Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
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A 'Liberal Education' for India
In an ironic twist, many large employers in India complain that the education Indian graduates receive are too narrow.
Surely, the same employers, riding high on growth of IT services, helped model a tertiary education system - second largest in the world in terms of student numbers - as one narrowly, vocationally, defined. The glamour of the IT services industry, with an urban cosmopolitan life and the chance of lottery-draw for offshore opportunities, completely transformed Indian middle class life over the last two decades: That the whole ecosystem of Middle Class education, from Senior School to Business School, aligned itself to these new opportunities, is no surprise at all.
But this expansion has now stalled, offshore is becoming off limits, and the industry is transforming rapidly. Rather than each corporation trying to develop their various enterprise-wide systems from scratch, and thereby, handing out huge multi-year development contracts to be executed by an army of low-cost coders, more and more companies are now using Products and Apps, prepackaged solutions that can be adapted with some customisation. While the IT services businesses keep maintaining the systems they have built in the last few decades, they can see that business is coming to an end. They are now competing on a different plain, that requires creative imagination of the future of the business, understanding of real work practises and design thinking. A narrow process-oriented education doesn't necessarily prepare a workforce to think creatively, communicate across cultures and operate with imagination, and therefore, the same employers are complaining about the attributes of the education system they themselves helped to create.
While the impact of the structural change of work is reaching crisis proportions - only a fraction of India's army of Engineers find a job after graduation - there is hardly any substantial conversation about the structure and purpose of Higher Education system in India. The lack of jobs have been picked up by the media, which chose to amplify the point of view of the business community, and solemnly proclaimed that Indian graduates are not employable because the curriculum is out of touch and the pedagogy is too theoretical. The regulator of Technical Education in India, the AICTE, has mandated that anyone doing an Engineering degree must henceforth do a certain number of internships, gaining practical experience. The questions of practicability aside - this would need more than 2 million internship opportunities created every year - this would indeed discriminate against those who can't afford to live out of town at their own expense. However, even if this could be done and done equitably, there is no evidence that this would solve the problem of being able to do a different kind of work than what's being done in the Indian workplaces today.
There is another response to the 'crisis', and this is coming primarily from the Higher Education community. They can see that the close integration that they aspired to achieve through the years isn't working any more, and they can see, from their vantage point, that overt vocationalisation, rather than the lack of it, may actually be the problem. This view is somewhat marginal, and indeed, there are divergent opinions on what needs to be done, but a more humanistic approach to Education is definitely on the table as an option. Some employers, particularly outside the IT Services sector, are increasingly open to graduates who had studied Science, Mathematics or Humanities. Also, the current cultural resurgence in India, the rise of Hindu Nationalism (as well as of the other cultural identities, not just religious but regional as well), has made a cultural education more attractive to Indian middle classes.
Such divergent reactions are typical in India - it is commonly said that everything and its opposite are usually true for India - but the very feeble conversations about a 'Liberal Education' is an important departure. Unlike the universities in Western countries, and even those of China and Japan, modern Indian universities were conceived to be vocationally oriented entities. With exception of some universities set up during the National Education movement in the early twentieth century, and that of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi in Independent India, a cultural education was never really the agenda in modern Indian Higher Education. This contemporary departure, at least up to this point, has not drawn anything from the earlier ideas, but a rather different 'vocationalisation' imperative. While a 'vocationally oriented Liberal Education' is an oxymoron, but that is exactly the conversation in India. And, because of this, no model exists - no model could exist - for an 'Indian Liberal Education'.
Indeed, the American, British and the European models have evolved over a long period of time, and have had their false starts and crossroads. In a sense, India is just getting started, and early efforts have been rather a hodgepodge of imports of different models. These models are implemented without the context of realities of India. Every great American college, even when they were drawing ideas from German or Scottish models, were a product of their time and place, but the Liberal Arts schools in India, who chose to copy their format, have structured themselves on the opposite proposition, positioning themselves as prep schools for an overseas education rather than a way to engage in the country itself.
