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Archive for September, 2016

Purists might scoff at the use of classical music based compositions to connect with Hindi movie buffs, but such endeavours do have the singular advantage of popularizing such uplifting ‘ragas’ amongst the masses.

Here is an interesting post which elaborates on the use of one of the better known ‘ragas’ of Hindustani classical music in Bollywood songs.

Enjoy!

My Views On Bollywood

By

Sharada Iyer

The repertoire of our century old Hindi film music boasts of a wide range of songs based on a variety of classical Hindustani raagas. Instead of composing these songs in a typical classical style which may appeal only to true music aficionados, our music directors use the raag to compose semi-classical songs and at times touch upon the raag lightly to include subtle modifications in the raag which makes it easier for the general public to enjoy them. Such compositions not only help to enhance the appeal and reach of these raagas to the large base of film-viewing populace of our country, but also exposes them to our unique heritage.

In this blog, I have chosen to explore the raag ‘Shivaranjani’, an ancient raag which derives its name from the words ‘Shiva’ = Lord Shiva and ‘ranjani’ = to please.  It is said that when Lord Shiva was performing his ‘taandav’ (cosmic dance)…

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first-birthday-cake

The Earth has turned for 365 days,

My kid brother has meanwhile grown in many ways;

He has experienced all the seasons,

To smile together we have many reasons!

 

His lungs are full of fresh Arctic air,

Yet to walk, he crawls with a flair;

Single words he only speaks now,

To take care of him, I am always in tow!

 

His eyes sparkle like a pair of twin stars,

His laughter is infectious, it never jars;

Playing tabla with a flourish he is learning fast,

The range of biscuits he eats is really vast!

 

In his life, the moon and the stars shall forever shine,

We shall travel together long, I and this brother of mine!

(Composed on behalf of a girl of seven years)

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You know the kind of disasters which strike you once in a while. JustBertie image when you feel that life is a bed of roses, God is in heaven, and all is well with the world, Fate sneaks up from the back. Your Guardian Angel decides to proceed on a vacation. The blow falls.

Two weeks earlier, Aunt Agatha had set in motion yet another of her mould-the-wastrel-Bertie programs. Having been forced to be affianced to Honoria Glossop for this period had been a trying experience.

With each day came the challenge of having to read at least fifty odd pages of serious literature, often followed by a visit to some frightful art gallery or the other. Being made to attend quite a few classical concerts proved to be a traumatic experience. I was left convinced that blokes like Beethoven, if I get one of the names right, should have been banished from the country.

Mere participation in such pursuits was not considered sufficient. The fact that I was expected to actively participate in serious discussions and prove my intellectual mettle had left me all of a twitter.

Each and every encounter with my spouse-to-be proved to be an experience which tried the soul. Romance was a distant dream. Instead, talks of an intellectual kind dominated the discourse, leaving me in a highly enfeebled condition.

Then, one quiet evening, when Honoria and I were seated in the lobby, sipping tea and relishing some delicious hors d’oeuvres dished out by Spenser, Aunt Agatha’s butler, the blow fell.

‘Bertie,’ she said, ‘I have been thinking about our life after we get married.’

‘Eh? Oh, that sounds great.’

‘I think that valet of yours has too much of a negative influence on you,’ said Honoria.

A cold hand clutched at my heart.

‘You need to get rid of him,’ she said as she looked at me sharply, as if trying to gauge my reaction.

‘Get rid of Jeeves, do you mean?!’ I gasped.

‘Yes. I don’t like him.’

‘But he does a fine job of managing things in my life, don’t you think so?’

pgw-images-2‘Dear, you might be paying him a handsome salary, but he is the one who calls all the shots. Was he not the one who sent you on a futile midnight bicycle trip once, looking for a door key which was already with him? I hear that he keeps dominating you even over such trivial matters as the colour of your ties and the kind of jackets and hats you need to wear.’ said Honoria defiantly.

I gaped at her much as a clueless newt would have gaped at its mother when reprimanded for having not done its school homework.

‘But, dear, he also manages the house so very well. Everything in its place, taking care of guests, planning for lavish luncheons and dinners and what not, if you know what I mean. A most amazing cove, I would say.’

