As a parent, the last few months have involved running around schools (20+ schools in all) for my child’s school admission. The whole experience has had its share of highs and lows, ups and downs, disappointments and highlights, surprises and shocks, observations and lessons learned – In terms of my baby’s performance, In terms of our own performance as parents and of course in terms of the changing face of schools and educational institutes!
But the entire experience also made me realize that Marketing is such an important and integral element of a school. After all, From a school’s perspective – How well you market your school determines how many parents admit their kids into your school, and that adds to your top-line. After all, all schools / educational institutes are commercial enterprises at the end of the day!
In this post, I am sharing some observations, lessons and learning’s from my personal experiences:
* Marketing Initiatives from schools appear to depend on the following parameters:
(1) How old / new the school is? for e.g.: Newer schools are more aggressive in marketing and promotion (You can see them everywhere especially during the Admission Season – On posters, banners, newspapers, flyers, etc. etc.). The older / more established schools rely mostly on the powerful word-of-mouth referrals which get them new students every year
(2) The Brand Image the school has. for e.g.: Is it positioned as an elite school for elitist society? Is it a school for the middle-class parents? Does it have a legacy / great achievement to boast of? Does it have an alumni which have done the school proud? – A lot of the marketing collateral and positioning is usually centered around this!
(3) Marketing Budget which the school is willing to invest – which is a function of the owners / trust / management of the school, and their “mind-set” / views on the importance of marketing
* Almost all schools (old / new) have “beautiful-looking” web-sites. I must say some them were really impressive, in terms of their philosophy, visuals, achievements and the user experience. And most of the web-sites have such wonderfully written text. And trust me, if I share the “text only” version of these web-sites, you can never say which text belongs to which school. So much for differentiation!
The other observation I made (rather sad to state this) is that if you see the web-site and then visit the school, you will be in for a complete shock because of the disconnect in how the schools position themselves on their web-site, and what they actually are! So much for initial disappointment!
* The newer schools focus and market way too much on infrastructure, modern facilities, and very “materialistic parameters“. Should there not be more focus and rigor on “education” in ways it matters to an individual and society at large?
* The “front-end staff” (those interacting with prospective parents) were always smiling, nice and undigestibly sweet (almost as if it were their wedding, and they were posing for photos the whole time) – especially in the newer schools (Read as schools which had more supply than demand). In other schools (Read as schools which had more demand than supply), the “front-end staff” were rude, indifferent and cold in their interactions with prospective parents (probably there’s no better way to deal with infinite demand and the same questions day-in and day-out)
* Most schools spoke about “Holistic Education” and the emphasis on Studies and overall student development. It’s good to see the emphasis on academics; as well as overall child development – And I do hope that schools focus on both aspects in the “right spirit”. Though from my interactions, it appeared that “academic rigor and focus” was way down in the priority list for many schools! In my view, “academic rigor and focus” should be one of the top priorities for any school. I mean “How many parents send their children to schools with the primary aim of getting them to ride a horse? or play golf? or getting them to sit an an A/C environment the whole day?”
* Surprisingly, not a single school I visited ever spoke of a subject called “Moral Science”. When I was a student, Moral Science was a mandatory subject everyday for 30 minutes – From 1st standard to 10th standard. In today’s day and age, would it not help to touch and discuss topics / subjects dealing with moral values and have it integral to the school curriculum?
Just my thoughts, what do you think? Leave a comment to let me know
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” ― Robert Frost
“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” ― Oscar Wilde
“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” ― Brigham Young
“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” ― G.K. Chesterton
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” ― Malcolm X
“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” ― Margaret Mead
“Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.” ― Mark Twain
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ― Henry Ford
“Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t. ”
― Pete Seeger
“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” ― Thomas Jefferson
About Dr.BINDU HARI
Dr. Bindu Hari is currently the Dean at NPS (National Public School) International Singapore, Senior Principal / Director at The International School Bangalore , Senior Principal of NPS Koramangala and NPS HSR schools. She joined the NPS group of institutes in 1990. Over the past several years, she has been instrumental in the growth of the group of institutions in India and also pioneered the foray abroad. She has done her M.Sc and Ph.D in chemistry and B.Ed.
Personally this rendezvous was special because it was a way for me to re-connect with my past – to be specific, the school that I studied in. Looking back, I do think that NPS did shape my life in more ways than one – For starters, I was fortunate to study in one of the best schools in Bangalore way back in 1994. And by virtue of this experience, I can confidently say that there is a definite value in studying in a premier educational institute.
For those who don’t know about NPS, it was reputed to have the BEST (and most envied) academic records (for E.g.: In my batch, there were several students who were among the Top 100 in IIT entrance exam, several were Toppers in the Medical entrance exams like AIIMS, etc.) and many of them set records in these exams as well. It was a privilege to know some of these “great minds” back then; many of whom have made a global mark for themselves today. Second and probably more important was that I forged several life-long friendships here! Last but not the least my tryst with NPS paved the way for my future – in terms of the subsequent formal education that I pursued; and also for my professional choices and growth.
