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Sunday, 18 August 2013

Future business of Engineering education in Tamilnadu

Now that the business of opening engineering colleges has been well entrenched and lot of money has flowed into this area, the question is how to get good returns. Since too many people jumped onto the bandwagon, we have a glut of engineering colleges. There is excess of supply in comparison to the demand. There is some opinion that there is demand, but due to the lack of quality of the supply there is lot of vacancies in jobs - or substandard recruitment.

Anyway, coming back to the profitability of the engineering colleges, the marketing and sales of the seats were initially pushed hard. Candidates were drawn from other states as well using incentives offered to existing students who bring in such candidates. There are some states, where parents have a view of paying high amounts and getting a degree for their wards. Hence, this is being tapped. But then, this is not sufficient to fill up all the seats available with the glut of colleges.

The next step was to attract more people by giving higher marks in their qualifying examinations. Children who usually got 70 or 80 were given 90s and hence indirectly induced to aspire for an engineering seat. Their parents were also enticed by the bigger picture of the IT and BPO sector employees earning high salaries right out of college. Still, this was not enough - as was seen in this year's engineering college admissions - about 70,000 vacant seats in Tamilnadu.

This evening, I heard on the news that a minister was giving a speech announcing 12 more engineering colleges to be opened. How are we going to put these into good use? Is there a plan for the government? Is there a practical vision / mission for these college management? Are the parents and children who are going to come out of schools in the coming years likely to get a good education that would lead to jobs?

Let us look at the effect of this education for the aspiring students and enticed parents. The quality of education in many engineering colleges are not great in transforming such students (those who have been given liberal marks). Hence, many of the students when they come out of such colleges, which cannot provide true education, with a degree, are not better off in comparison to what they would have learnt if they had not been to such colleges. Moreover, their parents' hard-earned money has now been spent with very little progress to show other than adding a degree to their resume. When they are turned down from many job interviews, it is too late and hits the whole family hard. The business has successfully taken out some hard earned money and given little in return in the colleges that lack the facilities / faculty.

What is the next step in this business? My friend from BITS days, Sreedharan, came up with a simple point. Next year they will introduce Financial Engineering in engineering colleges! What is the goal? The only goal will be to entice even Finance, Accountancy and Commerce students from schools into their colleges, now that they have invested heavily in these engineering colleges! The bigger the candidate pool, the chances of filling up the seats are higher. That would indeed be a master-stroke - the only fear being that it is likely to be true than fiction!

Jai Hind.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Business of College education

College education has become a business. We are not sure whether this is true all over India, or whether it is only in Tamilnadu. Some of the points further below are likely specific to Tamilnadu, but the overall sentiment is that the quality of college education is on a heavy down-slide. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes we feel it still has some more way to go (down) before we can expect any change. Of course, there are exceptions and those who are lucky to be associated with such exceptions are likely to do well in getting jobs, becoming scientists /entrepreneurs, etc.

So, what ails the situation now. It is all about the money, honey! Tamilnadu saw a big boom in Engineering colleges in the past few years. Whenever there is a huge leap in quantity, the question of quality immediately rises. General suspicion is that many of these colleges are not likely to meet the minimum standards of facilities and faculty. Now, in that case, don't the students and parents think and analyse before taking decisions of college choice good for them, in the long run? Definitely, they do, right?

Then, why should we worry? Well, the problem is that people are being misled in a web of deceit. After seeing the engineering boom of 1990s and 2000s, some wealthy people and/or those with political connections thought it best to open engineering colleges to make a long term profitable business for their family. This galloped away like a runaway horse, due to greed, where the planning and organization were given a go-by and only up-and-running at-all-costs was put at the forefront. Some colleges lacked facilities and majority of them lacked good "educators".

