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Archive for the ‘Skilling the Young’ Category

(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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Respected Madam,

As a pro-active Education Minister, you surely wish to leave a distinguished mark on the history of educational reforms in India. Permit me to share with you some broad areas which you may find relevant.

1. Re-engineering our education system 

India no longer needs to produce only administrators, followers and executors. She also needs innovators. She needsMay 2014 033 people who can think big. Those who can think out-of-the-box and can come up with novel solutions to her unique set of problems. She deserves a system which places less emphasis on rote and more on development of creative faculties.

2. Doing away with the ‘centum’ craze

We need to offer an eco-system which does away with the mind-numbing race to score higher and higher marks. These days, if a student manages to secure 99% either in languages or in any stream of humanities, we are led to wonder if the testing system itself is credible.

3. Excelling in research, avoiding re-search

Let the institutions of higher learning focus on teaching and research. An over-emphasis on organizing seminars and other extra-curricular activities is leading to a situation where the core job of faculty – teaching and research – is getting diluted. The fact that not a single Indian institution of higher learning figures in the list of top 200 universities prepared by The Times Higher Education Supplement makes one pause and think.

4. Credits are good, monochromatic mediocrity is not

The proposed Choice Based Credit System is commendable, but makes better sense at the post-graduate level. What we do not need is a monochromatic and mediocre spectrum of higher education which spoils the beauty that India innately is – diverse and federal. Let the autonomy remain and even be encouraged. Institutions of higher learning need to excel in their respective domains; to do so, they need autonomy. Standardization across the country is an idea which could be allowed to rest in peace.

Thiruvalluvar

Thiruvalluvar

5. Values, ethics and morals

We need citizens who not only demand rights but also respect and discharge their own obligations. One of the goals we need to have is to blend the material and the spiritual. Courses which propagate higher values, ethics and morals need to be designed and offered. Scriptures from various religions are a repository of great wisdom. Great seers and thinkers like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo have left behind a rich legacy of concepts and thoughts. We need to encourage institutions which can translate and communicate these in a relevant and effective manner to the youth of today.

6. Educated in India

In an increasingly globalized world, the need is to attract Ivy League institutions and true blue academicians to India. Policies need to be announced to attract some of our best minds into teaching and research. Schemes need to be devised to ensure that our teachers are motivated better. An open-minded policy on foreign languages would help the youth connect better with the world. Much like our mission to ‘Make in India’, let us strive to create a brand ‘Educated in India’. Let India become the hub of higher learning in the Asian region yet again and regain its past glory.

7. Goals are found, means need to follow

As a percentage to GDP, India spends less than 3.5% on education. This will not do. Revamping the conceptual infrastructure of the education system is as critical to the long-term growth of India as the creation of physical infrastructure is. What we sow now, our coming generations shall reap. Objectives of our educational infrastructure cannot be fulfilled only by an increasing participation of the private sector. Funding for education deserves to be accorded a higher priority.

I submit the above with all humility at my command. I do hope these would get considered and a due diligence carried out by subject experts on your panel. Discussions with major stakeholders would ensure that a radically new education policy is announced soon. The future of India is in your capable hands.

Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to participate in a discussion of this nature.

An ordinary citizen of India

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/enriching-our-management-education-further

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/degrees-of-separation)

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The recent collapse of the 144-year old Mairie at Pondicherry has raised a basic question – can the stream of Civil Engineering be re-engineered to include a specialization in heritage structures?Mairie hall b4 collapse

Since the advent of civilization, humanity has attempted and perfected the art of building magnificent structures. The pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the Brahideeswara Temple and the Taj Mahal in India are some of the outstanding examples of craftsmanship, architectural design and structural robustness.

Much before the modern stream of civil engineering came up, structures which are labeled as heritage ones today came up. The discipline of civil engineering has evolved over the last 150 years or so. Many advances have been made in building technology and materials. However, what has perhaps not progressed much is the capability of the so-called modern-day civil engineer to understand the basic science and technology of building structures in the past. This has led to a situation whereby assessment and certification of the structural stability of a heritage structure has become a highly subjective area. Called upon to do so by governments and other organizations, a vast majority amongst us are rendered clueless. Gizah_Pyramids

We apply criteria which appear to be untenable. We try to assess the structural stability of a building based on the clouded vision of our own education and experience over the years. In many cases, it proves to be an educated guess which, to the outside world, sounds like an ‘expert’ opinion. The result is often disastrous. Buildings certified to be ‘safe’ by some of us collapse like a house of cards, unable as they are to face the fury of nature at some point in time.