Nischala: Good Afternoon Dr Bindu! Firstly, Thank you so much for your time Dr. Bindu. It’s a pleasure to connect with you after so many years!
Dr. Bindu: Hi! Good afternoon! Great to hear from you.. It’s wonderful to speak to you after so many years
Nischala: Lets start this rendezvous by going back to your journey in the education sector – Specifically what inspired you to get associated with education, academia and NPS? Especially since you had a stellar academic record yourself and could really have pursued any other career of your choice.
Dr. Bindu: Looking back at my own life, I have always been interested in research. After my Masters in Chemistry, I enrolled into a Ph. D programme and really enjoyed the process of research a great deal. Classical research is an amazing process – collecting and playing with a lot of data, number crunching and drawing conclusions to prove or disprove a hypothesis almost every day! But the flip side is being in a research lab all day, doing experiments and working on the computer results offer very limited or almost no social interaction. And after a point I realized that I needed more social interactions, communication and personal enrichment so I started teaching. I taught Chemistry at NPS Indiranagar to students in the middle years and senior school. That was an exciting experience for me – Simply because children think so differently from adults – they are full of ideas, enthusiasm and express the same in many different ways. It was a thoroughly enjoyable process! So if I look back to connect the dots, I started at the grass root level in teaching and grew from there!
I also have a very academic bent of mind. So I always knew that I would someday go back into the classroom – It is where I belong! Just that I probably did not know where I would start and how the journey would pan out! So today while I am responsible for several qualitative aspects in all the educational institutions, I still do take time to train or teach. For e.g.: School assemblies are teachable moments, I take a few sessions in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and I am involved in creating Training modules for teachers.
Nischala: That’s an interesting journey! So from what I understand the group has grown significantly over the past two decades. So can you elaborate a little on your presence and strength today – primarily in terms of the number of students you have an opportunity to mold and influence?
Dr. Bindu: Well, Yes! We’ve had a phenomenal growth in the last decade. So as of date, we have the NPS (National Public School) International Singapore, The International School Bangalore , NPS Indiranagar, NPS Koramangala, NPS Chennai, NPS Rajajinagar and NPS HSR . In 2013 we open our doors to students at NPS Mysore. As of date, we have about 12000 students across all schools and about 1700 teachers.
And then of course we have NAFL (National Academy for Learning) which was started in 1993. This school aims at providing international education in India in collaboration with CIE (Cambridge International Examinations), Cambridge. So students have an opportunity to appear for IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education). The success of the early experimental foray into international education led to the creation of TISB.
Nischala: That’s great to hear! It’s a good opportunity in India for students aspiring to get IGCSE. So from your view - Is there any difference between TISB and say NPS Indiranagar?
Dr.Bindu: The most significant difference is TISB has a heterogeneous student profile from across the globe – We have students from over 30 nationalities and this diversity enriches the learning experience as students develop cross cultural skills- awareness, sensitivity and communication early in life. In contrast, NPS has a homogenous student base and staff profile as the students are from almost every Indian state.
Also TISB is a residential school offering boarding facilities and hence living on campus offers a unique and exciting life experience as students develop self-reliance and independence early in life while actively contributing to community living.
The NPS group of schools, NAFL and TISB have emphasized academic rigour. However, the vision of all our schools has evolved to include holistic education to enable students develop a broad range of multidimensional life skills and to achieve this end, there is an increased focus on multiple learning opportunities and co-curricular activities within and outside the school environment. NPS has and is continuously evolving in its educational programmes in order to prepare students for tomorrow’s global economy.
Across all our schools our students aim for admissions into the top 20 universities across the globe and top universities in India. Many of our students score top ranks in various competitive exams including IIT JEE, PMPD, AIEEE, AIIMS, CLAT etc. And the latest feather in our cap is our first student from NPS, HSR Layout will be heading to Oxford University to study History. There is increased awareness among students about educational opportunities across the globe and parents can afford to fund this education.
Nischala: This is awesome! Makes me a proud NPS-ite! So from all your experiences – What are your observations in terms of key changes in the students and this could be in any aspect – from an eagerness to learn, to awareness of technology, to a passion to do something unique, etc etc.?
Dr. Bindu: That’s an interesting and thought-provoking question! Firstly, students are more aware simply because they have access to vast amounts of information at a mouse click. Google is the answer to many questions! Greater information accessibility leads to greater exposure and presents students with more opportunities than probably students had a decade ago.
Secondly, this generation of students are “digital natives” - comfortable with technology, software, use of all Apple products including the iPAD, etc . They learn any new technology at the blink of an eye. In contrast, parents or teachers are “digital immigrants” and struggle to get started let alone achieve mastery!