Naturally, the "business" has fallen flat, especially as seen in this year's 70,000 vacant seats in Tamilnadu Engineering colleges. This is "in spite" of the liberal marks being awarded in the higher-secondary examination. It is not difficult to surmise that the motivation for "encouraging" students with liberal marks is only to fill up the engineering colleges, now that the "connected" people have invested heavily in them!

A few years ago, the same person, who has now got 90s, would have got only 70s or 80s and chosen to do a bachelor's degree in science / arts / commerce. Alas, the parents and children have been misled from top down - high-paying jobs in engineering (more so in IT and related fields) seen in early 21st century, peer pressure and status playing on their minds, and the "sudden boon" of high marks scored. Everyone is hence "subtly coerced to be eager" to get into an engineering college. People had and have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

Now, what happens to the (college) business, when so many seats are vacant, in spite of liberal marks encouraging students? All is not lost for those who have invested in such engineering colleges - because they are connected & they can think and work hard to make further (deceitful?) changes. These changes will be again from purely business angle - with no two-hoots given for the students, families, society or nation. More about this, especially, a nice misleading business idea, suggested by our friend from college days, in the next post.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Underpaid teachers - a global phenomenon?

Recently, we were pointed to an article in the Hindu Teachers... glorified, yet short-changed where, the story of a few generations of people taking up teaching in different countries & finding it hard to make ends meet, is given. In fact the article ends with the statement "I had always thought that underpaid, under-appreciated schoolteachers were particular to our country. But it definitely is a global issue."

No small sample should be taken as the "general" case. Just like the situation where not every IIM graduate earns 12 Crore rupees a year (as they tout the top salary in all and sundry magazines every year), there is no generalization that all teachers are living a life of difficulty and stress.

One may ask about the various professors in tens of universities who are well paid / well-off. Yes, some people are well-off, but I would also like to point out that many of them are actually doing two jobs - they get grants for doing research work, other than teaching. Hence, strictly speaking, if one were a teacher, in a full time capacity, one would find either a decent living or many times find it difficult to make ends meet.

So, how does that affect India and its education system. Unless some financial stress is reduced, the motivation to build thinkers, leaders, business-men, etc., is deflected towards "covering the portions and going home". Unfortunately, we also see the other end of the spectrum. Professors in plump university jobs who are simply pocketing half-to-one lakh rupees per month, who do not really imbibe knowledge or innovation or curiosity into their students. They are actually, overpaid for the job they do (many of them probably have the knowledge and probably deserve good money - but not when they don't do the job). Having said this, the sad state of affairs in Indian schools is that most teachers are under-paid.

Teaching comes from "within" as a passion. And if this passion is not there, then the pay probably does not matter. For those without the passion, if they are paid less their attention is less & if they are paid more, then they love to squander their attention. So, it leads to the next level (and possibly infinite regress), that teachers need to be trained to build the future thinkers, leaders & business-men. This needs a drive at the Teachers training level curriculum and agenda. The passion must be drilled into them in those years, especially for those who are looking to just get a job. Change the mind-set and for that, those teachers' colleges have to set the higher goal.

Back to the original title of story - teaching invariably means an underpaid job, unless you innovate and get into research in parallel & get someone to pay more for your other contributions. On the other hand, seeing someone's face suddenly brighten when they have understood a concept which was eluding them, is very very satisfying, at least for me.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Education standards in India

Recently I was pointed to an article in Economic times which talks about the above subject. Here the root of the problem is thought to be that the Teachers need to inspire students with out of the box thinking. I beg to differ with respect to suggested changes to the education system. I have given some views earlier in this blog too - on the parents' role in education for children.

The root cause that has to change is that of parents' understanding of what is required for their children in long term perspective, rather than a short term view of a lucrative job. Parents' understanding that they need to build some leaders for tomorrow rather than a bread-winner for their old age - that is required for the education system to change.

