Friday, December 23, 2011

Announcing the launch of Skill Train India in Hindi

With nearly 70% of the Indian population speaking Hindi, our national language it was only imperative that a blog in Hindi would reach out to a larger population and benefit an even larger number of people than an English blog. So, I am glad to announce the launch of the Hindi version of the Skill Train India blog. This blog can be accessed at Skill Train India Hindi

Do share it with all your friends and spread the word around!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Announcing my new blog: Skill Train India

I am glad to announce the launch of my new blog titled: Skill Train India

I have been thinking about starting this blog for a long time. After closely working with learners ranging from school dropouts to working professionals, I felt that there is a strong need for a guiding light that could help learners from all walks of life clear the dense fog of the career maze. I am starting this blog today, to purely address this need.

Do I know enough to offer career guidance? I don't claim to know it all! But, I am going to count on many of you - my mentors, my teachers, my colleagues (and ex-colleagues), my batch-mates, my friends, my family and my students - to make this blog a meaningful one for those who need career guidance. I envision this blog to be a dialogue of sorts between those who have 'been there, done that' and those who 'want to be there and do that'! For all those who wanted to contribute towards helping me in my educational social entrepreneurship assignments, I appeal to you to share your thoughts on this blog. You never know - one statement of yours on this blog can probably have a profound life-changing impact on some student somewhere in the world. 

Every day, I intend to post a guidance note. I would like to call each one a lamp post! I intend each lamp post to dispel some darkness related to career. Initially, I would keep them focused on undergraduate & post graduate students but subsequently, I intend to include early career guidance to working professionals too. If you find the lamp posts useful or if you feel that these lamp posts can dispel the darkness caused by career confusion in somebody's life, I earnestly urge you to share them freely. You never know - one 'share' (be it facebook, linkedin, google + or digg) from you can make a world of difference to some student.

Comments and feedback are always welcome. But what I would like to see more of is contradicting view points. There are no right or wrong answers in this world. Everything depends on the perspective in which you see an incidence. I am not here to claim what I know or profess to be the only solution. What I am writing here is based purely on my personal experiences and hence based on a particular perspective. I firmly believe that there are other perspectives too and I urge you to share these contradictions openly. You never know - one contradicting view point from you can offer a better choice to some student.

I dedicate this blog as a step towards achieving one of my dreams - a dream to see a truly skilled India where everyone chooses a career out of passion rather than of compulsion; because only then can excellence become a habit in this truly disruptive age! I dedicate this blog to building a skilled nation!

Are you with me in this nation building exercise?

Click here to visit the Skill Train India Blog

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where the mind is without fear…

Rabindranath Tagore
I bet you must have thought about Rabindranath Tagore when you read the title of this post! If you did not, then you probably did not attend a school in India! I am indeed referring to the famous poem by Rabindranath Tagore from his most famous work 'Gitanjali' published in 1912. This is more a prayer than a poem to me and this has been playing in my mind for the past few days. With my limited memory power, I could only remember the first two lines and the last line (which is what most people remember). Hence, today, I decided to read through the entire poem to see if there is a new meaning in it; if there is a different perspective to the whole poem. The poem was no doubt a vision for the India that Tagore envisioned and it was quite apt during the pre-independence circumstances. Reading through the poem now, I see an even higher degree of relevance of the poem today. I tried looking at it from an education perspective in today’s new digital world and I am amazed at how relevant this poem is even today. Take a look!

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

One of the most important success factors for life is to not have a fear of failure. If you look at any great achiever, every one of them has tried many things before becoming successful; every one of them has gone through failures before they tasted success. Trials and tribulations are part of life and only they can lead to success. As Edison said after inventing the light bulb – “I did not fail – I just learned 999 ways on how not to make a light bulb!”

However, the Indian education system instills exactly the opposite in every Indian student – a fear of failure. I am amazed at how the fear of failure is religiously taught to every child right since the kindergarten. As a child, most of us are born fearless; we do not mind trying out something new; we try and experiment with anything that ignites our curiosity; we do not know whether it is useful or harmful but we still try it. In short, as children, we are not afraid of failures.

The problem begins when we start schooling! The school and even the family system instills this fear of failure in every one of us; we are afraid of failure in our school exams; we are afraid of failures in entrance examinations; we are afraid of failures in assignments, projects, activities; the list is endless. More than fear of failure, we develop an even worse fear – the fear of being wrong. By admonishing any failure, the education system further alienates us from any creativity. Because you are afraid of failures, you progressively stop doing things differently; you stop trying new things; you inhibit your creativity! As a result, most of us end up as average employees all our life, afraid to take risks and afraid to go that extra mile that can differentiate us from mediocrity to excellence. I am sure many of you can relate to what I am writing about!