‘What is there in managing a house?’ said Honoria, glancing at me in a challenging manner. ‘I think I have a better solution.’

‘Hmm….and what might that be?’ I said, hope of a reprieve from a calamity gently starting to fade.

‘I would say we should provide you with a valet bot, enabled by state-of-art Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps, we can locate a valet which operates on Artificial Super Intelligence. It would take care of all your needs, and shall never boss you over. Never would it hold the view that you are a person who is, well, mentally negligible,’ said Honoria with that unique glint of enthusiasm in her eyes which girls normally get when they believe they are on to a really hot idea.

I shuddered. I knew that matrimonial alliances do tend to demand a lot of sacrifice on one’s part, but a supreme sacrifice of this magnitude? For the rest of my life, would I now wake up in the mornings with a humanoid approaching me not with a silver tray but with an iPad instead? The mind boggled.

In her zest, Honoria continued with her futuristic vision.

‘Bertie,’ she said, ‘I would go to the extent of suggesting that we re-do your entire flat. Make it a Smart Flat, so to say. What do you think?’

‘Er…I say, eh, what do you mean?’

‘Ooh, Bertie! Can’t you see? You will have the latest gadgets at your

Rembrandt

Rembrandt

place. A giant TV screen which would softly descend from the ceiling, enabling you to read serious and meaningful literature at the flick of a button. It would be backed by the latest multimedia functions. In the dining room, we shall put a giant screen which will keep showing paintings of such stalwarts as Edward Munch, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and the like. The study would get converted into a small theatre where, after sumptuous dinners, we shall be able to watch recordings of classical concerts from all over the world. Your intellectual proficiency would improve in no time. Father would be so very pleased.’

I tottered. Before I could lodge a feeble protest, she continued to narrate her frightful plans.

‘Bertie, the flat would have a universal software interface. Wi-Fi. Tea machines, ovens and gadgets which would be remote controlled. Retinal scanners at the entrance door. iPad-controlled door locks. Hidden flat-panel screens in all the rooms, which can be popped down at the flick of a button. Underwater lighting shows in the bath-tubs. Lighting fixtures and window blinds which can be shut at will, even by a remote. The place would be heavenly! Don’t you think so?! Would you not be happier, darling?’

‘But…er…listen, I say, I am happy the way things are, dear!’

‘Oh, Bertie, you are so very unromantic’, protested Honoria.

‘Well, dash it….., don’t you think that we shall need a software expert to manage all the advanced gadgets you indicate?’, I tried to reason, hope rearing its head yet again.

‘That is the beauty of the scheme I propose, dear. The moment such things get installed, Jeeves would find himself out of his depth. For all you know, pretty soon, he will put in his papers. That would bring sunshine and freedom back into your life.’

‘Sunshine? Freedom?’, I said doubtfully.

‘Bertie, would you or would you not fulfil this simple wish of mine?’

‘Hmm, let us think about it’, was the most I could mumble, just as my Guardian Angel decided to back me up, what with Spenser entering and announcing that my car had been brought to the gate. A perfunctory kiss on the cheeks of my spouse-to-be and I was off, temporarily elated at having had the wisdom of avoiding an unpleasant argument with Honoria. But the brow was decidedly furrowed. Dark crowds hovered over the horizon.

Reaching the metropolis, I decided to ward off the feeling of impending doom by stopping over briefly at Drones for a snifter. I can’t say it helped me much. As I headed for the flat, I brooded as much as my poor grey cells would allow me to, but could not come up with a solution to the challenge posed by my affianced. I just could not imagine a life without Jeeves. So very competent in every aspect.

Technology is all very well, if you know what I mean, but what about the human touch? Was there no value attached to the big head bulging at the back? The supreme intelligence which had so far protected me from so many disasters in life? Would a robot be able to whip up a pick-me-up, like Jeeves would, as and when necessary?

Could one count the number of times he had avoided the prospect of his master walking down the aisle with one of the finer specimens of the tribe of the delicately nurtured? What about his unique capacity of being able to judge the psychology of the individual? Could any robot even try to replicate a fraction of it?