Hence students are extremely confident because of greater exposure and opportunities presented to them from an early age. They tend to articulate with clarity and their ability to express orally or in writing is impressive. One of the reasons for confidence is that students are performing on stage at school from the age of 4 years and most of them have no fear of public speaking or interacting with a large audience.
However, an issue of concern is that children of today have limited attention span and patience. It is the world of instant gratification and real-world expectations are based on their experience in the digital world,i.e., at the click of a button. The real world however does not always work this way!
Nischala: That’s interesting to hear!What about parents? What are the significant differences you observe in parents with respect to their expectations on the role of school and education system and their involvement in the growth and development of their children?
Dr. Bindu: The reality of today is that most parents have 1 or 2 children and more recently most parents are opting to have only 1 child. Hence “Helicopter parenting” is very common. Parents hover around their child in an overly protective manner and bubble wrap them in a world of material comfort! Subsequently as children get older, some parents become demanding of the child!
Some parents are uninvolved with the life of their children as they are far too busy to spend time with their children and we do see children of neglect. Others are overly involved, i.e., they don’t give much space for child to grow and evolve. There are some parents who are involved to an appropriate degree in their children’s education.
Parenting styles vary between authoritative parenting, jellyfish parenting or assertive parenting. There is no right or wrong here but the most effective parenting style in our experience is one in which the parent showers unconditional love, engages the child in conversation, uses teachable moments to highlight key messages and reasons in order make the child see reason.
As a school, we always communicate to the parents that education of a child is really a joint venture between the school and parents in order to accomplish the most we can in the best interest of the child. It is a very “child-centric” approach that we adopt. And we have always had incredible support from our parents.
The other point I want to make is that today parents have greater purchasing power and are great providers for their children! There is a real danger of our children growing up with a sense of entitlement because of this.
And again the fact is that Parents will always be the child’s first teacher. So if a parent chooses to be resilient in a tough situation, the child learns to be resilient! Children learn and absorb based on parent’s responses and reactions. We emphasize the role of parents in the growth and development of the children at every opportunity that we get!
Nischala: And my next logical question is around teachers. What are the noteworthy changes in the teaching community? – In terms of access to teachers and willingness for qualified individuals to take up teaching jobs?
Dr. Bindu: The fact is there is dearth of good teachers around the world. And even in India the ground reality is that it is very hard to find good teachers for subjects like History, Science and Math. And this is a real challenge for the country as a whole and will only compound with time. Finding passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers is hard today and will become harder in the next decade.
Consider our own alumni - the best of our students go on to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc. And rarely does a youngster become a teacher by choice!
When we quiz 4 year olds on “What do you want to be when you grow up?” - They all want to be teachers. Interestingly in a Grade 7 class, it is 1 out of 90 students who aspire to be a teacher. And in Grade 11 or 12 no one wants to be a teacher. Youngsters don’t associate glamour or status with teaching and salaries for teachers are lower than other professions such as Doctors, Engineers and Lawyers. As a result youngsters don’t opt for teaching. In addition we live in a materialist society and family pressure drives students into other professions. In Bangalore which is considered India’s Silicon Valley, one can’t compare earnings of a teacher with that of an IT professional.
But as an institute we pay our teachers well – We are probably one of the highest paymasters in the Indian scenario, and so our teacher retention ratio is by far one of the best! Of course most teachers also value the challenge, the culture, the school environment and the style of running the institute and hence they stay on here.
On the positive side, another trend we are observing is many intelligent young mothers are pursuing teaching as a second career. We recently appointed a Chartered Accountant with 5 years of experience at E&Y (Ernst and Young) as a teacher-intern. Work life balance and family commitments are an important priority for many women and they take up teaching as a second career. We welcome this trend.
We have started a teacher-training center to draw intelligent and passionate people into teaching. And we are getting some good response.
Nischala: Thats great to hear! So moving on how do you think technology will transform the education system?
Dr. Bindu: The environment today is dynamic, fluid and changing rapidly. And technology is a definite enabler in the education sector in more ways than one – by providing access to knowledge, enhancing the quality and ease of research, being the mode of distribution of content to students, monitoring and tracking student progress, making the process of differentiated assessment and pedagogy easier, and simplifying record keeping processes.
The skillsets required in industry are changing and hence the need of the hour is really to build skills around creative thinking, critical reasoning, developing research skills, problem solving, compiling and processing and presenting data and information for a specific purpose.
Consequently the role of teachers is changing into a facilitator rather than a mere instructor who directs the class. Teachers are designers of learning experiences based on available resources – And resources can include print, video and digital resource, science and math equipment, etc.
