Yesterday, for me, was a day of fascinating conversations, particularly on the state of Higher Education in India. This is with two senior executives from an Indian Higher Education institution. We talked about a number of things, including the changing mindset in India and the the regulatory regime, as well as the possibilities, and pitfalls, of collaborating with British and American institutions. For me, forever an enthusiast of global education, it was insightful, if dispiriting, discussion. Importantly, it gave me yet again a clear sense of the private higher education space in India. We agreed on most things, except one perhaps, and that is the role and importance of knowledge in Higher Education.
The Indian Educators were quite clear: Knowledge is no longer important. Commercially, they did not think it made sense, as the students don't care about knowledge: They want the degree, as easily as they can. The parents don't care what the students are learning, they said, as long as they get a job. On another level, they highlighted the importance of attitude, the commitment to work, adaptability and even spirituality, over knowledge.
The assertions certainly rings a bell, and could actually be universally true. In fact, this discussion is important to me as it opens up a new line of enquiry in my studies on For-Profit Higher Education. My thought is that the trivialisation of knowledge is possibly the most important change happening in Education, and this is the whole reason of existence of the For-Profit education as a whole. But more on this later.
Whether or not students care about knowledge, one thing is clear: Knowledge is now abundant and easily accessible. Therefore, one does not need to go to school to know anything. They can plainly fire up a browser and access most of world's knowledge, either through Google or some other database.
Besides, there is little point in teaching 'knowledge'. In a rapidly changing world, knowledge is no longer contained in stone tablets, great books or even in the heads of wise men, but somehow, it is out there, being produced everyday, as people stretch the boundaries of what is known.
Indeed, I differ. First, I disagree that knowledge is freely accessible. In fact, it is as obscure as ever. This time around, the challenge is not the method of finding, which has been made easier by tools such as Google, but knowing what's valid, as Google reduces all knowledge to commodities, stacked in shelves next to each other, undifferentiated. In the Googlized world of knowledge, only the ranking, bestowed by a commercial organisation, Google, the organiser of world's knowledge, matters: This ranking is indeed based on citation, propriety, and as we know now, the diktats of different governments of the day. Wisdom of the crowd is a form of wisdom, but not the only one; therefore, it is more important than ever to engage with knowledge and knowing one's way around. If an education institution disengages from knowledge, they will be doing a great disservice to the students, their employers and the community in general.
Next, while the body of knowledge is dynamic, a wheel is not invented every day. One, like Newton, needs to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants to be able to see. At a more mundane level, knowledge frees students from the limits of their own experience. Doing practical things and knowing from that is all very good, with one important caveat - that you think there is only one way of doing the task that you just did.
My point indeed was that the only task that an institution of Higher Education has to make a student, a student: That is to shape their relationship with knowledge. As for the point that the student does not want to know, it is a rather desperate stance most education institutions take today. Indeed, when I go to big department stores, I may keep my hands inside my pocket and do not want to buy anything, but they still manage to squeeze a few hundred pounds out of me. The point is about affordance: What is the institution telling them? I remember being engaged in one institution, which, being conscious of the value of space (and the business model being dependent on use of capacity), relegated their library to a dimly lit, rarely used, part of their basement. The economics aside, this is an institution signalling what is and isn't important. And, this is not about the space, but all the processes and conversations that an institution is made of. In summary, if the institution thinks knowledge isn't important, it wouldn't be.
Finally, on the question of whether the parents, who, in countries like India, are paying for the education, would value knowledge, I have two inter-related points. First, as it occurred at a different time during yesterday's discussion, knowledge is key to building institutional reputation. This is because it is the one of the key differentiators, other than selectivity, which a new institution can ill-afford. So, if you can't choose the best students, you must be seen as an institution with a purpose, that purpose being equipping the graduates with some kind of special elixir, which is most likely to be a form of knowledge. Second, if parents care about jobs, and in this case graduate jobs, they are not a function of motivation, but knowledge. Everyone claims that they are motivated and can put in hard work, and may be they can, but as an employer, I shall always choose the person who is most likely to do the same, who seems to be the smartest, who knows. So, indeed, even in the world of For-Profit business schools, knowledge remains terribly important.
Popular posts from this blog
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
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving 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 et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (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 s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
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,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
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
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.