As I entered the liar, things were as neatly arranged as ever. If Jeeves were to ever start offering consultation to big corporates in TQM or 5-S PGW HughLaurie-BertieWoosteror some such rot, he would be literally rolling in millions, I thought.

‘I trust your trip was satisfactory, sir?’, he asked deferentially, as he started unpacking the stuff.

‘I wish it had been that way’, Jeeves. ‘Do you think you could fix a w. and s. for me? Make it stiff, if you like’, I said.

In time, he waltzed in with a tissue restorative, a perfect picture of timely service and feudal zeal.

Having shoved down a couple of gulps down the hatch, I spilled the beans.

‘Jeeves, something frightful has happened.’

‘Indeed, sir?’

‘Time to come to the aid of the party, eh, what?’

‘My services are at your disposal, sir.’

‘Thanks to Aunt Agatha, I have got betrothed to Honoria Glossop.’

His left eyebrow went up a quarter of an inch. I am certain that Gandhi could have learnt a lesson in equanimity from Jeeves.

‘I wish you both great happiness together, sir.’

‘Thank you and what not. Though I realize that you would not approve of an alliance of this nature, you know what Aunt Agatha is like. Hitler himself could have taken a kindergarten course under her and failed to come up to her exacting standards.’

‘Perhaps you wish to convey that she comes up with proposals which try the soul, sir?’

‘Absolutely. What do you think, Jeeves?’

‘Sir, if the banns are getting announced, I wonder if I could get relieved of my responsibilities at an appropriate time?’

I was stupefied. Shaken to the core, if you know what I mean.

‘What makes you say that, Jeeves?’

‘You are aware, sir, that it is not my policy to serve in households where the master and his spouse are best left alone in rest and repose.’

‘I understand, Jeeves. In fact, Honoria has also been suggesting some frightful plans of upgrading the flat and make it more…..er, what is the word which has technology in it and ends with heavy or something?’

‘Perhaps you allude to the term tech-savvy, sir?’

‘Indeed. I wonder how you know all these things, Jeeves.’

‘Kind of you to say so, sir. I do believe that the future belongs to   those who are in sync with the Internet of Things.’

‘Internet of what things, Jeeves? Why do you always talk in terms of riddles?’

‘My apologies for having had the audacity of testing your patience, sir. I was referring to the rapid advancements in technology which are changing the way we interact with things, sir.’

‘Oh…like what?’

‘You may already know, sir, that robots and humanoids are increasingly taking over all kinds of routine tasks. Robots, algorithms and chatbots are becoming a part of everyday life. From Artificial Intelligence, people are trying to move on to Artificial General Intelligence and even Artificial Super Intelligence.’

‘Strange, Jeeves. How do you think things are going to shape up?’

‘Quite revolutionary, if I may venture to hazard a guess, sir. For example, the next time you walk into the Marriott Hotel in Belgium, a humanoid robot by the name of Mario could be checking you in. Likewise, the Hilton chain has launched Connie, a robot embedded with IBM’s Watson technology. As the trend picks up, hotel chains could replicate this experiment, thereby making you well known to all their properties across the world.’

wodehouse-characters‘Oh, so someone like Tuppy Glossop would no longer be able to get off with a misdemeanour at one of their swimming pools, looping the last ring or something of that kind?’

‘I fear not, sir. When you go for shopping, you may just need to punch some buttons and the desired object would appear on a screen. If you decide to buy, you punch another set of buttons, make the payment using internet banking, and the item would be offered to you on a designer conveyor belt, duly packed. No human intervention in the entire retailing process.’

‘Oh, so next time Aunt Dahlia asks me to go and sneer at a silver cow creamer at an antique shop, there will be no cove at the sales counter, registering my scorn?’

‘Quite likely, sir. In a similar vein, secretaries like Amy Ingram are now helping overworked office managers with quite a few of their mundane tasks. Thanks to a self-learning algorithm, Amy gets smarter all the time.’

‘Good news, indeed. So, there would no longer be a possibility of Aunt Dahlia wishing me to become the secretary of someone like Mr. A. B. Filmer, the Cabinet Secretary, who got thwarted by the overtures of an angry swan, what?’

