Education: Magnet without Magnetism

A delegation of pins went from earth to Brahma, the creator, to discuss an issue that was bothering them and emerging as a serious concern. Pins complained to Brahma that though it should be a natural phenomenon, of late, they were not getting attracted towards the magnet.

Brahma was surprised and worried that it was not how he had made the world. He was really puzzled.

With some internal deliberations with his advisers, Bramha decided to send an investigation team to visit earth and find out the reason as to why the pins were not getting attracted to the magnet and throw more light on the pins’ pain point.

After a month long survey, interviews, meetings, and in-depth investigation, the team came up with just a one line report.

“Pins are not attracted to the magnet as Mr. Magnet has lost its magnetism.”
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On 12th January 2018, Dr. Vasudha Kamat, former Vice Chancellor of SNDT University, suggested my name as a speaker at the National Conference on Curriculum Design and Evaluation at K.J. Somaiya College of Science and Commerce, Vidyavihar, Mumbai. I called up Dr. Kamat and expressed my nervousness about my limitations to be a speaker at this conference; not being an expert in the subject matter, nor could I contribute to the curriculum design and evaluations as I was not from academia, did not understand current trends, structure or credit systems etc. Ma’am reflected on my exposure with the industry through NASSCOM and then at Reliance’s Jio-GenNext Hub and could convince me that she was looking at non-technical inputs on the subject and expectations of industry from academia. I agreed. (In any case when it comes from Dr. Vasudha Kamat, it becomes an order for me that I always accept).

I was anxious to add value to the discussion and started looking for some resource material. I came across an executive handbook on WORLD CLASS QUALITY by Mr. Suresh Lulla, MD of Qimpro Consultants ( Reference: Lulla, S. (2003). An Executive Handbook WORLD CLASS QUALITY. Tata-McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited: New Delhi, India.). I glanced through the content and was delighted to find a chapter on Higher Education that was envisioned in 2003 by Mr. Lulla and other authors/ contributors, and was still very relevant. I am quoting some of the excerpts here as I think they would be pertinent to this discussion. Before we talk about design improvement, let’s understand the term, meaning and importance of ‘Quality.’

“Quality is an idea which changes with time. It is a perception, a moving target. In the twenty-first century, quality has assumed a more substantial global meaning. It is no longer restricted in its interpretation to a structured methodology for improvement and cost reduction (primarily of industrial products and business services). We can now apply quality to improve entire systems: organisations, educational and healthcare systems, the environment, governments, and national cultures.

Dr. J. M. Juran, Global Quality Guru and Founder of Juran Institute, USA, believes that all the chronic problems we face today — from environmental pollution, to governmental waste and inefficiency, to declining standards of education and healthcare — can be solved through quality management. We can gain control over processes, provoke breakthroughs, and organize for continuous improvement.

‘World-Class’ implies zenith of quality, performance and achievement. In recent years this term has been employed rather perfunctorily to describe virtually every thing — right from personalities to proceedings, events to enterprises and cloths to cars. The true meaning of these two words needs to be explored more seriously.

World-Class higher education is marked by research-led educational content, international caliber of the faculty, students’ commitment to knowledge, promotion of academic freedom, provision of modern facilities and support of sound governance. World Class Research is characterized by projects in frontier areas, dedicated researchers, academic linkages, an intellectually stimulating environment, good infrastructure and relevance of the products of research to society and humanity.

World-class organisations are driven by an irrepressible passion to excel. The most important of these factors is the relentless pursuit of excellence and unflinching quest for quality. People give their best when they are proud of what they are doing. World-class organizations ensure that their employees are given room to grow, innovate, take independent decisions and feel in their bones that they are part of a larger purpose. the commitment of world-class organizations to creating wealth and value for their shareholders is non-negotiable. Being creative and innovative, they know how to march ahead of the times. They set new presidents. They keep refining and redefining themselves constantly to meet the ever-changing demands of business. They become role models for their peers.

Dynamic visionary leadership is a crucial component of world-class organisations. At their helm are the super achievers, with lofty aims and soaring ambitions. In the final analysis, acquiring world-class status demands a meticulous, tireless and sustained commitment to scaling new peaks of performance. Doing better than the best. Being a class apart.

In essence, being world class is a journey rather than a destination, but with a clear road map and the right directions for achieving and maintaining a preeminent position in the changing world order.

Dr. Juran has consistently emphasised that education without action is easily forgotten.

Bridging the “Quality” Gap between Industry and the Academia:

“Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education” — Mark Twain

Prof. Arvind P. Kudchadkar recognises that there is no shortcut to quality in education. He advocates evolving our own quality and innovation criteria for education, based on the Malcolm Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence. He also explains that there will be two kinds of universities in the future: Virtual Universities and Corporate Universities, offering education on demand. Also, academia needs to adopt the continuous improvement process that industry did some years back, thereby teaching students to solve, and teams actually solving quality problems.