Now, the first statement of Tagore’s poem sounds so relevant! As long as our minds are with fear, our heads can never be held high. This is a clarion call to ensure that we do not let our kids go through the same. Encourage them to experiment; let them end in failures; do not punish them or ridicule them; do not force your ideas and thoughts on them; let them develop their own view of the world; let them try and be what THEY want and not what YOU want them to be! India will then definitely be a better place.

Where knowledge is free

Knowledge must be affordable; much better if it is free. Thanks to the internet technologies, the world is increasingly moving towards an open knowledge society. Google and Wikipedia must have educated more people than the combined number of people all the world’s Universities educate. Knowledge is no more measured by the number of books you have read but by the amount of gigabytes of data you have browsed on your computer. We are in the midst of an unprecedented digital revolution and this is just the beginning.

Thanks to advancing mobile technology and the reducing costs, I will not be surprised if 5 to 7 years down the line people learn primarily through mobiles, anytime anywhere. In fact, such a possibility already exists in several developed countries. Several such initiatives are already underway in India too. With so much information and knowledge available in the digital world, Tagore’s vision of knowledge being free is closer to reality than ever before.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls

The internet and other media technologies have made nation’s borders irrelevant. We are living in a borderless world where exchange of information and knowledge is much easier and faster than ever before. Global research projects that transgress multiple national borders are the order of the day. Student and faculty exchanges across various Universities around the globe happen regularly. Thanks to advancing telecommunication and educational technology, a professor sitting in his house anywhere in the world can address students simultaneously across all 7 continents. Education has truly become global and soon learning too will become universal.

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Free and true knowledge must also lead to greater transparency. Today’s world is obsessed with transparency and demands it from every aspect of public service. In the absence of transparency, we have a Wikileaks to source and publish this information. If such free knowledge and transparency helps in improving processes and public services, then they must be welcomed. Truth, however bitter, must be welcomed and accepted.

The world is undoubtedly worried about the growing number of scandals that have happened due to unethical practices. In response, educational institutions, especially b-schools are taking a deeper look at their curriculum to incorporate better business ethics components. It is not just business schools, but the entire education system across the globe that must delve into its teaching curriculum and methodology to ensure that ethics is not just taught as a drab subject named “Moral Science” or “Business Ethics” but is actively practiced by the students. Only then can ‘words come out from the depth of truth’! 

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

The word ‘perfection’ reminds me about the 1986 Ron Howard Movie - “Gung Ho”. It is a must-watch movie for business school students and people who work across cultures. The movie vividly portrays the challenges of cross-cultural communication through interactions between a Japanese management and an American work force. One of the highlights of Japanese culture is their willingness and ability to strive for perfection in whatever they produce. They will never give up until they have the perfect product and that is precisely why Japanese products are much superior world over.

It is ideally this level of perfection that Indian educational institutions must strive for. Educational institutions have a direct role to play in nation building. If Indian educational institutions strive tirelessly to shape each student to become a world class product, then excellence becomes a habit and not an exception.

For the younger generation, aiming for perfection must be a skill that must be taught at home and at school. The infamously Indian “chalta hai” attitude will not “chalega anymore”! Work with your kids to teach them perfection in whatever they do. This has to be imbibed right since early childhood if we intend to prepare India to lead the world. 

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

I recently read a note on the management guru Tom Peters' blog about the inability of Asians to develop creativity in their kids whereas the Americans find it difficult to suppress their child's creativity. He also goes on to mention this as the reason why America has produced so many entrepreneurs and Nobel Prize winners compared to Asia. I am not sure if he includes India in his reference to Asians but I was surely shocked!  Keeping all subjectivity aside, I wondered if there is an iota of truth in his statement.

In India, learning by rote (also called learning by heart, mugging up, memorizing etc.) is a very common practice with schools and children. Even now my Mom ridicules me about my habit of memorizing solutions to Mathematics problems during my school days. Honestly, our school system encouraged rote learning and left very little for application and creativity. 

You disagree? Let me test you!

Answer the following question. You have 30 seconds. You are driving down the road. At a traffic signal, the red light blinks once in every 2 seconds; the yellow light blinks once in every 3 seconds and the green light blinks once in every 5 seconds. The question: In a minute, how many times will they blink together? If you have the answer, post it in the comments section first. Then, come back to read the rest of this post. If you don’t have the answer, continue reading. 

