Showing posts from November, 2014

The Self-Destruction of Modern Britain

Speechwriters never get the credit they deserve, but they have changed the course of history more than once. The metaphor of an 'iron curtain' or the uncertain promise of a 'tryst with destiny' etched in people's minds a concept that would become permanent by the power of imagery, even if the reality may have suggested otherwise. Fast forward to the society of ours where sound bites and TRP points trump any real experience, the speech writers are enjoying unprecedented powers to change destinies of nations: This comes with a huge responsibility that most are not even aware of.  So, for the future speechwriters, following the case of the person who would have made the Leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, David Cameron, promise to bring down immigration to 'tens of thousands' might be beneficial. Exploiting the resentment about immigration when an open-door policy had resulted in a surge of migration to Britain and the economy had just turned sou

Beyond Colonial Education: Why Revisit Tagore's Ideas?

Rabindranath Tagore got a Nobel for Literature in 1913 and became institutionalised as a poet and a mystic. His ideas about education remain largely unknown, outside the scholarly work that appears from time to time. True, his educational practise gets some prominence because of Viswabharati, the university he created, but the fact that this has since become a Central University subsumed in the bureaucracies like any other university obscures most of its foundational principles. Instead of being an expression of the creative and integrative spirit that Tagore wanted his institution to represent, the university today is little different from any other than the curiosities such as its open classrooms and its annual rituals. The education in India, however, has come to a full circle. The doctrine of Higher Education in independent India did not draw much from Tagore's thinking, but rather depended on the technocratic ideals of the West and aimed at creating an elite who could as

Professional Society and Its Limits

Has the professional society reached its limits? One way to see the development of western societies in the last hundred years, as Harold Perkin indeed did, is to see it in terms of the growth of the professional society. A society increasingly built on expert knowledge, independence and recognition of the professions, has emerged as an unique structure in the West, creating a 'viable' class structure, and providing a certain kind of legitimacy other than power and coercion.  The key to the maintenance of such social structure was the underlying meritocracy, that everyone has a chance. Professional society was, and always will be, antithetical to the social structure where one is 'born' into privilege, rather than having to work for it. In an age when enlightenment and scientific inquiry undermined the claims of authority derived out of divine will, ability and expert knowledge as defined by 'professions' became the new claim for social leadership and

Building Global Business: Five Sideways Reflections

Talking global is easy. In fact, it is not easy NOT to talk global. In this age of Internet, Facebook, Venture Capital, WTO, scale is the mantra: And, global is the only scale that really matters.  When I started working in England in 2004, I worked for a couple of interesting E-Learning companies for the first few years. They had good products and good people. I was greatly impressed by what they did, and with the sophistication of their technology and approach. They had large projects covering their cash flows, and were strategically poised to expand. But when I brought up the question of going global, given that I had first hand experience globally and thought these services would be quite compelling, the answer I got was "No Thanks!" These companies did not want to go global but rather service the small e-learning market in the UK that they knew well. They did not see the benefit of taking on the extra complexity and was afraid of 'global'. At that time, new

Indian Education: Revisiting The National Culture

If one has to go by the shelf space a writer gets, one of the most popular writers in India is Devdutt Pattanaik. A physician-turned-leadership consultant, he seemed to have caught the imagination of both the Indian Senior Executives as well as the aspiring young ones. A self-proclaimed mythologist, he is intent on discovering, and talking about, the Indian approach to leadership. This has been done before. This is a well-healed American model, epitomised by, among others, Steven Covey, who recycled biblical wisdom into self-help advice. In Mr Pattanaik's work, which has somewhat taken off from his initially successful attempt in Business Sutra, the Indian mythology is intertwined with management wisdom to say some pretty obvious things. But, like Mr Covey and the likes of Robin Sharma, he says things well, and it is sticking. Mr Pattanaik's success, I believe, is no fad, but rather a trend. This is because I see a number of people catching on to it. Mr Pattanaik is

Education-for-Employment: Qualifying 'Project-Based' Learning

I wrote about the futility of the much-loved 'demand-led' approach to education ( see here ): The essential argument is that no one really knows, and can't know, what the demand will look like even over a short time horizon. This is indeed due to globalisation, which has exposed even the most localised of the economies to the ups and downs of the global economy. And, globalisation wouldn't mandate that all economies follow a predictable path to industrial revolution and beyond: Rather, it only stands for constant churn, ordering and reordering of economies, with movements of global finance, which is affected by zillions of factors outside anyone's control, including unfettered greed of some individuals as well as callous fraud (as we saw in Libor or Foreign exchange scandals). I argued that project-based approach to education, where the learners are exposed to real life work, is an alternative, and a better approach, than 'demand led'. This is the free

Education-For-Employment: On 'Demand-Led' Education

The policy-makers conceiving grand vocational education schemes in developing countries often talk about 'demand-led' education. While their policies are almost always focused on the supply-side - the provision of money, creation of infrastructure, curriculum and teachers - the dream is that the employers would join in and indicate what kind of people they need. Consider India's 'skilling' initiatives: Millions of dollars were spent for 'capacity creation' before figuring out whether and what vocational training is needed, and then, creation of 'sector skills councils', apparently to work with employers to project skills requirements, happened. It was an afterthought, indeed, but seen as the panacea: A 'demand-led' approach will solve the 'education-to-employment' gap. While this may sound common sense, this is as much a good thing as centralised five-year plans would be in today's world. It indeed makes sense for educators