Let us not rush to blame our education system and our academicians for this drawback. Perhaps the fault lies more in our attitude and mindset. Sure enough, there is a serious deficiency in the tools, techniques and tests that we apply to assess the robustness of a heritage structure. Great_Wall

Even at the risk of appearing to be digressing from the main subject, let us draw a parallel from the field of medicine. How do we judge the level of sickness of a patient? Once we ascertain the extent of the ailment, we are in a better position to prescribe a cure for the hapless patient. If allopathy offers a wide array of diagnostic tools, we are surely wise to use the same. But when it comes to medication, allopathy may perhaps end up treating only the symptoms. A real cure may come only from an alternative system of medicine, say, from ayurveda, homeopathy, etc.

In a similar vein, when we apply the modern-day tests and techniques to ascertain the stability of a heritage structure, we get good information. But what we lack is an ‘alternate’ stream of civil engineering which would provide a cure for the ailing structure. Brihadeeswara_temple_Thanjavur

The challenge before us today is to develop an alternate stream of this exalted branch of engineering. What we need to undertake is an in-depth research project which would apply modern-day techniques to heritage structures the world over. Obviously, this has to be done in a non-destructive manner. Right from the structures which came into being more than 5,000 years back to the ones which were built just 150 years back, we need to understand their structural elements, their materials and their building techniques which have gone into making them withstand not only the vagaries of nature but also the abuse by people over centuries.Taj_Mahal

This alone can help us to develop our in-depth understanding of the art and science of heritage structures. A global research project of this nature, if taken up, would help us to re-engineer and reform our present day stream of civil engineering. By bringing in a specialization in heritage structures, we shall lay the foundation of an alternate stream of knowledge.

This would ensure that future civil engineers would be better prepared to assess the stability of priceless heritage structures which have survived so far. This would also ensure their being able to prescribe ways in which the longevity of such structures could be improved upon. Such structures would then be preserved for posterity, enabling our coming generations to marvel at their beauty, aesthetics and stability.

(Thoughts of Mr A K Das, a prominent expert in the realm of Civil Engineering; images courtesy Wikipedia)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/the-soul-of-mairie-speaks)

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Ever imagined living in a fairy land where all those you happen to know are smart, living their lives to the hilt? They could be visiting exotic locales, celebrating career achievements and other events in their lives, or simply having a blast. The sun is always shining, the flowers are forever in bloom, the birds are incessantly twittering and the bees are invariably busy collecting nourishment from delicate flowers. In other words, God is always in heaven and all is well with the world.internet image 1

In this land, the sky is never overcast. The harsh arrows and slings of life simply do not exist. No one ever falls sick. A business loss or a career setback never appears on the horizon. There are no villains around. Parents find that kids throw no tantrums. All denizens behave in an exemplary fashion. Everybody likes everybody else. Spirits are all buoyed up, what with people making positive comments only.

Yes, I am talking about our social networking platforms. It is mostly about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Face Book, LinkedIn, Instagram, Four Square – all showcase the ultimate in the art of narcissism. We upload all the positive happenings in our lives. We wish to announce to the world that we have finally arrived. When it comes to playing the game called life, we are smart.

Only our accomplishments get announced to the netizens. We want everyone to know what a great time we are having. Intimate feelings which we feel shy to convey either face to face or over phone we pour out to those in our network. Just-married couples exchange love messages over it. Fathers have a purely personal discussion with their sons on such platforms.

Why does this happen? Why do we choose to live in a fish bowl? Have we all become addicts to a virtual bliss which shuts out the real world? Why is it that before we reach out to our morning cup of tea we prefer to browse through our smart phone or laptop, just to check how many ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ we have received on what we posted last? Our mood fluctuates much like the Dow Jones index, depending upon the sheer volume and quality of response our posts generate. Walking to catch the metro, or talking to a colleague, we make a virtue out of checking the status on such platforms at regular intervals.

Perhaps, the answer lies in our need to seek wider approval for our actions. Or, we find ourselves so lonely that we are desperate to connect with someone out there. If so, perhaps the loneliness arises out of our increasing sense of isolation in the society. Possibly, we like only ourselves.internet image

Movies, television and other forms of entertainment offer us a willing suspension of belief. With social networking, we have found a better means of achieving this state of transient bliss. We wish the world to know only what we believe it should know about us.

Anything negative happening to us we would like to sweep it below the carpet. It is like an extended dating trip in life, where we project our best at all times. We have to be presentable at all times. We also have to be politically and socially correct all the times. Our ugliness, warts and all, need not be shared with those who form our universe of ‘friends’.