The reasoning goes like this - whatever be the system we invent, due to sheer population, one ends up with means of testing the children against some questions. This needs to be simple to check (simply because of lack to time to check everyone's performance), unambiguous (to avoid issues of favoritism and subjective marks) and covering all subjects. Now, whichever solution one may come up with, the immediate knee-jerk reaction of the students & parents (and due to parental pressure for results, schools and teachers) is to "master the system", rather than master a subject (or subjects). They want to get the top marks at any cost, including rote learning, coaching classes, etc.

Unless the thinking of parents (and through them their children) changes to "life-oriented" learning instead of "job-oriented" learning, any education system is bound to fail with the pressures of population, lack of time, etc., because the testing system ends up being a "simple-objective" oriented one.

Parents in urban India are busy with their jobs and all other house-hold chores. They have very little time to teach their children and "schools, teachers and education system" are blamed. One can change schools, change teachers, change education system - but difficult to change their children or their own attitude towards learning/ life.

Now let us come to another aspect of learning - when does one get set on their course in terms of their attitude to learning, discipline, creativity, curiosity, inspiration, etc? It is only partly in school and partly by teachers. The parents can and have to set these strongly in their wards before the age of 5. The children have been watching, listening, copying, repeating, flattering the parents from the earliest possible age. If at this time there is less discipline, inculcation of wrong attitudes, role models have wrong habits, etc., they are easily imbibed by the children. If the parents are not able to answer the children their interest towards curiosity and learning reduces - parents should have "learning" attitude (that they will quickly learn even if from internet and answer them). The schools & teachers are now left to "undo" all the learning upto the age of 5, if they have not been set on the right path. With the population, there is little special attention possible to correct these things & likely has little effect (because the role models continue on their wrong paths).

Now, unless the Parents demand that the system change for better and they want to be part of the education, any system is going to be just "a hurdle to a job", rather than a stepping stone for success. Will this happen easily? No. So many parents complain that X or Y question was "out of portion"! Out of portion, if not allowed, there is no creativity. If one does not know to think out of the box, based on his learning (out of box is fought by the statement out of portion), then teachers or education system will not be able to do anything. The parents want to stoke the children's ego that they are the greatest on earth, while the teachers do not know "how to ask questions".

One aspect of the article I have not addressed is the "language" of teaching - whether mother tongue based education would make a difference. Again, with job oriented approach from students and their parents, it is difficult to avoid English as medium of instruction. I will comment further on this after gathering my thoughts (if I can)...

Since every parent wants only their wards to do well in exams, get top marks, get their engineering or medical degree, or fly to foreign countries for higher studies, with least effort from parents side.as well as the blame to put on the school / teachers / education system, any change in these 3 is not likely to make a better mark on the next generation of students.


Sunday, 18 December 2011

VRVD Musikings

My musings on music and the kings of Carnatic classical music are presented in a separate blog. See and hope you enjoy at VRVD MUSIKINGS (http://vrvdmusikings.blogspot.com/).

Monday, 31 October 2011

Break out of Catch 22

We can classify people into two groups based on the specific Catch 22 cycle they are caught up in.  Some people work hard, follow the processes they know and get the job done the same way, all the time.  The other group of people work smart, keep learning, try new things, make things efficient and end up doing well & learning a lot at the same time.  Both these groups are following Catch 22 cycles.  One is a negative Catch 22 and other a positive Catch 22.

Two different Catch-22 cycles
First group: The people in the first group get the job done.  They may even get the job done in time, all the time.  The effort they spend, though, is not efficient or effective.  You find many people in this group working late hours.  They end up being tired & not able to add other activities outside of work to the schedule.  Definitely there is very little time or motivation to learn new things. The person does not want anything related to work in their sight, after the long hours.  The end result is that the person continues to use methods learnt months or even years ago.

Second group: The people in the second group spend time to learn new ways of doing things in efficient manner.  This ensures that the job gets done on time, or even ahead of time.  Mostly regular work hours are sufficient to complete their job.  They have energy to branch into new areas & ideas.  They learn from books, articles, the web or even from others’ experiences.  This gives them more ideas to try & execute their tasks quickly.

