Wednesday, January 31, 2007

India Shining !

No , not another NDA campaign i read my google alerts on the IT industry today morning (I track Infosys , Wipro and TCS -more as a hobby) , it occurred to me that the changes we have seen in the last ten years are non trivial ,but as a nation we don't seem to have the ability to celebrate the successes that we have achieved .

The journey of economic reforms , deregulation , privatization has been indeed unique , the gradual shift of the IT services industry from a cost arbitrage model to a more solution based services model validates the offshore story and truly levels the playing field . And not only IT , the last couple of years has seen a resurgent India as far as the manufacturing sector is concerned . Indian manufacturing has come of age and from a Hindu growth rate of 5% , top conglomerates in India are clocking 15-18% CAGR . Could we have imagined a Tata -Corus deal 10 years ago , probably no , or even the takeover stories which are going around from the Aditya Birla Group .

With the reforms in the economic environment , we have seen reforms in the democracy as well , the good work done by the Election Commission , the fact that we have a more clean electoral process are indications of a nation on the move . In my formative years , I cursed myself for being born in India , the land of potholes , load -shedding , poor quality of life, no opprtunities ,but and in the last 10 years , i have grown to respect my nation , my people and today , I am a proud , confident Indian . As I experience my son grow up and see the way he looks at things , I am sure the next generation is being set up for success ...

While there are so many things that are still in it embryonic stage of development as far as we are concerned ,ex- the infrastructure , good governance at the village level , etc etc , but as an Indian , i feel proud of what we have and am not bogged down with what we don't have at present , because I know for sure that we will get there sooner or later and for me India is truly shining ...........

Jai Hind

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Education and the Resurgence of India

For those of us who follow the media and the latest campaign launched by Times of India ( India poised and also media reports that we will overtake the US as the world’s second largest economy by 2050 and are feeling great about it , here is something to be worried about - Our Education System .

Most of us will agree that our education infrastructure at the school level is abysmal in the rural and semi-urban locations across the country, however many of us will not suspect that there might be something wrong in the schools that our children go to in the metro cities. The elite in the metro’s send their children in the Bishop Cotton’s at Bangalore , the Bombay Scottish at Mumbai , or a St Xaviers in Kolkata and feel that the kids are growing up to take on this competitive world , however according to me some of us are in for a rude shock !

This post focuses on the fundamental pillars of our education system and is based on my experiences of schools in the big cities ; I have reasons to believe that what is applicable to the schools in the metros applies even more to the rural and semi-urban school system.

Pillar One – Rote Learning

Rote learning is a
learning technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. In other words, it is learning "just for the test". Source –Wikipedia

he definition of rote learning and the points highlighted above are the fundamental challenges of our education system. A child as a learner is told to get the best grades by his parents , and the way to get the best grades is to “recall and reproduce ” ,what s/he has learnt in the class room . This coupled by a teaching process which is again based on repetition of a concept without understanding the nuances perpetuates this behavior .

I am myself a product of rote learning , went to a rote learning factory called South Point High School in Kolkata , and those of you who have heard about the school would know that it produces the best academic results at the Secondary and Higher Secondary levels in the West Bengal Board (at least that’s the way it was in my times) . Many years after I left school and was working as a consultant in a Big 4 firm , I realised that the many years of education was great to “recall facts” but not good enough to understand the reasons or causes or even describe a phenomena in life . This sense of inadequacy lead me to explore further and in the process I discovered that my entire education has only helped me filling my brain up with megabytes of facts which I could recall at will , but could not help me figure out causal or systemic relationships that are the required to understand the world around us . I knew the law of diminishing returns , I knew the concept of elasticity of demand , but for the life of me , could not explain a real life phenomena …..sounds familiar ??.

As years passed by , I became a manager , I discovered that I had made it to the grade being a hard and honest worker , but did not have an additional lens to look at the world or provide insights to my co-workers , this lead to another belief …what good was my learning at school , and how did it help in my development as a professional . I still grapple with these questions , which heightens my sense of inadequacy …………

As a Management Development Professional , my experience of facilitating adult learning in India has lead me to the belief that most of our managers have this problem , they can recall facts but their perspectives are very narrow (which in technical terms could be defined as functional –know your set of job routines well ) and therefore it becomes a really difficult challenge to build a larger perspective in them or develop systems thinking abilites (simply put to look at events from a cause –relationships perspective)

To summarise I would like to quote the United Nations Arab Human Development Report for 2004 , wherein researchers claim that rote learning is a major contributing factor to the lack of progress in science and research & development in the Arab countries.