The industry has been applying the quality standards to check its quality of processes and products and to continuously improve, in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace. The academia has not. The gap is in terms of the application of quality standards (quality standards imply an understanding of what the ‘customer’ really needs) to the educational process as a whole.

We know that industry has, by and large, made good use of total quality management to gain a competitive advantage, value addition, and wealth creation. Quality, in terms of present and future needs of the consumer, became a company-wide concern in every activity. A few academic institutions have established themselves as quality institutions, primarily through their quality students and alumni, and not necessarily through the overall concern and implementation of quality practices.

A major problem we face is the lack of quality in education. The academic institutions (schools, colleges, universities) in general do not satisfy anyone, least of all the students. They have been blissfully negligent, barring a few, and have an indifferent attitude towards quality — quality of teachers, teaching, content, evaluation, results, management, class size and strength, buildings, schedules etc. Quality programmes could help them.

For the industry, the customer is the king. For the academia, the customer (internal and external: student, parent, society) hardly matters. For industry, it is customer delight; for the academia, they not even started thinking about customer concern, leave alone customer satisfaction and delight!

The question therefore is: Why this quality gap and how to bridge it? How to move ahead to generate world-class, high quality institutions and curriculum? What is the benchmark and what are the criteria?

The ultimate goal of the educational system is to transfer to the individual the responsibility to pursue their own education. The purpose of higher education is to generate men and women of highest quality who can approach issues independently, originally, and uninhibitedly for self-excitement, lifetime learning and growth. The purpose of higher technical education is to generate technologists, engineers, and managers who can convert ideas into technologically useful products and / or processes through sound scientific basis. The prerequisites to generating institutions of world standards are total autonomy and excellent, high quality faculty.

Our universities have proved themselves incapable of assuming major responsibilities for the kind of education necessary for India to remain competitive in the new economy. They have become rigid and static; the pace of reform is terribly slow, producing a generation of over-trained, under-employable graduates who are packed with data and information, which is of very little productive use. The universities are therefore unable to organize learning according t the values of today’’s information age, where service, productivity, accountability, customization, quality, and networks have assumed greater importance.

The current job-centered educational paradigm needs to be replaced by knowledge orientation, motivation, individual initiative, and empowerment at all levels — intellectual, emotional, and physical — in order to generate flexible,adaptive, innovative, and sustainable high quality education.

The younger generation, armed with a new mindset, global in nature, conducive to risk taking and entrepreneurship, constitutes almost 40 per cent of our population below the age of 30 — a massive intellectual human resource envied by many. How can we make effective use of this most valuable resource?

The system consists of various steps, from the time students enter an institution to the time they leave it, fulfilling their basic objectives of getting education, one of them being a degree (in the eyes of the student, employee, parent, society, that piece of paper — the degree is of utmost importance for the marketplace; not the learning part of it). We have a degree-led education. The degree is the end in itself.)

We over-teach in our institutions; we spoon-feed, leaving very little for the student to learn on their own and thereby gain knowledge. We should stop teaching quantity and instead start teaching quality. However, the quality criteria by itself may not be sufficient at this stage. We need to innovate the teaching process to make it more effective, interesting, exciting, and enjoyable, and build in continuous improvement. Then we will see the real difference in our output.

We need to evolve our own quality and innovation criteria for education. We could:

 use the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria as a basis (Education Criteria for Performance Excellence; Categories, Leadership, Strategic Planning, Student and Stakeholder Focus, Information and Analysis, Faculty and Staff Focus, Education and Support Process Management, Institution Performance Results).

 apply the 14 point Deming quality approach to education.

 Gary Hamel’s action plan of radical innovation (Leading the Revolution, HBS Press 2000).

The entire education system, from KG to PG, must be encouraged, cajoled, forced if necessary, to apply the evolved criteria (meaningful and honest accreditation). The result will be better schools, colleges, and universities at lower costs; and students who learn, get good jobs, and enjoy the work.

Continual improvement means continuously revamping the system, changing it, and moving it towards ultimate perfection. this may take 25–30 years! there is no short cut to quality. we should spend less on bureaucracy and more on students.

Two kinds of universities will exist in the future:

 Virtual Universities which have broken down ‘the walls of the classroom’, integrating the home, workplace, town, and the world. This will also signify openness, flexibility, dynamism, and movement much closer to the businesses.

 Corporate Universities in the businesses which provide life-long education to their employees as well as to the others.

Education on demand, in homes and on the job, will be far bigger business than entertainment on demand. We are ideally suited to exploit this situation, if we maintain quality, for meeting the needs of large and varied masses, as well as for the excellent business opportunities to develop high quality computer based training software. It enables the tapping of expertise from any source- a teacher, a technologiest, a historian, a Nobel laureate, an anthropologist. This would help in developing the right kind of product, with the right skills, at the right time, an on a continuous basis through just-in-time quality education and learning.