It is not my case that social networking is utterly useless. It is helpful in so many ways. It helps us to discover and remain connected to distant friends and relatives. But there are limitations as to how we have chosen to use these powerful tools.

Nor am I trying to say that details which could jeopardize our career prospects or hurt someone else need to be shared. If a medical emergency gets posted online, instant help could follow. If an assignment is getting too hot to handle, advice could come in from distant quarters. In the long run, our not-so-glamorous side could also become a part of our public profile. The fact that we can seek help openly would show us to be professionals who are humble and willing to learn. The caring and sharing part of our personality would also emerge.

In blogsville, we do find people sharing their traumatic experiences, but not so on social networking sites. Don’t you think it is high time we thought of developing a protocol which would be like, say, ‘Truth and Dare’ on such sites? Those who join this group would undertake to be truthful to each other about what is happening in their lives.internet image 2

A better level of frankness and openness could prevail. The level of hypocrisy could come down, thereby increasing our capacity to devote ourselves to more creative pursuits. A more balanced profile could emerge. Our strengths as well as our weaknesses would show up. An HR manager who interviews one of us after having gone through our Face Book or LinkedIn profile would no longer need to ask the question we dread the most: “What are your strengths and weaknesses, please?”

Afraid of losing friends and assignments this way? Fret not. Only those who like you and your work genuinely would get in touch. Others would fall by the wayside over a period of time. You would be left behind with a shorter list of ‘friends’ who would prove to be more loyal in the long run.

Are you game? Would you like to give a more balanced spin to your online profile?

What do you think of being part of a group which could be christened as SPIN – the Society for Prevention of Internet Narcissism? Would you prefer to be counted as the smartest one?!

Related posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/of-nomophobia-and-noconnphobia; https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/why-become-a-slave-to-technology.

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To a carefree student’s life we shall soon be giving a goodbye kiss,
The freedom, the intimate friends, we are surely going to miss.

The Alma Mater gave us a wide canvas to work upon, to forge a bond that binds,
Filling up the colors of skills and knowledge in the blank recesses of our minds.

Friendships and bonds form a rainbow which shall remain with us through our life,
Journeying through gushing mountain streams of joy or sand dunes of strife.

The values we cherish and imbibe, of what is wrong and what is right,
Handling challenges that come our way, with all our grit, tact, charm and might.

We have had great rollicking times together, full of pranks, laughter and fun,
Spiced with a dash of arguments, tiffs and then quick patch-ups on the run.

One loves to dance, tease the boys and do flavor hukkah,
Extra hot spicy food is her favorite, she is full of vim and chutzpah.

Another digs speeding cars, gorges on ice cream and spicy veg roll,
Hanging out with buddies in malls and lounges, life for her is on the roll.

Our baggage of memory shall carry several strings of intricately woven moments,
Under a star sprangled sky, the valley of memories like an array of well-lit tents.

When depressed, some memories shall cheer us up, some buried under time’s lid,
Some we may laugh off, wondering why we were childlike, reacting the way we did.

All of us have dreams in our minds, aspirations to fulfill, goals to be met,
Going in different ways, our special bonds we shall never be able to forget.

The twists and turns of life may not allow us to meet or talk for a long long time,
But an underground cable connection shall always exist, selfless friendship sublime.

On the highway of life, at each turn we shall meet new people and make friends,
Our depth of understanding and mutual admiration shall beat any negative trends.

Were our paths to cross and one were to feign not knowing the other,
The other one shall empathize and understand the compulsions, not to bother.

For ties which bind for a life time, social norms permit men to retain these with felicity,
For the delicately nurtured, it is more of a challenge, but surely not beyond their capacity.

(Composed at the behest of a young one about to finish his college studies very soon)

http://suzie81speaks.com/2014/05/18/weekly-word-challenge-friendship/

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Sir Wilhelm Rontgen, I have just started my career in a large company. I am clueless how to understand the real motives of Scientist Roentgenpeople around me. There is no correlation between what they say and what they actually do.

Try to tune your mind to frequencies ranging from 30 peta-hertz to 30 exa-hertz and just X-ray their minds. You will then be able to understand people better. Putting yourself in their shoes (or sandals, if you prefer), finding about their family backgrounds and upbringing, discovering the underground cable connections they have within the company you have just joined, et al, are all inputs which would help you to understand them at a deeper level.