Now let me ask you another question. What is the Lowest Common Multiple (LCM) of 2, 3 and 5?

Between these two questions, I bet most of you answered the second question easily. Some of you may also have realized that the first question and the second question are similar except that the first one is application based whereas the second one is concept based. You may also treat this as a logical googly question: how can all three lights in a traffic signal glow together?

Unfortunately, many graduate students in India can neither solve it right nor figure out the googly in this question. Our schools have taught them the concepts well but have not trained them enough on applications. In other words, they have all learnt something that they neither know how to use nor where to use! This is possibly a reason why many students do not do well in research and business. Research and business, as you would agree, requires enormous amount of application of concepts and that ability is unfortunately missing in many of India’s graduate students.

Institutions must review their curriculum and explore possibilities of incorporating a great deal of application orientation. For the number of PhDs that India produces, we must be developing enormous research insights that can have a phenomenal impact on several sectors. The absence of such an impact only confirms the poor quality of PhD research that is currently underway in Indian Universities. Such a system does not augur well for the development of Indian academia.

Tagore’s statement is a warning bell for educational institutions. Such focus on rote learning without any application orientation across educational institutions will only bury the future generations in the dreary desert sand of dead habits. As parents, we must strive to keep our kids away from rote learning. Allow them to learn by doing and experimenting – you will be doing a great service to future generations.

Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Education must always strive to expand the horizons for every student both in thought and action. Only such an education can lead us to our next freedom – a freedom that will make the whole world a single classroom and every student a global citizen.

Tagore’s words are not just relevant in education. These words will have a strong relevance across all domains, be it business, politics, society or family. In fact, this poem is has eternal relevance. Such is the beauty of this masterpiece! I now see the true meaning of this poem and it will forever be etched in my memory.

What does the poem mean to you? Read it in silence and you will be able to see the relevance.

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Now, do you relate to the poem? What do you see in it? Let me know!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Don't Let What You Know Limit What You Imagine - Bill Taylor - Harvard Business Review

Don't Let What You Know Limit What You Imagine - Bill Taylor - Harvard Business Review

Wonderful article especially for those who have immense experience in a particular industry and may not realise the blind spot they have developed towards innovation owing to their experience.

Monday, December 5, 2011

India’s education blues!

While searching for some old files on my computer, I stumbled upon this letter that I had written to the then Indian President, Dr. Abdul Kalam, in the year 2007. I had written about three areas that the Government must focus on for India to become a developed nation by 2020 – Education, Health & Oil! Today, I tried re-visiting my suggestions, particularly related to education, and decided to evaluate where the country stands on these parameters.

My latest comments are added in blue.

Dear Dr. Kalam,

As the time of completion of your Presidential term draws closer, I would like to bring to your notice, some of the pressing issues that need your immediate attention.  Your vision of transforming India into a developed nation by 2020 holds immense value to me. I think there are certain key areas that require immediate focus in the process of achieving the goals set as part of Vision 2020. I wish to highlight the importance and potential of these areas to aid in the nation’s development. 

Uncle.. Do I have a right to education?
You will agree that lack of education is the biggest hindrance to the development of the country. There is a huge imbalance in the Indian education system since it does very little to improve primary education situation in the country. I would like to bring to your notice a few statistics on the status of government schools in the country. The primary education system in India is still strongly dominated by government schools with nearly 85% of the total enrolments happening in government primary schools. While this fact needs to be appreciated, it also makes immense sense to understand the status of these primary schools and the quality of teaching in these schools. The following data pertains to the year 2005 and is picked up from the report published by the Department of Education. 

  • Nearly 18% of the primary schools in the country are single teacher schools which cater to approximately 12.5% of the total primary school 
  • Only 40% of the teachers of primary schools are graduates or more. The rest of the teachers have not even completed their graduation. The statistics goes to about 50% when we include all the government and private schools in the country.
  • About 4% of the primary schools do not have a building and these schools cater to nearly 2.7% of the total primary school enrolments.
  • Nearly 20% of the primary schools do not have drinking water facility in the school.
  • Of the primary schools that have drinking water facility, more than 50% of the primary schools have only a hand pump to provide water.
  • Only 17% of the primary schools have electricity connection in the school. 
  • Nearly 7% of the primary schools do not have a blackboard and these schools cater to nearly 5.28% of total primary school enrolments.

