I have done various things in my career, from selling to teaching, from developing products and campaigns to designing courses and raising money. But, then, all of it was really around one thing - helping people develop skills and get jobs! My exposure has been various - I have spent time in the world's largest independent IT skills training company as well as a big name English training provider, a company providing technology to Europe's largest e-learning project, an Irish recruitment company embarking on global expansion and now an American start-up looking to bridge the Education-to-Employment gap - but the point of my work was always the same.
This claim may seem odd to some, as we tend to box skills training into one skill or another, and indeed cut this adrift from Higher Education (which I have also indulged in, in a private Higher Ed institution in London) - there is nothing common between a business degree programme, IT training and English language for work, we would tend to think! I shall claim, however, a common thread, that I observed through the variety of my exposure, indeed because of the variety of my exposure: All skills training is about enabling the identity of the learner as a professional.
Our overt obsession with technical aspects, curriculum, certification, learning hours, and the all-encompassing word, Pedagogy, obscure this quest for identity, which defines both the enterprises of teaching as well as learning. The bureaucratic mantra of the education trade - Quality - forces the attention back to the input, rather than something as immeasurable as identity! The government metrics, that would rather measure time spent and a vaguely specified outcome, a job, as yardsticks of good skills training, make us build expensive systems to track them, and allow us to take our eyes off the person of the learner (whose names we forget, whose personal stories do not matter anymore and who we want to mould into the iron-cast of our process) safely and without consequence.
But, this makes all the difference between the good and the bad of skills training. The point of good IT training (and, good Welding training, for that matter) is not about mastering the syntax (or the machinery and processes, in case of Welding), that is just the minimum, just as learning the alphabet and grammar in a language class. The point of good IT training is about thinking like a programmer and being proud of it. The aha! moment of a good IT training should be that when a learner spends thinking about the code and can write it elegantly, frugally and beautifully (if you do not think code can be elegant, explore the C language and study Dennis Ritchie)! That care, commitment to doing things well, that essential craftsman identity, I used to say in my IT Training days, was what mattered: The students - and I can name some of them and tell their personal stories - who thought like this did well no matter what technological change they had to grapple with. It is the same for those learning English language, perhaps it is too obvious to try give an example, and would be the difference between a good and a bad plumber, and a good and a dead electrician.
However, crucial as it may be, this development of identity is seldom a goal actively pursued in skills training. We may all know this at heart - I do not expect people to react to this post saying it is nonsense, but rather to say that I am stating the obvious - and yet, we build systems, processes, metrics, cultures and ideas around an endless series of proxies. We believe that if grades are alright, identities will form. This, despite knowing that if we measure the grades, we get the grades - and nothing else. Therefore, we send out this vast army of students clutching their grades out in the wider world, hoping that they would find an identity themselves. Some indeed do, and become successful, and thank us: Most do not, and they blame themselves - so we go Scot-free!
It is time to change the conversation, I shall argue. The point of Skills training is to enable identities, and the technical parts, though indispensable, are only building blocks, not an end in itself. I shall claim that this is true for all kinds of skills training - the colours of the collar do not really matter - and makes all the difference between good and bad training. One of the first things I learnt when I started working in education is that I must know all my learners by name and know their personal stories: A message lost in the scramble for scale, but the most valuable that I have ever learnt.
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
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
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.
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,
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. Reli
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.