If it is true for Arab nations could it be true for India as well !! ,

Pillar Two- The Examination System

The design of the examination system perpetuates the rote learning behavior , and these two pillars support it each wonderfully to create the academic system that I am describing in this post .

The examination system is designed to test you ability to recall and reproduce a fact , and based on the powers of memorization and reproduction a learner’s ability is evaluated . At some level one many argue that memorization maybe a test of cognition , however even if it were so it does not help in developing the powers of concept synthesis or abstraction which a rote learning based testing system does not support .

The grade system has a very big implication in life , if I don’t get good grades in school , I will not get admitted to a good college or get to study in a good stream , and if I don’t get good grades in college , I will not even been called for an interview in good companies like Infosys or the like . Therefore as a child , we condition ourselves for the ultimate outcome get a good job and in that environment the current education system grows stronger and stronger.

What do we do going forward

I may not have all the answers of what needs to be done , however , I can leave the readers with some questions .

a) Discovery based education – Can the primary and secondary school curriculum be a judicious mix of rote learning and discovery learning . Discovery based learning is the opposite of rote learning , it takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his own experience and prior knowledge to discover the truths that are to be learned. Discovery learning is a method of instruction through which students interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments. Its important to start the education process of every child in a discovery mode . I send my 5 year old to a school which practices discovery learning . I admitted my child Neelabjo to this school a year ago hoping that he would learn differently , and I was pleasantly surprised when he came to me one day and told me that he went to a bank with his class . I explored with him further and he told me that his teacher had taken their class to the bank and he went through the locker room , the account opening process et al. My son now knows what a bank account is and what is kept in a locker and he can narrate some parts of rudimentary banking processes to me in reasonable amount of detail . I believe that discovery learning methods create a spirit of inquiry in every learner and if in our formative years we ensure that all children go through discovery learning , it probably creates a mental model to look at the things around you will in a different light .

b) Investments in the primary education system – I pay education tax every year , and would like that money to be utilized more in creating a primary education infrastructure across the country . While the Union Minister of HRD is busy designing interventions to promote reservations , I am not too sure how much focus he has in the improving the infrastructure of education .
c) Corporate Recruitment processes- I would encourage my colleagues in HR to look at alternative means of testing competencies rather than just college grades , can we also place a premium on candidates who ability to connect things systemically higher than the ability to reproduce facts .

In conclusion

I believe India’s competitiveness lies in its intellectual capital , however we could be fast losing the advantage if we continue the way we do things . I wanted this post to raise some questions , hope you will reflect on what I had to say and in your own way help your child to discover things better so that s/he becomes a stronger citizen of this nation as we march towards a great future ...jai Hind

Monday, January 29, 2007

My motivation to blog -The need to express myself

It has been sometime , i have been watching this wonderful social phenomena called blogging . Some of my close friends and some not so close have blogs of their own , creating content varying from their love life , to their view on politics , to organization development et al . As a phenomena i would believe that blogging is an extremely interesting development in the democratic now what does that mean !!!....i am told that you can write anything express your views (even if they maybe factually incorrect or conceptually weak or opinionated with ones points of view ....don't know if thats allowed ....for an amateur blogger grant this understanding to me for the time being ....i promise you that i will learn the rules fast ...) .

Coming back to the theme of this post ....what motivated me to blog.....couple of interesting things happened in the last few weeks . I came across a lady with eclectic tastes ( many years younger to me and an active blogger) and also a CEO who is a brilliant blogger (brilliant defined by the quality of content) . Somehow between the two of them , i got an inspiration from within to write , write pretty much anything and not get misunderstood , or being judged as we are in our day to day life.So i said to myself, I must express and my inner self on topics that i have a point of view on (and trust me as a good Bengali , i have a point of view on many things :)...) and issues which are socially relevant and i don't have a point of view on.

So after overcoming the initial lethargy here i am with a post on the very first day that i opened a blog account , declaring my intention to express.......

Before starting to type this post part of me said "Niladri , you cant write coherent English to save your life..." , the other part said " Ok if you bad at it , test the hypothesis of being judged..." either way you learn ............and as i learn i grow ...