An East Delhi Citizen's Blog

general riff about politics, education, media, society, cricket..

Archive for the tag “education”

Love an engineer

On the threshold of a half-century of existence and 30 years after my father effectively killed any debate on possible career choices with, “Be an engineer or be a jholawalla!” this post is probably outdated even before I write.

Am I a good engineer? Was I ever? A long lost friend writes it best on his LinkedIn profile:

I am not a practicing engineer, but i strongly believe that engineering is the best educational stream that i could have opted for. I am not sure what i learnt from academically. But what i did learn was a way of thinking. Structured, process & time oriented working.

I think it is prudent to not link to his profile. But, my batch-mates would surely know who he is. He, as we used to dismissively say in college, has spent a lifetime “selling soap” and otherwise finding ways of cross-selling, up-selling, enticing customers to come to his stores as so many flies to the spider’s web. Bravo! 30 years on, my admiration is not even of the “sneaking” variety.

Read more…

Education: random musings

I ranted about the state of Indian education sometime back and that attracted some irate comments. Let me add some observations, not in any particular order. These are all seemingly unrelated but, they all point to a systemic malaise.

My daughter tells me that in her 7th standard class, cheating is wide-spread in all class-tests. This, in a so-called premier “public-school” of Delhi.

I interviewed a prospective applicant for a position in a company I am starting. Impressive resume’; BE in Mechanical Engineering and MBA from a leading management institute in Pune, specialised in “Operations”. When asked to name his favourite subject in school, he could not name any. I asked if it was Maths, since he had done engineering and then gone on to specialise in “Ops” for his MBA. It was not. He had a specialisation in “Ops” after a degree in Mechanical Engineering but he had never heard of the “Traveling Salesman’s Problem”. He had carefully cherry-picked only “quali” courses in his MBA final year and still managed a “Ops” specialization.

Now comes the shocking expose’ in The Australian, reported in the HT again of the more than 200 PhD degrees awarded in some Australian university to Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students. All of the newly minted PhDs allegedly plagiarized their thesis.

Kaushik Basu, in “Graduating to a real soft power” in HT today talks about the yawning gap in our higher education in both quality and quantity:
“India’s higher education system is floundering. We are doing badly in terms of both quality and quantity. Indian universities and institutes have all but vanished from serious international rankings. The percentage of Indians aged 18 to 23 years, enrolled in colleges and universities (the ‘gross enrollment ratio’) is 11. China, which trailed India till recently, now has a gross enrollment ratio of 22 per cent. For developed nations the average figure is 66 per cent. If India is to retain global competitiveness, it needs to expand its higher education sector massively — arguably by one or two hundred per cent — and also raise the quality of education.”

I wish Mr. Sibal reads Mr. Basu’s article. This is not something that can be done in 100 days, or even 5 years. But, a start has to be made. If India has to compete with developed countries or China, our human capital has to cope. In quality and quantity.

A cousin of mine, on his first visit to Beijing, wrote today, thus:  (quoted verbatim from email) “Perhaps Beijing is what Delhi might look like in about 10 years. Sign boards are all english and chinese. Communication is all english. This is in so far as we Indians think we are ahead of the chinese in terms of our hold on an international language. (emphasis mine) I think that advantage has all but disappeared with the new generation of chinese workers.
Here’s the scary bit. On my last visit to Beijing (about three years back), I would not have definitely written such an email. My hypothetical, if then, email would have been all about how tough it was to get anything done in English in China.

What if?

Many years back, in an MNC where I was employed then, they ran an global advertisement campaign headlined: “We never stop asking ourselves: What if?”.
 The campaign was about our well-earned (at least then!) reputation for designing and following sound processes. It was about asking questions to customers about what made sense to them and then designing processes and equipment and following through with sound execution and top of the class manufacturing  that justified the high premium our customers paid for them.

Our goal was to design a process or product for customer delight and then build in a large “stress-margin” so that even in the worst of circumstances, our products will work better than specified and our processes for delighting the customers will not fail.

I am a convert. I am zealot for that company; it has been almost ten years since I left. But, I still believe every line of that campaign and the examples they quoted in support of the central idea. Because, in the olden days, that was the company HP was. I am still an ambassador or an evangelist of the old HP way.

Why am I bringing up all this now? To basically comment on the recent two deaths of schoolgirls; Shanno and Akriti in Delhi.

While we all wait for the formal enquiries into their deaths to establish faults if any, I think we can safely predict the following: No school in Delhi, whether it is an expensive public school or a Municipal School in Narela, has a procedure for crisis management. 

How would a  similar incident be handled again? How would the schools ensure that such incidents do not recur?

In the absence of a clearly laid down policy and crisis management procedures, the teachers on the spot are left to improvise a response. I am sure they manage well in most cases; except when there is a real crisis and they are found wanting in their responses.
A policy handbook need not run into hundreds of pages; the best ones do not. In both Shanno and Aakriti’s case, a recognition of the need for urgent medical attention and rushing the girls to the nearest hospital would have sufficed. In both cases, precious time may have been lost while the teachers and students tried to get someone to own responsibility for action. Should this be decided ad-hoc?
I have seen suggestions from parents and comments that the school should have a “proper” doctor on premise. What next? A hospital on premise? Especially when all it needs is common sense and process orientation?

The school should have documented the process for any kind of medical emergencies. It could have either identified one person (with back-ups identified) who needs to be informed and who will decide on next steps or it could have empowered any teacher to follow through on emergencies. Having done the documentation of the process and ownership, it is a matter of communicating the names and contact details of the “process owners” to all the students and teachers and making the emergency contact details visible. Also, the “process owners” should be given real power to decide and follow through. And, they should be aware and trained on the possible choices they have in a matter of crisis.
In the spirit of “What if…?”, will the schools be prepared for the next attack of asthma or heat-stroke? Or, drowning? Or a fall?

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