Also there is a definite element of collaborative learning as on many aspects students end up being the “gurus” and teach the teachers. In addition, the nature of questions that students ask today is impressive – obviously based on inherent curiosity and inquisitiveness of the world around them and teachers may not have the all the answers. So we encourage enquiry-based learning and have started a new initiative at NPS for Grade 3 students!
The academic endeavor at our school is to subject the child to a range of experiences to facilitate awareness, comprehension, learning, collaboration and growth.
Nischala: That’s interesting. So can you elaborate on some of the other unique initiatives at NPS?
Dr. Bindu: At the school, we still value core academic skills – Language proficiency, Math, Science, etc. But we are aware that students need supplementary skills in addition to core academic skills to take them through life. For e.g.: We have started a new entrepreneurship course for Grade 6 students to develop Entrepreneurial Literacy. The aim is to sow the seed of entrepreneurship in the students; and even if only 10% become entrepreneurs it is great for India! We believe that entrepreneurial skills are critical for students if we look into the India’s future –It is what India needs. We started this as a pilot at NPS HSR and based on the success of this programme, we plan to expand this initiative into all our other schools.
In fact the latest book by Subroto Bagchi called MBA at 16 is really a co-creation of his interactions with 31 NPS students. So we are now planning to take this initiative to the next level where we work with students to create a concrete business plan and see if we can get funding to actually give life to some of these ideas.
Another emphasis is on developing and enhancing language skills of students. So we have introduced a Novel writing program for students of class 4 and 5 and this project stems from the fact that India has few child authors and fiction for children by Indian authors is rare. The emphasis is on getting the students to appreciate writing as a process.
So NPS is an evolving school. We respond to the needs of society, industry and skills for employability.
I must also credit the CBSE board for introducing the Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) for students in their teens. The fact is that young people are quite confused and have to deal with pressures from peers, pressure to perform, pressures related to body image, pressure from parents, pressure from society – and it’s not easy. These sessions gets them to reflect, introspect, become self-aware and also talk with confidence about issues promoting or impeding their personality development and progress!
Nischala: This is very interesting and exciting to hear! I think exposure to such aspects at the school level is a great opportunity for students. So moving on, I’d like to ask you a very basic question – What does education really mean? And how is an “educated mind” different from a “literate mind”?
Dr. Bindu: It is an interesting question. So in my view, there are many kinds of literacy – academic, entrepreneurial, civic, environmental, health, information (In the context of whether the available information is authentic and accurate or not), media (In the context do you accept all that you see in media or is discernment and analysis a part of your thinking process), social, cross cultural, etc
However, the meaning of education is far broader than mere skills acquisition. Ideally, the aim of education is to make an individual a meaningful contributor to the community and society at large. And the values that a school imparts as part of informal learning makes an ocean of a difference – attributes such as self discipline, self regulation, work ethics, basic honesty, integrity, generosity, kindness, sharing, respect for the aged and disadvantaged, support of others in times of need etc. contribute in an intangible but important way to the refinement of a society. These may be old world, old fashioned values but these values are the glue that holds a society together. Societies that neglect to infuse and disregard these values are likely to disintegrate or implode sooner rather than later. Children must absorb this message from parents, school and society as a whole!
So an educated mind blends skills with knowledge and values for the betterment of both self and society.
Nischala: OK.. Moving on, Another aspect which I hear or read a lot about in the new generation of kids is related to health issues / lifestyle problems – primarily due to lack of exercise and incorrect food habits. What are your observations and experience here?
Dr. Bindu: You are so right! Many parents use laptops as baby sitters (as opposed to TV two decades ago). The greatest concerns are violent computer games desensitizing our children and the ease of access to pornography which parents are unaware of.
We are creating a generation of couch potatoes who eat vast amounts of processed, high calorie, nutritionally poor junk food. In addition, children are no longer physically active or as involved in games or exercise outdoors as the generation before – These are concerns. This is leading to a significant increase in the percentage of lifestyle related health issues like obesity, Type 2 diabetis, etc and concerns such as the lack of concentration, distractedness, restlessness and the lack of social skills etc.
As a school, we have incorporated health literacy into our curriculum. However it is parents and students who have to make the final healthy choices. There is a vast difference between knowing and putting the knowledge into practice.
Nischala: Hmmm…So 10 years from now, what do you think will make a difference in the education system?
Dr. Bindu: As I see it there is a movement across the world in the education sector and technology is a very big part of this movement primarily due to ease of access to information at a low cost!
Hence the role of a teacher is gradually evolving into a facilitator of learning. There is debate and discussion about whether teachers will be required in future or not and whether technology will replace the classroom teacher? And my answer is that teachers CANNOT be dispensed with- EVER! They will always have the power to mould, groom and influence development in the intellectual, emotional, social, and psychological domains. As long as schools exist, teachers will be required and will always have a key role in education!
Nischala: Moving on,What really keeps you going as an educator?