‘Not really, sir. But at some future date, there is a possibility that our civilization reaches that state of perfection in its technological endeavours.’

‘But don’t you think we are being rather foolish, creating machines which might turn out to be smarter than us? The mind boggles. Sure enough, the foundations of our civilization are quivering.’

‘There is a lot of merit in what you say, sir. However, to be able to replicate the emotional responses and humane feelings of Homo Sapiens may not be easy. Eventually, both the skill-sets would be required for humanity to grow. As more and more routine tasks get done by robots, human beings can move higher up the cognitive and spiritual ladder.’

‘Do you think many other professions could also get invaded by this machine mania, Jeeves?’

‘I do believe so, sir. Even lawyers and judges could soon lose their jobs to their AI-enabled counterparts.’

‘Ah, what a relief that would be, Jeeves. Poor Aunt Dahlia, when trying to avoid my going in for thirty days without the option, would no longer need to offer the services of Anatole to such unscrupulous characters as Sir Watkyn Bassett, I guess.’

‘The contingency would indeed appear to be a remote one, sir.’

‘And what about the realm of tissue restoratives? That is an area you specialize in, Jeeves!’

‘I do believe, sir, that two young gentlemen from London have already come up with a brew called IntelligentX, which evolves its flavour based on responses from social media.’

‘But, surely, you would not spill the beans when it comes to those pick-me-ups of yours?’

‘That is a prospect which is best avoided, sir. But perhaps Ellie could solve quite a few of our problems.’

‘Oh, never heard of her. What am I missing, Jeeves?’

internet image 2‘Sir, Ellie is a virtual psychotherapy assistant in whom you can readily confide all your problems. I hear that scientists at the University of Southern California have developed her. She can help diagnose signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sir.’

‘But do you think she can replace such eminent loony doctors as Sir Roderick Glossop? After all, a specialist with his extensive practice can hardly help taking a rather warped view of humanity and might wish to check things first hand.’

‘Indeed, sir. But I believe that the eminent personality you refer to has already a couple of them working for him. This reduces his onerous overload of having to keep a tab on the vast number of patients he treats. In fact, just before you came in, Mrs. Gregson called up to say that one such specimen would be arriving soon enough to have a short diagnostic meeting with you.’

‘Oh, so what do you suggest, Jeeves?’

‘Sir, I would not wish to impose myself in any way. Nor would I like to stand in the way of the happiness of yourself and Miss Honoria.’

‘I respect this feudal approach of yours, Jeeves. That is precisely the reason I am seeking your support in the matter.’

robot-cat‘If so, with your permission, I would suggest using a virtual feline creature which is programmed to make the right noises at the right time, while Sir Roderick Glossop’s assistant is in a discussion with you. I had managed to borrow a specimen from one of the friends who had developed it and wanted it to be tested. Unless, of course, sir, you wish it otherwise….’

‘No, no, far from it, Jeeves,’ I butted in, hope dawning at last. ‘I appreciate this initiative of yours. But you mention only a single specimen. Last time, I thought, you had twenty-three cats!’ One always strived to get the numbers right, you see.

‘Thank you, sir. You are right about the last time. However, this time we are handling merely an assistant. Also, the robot cat I have in my possession now can generate ten different kinds of meows at random, thereby giving the impression that there are so many in the place.’

‘Splendid. So, we are also spared the trouble of encountering a dead fish wanting a written explanation and apology!’

‘Indeed, sir.’

‘By the way, may I know how did you manage to learn all this about the Internet of Things, Jeeves?’

‘Sir, bots powered by superior forms of Artificial Intelligence are soon likely to be the interface, shaping our interactions with the applications and the devices we rely on. Pretty soon, internet-connected cars, elevators and smart cities will pose newer challenges. Internet of Things is the future and I thought I have to be ready to be able to handle it.’

‘Don’t tell me that you are already an expert in handling computers, motherboards, servers, networks and the latest gizmos? You never fail to amaze, Jeeves!’

‘Kind of you to say so, sir. I merely strive to keep my skills upgraded at all times, so I may continue to provide satisfaction. Stephen R Covey has famously held that one should always keep one’s saw sharpened.’