Now, this may undermine my earlier claim that there is a conversation about Liberal Education: Apparently what's there is too limited, too little and too superficial. However, that could be said about the whole Indian Higher Education system, which has to find a purpose for itself when the global division of labour model, under which it was conceived and under which it operated for such a long time, falls apart. And, there is indeed a practical model to follow: China, which has developed its liberal education, following their own path and looking to meet their own requirement. When such a moment comes, Indian Educators may find their inspirations, and models, not from American Colleges, but from the Indian ones, such as Viswabharati, BHU and Annamalai.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind, which echo the pessimism somewhat.
I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope.
However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right inside …
I didn't write for almost three weeks as I was in India. The essence of my work there is to deal with employment creation. Part of my work is pro-bono - a city initiative focused on Industry 4.0 - and the other part is commercial, advising a large Indian corporation on the development of next-generation Skills training programmes. But the sense of crisis regarding unemployment cuts across scale and scope of my work and is a recurrent theme that pops up everywhere.
India has a really big challenge. About 2 million people reach working age every month in India, and even if only half of them are actively seeking employment, the few thousand jobs that the organised sector creates are woefully inadequate. India may be the fastest growing large economy in the world, but demonetisation of 2016 and poorly implemented General Sales Tax (GST) have hit businesses hard and froze up recruitment in many sectors. The widely promoted 'Make in India' initiative - the government's atte…
Smart presentations don't mean valuable insights. So it is with the current fad of presenting the vision of an all-new 21st-century education - through presentations, conferences and infographics - style trumps substance all the way through.
For, despite the claims of revolutionary changes in society and the workplace, the neat charts that lay down 21st-century skills next to the 20th-century one's show do not how different they would be, but rather how similar these are projected to be.
We are told that we have arrived at a fundamentally disruptive moment in history and we need new skills. So, we need, for example, communication and critical thinking, learning to learn and a host of other cool things. Indeed, many of those terms are very familiar to the educator: Many of those were around for more than two centuries, ever since the dreams of liberal education were spelt out.
When these slides were presented, I often wondered whether the point about critical thinking meant …
India's unemployment rate has reached a historical high and the government is panicking. It has rejected and suppressed the report and committed itself to inventing a new set of numbers. Members of the national statistical body have resigned, and the bad job numbers have become one of the worst kept secrets in its modern history.
As the government went down the road of obfuscation, it had also fooled itself believing that everything was fine. Once the statistical reports were questioned, the best explanation that the Head of the apex economic policy-making body could come up with was that Uber and other taxi-hailing companies have created millions of jobs in India. But then, the crisis is anything but hidden - walk on any street in any neighbourhood in any Indian city, and it is likely that you will see a few working-age people loitering, waiting or playing cards or carom in the middle of the day. IMF has recently warned that youth inactivity in India is highest among all develo…
Today is the Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
Tagore was the first global Literary Superstar, the first Nobel Prize Winner from Asia, whose flowing robes and the white beard helped form the public image of an Indian sage on the global stage.
It is somewhat peculiar what Tagore is now known for. Given that many people reading this blog wouldn't know his name, I had to mention his Nobel prize. Yet, Tagore was somewhat resentful - and said so when he was facilitated in Calcutta after receiving the prize - that his countrymen would only recognise him only after the West had given him an award. The alternative way to tell who he was - that he was the man who wrote the National Anthem of India, as well as of Bangladesh - is equally problematic: Not just this brings up an old controversy (see An Exceptional Man) but, at least in case of India, reminds one of a Cosmopolitan Republican Nationalism that the current Indian government so love to hate.
Robots were supposed to take over the universe. Singularity - the end of human history - was due in about a decades time. And, then, it was to be a different world altogether - one with self-knowing, self-replicating machines.
But it seems that future may have been postponed.
If there is anything that the history of technological progress should teach us, it should be that we ought not to believe in the excited predictions that technology industry loves to make. It is part of their style - all those world-changing predictions! There is a vast difference between the rhetoric of Microsoft's seamlessly connected world and the reality of clunkiness of Windows; E-Commerce did well but the prognosis far outstripped the performance, and these are only the good examples. No aircraft ever fell out of the sky despite all the warnings of the Y2K doomsday: It did create a multi-billion dollar outsourcing industry though. And, there are those who are still waiting for the day when everyone l…