, therefore, appears completely counter-productive in the context.
The mail from Prof. Dr. Ebrahim Afsah that bore the notification states:
"Let me reiterate that I am appalled at this decision. Please note that no-one at Coursera likely had a choice in this matter! At any rate, rest assured that these are not the values of the University of Copenhagen, of its Faculty of Law, and most assuredly not mine!"
The point made in the notification, appended to Professor Afsah's mail, is that the cours…

The Trouble with Vocational Training

Vocational Training is supposed to be a big thing. This is heralded as the answer to the problems of productivity, particularly in countries in Asia and Africa with rapidly growing population. The idea is simple: Get the poor people in a classroom for a few months and make them learn something useful and then get them to work in a factory or profession. Once it is done on large scale - India says it wants to train 500 million people in next 10 years or so - the whole economy can change. The trouble is that it does not work.
I have articulated my complaints about the Indian vocational training system earlier, and hence I shall not repeat it here. I usually receive a stock answer when I talk about the short-comings of vocational training as it is done in India, that it is all down to poor execution. So, when outdated skills are taught, students do not engage or the trained students do not find a job, it bears down to the flaws of execution. I shall contend that these failures have some…

Beyond China: Why Africa Matters

Yesterday I was speaking at a 'Beyond China' event, arranged by Asia Pacific Technology Network in London. The idea was to look at the reconfiguration of the global economy at the wake of the end of 'cheap' China. There were different presentations, one from CBBC on the changing Chinese economy, followed by presentations on South-East Asia, India, Africa and US. Pratik Dattani, a friend and the current UK Director of FICCI, was speaking about India, though on a personal capacity. I was speaking about Africa, though my exposure to the continent is only through the African academics I speak to and African students that I teach.
My case was that the end of Cheap China is only an opportunity for Africa, and that Africa is mainly looking to do things with China rather than moving beyond it. However, as China becomes a more difficult place to invest in - for operational reasons rather than costs - Africa will emerge as an exciting, perhaps the most exciting, place for glob…

Education for Employment: What If You Didn't Go To A 'Core School'?

In 2013, more than 1.4 million students sat the Entrance Examination for Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), competing for the 20,000 odd places up for grabs in various institutions (some in less prestigious NITs): The pressure can be intense, and the suicide rates in Kota, the town famed for its examination coaching industry, worth $50 million a year, reported to have been doubling year on year since 2012. Lady Shriram College in Delhi made news a few years ago by demanding a perfect score, yes 100%, in school leaving examination, as the cut-off for applications: It has now become commonplace in the best colleges in India. During the Gaokao, the annual college entrance examination in China, it is not unusual to divert the traffic away from near the examination centres lest the noise distract any candidate from the chance of the lifetime to enter an elite university. Because India and China (along with most other developing countries) have a 'Tiny-at-the-Top' education sys…

Education for Employment: The Educators' Option

UK's job outlook improved last quarter, with a fall in jobless numbers not seen 'since early 2009', which really means that we are getting close to the figures before this recession began, though not yet there. This is, however, good news: At the least, such news will make businesses invest and hire, making this sliver of good news self-sustaining, hopefully. This will mean a lot to those graduating this year, they may indeed escape the fate of those who landed in the job market precisely at the wrong time, and this makes a world of difference. Yet, the challenge that the job market is fundamentally shifting does not go away (Read Education for Employment: Facing Up The Future) - we won't ever be back to business-as-usual.
So, even if under the weight of recession, increased public scrutiny and public scepticism, educators have belatedly woken up to the fact that a great majority of their students today come to Higher Education seeking a path to a successful career, i…

Idea Review: 'To Sell is Human'

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When I picked up this book from the Library shelf, it was Dan Pink's name, whose books on Future Work and Motivation I have read before, that made me do it. I was expecting to read a book on sales: Not that I wanted to, but I must admit that I was intrigued by the literary interest in sales (Philip Delves Broughton's Life's A Pitch appeared around the time this book was published), just as the profession seemed to be dying (see some data here). 
What the book turned out to be is more than I bargained for: This turned out to be a book about persuasion, starting out with a proposition that as sales is dying, we are now all in sales. 'Non-sales Sales', Mr Pink uses the term, is all about the job of persuasion that sits at the heart of almost all the jobs that we are doing now. He cites three main trends - entrepreneurship (that we are all business owners now, either running small businesses, or being self employed), elasticity (that almost all jobs today need persuas…

Education for Employment: Facing Up The Future

In my previous work on Education for Employment (links below), I pleaded the case to shift focus on to the goals and aspirations of the students, most of whom come to education with at least an implicit objective of getting into employment. My argument was primarily that Universities are designed, at least in a large way, to serve themselves, and all too often, the academia's focus is out of sync with that of the students. As a solution, I was arguing about a new paradigm for engagement with employers, keeping the student as the core focus rather than academic ambitions or the immediate needs of a particular employer. 
The arguments from among academic colleagues rightly challenged the plausibility of such a shift, pointing that most businesses are driven by here-and-now requirements, while the academia may essentially need to take long run view for the sake of its students. There is indeed some merit in this argument, as the failed attempts to create a successful vocational trai…