‘Covey….who is this brainy cove?’

‘Sir, he is an expert who is revered in the field of management these days.’

‘But how did you manage to learn this much?’

‘A bit of money which an aunt of mine had bequeathed me came in handy some time back. Also, a little bit of subterfuge, sir, if I may confess. You may recall my having requested some leave last year around this time, sir?’

‘Yes, you said you wanted to hone your skills in shrimp farming, if I remember right.’

‘Your memory does not fail you, sir. In fact, I had used that time to take up an intensive course in the Internet of Things, sir.’

‘Well, well! How did you ever manage that?’

internet image 1‘Sir, the Junior Ganymede Club had earlier succeeded in forging a closer alliance with companies which make hi-tech gear for the aristocracy. Mr. Brigstock, the secretary of the club, had confided in me that talks with outfits like Crestron and Savant had eventually borne fruit. These companies have designed training programs to teach aspirants to my kind of service-oriented career as to how to run and troubleshoot smart-home systems. The club is already running a separate academy which imparts knowledge to wannabe gentlemen of gentlemen in IT networking and programming. This, it is hoped, would ward off the threat to this age old profession from bright engineers and IT-savvy youngsters who wish to improve upon their pecuniary circumstances and earn six-figure emoluments.’

‘You have certainly earned a hefty raise for yourself, Jeeves. Name it and you shall have it.’

‘I am much obliged for your generosity, sir,’ he said, suddenly looking at his iPad which was blinking softly.

‘Sir, one Ellie-99 from the office of Sir Glossop is at the door, seeking an interaction with you.’

‘Oh, already, eh, what? Is the virtual cat in place?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘In perfect working order, I hope?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Bung her in, then. Let us scare her off, so the fixture with Honoria gets scratched without further delay.’

‘Your wish is my command, sir,’ he said as he shimmered out to let Ellie-99 in.

(Illustrations courtesy the world wide web)

 

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On the occasion of International Peace Day, time to revisit this string of thoughts.

ashokbhatia

Berlinermauer

More than twenty-five years back, the Berlin Wall fell,
Wounds are deep, recovery is slow, and scars we can still tell;
All over the world, other walls and wired borders continue to thrive and exist,
Across all continents, divisions made by humanity itself subsist.

 Dark Nina_Davuluri

Then we have the softer walls which continue to be invisible,
Human prejudices prevail, sprouting walls which are terrible;
Hatreds rage anew, based on our religion and the color of our skin,
Women face a glass ceiling, their cries of anguish lost amongst the din.

 internet image 2

Gated communities, protected precincts and high security malls,
Castes, economic disparities, internet accessibility, the unseen firewalls;
Trade protectionism, citizenship, human migration and the languages that we use,
Levels of literacy and healthcare, financial dealings where stakeholders face abuse.

 Caring Michelangelo's_Pieta

These are only some of the soft walls we have managed to build up over time,
Pulling these down would…

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In emerging economies, rapid urbanization poses unprecedented challenges. A positive spin-off of the same appears to be an acceleration in the rate of innovation.

Perhaps, urban spaces enable the coming together of creative minds, thereby fuelling innovation?

Here is a thought-provoking post on the subject.

understanding innovation

In their quest for the commonalities and differences between cities and companies, Geoffrey West and his team came across the crucial interplay between those two social structures. And from those findings, we can see that the role of cities in innovation is a lot stronger than we usually realise.

A grand idea

The heart of the matter is superlinear scaling, a unique characteristic of cities that has no analog in biology or in other social systems: a city with double the number of citizens will generate more than twice as much wealth, will be more than twice as productive, will deliver more than twice as much innovation. This phenomenon occurs regardless of city location, and it has massive effects.

If you think about the development of a specific city that grows over time, we can predict that by the time it reaches twice its current size, its wealth generation, productivity and innovation…

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One of the classics which Hollywood can justifiably be proud of is ‘Ben-Hur’. Here is an interesting post which many of you may like!

Dustedoff

When I was compiling my post of English-language films that might appeal to a lover of old Hindi cinema, I needed to check something about Ben-Hur (which was on my list) on IMDB—and I discovered something I hadn’t realized. That Ben-Hur was being remade. In fact, it was due for release less than a fortnight after my post.