Use your common sense and intuitive insight to peep into people’s minds, much like the way my X-rays do for the physical body. If you take people around you at face value, you will always feel betrayed and cheated. This, in turn, could lead to a lower morale, thereby stunting your career growth.

As a brilliant student, your IQ supported you well. Once you start working, your EQ levels would help you better. Once you rise to higher levels in the hierarchy, your SQ would come in handy.

Madam Marie Curie, my boss is very aggressive. He keeps announcing new meetings which do not take place after the first Scientist Marie_Curiefew sessions. When I propose an idea, he shoots it down. Six months later, same idea becomes his idea, when it gets implemented.  

Handling an aggressive boss is just like handling radioactive isotopes. You are right that their ideas have a half life of their own. Once the initial enthusiasm has died down, the ideas just fizzle out. The good news is that they keep introducing newer ideas and isotopes in the system, so the excitement never ceases.

By closely watching his behavior over a long period of time, you can surely surmise the general decay time of his proposals. This would help you to learn to tackle him effectively. Once in a while, when you are sure of your stand with which he disagrees, look him in the eye and tell him so. Like a goblet of mercury, he may roll off in a different direction and eventually get persuaded to change the direction of his thought processes.

Once in a while, recharge yourself by looking out from your office window and simply admiring nature. All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child…it was like a new world opened to me,…which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.

Respected Mr. Albert Einstein, is your Theory of Relativity applicable in an office setting? I am about to take up a new job and need your advice. Please elaborate without equations, because I am not a mathematics wizard like you.

Yes, several facets of my theory are highly relevant in the work place. Here are some examples:

  • Let me tell you something that your management text books do not speak of. There is an upper limit to your career progression in a company. Scientist Albert_EinsteinJust like light cannot travel beyond a certain speed, you can expect to get promotions only till the time you reach your level of incompetence. Thereafter, you can either decide to relax and just take it easy, or switch to another frame of reference (read organization). If I had continued my stint at the Swiss Patent Office, you would have never heard of me, right?
  • Every organization is uniquely configured. It follows that their frames of reference are never the same. What works well in one need not work well in another. When you take up a new assignment, spend your honeymoon period understanding their value system and their frame of reference. No one would mind answering any of your questions then. To borrow a term from modern management language, a change of job is like a ‘paradigm shift’!
  • Once the honeymoon period is over, the focus would shift to your performance. Here, my equation between Energy, Mass and the Speed of Light could come in handy. Always remember that your ‘E’ (Energy and  Enthusiasm) to perform a task is equal to the product of ‘m’ (mental peace) and ‘c’ squared, where ‘c’ stands for mental and physical capacity. When you achieve a better work-life balance, you improve your inner peace, as well as your capacity to do things.
  • Above all, remember that Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere. Best of luck!

Sir Isaac Newton, my weakness lies in not being able to handle people. They do not always agree to what I say. Can your Laws of Motion help in any way?   

For your benefit, let me reinterpret my own laws in this way:

  • The Law of Inertia: If you have a category X employee, he/she will act only when told to do so by you. If he/she has Scientist IsaacNewton-1689been told to perform a task, it will continue to get done ad nauseum until instructed to stop. The law applies to zombies who roam about the work place like headless chickens. Get rid of your team members who fall in this category. Try to become a Y type employee yourself and lead your team out of inertia.
  • Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration. For people, Mass denotes their ego level and seniority in the company. The higher the ego/level, the more the force required to get a person to do the work speedily. You may not be able to directly ask your boss to move faster on a project. Probably, you have to get his boss to drop enough hints so your boss catches up speed. Sure enough, you are clever enough to get your boss’ boss in the loop without getting caught doing so, right?!
  • You are already aware that any action results into an equal and opposite reaction. If you praise someone in public and rebuke him in private, he would pay you back in the same coin. When your pet employee – so lovingly groomed by you over the years – decides to leave the company, you have the option of treating him well. This way, he becomes your company’s employment ambassador outside and may even rejoin you after some time!
  • Don’t forget to ask your immediate boss what he thinks of this. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Here is wishing you the very best in all spheres of your life!

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It pains me to see Delhi University getting dragged into a controversy over its proposed four-year undergraduate program. Its graduate degrees are henceforth meant to be different, introducing academic separation of a different kind. 0002 (58)

I walked out of the hallowed precincts of Delhi University (DU) close to forty years back. However, the attachment with the Alma Mater remains as strong as ever. Warm memories of the carefree days spent at DU long time back come flooding back. 

