Two conversations in a space of a few days give me an aha! moment: A vexing problem seemed to have become clearer. This is what I intend to write about here.
The first of these conversations happened in Delhi. I was speaking to a senior official in one of the large employer organisations. The Indian government, after blundering around with vocational training and wasting huge sums of money on it, has recently asked this employer organisation, along with other similar organisations and trade bodies, to set up sector skills councils. The idea is to focus on the skills needs of India's most promising industries, and draw up some kind of list which the education providers could follow. Such specifications, concluded the policy makers, will remove the ambiguity that educators face, and hopefully bridge the education-to-employment gap.
The person I was speaking to, a senior Director of the organisation leading one such project, recounted to me how difficult it is to draw up such a map. His point was that the industry did not know what it wanted. There were job descriptions, yes, but no skills map. It was impossible to translate the employers' requirements into some kind of model which could be followed by education providers.
The next conversation happened in London, on my return. When I recounted this experience to one of my senior colleagues, someone who has worked at the Employer-Educator interface for many years. Recounting my conversation in Delhi, I presented this as a particularly Indian problem, stating that Indian employers did not know what they wanted. My colleague, however, disabused me of my misconception immediately. Almost preempting my full description of the problem, he pointed out that in his experience, gathered over the years in many countries across the world, employers almost never had a skills map: They had job descriptions. The employers' life is full of vexing real life problems, which need attending to using a variety of approaches. It is not their job to come up with 'skills specifications', a task bureaucrats want them to do.
Every employers he had ever spoken to, my colleague said, wanted about five things in their potential employees. They wanted them to be good communicators, good with customers, organised and motivated, problem solvers and able to learn on the job. These are generic skills, and every employer may have a slight twist on what they exactly meant. But the employer requirements were almost always expressed in these terms, rather than any detailed skills maps.
I recount these two discussions because these were enormously instructive to me. I have gained several insights from these:
First, what I thought to be a peculiar Indian problem isn't really an Indian problem. My colleague never interacted with an Indian employer before. There may be peculiar Indian slants - the 'good communicator' in India may mean good spoken English - but the problem that employers don't know, or don't care much about, skills and competencies is perhaps universal.
Second, the reason the policy-makers drive enterprises such as 'skills councils' because they are thinking 'like a state'. As James Scott argues, this is why most bureaucratic arrangements fail. The bureaucrats automatically assume that the life of the employer is planned and organised in a certain manner, perhaps in the way their own lives are. However, the employer is out in the field dealing with ever-changing realities full of agents that they don't control, not something the bureaucrats can comprehend even remotely. The employers don't know about 'competencies' because it keeps changing: Besides, they often have to make do with competencies they have. Competencies, from the bureaucratic vantage point, are something to be planned and created; for the employer, this is something that emerges.
Third, the generic competencies that the employers want don't translate well to specific educational objectives, because these are often behavioural traits that need more than just classroom intervention. They often concern the general approach of the individual, not something educational institutions want to get involved into. They are sort of 'graduate attributes' than 'learning objectives'. The way education is sold, a laundry list of various 'modules', can not capture the employer requirements well - except for one motherhood module of 'personality development', which, in any case, obscure more than it says.
Indeed, these problems are well known. This is why several ill-fated 'finishing school' programmes get conceived, which acknowledge, if inadvertently and as an exercise in self-defeating, the limitations of the educational institutions to provide what the employers want. The primary reason is that these 'finishing school' programmes are conceived mostly superficially, based on assumption such as doing some powerpoint on what to wear may make one dress smart! But even if they did things more sincerely, the model is based on flawed assumptions - and this is really the reason why even the most committed educators also often fail.
These flawed assumptions, my colleague pointed out, are based on misunderstandings based on the languages educators and employers use. They are often using the same terms - like 'critical reasoning' - but meaning different things. In that example, the educators may develop 'critical reasoning' as an approach to question the status quo, whereas the employer is using the term to mean a pragmatic approach to resources and constraints. Same may be said about 'communication': The educators take great pains to develop rhetoricians, skills to persuade through superior rationality, whereas the employers are looking for empathy, persuasion through understanding of others' point of view.
Indeed, one can endlessly argue the superiority of one approach over another, but that would be missing the point. Indeed, the employers' limited goals may not replace the educators' goals of developing the whole person, but the whole person can't be complete if she does not have the wherewithal to deal with the commercial and material realities of everyday life. Besides, if we put the poor learner in the middle, who is anxious about paying off his debts and make life better for herself and her parents, one needs to pay heed to all the things on the table, and can't afford to ignore what the employers may want. There is a lot that gets lost in translation, and the bureaucratic intervention, based on flawed understanding what the employers want, makes things worse rather than better. This is where innovation in education must happen and indeed, this needs to be more than listing out a few skills which would be outdated sooner than they were even put on paper.
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
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
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
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 was gui
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
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
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
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.