Dr. Bindu: It is one of the most enjoyable journeys in my life. Walking into school every morning is a wonderful feeling. The environment is lively and animated – You have to experience it to truly understand what I mean. Each day presents a different set of challenges and changes to deal with continuously.
Each of us at school makes an emotional investment in the lives of our students every minute of the day at every single instance we interact with our students. The underpinning of every interaction is to make a child feel secure and safe before he or she embarks on learning through exploration. It is unique to a school and the profession of teaching. It is truly a calling.
Being around children is a joyous experience. The young are idealistic, they have ideals and idols. You have to engage in conversation with a 10 year old to understand how analytical and intelligent they are, you have to talk to them and prepare to be surprised by their dreams and thoughts without limits and boundaries. These refreshing interactions keep us adults flexible and adaptable.
A few days ago, I was talking to one of my young students who has juvenile diabetes. To be honest, I was impressed with his temperance, humility and knowledge. He is so widely read, so mature and well rooted for his age! We derive joy, energy and hope from these interactions with children which give us strength to forge ahead!
I believe a teacher has to be an eternal optimist, one can’t be a teacher and not be optimistic – You NEVER EVER give up on your kids!
Nischala: So looking back, what are the unforgettable moments in your journey as an educator?
Dr. Bindu: At the school, we believe that incremental progress and every tiny step in the right direction for each and every child is worth celebrating. Acknowledgement, recognition, appreciation and praise is woven into fabric of the school to make it an affirming environment for a child.
While we value the best in ability, talent and skills, we celebrate the success of those who struggle to conquer the smallest developmental milestone. So there are really many rewarding moments of happiness in the life of an educator.
But if I had to recall a recent episode it is this… It was extremely fulfilling to see an NPS Alumnus present the welcome address to a 5000 member audience in the presence of the former President of India Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam at a graduation ceremony of an engineering college. She stood at the podium and delivered the perfect welcome address – I had goose bumps and I still have them as I recall the speech. I’ve seen her as a shy 7-year-old child at my school and there she was delivering a speech with assured confidence which many will remember for a lifetime! William Wordsworth said “Child is the father of man”.. And that’s so true. What a child is today is there for all to see. And what they are likely to achieve tomorrow? – No one can predict.
It is hard to explain the bond between a teacher and student – you can’t capture it all and express it in words. Every teacher has emotionally invested in the child and the intangibles including affection, compassion and empathy play a big role. As a result, an educator is constantly evolving and developing while demonstrating and role modeling with every interaction and this is an extraordinary experience for any educator and a very fulfilling one. It’s really hard to express, explain, comprehend or measure – But if you’ve ever taught a child and seen them blossom in life, you feel happy and proud!
Nischala: I’d like to end with any other key message to students and parents.
Dr. Bindu: To the students I say “Believe in yourself always”. And what every teacher and parent should do is create a climate of positive expectation and express an affirming message so the children live up to these expectations. Having faith in our children is critical for education and life!
Nischala: Thank You so much for your time. It was an absolute pleasure.
Dr. Bindu: Thank You!
As I did my research on Dr. Bindu, I came across an insightful article Bindu Hari’s Six lessons for parents. In my view, a Must Read for every parent!
How did you like this rendezvous? Leave a comment to let us know..
This guest post is by Angela Maiers
I taught kindergarten for one year of my career. It was an extraordinary year. It was an experience I wish every teacher and leader could have at least a small taste of.
There’s something about being around young children; beyond their energy, freshness, and laughter.
I loved seeing their faces light up when I told them how smart they were making me. They smiled with pride and appreciated the praise; but I am not sure they understood how true those words were.
I can honestly say, everything I needed to know about social media and life; I learned in kindergarten.
It was there, I learned to:
- Notice beauty and wonder all around me
- Never take a day, or even an hour for granted
- Find evidence of life and growth in the most unlikely of places
- Listen with a mind and heart wide open
- Dream big and celebrate little
- Capture the extraordinary in the ordinary and everyday things
- Most Importantly … Love Unconditionally
The world is what we make of it, and children know that. To fully embrace the potential the web holds; we need to be more “child-like” in our approach. The web depends people’s ability to move through it with respect and grace; to demonstrate community and social responsibility, and to fully experience it with love.
If you have not had the privilege of spending your day in the presence of such genius minds, I leave you with a “taste” of what young, talented, and passionate learners can achieve! (And I am not talking about the dance; I am talking about their extraordinary Habitudes!)
Originally published @ http://www.angelamaiers.com/2011/06/everything-i-learned-in-kindergarten.html ; Re-published with permission; Courtesy Agela Maiers
This guest post is authored by PAVAN SONI – Author Bio is at the end of the post
We all are purpose maximizers. For a lucky few, the purpose is struck very early in their lives and for others, it remains elusive for years. I was fortunate to lie somewhere in between, for the calling in life came when I still have a few years to realize it. The ‘search’ for the calling in life or the purpose landed me to the field of ‘research’ and am I happy? Oh yes indeed. So here’s my little story of the transition from the corporate world to academics, and the intent remains to inspire a few readers to join the exciting world of academics.