The first two points clearly showcase the paucity of quality teachers in the schools. Having done my entire schooling in private schools, I can appreciate the need for the basic necessities in a school. If minimum necessities of the students are not met it would be very difficult for a student to concentrate on his studies. Eventually, poor teaching and insufficient facilities result in higher dropout rates ranging from 30% during primary schooling to 62% during higher secondary schooling (data pertains to 2003-2004).

The government spends nearly 50% of the total education expenditure (nearly 1.8% of India’s GDP) on primary education. However, this is not sufficient to bridge the gaps in the system. The education cess levied by the government adds a little more fund to be spent on education. However, at a larger context, a series of drastic policy changes need to be done to address some part of the issue.  The Right to Education Act will do a lot of good to the infrastructure woes mentioned above.
The Right to Education Act can make a positive difference
to the infrastructure of such schools.
Photograph taken at
Patan, Jabalpur Dist., Madhya Pradesh on 24th June 2009.

[The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) that came into effect in 2010 is a laudable effort. However, this Act stresses much more on the infrastructure requirements for a school than on the learning itself. I firmly believe that for learning to be effective, attention has to be given to three aspects: content, pedagogy and infrastructure. Content refers to the syllabus, text books and other learning resources that are fundamental requirements of the learning process. Pedagogy includes the teaching methodology, quality of teachers, teaching and learning aids etc. These two components are the true learning enablers for every student. If adequate attention is not given to these two factors, nothing much can be done to improve the student’s learning.

More than just being an eye-wash to set minimum standards, the RTE must aim to boldly tackle the issues of learning and retention. Strict performance measures must be implemented to ensure that teachers focus on learning. Better pedagogical methods must be implemented; teachers must be trained to use such methods thereby enabling them to consciously move away from advocating the rote learning methodology. Such a stronger learning-focused system can ensure that the products of this educational system are better prepared to meet the challenges of the nation and the world.]

First and foremost, the government has to address the need for quality teachers across the schooling system in the country. While we have some of the best institutions in the country for technology, management and science, it is unfortunate that we do not have a similar institution for teaching and education. The conventional Bachelor of Education programme offered by Universities has its own limitations in terms of content and pedagogy.

[Unfortunately, in states like MP & UP, admission to B.Ed is a huge money making racket in itself. Students who have the least interest and capability to become good teachers get into B.Ed. since it offers an assured employment in a government school. Hefty bribes are paid to the selection committee members and school principals to ensure a confirmed admission. With the sixth pay commission revising the pay grades, there is an even larger group of people wanting to become teachers since it assures them of a permanent job with good salary. Ultimately, teaching takes a back seat, resulting in disappointing standards of education. The Pratham ASER (Annual Status of Education Report published by a leading NGO, Pratham) 2010 report states that less than 30% of Standard III students in Tamil Nadu and less than 40% of Standard III students in UP, Rajasthan and Bihar can read a Standard I text. ( Not a very rosy situation, to say the least!]

The government must start an Indian Institute of Education to train students who wish to make a career in teaching. There is a pressing need to revamp the B. Ed syllabus and methodology. It is necessary to incorporate hands-on training in the area of teaching and training. The programme must admit students who have a passion for teaching and not students who take up teaching out of compulsion. As part of the programme, students will be required to teach at various schooling levels to ensure that they gain complete exposure to teaching at various levels. On completion of the programme, they can be placed at various government or private schools across the country, thus providing a guaranteed employment. Some of the students can be persuaded to start their own schools to address the educational needs of needy areas.

The government must also explore possibilities of public private partnerships to enhance the primary education levels in the country. The government can look at creating special education zones where private sector can set up educational institutions. However, the education departments must start quicker processing of private sector requests for clearances to start educational institutions. 

The government’s decision to permit foreign universities and institutions to start their campus in India is a laudable one. This will ensure that some more needy students get admissions to the top Indian institutions.

[The foreign universities bill was approved by the Union Cabinet in March 2010. However, the bill has still not been brought into force. Once done, it can have the same impact that economic liberalisation had on the Indian industry in the 90s. However, the efficacy of such a bill entirely rests on the Indian bureaucracy’s willingness and ability to implement it.]

Another aspect of educational reforms revolves around the faculty.  Despite increasing demand for quality teachers, the salaries tend to remain much lower compared to what other professions pay. This is ironical since the students whom these teachers prepare get paid much more than what these teachers earn. Invariably, many of the good teachers quit teaching to pursue other professions. Since many of the teacher’s salaries are dictated by the government bodies, I would urge you to re-look at the same. This will ensure that we have some more talented people taking up a career in teaching.