A Touch of Nostalgia

I have fond memories of evenings when the mess-y food provided in the hostel mess motivated us to saunter across to nearby Kamala Nagar market. When it came to nourishment for keeping our bodies and souls together, piping hot chhole-bhatoore, or the modest aloo-tikki and samosas were always rated better than the tepid and monotonous fare dished out at the hostel.

Much before Munna Bhai reinvented Gandhi-giri, the hostel food taught us rich lessons in civil disobedience. A day came when we could no longer bear to even look at – let alone gobble up – the all-potato meals served day after day. A huge container went around the dining tables of the hostel mess. All potatoes one could lay one’s hands on got piled up in the container. The Mess Manager was promptly called in, garlanded, applauded and presented with the container overflowing with potatoes of all shapes and sizes. With a sheepish grin on his pock-marked face, he quickly withdrew to the safety of his store-room. 0002 (64)

Our college used to be derisively referred to as a ‘brahmachari’ college those days. As aspiring pseudo-ornithologists, we had to find some solace in whatever ‘bird-watching’ we could accomplish – either while walking to and from the main University Campus, or in the course of our evening snack-athons in Kamala Market. However, once we completed our academic sojourn and departed, the authorities thought it safe enough to make the college a co-educational institution!

The cafeteria on the main campus was a breeding ground for proponents of communist as well as capitalist ideologists. Traits of professors were discussed threadbare, as also top news of the day. Impromptu gatherings in the lawns led to much singing talent getting discovered, what with movie songs of Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar getting belted out with gay abandon.

Come monsoon time and young men’s fancy would lightly turn to thoughts of love. Lover’s Lane used to suddenly get more traffic than it could possibly handle. When a member of our group started dating a smart class fellow regularly, some turned green with envy whereas others started entertaining romantic thoughts of the unilateral kind.   0002 (12) 

Lessons in chivalry were yet to be learnt. Money supply for those residing in hostels was erratic and woefully inadequate, so it was common to see day-scholar sweethearts graciously footing the coffee and dosa bills. While passing through a door, it was never a custom to hold it open for the accompanying female. Holding a chair for a female companion was never heard of. Luckily, the fairer amongst us were equally un-initiated, so no one seemed to mind such indiscretions.

Classes were invariably a serious affair, followed by feverish exchanges of hand written notes and of text books sourced from various quarters. The studious types were obliged to take separate ‘classes’ in their hostel rooms, so the not-so-serious types could pursue their hobbies without missing out much on the academic front. During examination times, it was pretty common to see the brainy ones going through bulky text books cleverly concealed within the covers of the latest Batman comic. 0002 (83)

Other than academic accomplishments, we could forge long-lasting bonds of friendship. One is now a successful entrepreneur while another rose to dizzying heights in the realm of banking. Another one is now at a very senior position with one of India’s largest business houses. Yet another one enriched the IAF with his dedication and continues his romance with cloud-computing, though not of the IT kind. One went on to become the Director Finance in one of the leading airlines in India. Another one has made it big in the IT sector, whereas several others have excelled in such diverse fields as pure sciences, law and order and even in international diplomacy.

Innovation and Isolated Glory

Allow me to come back to DU’s attempt to innovate its graduate degree course. Sure enough, it sounds like a good step. However, the apparent absence of academic refinements and adequate discussion with faculty, prospective students and with other stakeholders is discouraging. Quite possibly, DU would start churning out youngsters who would be more ‘marketable’. But the prospective employers are sure to be twiddling their thumbs in anxiety, trying to cope with an unpredictable quality of performance.

There is a long and justifiable debate on encouraging real innovation in higher education in India. One of the major goals is to demolish the strict boundaries between various disciplines and allow students to choose a mix of as diverse streams of learning as, say, Physics and Fine Arts. The real test of the proposed system would lie in ensuring that each student can grow as per his/her individual aptitude. That would be the only way to harness the innate potential of the youth of today, thereby increasing their contribution to society at large. Macaulay

I believe the basic innovation we need in the area of higher education is that of ridding it of Lord Macaulay’s legacy. We need to hone the entrepreneurial skills of the young, so they could transform India economically.

The Indian system of higher education boasts of over 600 university-level institutions and more than 36,000 colleges. Any reform must therefore address three basic issues: standardization across the country, parity between different centers of learning and vertical as well as lateral mobility of students. In the absence of these features, DU may merely end up basking in its isolated glory.

Here is hoping that wider consultations will take place before an academic reform of the kind proposed gets implemented. A prestigious entity like DU can ill afford to have several degrees of separation between itself and other institutions of higher learning in India.

 

 

 

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