Academia was never a stranger to me. I started teaching informally from the age of 15 and then formal teaching followed soon. Even while in the corporate arena, first with Titan and then with Wipro, I kept myself abreast with reading, writing and teaching. For almost last 7 years now, I have consistently been teaching over the weekends and that umbilical cord in many ways made the decision to shift to academia rather smooth. Now here at IIM Bangalore, looking back I can only ‘connect the dots’ as the great artist Steve Jobs quipped and be surprised that how life crafts itself. Here’re five insights that I gathered through my career in corporate and in academia, and I wish to share with a hope that these would resonate with you.
Grab half-chances: When I first entered a B-School as a teacher, I was 22 and most students, including the fellow teachers, didn’t take me seriously. But it was a half-chance bestowed on to me and by having taken that I could at least get started. The institute wasn’t the tier-1 or tier-2 category, nor did I have any formal experience of teaching MBA students. Thereafter, I sniffed opportunities where I could teach, mostly for free and then with some honorarium. Location was no bar, class-size was no bar, institute’s ranking was not bar; the only thing that mattered was that I had to sharpen my axe. From that one institute, today I have taught at over 25 MBA institutes across India and abroad, and can never ever relax on the virtue of taking those half-chances. Remember, opportunities don’t come your way wrapper. You need to unearth those.
Hone multiple affiliations: We are all worth more than what we do currently. Most of us tend to limit ourselves to the workplace and the chores that we are assigned. Our friends, our pastime or mannerisms and even thinking then get shaped by, if not limited by, the workplace. One early lesson I gathered while interacting with fellows from outside of India was the virtue of honing multiple affiliations. Affiliations here mean being actively associated with, or better still contribute to, multiple avenues in life. One of which could be the workplace, and then being associated with a social cause or teaching or writing or composing or painting or something where one would draw inspiration and insights from. Remembers, you weren’t ‘born’ to work in one organization! Life offers many more possibilities and capabilities, and let’s make the most of any given moment. For me it was reading, writing, and teaching.
Live a debt-free life: One of the plaques of the times we live in is the virus of EMIs. As soon as someone gets a job, the tendency is to live beyond means. Buying a car, booking a house and then swiping credit cards. The biggest challenge with taking loans and paying EMIs is that the risk taking propensity gets doused. Once having taken a loan, the person has to work just to repay the amount, no matter how much the person is enjoying the job or adding value to it. The decision to shun a corporate job and getting into a student’s life became easy with having no debt on my balance sheet. Not buying a home or car wasn’t a great loss and also I was saved from the potential risk of not able to shape my career. I can surely buy a better model of car or a bigger house perhaps four years from now, but by then it would perhaps be too late for me to do my PhD. Life is about living, not accumulating.
Balance rigor with relevance: The first realization that happened to me after coming down to IIM was the chasm that exists between theory and practice. Our doctoral students and teachers here possess significant body of knowledge on how firms should be best run, while our corporates learn by committing mistakes! If only the knowledge that lies in the academia be made accessible and amicable to be adopted by the world that runs the economy, the mutual purpose could be justified. Unlike physical sciences, the virtue of social sciences and management education is as good as its application. Having said that, one can’t compromise on rigor, for the work has to stand the scrutiny of peers and pass the test of time. So, regardless of whether you are in corporate or academia, the delicate balance of rigor and relevance in an imperative, more so in academia where it’s our responsibility to offer actionable insights.
Remember that your network is your net-worth: The bigger our ambition is, the greater is the realization that larger goals require even larger contributions. Solitary genius or lone inventors are only limited to the realms of tales or urban legends. In the world of management research and practice, collaboration is the key, and this comes with honing an active network. My network with academics helped me get into the domain of rigor and the network with practitioners and entrepreneurs would help me navigate back into relevance. I am not talking of count on the Facebook or LinkedIn, but the count that counts. One where novel ideas could be bounced and collaboration could happen to give shape to them. Nurture your network and prune it to a purpose, for your network is your net-worth.
The first year is over at the fellow program here at IIMB and in the last one year, I literally drank from the hose. There are at least three more years to go. I am working hard, but surprisingly am not feeling tired! As I am working for myself and am sure while doing so, would be able to contribute to the discipline of research, teaching and practice. Amen!
