Students or almonds market: What is the Indian education system nurturing?

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Do head-points such as competitive advantage, enhancing corporate image, achieving organisational objectives and increasing efficiency regularly dominate the content of your under-graduation textbooks? Do the authors repeat these points in the content for almost every other topic such as ‘Importance of Management by Objective’ or ‘Importance of Strategic Marketing’? Does your college prescribe these textbooks? Does your university set papers from these textbooks?

Most importantly, do you manipulate your way through all questions in the examination by stuffing in these points in your answer-books, with a bright certainty of passing?

If you answered in the affirmative for most of these questions, you must be alarmed that we are spending three years of our life in college, rote learning things to pass an examination, that would never rescue us when faced with complex problems in the industry. And we are the Indian work-force of tomorrow.

Needless to mention, we have been cramming up facts ever since primary school, to satisfy the examination system, that is deeply entrenched in India.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, in his speech at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said

“If you just take the children of school and high school going age of 10 to 19, we have 225 million of them. Just purely looking at the demographic trends, for the next 30 to 40 years, India could have or rather should have – a youthful. productive, dynamic working age population. At the time when the rest of the world is ageing, suddenly India is poised to become the workforce of the world. All of this will only happen, if we get one key thing right. And that is education and skill development training”.

I am in complete agreement with Dr. Tharoor. We often denounce our fallacious examination system, but seldom raise a question about the facilitators of information exchange. Today, I’m going to talk about the ones that disseminate knowledge. I will not mince my words, but most Indian educational institutions that offer under-graduation studies have conveniently accommodated faculties, merely on basis of their Ph.D qualification. They lack industry experience and updated knowledge about the very subject that they teach. For instance, a presentation on ‘Marketing Mix’ prepared by these professors would contain numerous slides with jargons and definitions, none of which would hone marketeers of tomorrow – the decision makers who would actually blend these marketing 4 Ps together.

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This problem is not just limited to business management, but is rather field agnostic. More often than not, when you find yourself in a university affiliated under-grad mass media college in India, a teacher who mastered in political science will be teaching journalism, even though she/he has never entered the newsroom or cracked a story. Advertising would be taught by someone who has never worked at an ad agency and lacks creative abilities, but can conveniently make presentations on the same. A professor of technology would have seldom engineered a product or solution to solve a real world problem.

The eligibility for university level lectureship is passing the NET examination, which is considered to be ‘grossly inadequate to assess either the research potential or the teaching aptitude of candidates’, as per a Hindustan Times article (full article here). If such faculties will be vested with the crucial responsibility of priming the youth and will be continued to be hired, solely on passing the NET examination, I am afraid that students will never learn any skills from these lectures.

Not everyone can get into an IIT or IIM, for financial or other reasons. This subset of the population must have a worthwhile alternative. This need of the hour is to bridge the gap between academia and industry and make vocational training inclusive in our degrees. Education would be most effective, when disseminated by people who are domain experts in their fields. I would like to share one of my personal experiences. Besides pursuing business management, I have also been primed by a media institute, where I pursued a year-long program in advertising and communications. Each faculty was a full-time working professional and would take class in the evenings. For instance, someone who taught me brand strategy was a strategist with Ogilvy and Mather, one of the world’s leading advertising companies. Someone who taught me social media marketing, worked as a digital marketing manager with Star Sports. The digital marketing faculty, was someone who had handled 40+ brands in the history of his career. The public relations class never saw a single presentation, except for a real PR presentation pitched by the teacher (also a practising PR professional) to the management of a leading brand.

At this institute, Ph.D was no criteria to hire a teacher. They were hired only because they could share their work experiences, expose students to real industry problems and evaluate them on how effectively can they solve those problems. This flipped classroom set-up that was devoid of any textbooks, often enjoyed full attendance and equipped us with skills to solve problems, not focussing on sharpening our memories. Every time, we left class with awe and admiration and so many lessons to take home, as opposed to taking back a definition or a 7-pointer theoretical “Advantages of Brand Strategy”. These skills and lessons immensely helped me during my internships.

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However, there is a dearth of such institutes in our metro cities itself. It is the need of the hour, that every Indian college must hire working professionals and conduct master-classes that build skills, instead of building memory power. If not as full-time faculties, then at-least as visiting faculties, who would come to college at least twice a week for reasonable number of hours. Present faculties from colleges must be sent for industry training sessions, to keep pace with the latest developments. Why limit case solving to just students? Even teachers must be exposed to live projects, so that they can decipher problems and come up with solutions and then bring these experiences to classrooms.

Yes, the budget for implementation of this idea would be heavy, but certainly the government would be in a position to cut down expenditure on employment generation later, as the students would be worthy of being employed and would bring higher returns to the nation.

I would strongly encourage all students in the age group of 18-21 to take up internships in the field of your choice, throughout the three or four years of your graduation. Until we can usher in an education revolution, the skills that you would learn during these internships would make you employable and capable of facing problems in the corporate world. I have myself completed five internships, and believe me, when I say that the feeling of knowing your calling and having clarity of what you want to pursue is truly alleviating. These internships will help you attain that clarity. Do not take up an internship as a formality, merely because your degree requires you to do the same for earning credit. (my degree did not require any internships, but I took it up for my own enrichment). Consider being as active on LinkedIn, as you may be on other social media platforms. The time you would spend here might just bring about a turning point in your life, like it did to mine, which I would talk about in another article later. I would also recommend you to build a profile on Internshala, a leading internship portal.

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Parting thoughts: Now coming to the question I posed in the headline. Think about this, why do Indian mothers give a great deal of importance to almonds and its memory-boosting qualities? Many almond companies and milk powder brands capitalize on this insight in their advertisements. Why? Because, you and I are in a country, where the education system compels students to cram up and reproduce textual content.

Shots from an advertisement by California Almonds: It is seen that the mother fills the child’s geometry box with almonds and this has been related to him securing an A+ in the examination.

A good memory is of consequential importance for a good score in the exams. Your mom didn’t feed you almonds, just because she was fed up that you often forgot your belongings at school. She did that, so that you could remember the obsolete content of your textbooks, written by some philosopher a decade ago, much of which would not hold true in today’s context. And we have built an entire industry that is running just to strengthen our memories and developing not our skills, but the almonds market…

#IndiaStudents

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