In the conference circuit, the most common complaint against Higher Education institutions is that they do not understand employer requirements. Thereafter comes the slide that cites either the World Bank or the World Economic Forum, or some neoliberal think-tank, and maintains that employers are, most crucially, looking for 'soft skills': Ability to communicate, collaborate, think critically and empathise with others.
Languages hide as much as they reveal. In another day and age, one would call those very attributes human skills and recognised the problem as one of narrow education. And, this alternative perspective is exactly what we need: The problem is not that the education is not specific enough, but it is too specific. The Higher Education institutions, since everyone, students, their parents, regulators and governments have become outcome obsessed, are endlessly chasing 'employer requirements', in a world where the recruiters are always focused on the current quarter and technologies changing every 90 days, only to find out that the requirements are already obsolete before they have understood any of it. But the obsession is costing them the time and the energy to spend on what really matters - the human abilities and character of the student - only to find out that employers are complaining specifically about those attributes.
Indeed, the 'soft skills' is meant to be misleading. The label redefine big and fuzzy concepts, such as integrity or critical thinking, as 'skills', something that it could be easily, succinctly and immediately trained on. One educator boasted to me that they have added 12 new papers, one for each new 'soft skill' that one was required to have, into their curriculum: Students are required to mug up communication skills and write essays about collaboration and be certified for critical thinking, so on and so forth. And, never mind the word 'soft', there is a whole cottage industry of consultants and methods which are designed to define the indefinable and measure the immeasurable: Better still, since none of these measures are accurate and meant to work, one could even endlessly upgrade them to create upsell opportunities, providing a wonderful mechanism to create useless demand!
It is not at all surprising, therefore, that Liberal Education is back in the conversation. Particularly in the developing economies, where vocational relevance was the rage for last several decades, there is a sudden realisation that Higher Education needs a new format. In China, Liberal Education, despite its political awkwardness, is back on the university agenda. In India, where almost every male child (and many girls too) prepared for Engineering entrance examinations as they entered Secondary School and spent their whole student life thereafter mastering a technical discipline in the hope of an IT Services job, business leaders and expatriate academicians are collaborating now to create brand new Liberal Arts Universities. This is triggered by the structural changes of the world market, and the breakdown of the straight-line linkage between Engineering School and Backoffice jobs: Suddenly, the ability to speak to people is more important than testing lines of code.
Yet, most of this new conversation is really like the old conversation. What Liberal Education stands for is carefully shrouded in mystic. It remains an imported concept, boxed with the magic brand of one American university or another, there is little opportunity to critically think what critical thinking might mean. By design and execution, this is meant for an elite intending to engage in polite conversations: But the Third World elite never lacked Liberal Educational options: They went to best colleges in Europe and North America. The new conversation was meant to be really about making education liberal, and bring it up to speed for a twentyfirst century workforce in a country trying to find its bearings in the ever accelerating 21st century. The demand for Liberal Education is triggered by the need to take control of life, making technology work for the country rather than merely latching on the coat-tail of global consumption; but the models of Liberal Education, so far, have so far been much like the Luxury handbag market, repackaging Western labels at an outrageous premium. And, its effects are expected to be similar: Just like a person wearing a Jimmy Choo wouldn't want to walk on the streets of Mumbai, a person with the Liberal Arts degree from one of the fancy new colleges wouldn't want to engage in a conversation with uncultured countrymen, and would rather find her future in more polite societies.
Hence, there is a gap: A strong case for Liberal Education, an excited conversation about the same and a completely misdirected solution, at least so far. What's needed is a model of Liberal Education that corresponds to the social realities of the developing countries. Surely, a Liberal Education is meant to connect, rather than disengage, the learner with their societies. It is not an escape route to greener pastures but a mandate to stay and change. A liberal education, as opposed to a technocratic one, should enable them to look at what isn't there and ask 'why not' - a model not provided by the much-lauded Liberal Education Universities.
This is what I wish to get engaged in, and I am looking for collaborators and colleagues to build a Liberal Education programme for India. The question I am asking now is what would a Liberal Education programme for 21st century India look like? Would the key propositions of a Liberal Education - that it would liberate the mind, animate the world, encourage cooperation and agitation for change - be valid for India? How should the relationship with technology be viewed, and how can one educate someone to shape the usage of technology rather than being shaped by it? A project close to my heart, I wish to initially create this as a Continuing Education programme, one that people can engage with along with their work activities, and then, at some point in the future, build a full-fledged college curriculum and campus in India.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.