Pavan Soni is an Innovation Evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He is currently a Research Fellow at IIM Bangalore. More on him at www.pavansoni.net
This guest post is by Meeta Gangrade – Author Bio at the end of the post
“My education is a result of my experiences, My experiences are not really a result of my education! “
I must have been a year old when I first felt a book and tore it. The book was merely an object that helped me build strength of my fingers. As a 3 year old I lugged a heavy bag full of text books and stationary to school. In primary school I read ‘Enid Blytons’ tucked under a blanket giving an impression I was studying for my exams instead. And then during high school, I spent hours memorizing chemical formulae and answers to English text book questions. The fact is that I cannot recall a single word of what I was taught in my Engineering books.
Albeit I topped my class most years of my life, I did reasonably well in competitive exams and I also landed a job right after college. Today, I have a job and make enough money to pay my bills, humor my hobbies and keep me going. I have always had a challenge remembering things I did not care about and I continue to suffer from the same as an adult as well.
Yet when I look back at my childhood I remember learning not in my schools or classes; but truly because of my life outside of it. Today as an adult when I am choosing to re-learn a lot of subjects that were supposedly taught in school, I believe I am enjoying the experience. Probably because I am doing it out of choice now and that there is no pre-defined way of learning it; but my years of experiences are guiding me in going about it. I am not under any pressure to perform or top in my exams. I am just up most nights driven by my need to learn and understand.
I always scored marks but I think what makes me successful today in my career, in interactions of life and in living a complete life is truly the fact that I spent a lot of my early life experiencing – art, music, science, relationships, friendships, cultures, travel, nature, history, museums, parties, dances, business, idling and whatever life has offered thus far. I have learned – not merely from text books I carried or lessons I learned in class but truly because despite what people told me, I realized that education really comes from:
- Experiences in life – so experience as much, as differently as you can
- Having an open mind – Break away from stereotypes and patterns
- Adapting and Changing – Personality is the most fluid thing and shapes up if we let it change with each day
Every human being is born with 5 forms of senses, 206 bones, as many nerves and similar capabilities. It takes conscious realization to transform this body and mind into a person with experiences, knowledge and most importantly wisdom. While some figure this out on their own others need parents/schools/environments that help them shape their personality. I truly believe one way or the other all kids at a very young age should be encouraged to:
Express – varying from languages, art, painting, dance, etc. Encourage your kids and give them a chance to just express without criticism or judgment. I saw a harmonium at the age of 4 and that 10 minute experience and encouragement from my parents opened my eyes to a new world of music and believe it or not, I think my ability to comprehend music comes from consistent listening and experimenting with it. Thanks to my parents for tolerating my noise all through nights and days. I also thank them for pointing out when my practice did not yield any improvement pushing me harder. I also want to thank my music teacher who taught me not be scared of art and who opened my soul to the world of music. I am a very different person because of music in my life.
Observe – teach kids to observe, listen and grasp. Let them spend few minutes every day looking at nature, watching you assemble your furniture or just watching the mum cook. Most of my childhood was spent with my parents setting up the house or watching my sister create working models for her project or just sitting on the platform watching my mum cook and even watching my neighbor teach music to the kids on the street. Life was full of ‘Do it Yourself’ projects during summer vacation.
Question – let kids question and get used to frustrations that come along when they don’t find answers. It is a myth that all questions of kids need to necessarily be answered. In fact kids should be encouraged to find answers by delving deeper and exploring. I have spent numerous hours in scouts and guides camps finding new ways to light a fire. I spent hours trying to find answers as to why my cycle caught rust during the rains and tried to finding a solution to the same.
Collaborate – Not everything can be done all by you alone. One needs help in life and the earlier we figure that out the better it is. 1+1= 11! We were 14 kids on our street. Every summer vacation we took up a new project – Sometimes we put up a fair (mela) for our parents and made some pocket money or once we tried to setup a patrolling system to prevent thefts in our neighborhood. We learnt to cycle in a group, invented games to deal with power cuts which were about guessing capitals of countries and trying to find constellations and stars in the open sky.
Experience – We should let every individual smell, touch, see, hear and taste extensively as a child. Senses open up our experiences and get deep down. It opens our minds and hearts and teaches us the art of assimilating. I believe I can smell like a dog because I used to dig my nose into everything I could get a hold of. My mum taught me how to distinguish clothes via touch and I think I was always told by my granny – try eating all you can, if you don’t like it you can always throw it away. Today I enjoy good food because of my sense of smell just as much as my taste buds. I appreciate a good concert because of the way music enters my soul. So open up and just experience.
Education is not really about memorizing scientific formulas or scoring in an exam where you could write 5 points in response to a geography question. True learning is when you are able to remember history like a story, you can prove what science teaches you, you can listen to music and zone out, read a book and smirk at witty poetry or create a painting that captures your moment in a way that someone else can experience it. It changes what you grasp and appreciate. If you ever do travel from town to town across various life styles and traditions – it will reflect in what you take from that travel. Make every moment in life a new experience. There is so much around us that nature has created and we have expressed. Sit back and let your environment teach you. While we will all anyways pick up degrees and end up having a job or creating money somehow, people who do so with more enriched experiences truly do something radically different as they have an entire force of experiences and wisdom backing them up which can help them survive in this world under any recession or drastic time.
