Monday, 14 November 2016

Expectations and Support

Would you agree or disagree with these two statements?
1) If we expect more of our students, they will achieve more.
2) If we give our students more support, they will achieve more.
These statements are being tested in America’s charter schools. In the depressed inner cities of the US with their dismal educational outcomes, many children are shifting from substandard, traditional government schools to new academies – some private and some government run – that promise to improve student achievement.
Not all charter schools succeed. Those that do, however, all operate according to the two sentences above. They expect more of students, and they provide more support for students. Such schools raise the performance of poor, minority students to the same levels as their richer, white peers.
What is the lesson for Indian educators?
First, we should raise the bar. Now, we expect our students only to sit quietly and take notes while we lecture so they can repeat what we have told them at exam time. Instead, we should expect them to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the material they are studying, and to apply what they have learned to create professional-level output.
Second, we should provide better feedback and support. Marks are not enough. We need to identify strengths and weaknesses in each student’s thinking process and then, coach each one to address the gaps.
The status quo in many institutions is unsatisfactory. Our graduates are not work-ready. Raising expectations alone will not cure the deficiency. We must also invest time and effort in supporting our students to assure that they reach their full potential. Only then will they be able to do the needful to make India the world leader we should be.
Related reading: Schools That Work

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

University as Job Preparation

I would like us to improve the way we prepare students for their careers. Let’s start by examining our approach.

India’s university system was designed to meet the country’s need for well-trained technocrats. We channel students into streams, where they spend three years learning the principles, theories and relevant facts of one area, such as engineering, commerce, or the arts.

Contrast this with the way US universities evolved, which was from the general to the specific. There, “the original rationale for majors was not to train students for careers. Rather, the idea was that after a period of broad intellectual exploration, a major was supposed to give students the experience of mastering one subject, in the process developing skills such as discipline, persistence, and how to research, analyze, communicate clearly and think logically.”

Employers around the world value the second type of graduate more than the first, except as it relates to highly specialized positions. “A study for the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers agreed that a ‘demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a job candidate’s] undergraduate major.’”

The fact is, in our rapidly-changing world, most graduates, in their careers, will not use most of the technical skills they learn in our universities. In computer science and computer applications, technology can become obsolete in months. Most engineering graduates don’t spend their workdays solving engineering problems. In the US, 73% of graduates have jobs where their major area of study is not even relevant.

Let’s adapt to the needs of the hour. Let’s prepare our students to think and work broadly and flexibly so they can adapt and succeed for decades to come.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Entrance Exams

India’s entrance exams serve a purpose, but I think the system could be improved. Our exams provide an unbiased means to ration seats at our elite institutions. They create a level playing field where applicants compete to win.

However, our exams test only a student’s memory and his ability to calculate. The exams are fit for purpose because the universities assess students on the same two abilities: to remember and to solve math-based problems. Memory and computational ability are important for success – particularly in the classroom – but I doubt that they have much predictive value for achievement in work and life.

To become more effective in preparing the next generation of India’s leaders, we must better align the goals and methods of our universities with the needs of commerce, industry, government, and society. As our goals and methods change, so must our entrance exams.

An entrance exam should test the student’s readiness to study at the university level, and it should predict, insofar as possible, the student’s success in study and work. My ideal exam would measure reasoning ability, mathematical ability, ability to read and write, and personality.

Reasoning, which includes pattern recognition, deductive logic, and identifying relationships, is usually assessed with IQ-test questions. Mathematical prowess is easy to test with problems. Reading comprehension can be measured with interpretive questions about prose samples. Writing ability is shown through essay questions.

To assess personality, I would add questions about habits, beliefs, preferences and goals. These questions could identify students whose motivation, values and gifts mark them as great potential contributors. In some cases, universities would admit students of excellent character ahead of some others with superior intellectual gifts.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Relevant MBAs

If our business schools are going to lead the world, then we will have to change some things.

India must train trans-national managers. As Dr. Rakesh Khurana of Harvard Business School commented, managers now have to succeed with people who don’t share their values, “We have to teach students to be authentic leaders in that world.” Indian universities should assign projects where students must learn to work and lead in an international environment, whether actual or simulated.

Trailing most US B-schools, HBS has finally started to incorporate group projects in its course. In India, such assignments are still largely absent. This deficiency must be corrected if we are to lead the world. In companies, employees work in teams. Although projects don’t fit our traditional lecture-and-test pedagogy, they are essential to prepare students for the world of work.

Another area where we must improve is research. When I read B-school journals, I’m saddened by how low we set the bar for our professors. While listening to one faculty member present her paper, I mistook her for a PG student, thinking that her project – limited in both scope and relevance to industry – had been assigned as a class project.

Read Dr. Khurana’s assessment of research in US B-schools: “But we business schools have lost the place where we could be turned to as a source of basic research and basic knowledge. Very few businesses turn to us. They turn to other sources of knowledge, such as consulting firms, instead.” Then, consider the gap between research in the US and research in India. We have a lot of ground to make up.

I’m confident that we have the talent to advance and even overtake the current leaders in higher education. I’m optimistic that we will do the needful. The only thing I’m not sure of his how long it will take. I hope you’ll commit to changing the things that you control to better serve our students and our country.

Related reading: The Multipolar MBA

Monday, 22 August 2016

College Rankings

Colleges love to boast about their rankings. But what do these rankings represent? Why are rankings so important? How do they affect the way we run our academies?
No two ranking systems are alike, so the only way to know what a particular ranking means is to research how the assessment was conducted. It’s shocking that some rankings include only colleges that bothered to complete the entry forms. Such exercises are nearly meaningless – they exclude many leading institutions, and they are based on self-reported performance, which is suspect.
Other rankings are more comprehensive, but they weight various parameters differently. Some are primarily reputation based; they report what outside stakeholders think about the universities. Others focus on inputs, such as physical plant and faculty, and outputs, such as placements and research.
High rankings are a source of pride, but their prime value – at least among private universities – is as tools in marketing to prospective students. This is ironic, because in India, higher education is not supposed to be delivered for profit. In reality, institutions need enrollments to fund their operations, and they compete each year to fill their seats with top students.
In an ideal ranking system, what parameters would we measure? The output I care about most is the development of the students. By the time they graduate, how much of their potential do they reach? How competent do they become? How mature and independent are they? How well can they analyze and interpret what they see and study? How logical and critical is their thinking process? How wise are their decisions?
Parents and students want what they want, and the current rankings satisfy some of their requirements. I hope that we will become increasingly sophisticated and high-minded in the way we design, administer, participate in, and interpret college rankings.