Now, if that isn’t coincidence, serendipity, fate, call it what you will—I don’t know what is. So I made up my mind: this remake had to be watched, and the original (no, I’m not counting the earlier, silent version of the film, but the record-breaking, many-Oscar winning one, directed by William Wyler). Comparisons, of course, would follow.

A moment from the memorable chariot race

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(This post is dedicated to my mother, who earned her BA degree from the Department of Correspondence Courses of Delhi University in the year 1972. In the same year, I completed my B.Sc. Honours in Physics from Hansraj College, Delhi University, through the regular classroom method.)

Synopsis

The future of Distance Education can be bright and rosy only if it aims to improve the EmployabilityMay 2014 033 Quotient of those who subscribe to this stream of knowledge. Given the challenges it faces from traditional class-room learning and from the emerging realm of open on-line learning, there is a strong need to reinvent and reinvigorate the content being offered by it.

The mode of distance education therefore faces a twin challenge. One, proving itself superior to the traditional class-room learning. Two, that of being one-up on the open on-line content on offer to the youth of today, thanks to advances in technology.

Looked at from the perspective of an employer, when a candidate is being considered to be hired, she needs to not only overcome the barrier of a weaker perception of the distance education mode but also demonstrate her superior depth of applied knowledge. The unique strength that such a candidate brings to the table is possibly that of her prior working experience. It also shows that the candidate has the grit and determination necessary to complete the academic criteria of a course, even while handling a career and other mundane responsibilities of life.

In terms of credibility, on-line courses rank a poor third as of now. But the possibility of these catching up and making HR managers sitting up and taking notice of its contemporary and dynamic nature cannot be ruled out in the very near future.

How does the distance learning mode reinvigorate itself? The key lies in understanding the industry requirements and in incorporating the same to redesign the content on offer. Irrespective of the subject, contact programs which offer workshops on body language, communication skills and in building up self-confidence can help. In some cases, elementary IT skills could add value to a student’s marketability. In others, a crash course in a specific foreign language could perhaps help the candidate bag a dream assignment.

Customer is said to be the king. In the case of distance learning, the customer is the prospective student. If the focus is on improving her Employability Quotient based on the skill-gap felt by the industry, the mode of distance learning would improve upon its unique place in the education-mix on offer to the aspiring youth of today.

What the industry looks for

For any business, hiring is a critical activity. One, the person being recruited also brings in a set of attitudes, beliefs and value systems into the organization. These need to be matched with the core values and the culture of the organization. Two, the skills being brought to the table by the candidate have to be assessed realistically, so the person does not prove to be a misfit. Three, the kind of experience and its relevance to the assignment on hand needs to be evaluated. Four, the qualifications need to be checked, so the organization does not end up hiring either an over-qualified or an under-qualified person.

A premium on values

Attitudes, beliefs and values get formed from an early stage of one’s life. Hence, it would be naïve tovalues cartoon corruption assume that formal education at the higher level could play a role in shaping up the same. Yet, some steps could indeed be taken. Management lessons from literature and Indian scriptures, if made a part of the curriculum, would surely reinforce the learning of a career aspirant. Case studies which focus on the values that some brands stand for, such as Tatas and Siemens, could demonstrate the importance of fairness in business dealings. Likewise, details of corporate scandals could drive home the point that excessive greed leads to commercial ruin. Examples such as Satyam and Lehman Brothers readily come to one’s mind.

Skilling the young

Skill sets which a candidate is expected to possess obviously vary from assignment to assignment. In most cases, jobs of a technical nature need higher proficiency in the relevant technical domain. However, depending upon the candidate’s aptitude, skills can also be imparted on the job. For instance, a shoe factory can hire an engineering graduate engineer from any discipline and mould her according to their internal requirements.