If you feel that you are in the first group & feel that you are not able to get out of the cycle, here are some ideas to change it.

1.     Before taking any task, take a little time to know the task well.  Understand all aspects of the task & the different view points.

2.     Plan your work well, based on the understanding of all the aspects of the task.

3.     If you are going to use a new software or tool, first spend time in understanding all the features of the software & tool.  Some of the features could make things easy for you.  Remember the saying “A job well begun is job well done.”

4.     Repeat tasks must be automated.  Let the computer do the job for you.  Write macros or similar processes to ensure your efficiency increases.

5.     Finally, learn from others ideas, tools, utilities & experiences.  Share your utilities, tools & ideas with others.

Another aspect to this change: (a) Change by self-motivation or (b) Change by external pressure.  It is better to make this jump on your own, instead of waiting for external factors to push you into the learning process.  At that time, the effort to change may be lots & lots more.  This provides even further de-motivation.  Jump now, from the first cycle into the more efficient, effective & fruitful second cycle.

Remember: The initial effort spent to learn, plan and execute, on a tangent, compared to the immediate task at hand, helps you to shoot out of the orbital path & reach for the stars.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Change with Time


Conversation between father & son
Father: Don’t do this on Fridays.
Boy: Why should I not do it on Fridays.
Father: Don’t ask questions. This is how it should be done & always has been done.
We all would have heard this or a similar conversation time and again in our homes.  Read ahead and find out how the following experiment is similar to above conversation.
Primate Committee Thinking Experiment
NOTE: Don't try this with your own apes.
Start with a cage containing five apes.  In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it.  Before long, an ape will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the Banana.  As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the apes with cold water.  After a while, another ape makes an attempt with the same result - all the apes are sprayed with cold water.  Turn off the cold water.
If, later, another ape tries to climb the stairs, the other apes will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them.
Now, remove one ape from the cage and replace it with a new one.  The New ape sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.  To his horror, all of the other apes attack him.  After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original five apes and replace it with a New one.
The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.  The previous Newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.
Again, replace a third original ape with a new one.  The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.  Two of the four apes that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest ape.
After replacing the fourth and fifth original apes, all the apes which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.
Nevertheless, no ape ever again approaches the stairs.  Why not?
"Because that's the way it's always been around here."
Sound familiar?
Most of us would have come across this attitude in our life.  It would have happened in our home, work or in social environment.
Reasons
The reasons for such a negative attitude may vary. Here are a few of them:
1.    Some love to stay in the comfort of using known methods, even if it takes longer (like the above Primate excuse “That’s the way it’s always been around here.”)
2.    Some people focus on finishing the current task, rather than becoming efficient in the long run.  There is no exploration for quicker or easier methods.
3.    Someone Else’s Idea syndrome (SEI syndrome – pun unintentional).  Many people tend to not use a better method, simply because it was passed on to them from a peer / junior.  Their ego prevents them from using the better process.  (As an aside, did Americans come up with SEI because ISO was someone else’s – European – idea?).
4.    Some people love to exercise their muscles more than their brain & are adamant about it.
It is important to discourage such attitude among friends & colleagues.  We should encourage people to look out for chances of improvement.  Efficiency and effectiveness on the job must be constantly improved.
Action Plan
1.    Discourage people from using the “history” excuse.
2.    Don’t allow people to follow processes blindly.  Ask why a method was chosen & its merits.
3.    Encourage people to work smart, rather than work hard.
4.    Inculcate a good atmosphere to share ideas & encourage healthy competition.
5.    Give credit / reward for learning new methods.
6.    Give time for creativity & don’t add too much of pressure to deliver (pressure forces people to finish the job at hand rather than look for improvement).
7.    Push people to automate manual tasks.
After all, in this fast world, the quick learners and efficient people will shoot ahead fast.  Such people will also take the whole team / company along, given the right environment & impetus.