I am educated! Not because I am an Engineer but because I have experienced 33 years of life. My education has not really influenced experiences of life as much as my experiences have influenced what I learn from a moment and what I have become today.
**Disclaimer***: I have lived most of my growing years in India and hence all views expressed are very contextual to my personal experiences with the Indian Educational System
A nomad with packed suitcases and love for airport lounges. A repressive maniac intrigued by all forms of art and expression – Music, Literature, Theatre, Randomness topping that list. I provide for my food and shelter by working in the world of IT. Been lucky to run into a lot of diverse people, experiences and places. Claim to fame – featuring on Nischala’s Blog-o- Rendezvous!
This guest post is by Anurag Behar – Author Bio is at the end of the post
What is worth teaching, learning and exploring is a crucial issue for any educational system and institution. Somehow this does get decided. This is not just about today, but has been true for thousands of years.
Through the history of education, religious bodies have played a pivotal role. The Church, the Muslim clergy, etc., and, if you were to look further back, the Buddhist Sangha, have been key stakeholders in education for most of history. So what was to be taught, learnt and explored was determined by theological priorities.
In practice, this translated into a wide range of institutions. Nalanda and Takshashila were centres of learning with very broad and eclectically determined areas of study, not entirely driven by Buddhist concerns. On the other hand, madrasas in the middle of last millennia were focused mostly on religious study.
Let’s jump to the present, and ask ourselves this question: how do we today decide what must be the matter of study in our schools and colleges?
The answer seems so obvious that the question doesn’t seem worth asking. It seems clear the government somehow handles this issue. It also seems obvious that the government doesn’t decide this in an arbitrary fashion, but gets this done through some group of sensible people, who in turn must be following some thoughtful process.
As we go deeper into this issue, it becomes more complex, and also more confusing. It’s not so difficult to intuitively understand how this group of sensible people decide, for example, “whether to study physics or not”; it becomes more difficult to understand how is the decision made that studying biology is more important than studying carpentry, or how much relative importance must be given to studying languages vis-à-vis mathematics. It becomes more complex when you look in the next level of detail, e.g., within geography do you pay more attention to physical geography or to social geography and then what topics to take up in what detail.
It’s apparent by now that what seemed like a fairly simple question, hides many complexities. But we can still take comfort from the fact that the bunch of sensible people charged with this task will somehow do a reasonable job. After all they have probably been chosen because they understand these issues well.
Let’s not forget that these people were chosen by the government. We should also ask why should it be that the government has the mandate to take this decision, in the first place.
The answer seems obvious. Since education is a crucial social good, a definite avenue for developing individuals and society, decisions related to education must somehow be determined by larger social will, factoring in social, economic and cultural concerns. The government is representative of this social will. There is also a defined process of functioning of the state, e.g., what issues can be decided by the executive, what by the legislature.
It must be obvious that I am simplifying matters, and brushing away nuances, but we are not missing the broad nature of this thing.
Let’s mull over a more controversial and intriguing thought. What would the group of sensible people, acting as agents of the government, which in turn is representative of the will of the people decide on what should be stated as the origin of the universe, as a matter of study. Is any of us surprised (in India at least) that origin of the universe is not attributed to divine creation, in standard school curriculum, though that may well be the prevalent belief in the country.
So somehow in this particular matter (as in many others) the accumulated wisdom of humanity overrides the seeming current “collective will and belief”.
Actually what gives legitimacy to this override is the expressly articulated vision of our society. This vision is built by us, most concretely represented in our Constitution. The Constitution makes us secular and emphasizes scientific temper. Which is where the legitimacy of this (and many such) overrides comes in to being. The good thing is that we intuitively understand this in our country.
It’s such situations that make it clear that the choice of what to study is not driven primarily by some here-and-now collective desire. It is driven by a methodical and cumulative set of choices which are in consonance with our vision of our society and its individuals. It is also validly drawn from the generally agreed (and accumulated) body of knowledge that humanity currently has.
Ordinarily, the group of sensible people do a good job of this and have done so in our country. But once in a while they are overruled by the state (or some wing of it). When this overruling is to protect our constitutional ideals, it has legitimacy. However, when it is driven by political expediency it has little or no legitimacy.
The guardians of our Constitution and its ideals have decided to drop a cartoon from a textbook, and are considering banishing all cartoons from all curricula; does this override have the legitimacy of the constitutional vision, or is it an act of populist, political expediency?
Anurag Behar is chief executive officer of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability issues for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education.
Originally published @ http://www.livemint.com/2012/05/16205927/What-to-teach.html ; Re-published with permission – Courtesy Anurag Behar