Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Education of India

Jawaharlal Nehru had a great vision when he established IIM – to have managers who can build the country. Management is an important function for any organization. Simply put, it is responsible for making all employees deliver and stay satisfied. Throughout our country, the idea of universal education has arrived. You hear no argument against education these days. An illiterate person is as well invested as the business tycoon in his child’s education. But the idea of how to provide an excellent education is in progress. The customers are ready. The system is not. Nobody knows how to really fix our education system. We do have great teachers but we really have no nation-wide management education in the field of education. As a country, we really are not focusing on leaders for managing school system.

In the 19th century, when education system was being developed and we had got great universities all throughout the world, its priority was to prepare children for jobs that Industrial revolution offered. So, mathematics and languages were at the top and then somewhere down below were humanities, sports and arts. The emphasis has always been to develop only one side of brain. It is worth mentioning about KIPP charter schools in United States here. By extending the school day till 5 in the evening, they have been able to give emphasis not on side of the brain but to the entire body of each student. They have taken responsibility of Arts as well as Humanities as well as Sports. KIPP students dance and draw and skate as much as they do Math and English. Their focus is still to have children from low-income communities complete their college degree but they have stronger focus on building character of their students. They are able to build character by focusing and taking responsibility of overall development of student’s mind and body. Interestingly when KIPP schools analyzed the data, the KIPP alumni who were more academically accomplished at KIPP have higher drop-out rates from college then their less academically successful KIPP colleagues. The less academically accomplished KIPP colleagues who did not drop out were higher on character traits. This is a very interesting evidence of where the focus of our education system should be and what really matters. When I visited one of the uncommon schools in US in December, I found silent recess. Nobody talks while eating. Usually, we say recess is the time when kids are interacting and having fun. So, lunch breaks are chaos. But because KIPP is able to give time for interactions all throughout the day. Therefore, they can afford a silent recess. It is no different than what an Indian saint would recommend – keep your 100% focus on task-in-hand. Have you ever seen a recess in India like that except at Ashrams? We have all the best practices in the world but we do not have wisdom to use that wisdom.

India once had a great education system. Our Vedas and Upanishads were never written for centuries. Students sat at their Guru’s feet and would know Vedas and Upanishads word-by-word and that too in one of the most difficult languages of all - Sanskrit. The teacher did not need a flyer or a handout or a textbook. Did those people have stronger character or memorization?

The Guru’s word was everything and Guru had all answers. In turn, his teachings and discipline would make the student a wise soul. All throughout the history and mythology, we had clear examples of cases when Guru would ask the students to do as difficult things to stand on one foot for years and the student did without speck of self-doubt. Today, even the best management teacher could ask student at IIM to become an entrepreneur and he would be more likely to have self-doubts to begin with.

I have bunch of friends who are graduating from top-MBA colleges of India. I ask them if they think that their management education has prepared them to be a world-class leader. Not single one of them answered in affirmative and in fact added that they do not see themselves ready for picking even one cause of the Nation. The doubts are not because of the magnitude of challenges that each cause of our Nation presents. The doubts are because as soon as they entered the elite-MBA schools of India, they figured out all that everybody cares about is getting the job in the following year. The ends of getting the job have become much more important than the means of becoming leaders in our management schools. The mindset to become a leader is clearly missing. We have clearly undermined what Jawaharlal Nehru had aspired our management education to do.

Indians, bounded by Himalayans at North and a mighty ocean at South had always been explorer of inside. That is in our blood. Pick country-wise average GMAT scores. Or pick religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism. We were able to give so many religions to the world because we looked inside. As evident from my own life, I teach in a school where children have not been in mainstream education for past 13 years of their life. I teach them as hard thing as Atomicity and they make it a cakewalk. I have felt underprepared and under-resourced in front of them several times in past six months. And have recently came to a very strong realization of my own fault – my focus has been in teaching knowledge. I am trying to make my students those KIPP academically accomplished Alumni who may not complete college even after getting admitted.

I want to draw out several conclusions from my arguments above –
1) India had a great education system once which prepared men of character and ethical purity
2)  We Indians are people of exceptional intelligence but without the skills of using that intelligence.
3) KIPP’s focus on education is same as our great Indian education system had, but with the technical and management expertise on helping children find right vocation for themselves.
4)We need to bring into our education system - from primary education to higher education that kind of focus and discipline as our education system had, combining with the management expertise of US charter schools.
5) Skills are more important than knowledge. Asking the interviewee what is pragma does not make him better qualified than somebody who has will and wisdom to find that answer. Our assessments should test whether the individual knows how to fish rather than what is fish. If we teach students skills, we ensure to make them independent and confident individuals. To be honest, Google is going to stay. Knowledge is not difficult to acquire. Give people leadership skills or skills to complete college. That happens when we internalize these skills in the students.

From being a class teacher of 2nd graders to teaching street children in a Juvenile home, I have graduated to see our Education system from a bird's eye view. I have tried to give words to my thoughts. I have a vision that I want to work for. A vision I never had for past 26 years of my life.