The principal consumers of the academia are the students, who are also the products, and it is the students who define the quality of the institution. The parents are the stockholders who need to get good returns from their investments. This is hardly the case in several institutions, especially professional education in the private sector, that charge exorbitant fees and dole out low quality education and training. They are accredited — we wonder how!

We need to adopt the same attitude towards quality that the industry has adopted some years back, and likewise, devise and implement quality programmes in the educational institutions. The industry has benefitted. The academia certainly will.

Can we innovate the process of learning? Every time the students learn, they try to evolve a different and superior methodology and stretch themselves so as to learn much more than what could have been learnt otherwise.

Students need internal motivation in order to learn. If there is a detailed and open discussion with them at the beginning of the class (multilogue, not a monologue from the teacher) with respect to what the course is about, their attitude towards learning would change. They should know what they should get out of the course, what could be the drawbacks to learning, how they could organise themselves in order to learn, complete the course material with focus on quality, etc. These concerns could lead to the total involvement of the students. We need to do much more for continuous improvement.

Our ultimate focus has to be achievement of quality of life for all people and the quality of human beings on this planet through adoption of quality programmes.”

– end quote.

One Size CAN NOT fit all:

Our epics and scriptures are filled with some amazing characters and examples. If we can find some relevance, we can get a lot of insights and answers for the problems that we are facing today. In Mahabharat, there are three types of students that we find — Bhim, Arjun & Eklavya.

All were the disciples of Guru Dronacharya. When during the exam to evaluate the archery skills, Guru Dron asked Bhim what he sees on the tree and Bhim happily and promptly said “Fruits”, he saw fruits hanging on the branches and green leaves and everything except the bird and its eye. Here Bhim symbolises a common student who is interested in just passing the exam, be happy even if he gets minimum marks as long as he gets the degree certificate.

When Arjun was asked, he said immediately and sharply that he could see only the eye of the bird. He was very focused, very confident, he was a TOPPER type, our gold medalists. Very select group of students deserve to be in this band. They are untouchables in some sense.

And Eklavya, who was rejected by the Guru — a Dropout — never had a formal education, but could strive to evolve in his quest to learn and acquire knowledge, he didn’t bother about the formal degree, he became better than the best, without entering in the rat race. We have many such examples of self-driven passionate visionaries like Bill Gates, Dhirubhai Ambani … ….

When at NASSCOM, I was the Trustee of Dewang Mehta Foundation Trust (DMFT). Under the aegis of Gujarat Technological University (GTU) we used to organise triple events around 10th August which was Dewang’s birth anniversary. 1. Dewang Mehta Memorial Lecture by an industry leader 2. Felicitation of Toppers from Engineering colleges and 3. IT Project competition. For all the years that we organised this event, we could never see a topper winning the IT project competition. They are two different breeds of students with a different DNA configuration.

Centuries ago, India has proclaimed “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkum” — entire world is a family. Hence our education system should also be all-encompassing and global. It should be open, innovative, flexible and inclusive. I had met Prof Mohan Tanniru of Arizona University, USA many years ago, when we were discussing the need for developing a Global Curriculum as the time was not too far that due to demographic imbalance across countries, talent mobility will be the key requirement for overall global growth. India will have the advantage, to an extent a responsibility and a role to play.

I am seeing a sense of helplessness and negativity in the air. People/students are losing confidence in our governing systems of academia. Lack of accountability and insensitivity towards students is evident. “Not me but you” syndrome is seen everywhere as the blame is being passed on from politicians to academicians (teaching & non-teaching staff) to industry to students to parents….We need to stop now and re-think. Our magnet (academia) can not afford to lose it’s magnetism.

Like the Panchtantra story of the Hunter and Pigeons, we pigeons are trapped and stuck in the net of challenging times of VUCA world — VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. With ever-changing demands on the education system plagued with lack of visionary leadership, inefficiency, bureaucracy, rigidity and red-tapism, corruption, incompetency, political interferences, egoism, selfish interests, lack of motivation, insensitive attitude etc., we need to listen to the wise pigeon who is saying that if all of us would decide and be determined to put in our best and raise the bar, fly together on the count of three…we will break open the net and soar high…………………I am committed.

ज़िंदगी की असली उड़ान अभी बाक़ी है
और कई ईम्तिहॉ अभी बाक़ी है ।
अभी तो नापी है सीर्फ मुट्ठी भर ज़मीं हमने
अभी तो पूरा आसमान बाक़ी है ॥

Zindagi ki asli udaan abhi baki hai
aur kayi imteehan abhi baki hai
abhi to napi hai mutthi bhar zami humne
abhi to poora asmaan baki hai.

The flight of life is yet to occur
and many more challenges are yet to be conquered
we have just measured a fistful of earth
we have yet to conquer the entire sky.

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