Technologies and Jobs

'Software is eating the world': Marc Andreessen said that and we see this everyday. It seems technology is marching into, in fact, creeping into, everything that we do. And, if it is eating anything, it is eating jobs, the solid middle class jobs we knew and still model our lives around, those of Secretaries, Administrators, Receptionists, Sales People, and all that. As is said, Microsoft Word has eaten more American jobs than India and China (and that's no consolation to India and China, because it will eventually, it is now, eating Indian and Chinese jobs too), and now this is extending into realms that we didn't think are possible. For the moment, Google's self-driving cars may not stand a chance in Mumbai or Lagos, but its arrival should eventually reorganise the trade of driving vehicles. The big issue in London today is that of closing ticket offices - with the implication of loss of Ticket Clerk jobs - and many stations today have only minimal ticket office…

India 2014: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

In a few months, India will hold a General Election which may change the country. Rather, it would be appropriate to assert that it will change the country. The Indian Republic, founded 67 years ago, has finally run its course, and this time, its citizens will have to choose a path which is different from what has been for the last 67 years. This change may be frightening, chaotic and even disastrous, but this time around, there is little choice but change.
The competing ideas are firmly pitted against one another. It is no longer about one party against another, as it has always been, but two clear ideas of governance, two clear ideas of India. And, there is no middle ground. The mythical middle ground may be the holy grail of democratic polity, but at the time of change, this may not present an option. Everyone must choose - and everyone must resist, because compromise and staying silent may veer the country to a course which will shape everyone's future.
The most talked about …

MOOCs: If this is not the future, what is

If 2012 was the 'Year of the MOOCs' as proclaimed by New York Times, 2014 started on a downbeat note, with Harvard Professor Eric Mazur talking about 'MOOC Bust'. It is difficult to understand what accounts for such fickle sentiments, except that current pessimism is just a correction of the hype.
There were indeed talk of low completion rates - only a handful of students who register for a MOOC ever completes a course (Times Higher Education reported a figure of 7%, but that seems way too high) - but then completion rate itself is such an old economy model out of sync with Long Tail thinking: Kevin Carey wrote a fairly persuasive piece on why the completion rates of the MOOCs is simply the wrong measure ('Pay No Attention to Supposedly Low MOOC Competion Rates').
There was also the Fast Company article on Udacity founder, Sebastian Thurn, the Stanford Professor whose Stanford course on Artificial Intelligence may be claimed to have started it all. That articl…

The App Generation: A Review

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I have followed Howard Gardner's work ever since I started studying the science and art of adult learning, because of his intuitive insights and penchant to address issues relevant to modern life and work. These were precisely my expectations when I picked up his latest, The App Generation, co-authored with Katie Davis, and I was not disappointed.
The book is an attempt to portray 'Today's Youth' in the context of their digital habits and its implication for life, love and learning. This seeks middle ground between the enthusiasm that Marc Prensky had for 'Digital Natives' and the bleak vision of The Shallows. Putting things in perspective through personal reflections of Professor Gardner, Ms Davis (twenty years his junior) and Ms Davis' sister Molly, another generation apart, this work is an imaginative exploration of technologies shaping consciousness and habits.
One of the most entertaining parts of the book is its 'unpacking' of the concept of g…

Reimagine! Vocational Training In India

India wants to train 500 million people in vocational and technical skills over the next few years. This is, on paper, the most ambitious vocational skills training agenda anywhere in the world.
This is old news and the details are well known. The announcements, and subsequent splurging of money have been well documented: The creation of an opportunistic vocational training industry in India, where training firms were created overnight to take advantage of this windfall of public money, is less so. The fact that such efforts have actually gone nowhere in the last few years is usually kept under wraps, because it serves no one to admit that things have gone wrong.
However, the need to change things are rather urgent. India's competitiveness is under threat as the skills bottleneck drives up costs and wastage, limiting opportunities for Indian businesses. Besides, expansion of mining activities and industrialisation is driving out a huge rural population into the cities, and withou…

Educating The Global Professional

One of the programmes I have written recently is about preparing Global Professionals. 
The rationale for writing such a programme was that with globalisation, all professions need global savvy. It is no longer the preserve of those working on International Trade and Development opportunities, but now it is required for most businesses. And, being global is no longer a preserve or a requirement solely in the Global 'North'. As South-to-South trade increases, and ambitious break-out firms appear in India, China, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey and everywhere else, global thinking becomes an imperative for a much wider spectrum of managers than before. The programme we wrote, titled Global Business Professional, is intended to be a preparation for professionals facing the hyper-global future.
As with other things we do at U-Aspire, this programme is not a certification assessed by tests, but a practical, competency-based programme where demonstration of learned concepts are critical for…

Reflections and Interests: Approaching 2014

2014 has started and I have allowed myself a bit of a leeway, all the days, to gradually settle into a plan.
My agenda has already been set by 2013: I have perhaps irreversibly committed myself to set up a global education business. This is a complex enterprise which will take many partnerships and linkages, and will only slowly come into shape. However, I see now that my life is inextricably linked to this - in a way, this is what I have been doing since 1999 and this took me more than a decade to get it fully going - and all my plans revolve around this central enterprise now. Indeed, in the course of 2014, I expect the shape of the business to change. This is a large scale enterprise requiring deep connections and flow of capital, and indeed, 2014 may be a year of building those strategic partnerships or even mergers, but whatever the organisational future may be, this seems to be what I shall be doing for a very long time.
This, in turn, shapes my personal agenda as well. This is…

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