For jobs of a non-technical nature, particularly those which fall in the realm of marketing, customer service, procurement, and the like, soft skills carry a much higher weightage. Skills in communication, leadership, collaboration, teamwork, analytics, adaptability and planning assume higher importance.
Evaluating experience

With a clear tendency amongst candidates to overstate their career accomplishments and emoluments, recruiters often have to dig deep to ferret out the truth. Often, past employers need to be contacted so as to ascertain the facts. Successes being quoted by a job seeker need to be seen in the context of the business environment in which the same are said to have been accomplished. The recruiter also needs to evaluate if the success was a team effort or an individual one.

Detailed questioning during the course of a personal interview alone enables the hiring person to understand the nuances of the range and depth of experience of a person.

The knowledge matrix

Often, one is aghast to find that a post-graduate in commerce cannot clarify as to on which side of the balance sheet the profit figure should appear. In such a case, a recruiter has to check her enthusiasm and not proceed to ask as to why it should appear on the ‘Liabilities’ side.

Our learning outcomes happen to be weak on conceptual clarity but excel at promoting rote and memory enhancement. Alas, such is the legacy of Lord Macaulay that we continue to follow till this day!

Unless one is hiring for a research and development slot or for an assignment which is highly technical in nature, one does not look for top grades and academic accomplishments. Grades may not be too good a measure of a candidate’s Intelligence Quotient but do show the capacity to work hard and the propensity to reproduce in an examination hall what has been taught in the classroom.

Pedigree does matter, though. Academic institutions have an image which invariably influences thec1 (25) learning outcomes, and thence, the value attached to a candidate’s qualifications.

A candidate who has undergone a standard classroom process gets taken more seriously than one who has been through the distance education mode. However, the advantage of the latter is that the candidate is likely to have a better Emotional Quotient, especially if she has been pursuing a career as well. This improves the adaptability of the employee and indicates better chances of success on the job.

Distance Education: Unique Selling Propositions

The stream of distance education offers several Unique Selling Propositions.

One, the seeker of knowledge is free of the tyranny of the classroom. No more for her the drudgery of listening to endless uninspiring lectures. There is no emphasis on fixed duration, fixed content dosage of a repetitive kind.

Two, a vast majority of those who opt for this stream are already pursuing either a career or another full-time educational endeavour. Upon successful completion, they bring much higher value to a prospective employer.

Three, prior practical experience brings in a level of maturity which helps the aspirant to shore up her Emotional Quotient, besides adding value to her knowledge base. From the point of view of the employer, this is a great value add.

Four, by shifting from the one-size-fits-all modules to flexible and segmented offerings to a career aspirant, the distance mode has the potential of surpassing the learning outcomes of traditional classroom learning as well as those of on-line learning.

When tyranny begets tyranny

Despite these unique features, employers have an in-built bias in favour of the products of the traditional classroom system.

This bias is rooted in the belief that those who have undergone the traditional process have followed a MICROMANAGINGdiscipline of fixed timings and withstood the boredom which goes with repetitiveness. On the other hand, those who have undergone the distance education mode are perceived to have merely wasted their time in worthless pursuits rather than focusing on academic enrichment of their lives.

Managements often believe that employees have to be physically available to them for a certain duration in the day and have to fall in line with the overall discipline of reporting times and a singular absence of check-out times. It is believed that to young ones, all work becomes routine and boring after some time. So, a candidate who has already undergone a possibly boring process might survive better and longer within the organization!

Such mundane considerations end up tilting the recruitment windmills in favour of those who have undergone a classroom stream of regular education. In other words, managements which believe in tyrannical practices at the work place end up reposing their trust and faith in hapless candidates who happen to be the products of yet another tyrannical system.

However, with the focus in the economy shifting from manufacturing to services, work-from-home is becoming a buzz word. This is happening also due to the personality traits of the millenials who are joining the work force, as also due to better availability of internet and connectivity. Better prospects are surely ahead for the stream of distance education.

Distance Education: Challenges

Being an important sub-set of the entire education eco-system, the challenges faced by the Distance Education mode are essentially the same as the ones being faced by the overall education system. Admittedly, there are finer differences which make this mode more susceptible to disruptive changes in the society at large.

The onslaught of technology

The rapid pace at which technology is changing is making the tasks of education and skill developmentinternet image 1 tougher. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is capable of taking on the tasks which require analytical skills. Capgemini, the consulting major, recently decided to replace 40% of its work done by its resource management group with IBM’s cognitive computing system, Watson. This shows that it is just not mechanical or repetitive jobs that are at risk.