The sixth pay commission has brought a sigh of relief to many central government staff including the teachers. Compensation levels have doubled and are a cause of jubilation among the staff. This has also increased the number of people applying for a teacher’s position thus increasing the choice of candidates available for selection. This can only be effective if proper selection methodologies, purely based on merit and capability, are employed by the selection committee.

One of the other areas that the government must focus on is the use of technology for taking education to the remotest parts of the country. India is the only country in the world that has a dedicated satellite for education. The Edusat was launched in September 2004 and has a life span on 7 years which has already ended in September 2011. Unfortunately, what could have potentially changed the face of the technology enabled education system in India has lived an under-utilised life thanks to the lack of clear vision and cumbersome bureaucracy. While majority of the access was provided by ISRO to government bodies and agencies, the private players were kept away from utilizing the services of Edusat. On hindsight, opening up Edusat to private players would have helped the government recover some cost while also ensuring that the satellite is used to its full capacity.

With internet and mobile penetration moving up drastically in India, the country must now plan to utilise these media to enhance the reach of education. A clear plan of action in this direction is the need of the hour. No longer can universities depend only on correspondence programmes. They must find ways to use technology to enhance the learning in these programmes. No longer can universities continue the archaic paper based examination formats. They must evolve to incorporate online and mobile testing methodologies in their curriculum. Technology is here to stay and it is upto the educational institutions and government to figure out how best they can utilise it for the benefit of the population.

Note: I do not claim to have influenced the government's decisions or to have played any role in the government’s implementation of new schemes. The letter drafted to be sent to Dr. Kalam was NEVER sent! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is there an age to study?

My GRE starts in the next one hour and what better way to relax than to type in a quick blog post!

My test was scheduled to start at 9:00 AM but was rescheduled to 10:00 AM to suit the convenience of the test centre staff. I did not mind it. The security guard at the test centre looked at me curiously and then asked me if I am the test taker. When I concurred, he asked, with a very dismissive attitude, "Why do you want to write this at THIS age?" I did not expect such a question, to say the least!

Although I have quite a lot of white hair on my head, I have never visualised me as an "old" man yet. Brushing aside his sarcastic question as a meaningless comment, I started wondering if there is any age at all to study? Should education be restricted only to one's early years of life? Or should it be lifelong?

I think education should be lifelong but has to necessarily tie-in with your skill sets. In today's dynamic and globalised scenario, skills become obsolete so quickly that a person who is not re-skilling himself will necessarily fall out. Take the case of a computer. The configuration that you have today may become archaic two years from now and it is necessary to upgrade your system to function effectively. The same is true for human beings too.

While your early education (including your post graduation) decisions were influenced by many people including your parents, re-skilling decisions can be independently taken.Working professionals and entrepreneurs are better equipped to understand the employment and business scenario and hence will be able to make an informed choice on the skills that they would like to re-tool themselves with.

The learning while going through such re-skilling programmes can also be immense since you can bring in enormous value addition to the class based on your real-life experiences. Most re-skilling programmes also let you interact with a highly experienced peer group resulting in a much higher usable learning. The networking that you build at this stage will help make a huge difference to the rest of your career.

India, unfortunately, does not have enough re-skilling programmes for experienced professionals in different domains. While there are many business management programmes that exist, there are hardly any for the other areas such as education, technology, economics etc. While that gives me a business idea, for now, I am going to focus on getting myself re-skilled and be relevant to the market place. As far as I am concerned,  my age will never be a deterrent to learning. As an old tamil saying goes, "What I have learnt is the size of a stone and what remains to be learnt is the size of the world!"

GRE.. here I come!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why this Kolaveri?

Alright! I know this song is a rage across audiences and I am no exception to that! But what prompted me to write a post is the use of this song for education!

Frankly speaking, I wouldn't have imagined anything distantly educative about this song. Incidentally, I am taking my GRE tomorrow and was browsing through websites that could help build my vocabulary, albeit temporarily for a day and I landed on this video link through one of the online learning sites. Take a look!

For those who are now keen on taking the test to see if you have learnt any of the words flashed in-between, please visit I took the test and did pretty well and I am sure most of you would score well too.

What impressed me about this was the ability of a seemingly simple song to make a deep impact on one's learning. This way of learning is much more immersive and interesting thereby ensuring higher retention. It is not just about the song but also about the creativity of the person who was able to visualize an educative way to use this song. Hats off to this effort! 

For now, let me enjoy the learning and the music! Going forward, let there be more educative and immersive kolaveris!

Note: The videos, songs, lyrics are the respective copyrights of the respective parties. I do not claim any copyright over any of these!