The Education Problem: An Alternative View

The education problem is obvious. There are more than 550 million school-age children who don't have access to school. There are more than 400 million adults, most of them in South Asia, who can't read or write. In some countries, majority of children coming out of primary school, over 90% in some cases, can't read or write. Bad Higher Education is wasting whole generations in countries like India, affecting close to 100 million people. Graduates can't get jobs in Europe because their education isn't good enough, and they are not paying back their loans. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa note that they are not doing much in college either. It looks pretty bad all round. This looks so bad is because we talk about it. In fact, we are talking about it more and more, even more than things like safe drinking water, which affects more people, because of two reasons.  First, the wider economy is feeling the impact of the education problem. The fact that someone does

The Global Univerity Projects: What Have We Learned

One of the persistent dream of the flat world thinkers is the making of a great global university. In fact, it is not just an ambition, but it is an essential part of the flat world thinking, for globalisation to succeed, the universality of a certain kind of aspiration, arguably a consumer aspiration, must be established first. Geography may have proved unassailable to the military experts and business planners, but educators, it was hoped, would become the flat world pioneers. But, so far, it has failed to happen. The blame was squarely heaped on the various regulatory agencies that intend to maintain their own fiefdoms. However, the big reason really is that geography still matters. The global university may one day bring the flat world, but so far, the starting point of the university makers was the flat world, which is indeed a Western rhetoric than a global reality. The globalisation we have so far achieved is the globalisation of money, but not of people. Or, put in anothe

Universities as User Network: An Update

I wrote about universities as user networks earlier ( see post ). Since then, I have engaged into several projects attempting to challenge the existing models of Higher Education, and it is worthwhile to clarify the concept farther. The key argument that the universities of the future will look different from those today because their business model is likely to change remains intact. The framework of this argument draws upon Clayton Chistensen's work, and view organisations through the prism of three distinct business models: Solution Shops, Value Chain and User Networks. Solution Shop business models are employed by Professional Service firms, which, as in a Law Firm, assemble a team of experts to solve each individual problem. Their business model is to create value through providing solutions to complex problems, and the key value determinant remains the expertise of the individuals involved. Value Chain business models, in contrast, create value through a process

Training in India: What's Next?

The once world class Indian Training industry is in quite a sad state right now. Battered by the rise of private Higher Education since 2004, when degrees became a commodity and everyone flocked out to buy one, it eventually destroyed itself by selling its soul to skilling. Once the government, driven by the political agenda to be seen to be doing something, announced millions of dollars of bonanza, they all fell for it. That this was not a bonanza, except for those few large companies which would eventually make this money disappear, and a system of consultants and officials who would create an institutionalised 'speed money' system to earn 10% to 40% on every transaction, that did not matter much. The skilling initiatives in India had nothing to do with the poor, nothing to do with skills and nothing to do with training, except that it provided some sort of superannuation for those who were left in the industry and did not bail out early enough for the other

The Business Of Thinking

This did hurt because I still remember it after a good seventeen years. As a young professional, appraisals meant a lot to me. This was my first year at a big brand company, and we had come through a difficult year with flying colours. And, I thought I did particularly well. Starting at a point when we were definitely trailing the competition, the business in my territory had a remarkable turnaround, expanding geographically and posting impressive like-for-like sales. Personally, I fought it out too: I was competitive and did everything I could to ensure that we trounce the competition. We worked well in teams, and my team won the best team awards in the company through the season. So, I was expecting a grand review, a promotion etc. The review was good and I did get the promotion. Senior Managers came and complimented me, and one of them told me something that became a permanent fixture in my vanity, that I was the best Marketer in the country. But I did not get th

Conversation 21: The College Project

I often talk about creation of a brick-and-mortar college as a part of my future plans. However, my current work is all about online, as was most of my past engagements. Therefore, the question that I often face is why I think Brick-and-Mortar college is a good idea: In fact, whether I think brick-and-mortar colleges have any future at all, in this age of dramatically improving education technology. The starting point for me is that I see a college as a community, first and foremost. It is a community of teachers and of learners. We have systematically undermined this community aspect over the years, as we promoted individual success over collective goals and reduced the education proposition to the mere degrees and college brand names. The community of teachers was undermined by increasing managerial domination over academic life, as well as by disconnecting academic life from the life on the main street. What was left - as many of the proponents of the online college point out

The New New Sales

Sales seems to be a hateful career, if you go by the daily pleadings of the desperate salesmen that we are subject to everyday. However, nothing moves other than sales, people need to be persuaded, nudged or educated to try out anything new or give up something harmful, and indeed, as Daniel Pink contends, that while the 'sales' is dead, everyone has to sell these days. I meet a lot of young unemployed graduates who want a 'desk job', which essentially means that they want a process-based job and don't want to have anything with sales. I would usually tell them that this is a mistake, as process-based jobs, a direct casualty of office automation, are somewhat in short supply. And, that, sales does not have to be the desperate, short term sales jobs that is our usual image of such a profession. Today's salesman is strategic, knowledgeable, often an expert and often an entrepreneur. The people who have to do most sales are those who believe in something, the

The Project of 'Global Education'

One of my key interests is to study 'global education' and what impact it has on developing societies. Like my other projects, this is a conversation in progress, and therefore, much better covered, at least at this stage, as blog posts rather than in any other form. This interest also sits in the intersection of my work, which is about using the possibilities of technology to broaden access to education and to connect it to the needs of a modern service economy, and my political beliefs, which, being Indian, is of mixed feelings about modernity itself.  The claim that globalising education, among other things, brings a greater capacity to think critically is of immense interest to me. The components of this claim itself are worth studying: That the Indian education is traditionally based on rote learning, and the Western scientific education is based on critical questioning of the world, is presented as an absolute starting point of this discussion - and by definition ev

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