Some crystal gazing

By 2025, almost 70% of India’s population is expected to be in the working age group. By then, thanks to AI and robotics, a large chunk of India’s present knowledge economy would have shrunk. As the contours of the new economy emerge, the country’s collective strength would get determined by world-class education. It would no longer be enough to have commerce and engineering students who can write codes. India would need thousands of research scholars who would be capable of critical thought. This work has to start today.

Augmenting ability, not merely certifying it

It is hoped that the forthcoming new educational policy of the country would suitably address the upcoming challenges of the 21st century. This policy needs to focus on enhancing cognitive skills, capacities for critical thinking and innovation. A robust foundation for the future can only be laid by gearing up all streams of education, including that of distance education, to augment cognitive skills and promote out-of-the-box thinking at all levels. Innovation, and research and development need to emerge as the primary goals of the higher education system. The focus of skill development needs to shift to augmenting the ability rather than remaining confined to the task of merely certifying skills.

The three Rs – reading, writing, arithmetic – must continue to form the core of education. Students who learn these must also learn to question and criticize, to think afresh and come up with new paradigms. They can then end up extending AI, rather than just succumbing to its growing prowess.

Meeting the challenges head-on

The feature of contact classes is a crucial one inasmuch as it gives the students a first-hand feel of the03 subject and the teacher an opportunity to engage in a direct interaction with the knowledge seeker. The image of the institute gets burnished. So does the quality of skills being imparted.

Enriching the contact element

The approach in future needs to be to enrich this feature even further. Tie ups with local professionals who are adept at imparting the kind of skills the industry looks for is a sure way to be one-up on the on-line courses. Students can obviously be given a basket of courses to choose from. Additional fee can be charged from those who wish to also take up an intensive communication or leadership course.

Another way to enrich this feature is to make management games, case studies and role-playing as essential elements of contact classes. An internship with a local business, under the guidance of a faculty member, can help the student hone her industrial skills and also add value to her curriculum vitae.

Segmented and specialized offerings

For those taking up courses related to travel and hospitality management, foreign language courses can be offered on an optional basis. Visits to local businesses and an apprenticeship with these could improve the Employability Quotient in a significant manner.

Quite a few vocational skills can be brought under the domain of distance education. This would be a great value add to the employment eco-system. Elementary IT skills, if imparted as a part of the academic offering, can surely help.

Adaptive learning: a flexible way forward

Adaptive learning views attainment of competency as its central goal, the duration of learning being

Squatting Scribe

Squatting Scribe

largely irrelevant. It recognizes that each knowledge seeker is unique and needs a tailor-made basket of courses which, if completed successfully, would make her a productive member of the society. Admittedly, this necessitates a common entry-level screening, which is simple and which gauges the capabilities of the incoming students at the entry-level and then offers them a route which makes them reach their career goals in the shortest possible time.

An industry interface

Distance education institutions which offer career counseling services and have full-time placement executives on board have a definite edge over those who neglect this vital last-mile connectivity

between the employers and the prospective employees.

By adding video sessions covering chats on important subjects with industry leaders, placement officers can add much value to the overall learning of the students. This is especially true of management courses where practical experience matters much more than the knowledge of theoretical formulae and concepts.

The need to reinvent distance education

Albert Einstein famously quipped that insanity is the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that yardstick, if educationists persist in their belief that continuing with the traditional paradigm of distance education would be a panacea for India’s deepening youth skill crisis, it would amount to insanity!

The need of the hour is to reinvigorate and reinvent this crucial stream of education. A new paradigmpondy-univ-emblem needs to emerge. This paradigm needs to be based on the challenges of the 21st century. By substantially enriching the learning process alone can one hope to see India capitalizing on its demographic dividend. We are perhaps about to miss the bus already. The time to bring about this change starts now.

(A paper presented at the National Conference on Distance Education in India: Emerging Challenges and Prospects, organized by the Directorate of Distance Education, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry, India, on September 8th and 9th, 2016)

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