Reforming Indian education
Rather than revolutionising its approach, addressing issues of inadequate resources and poor implementation will augur well for the country’s education policy, discusses Himanshu Manglik
The new National Education Policy has very laudable objectives. It has visions of transforming education, including higher education in India into the most preferred for the quality of teaching and research. It presumes that there is no shortage of resources and all that is required is to create a new vision. Unfortunately, it ignores the current reality and ignores the problems that the State has encountered until now, and the manner in which we are approaching the future, we will have to continue to struggle even harder. Problem-solving typically requires identification of the problem and understanding of the corrective action within known or enforceable constraints. It is not about changing the goalpost and creating a new vision, no matter how grandiose. The locus standi of the new education policy is that India can be a superpower in education because we had the world's first universities in Takshashila and Nalanda. What it forgets is that these universities existed around 600 BCE and that much has changed since then, not just in the world but in India as well. We need to focus on our current problems and find solutions rather than tom-tom what we were in the past. Civilisations have evolved with education and progressive thinking, and we need to keep pace. The document ends up reading like a euphoric dream.
It is not as if higher education in India today is bereft of a vision. The reality is, and this is fairly well accepted, that education is in flux, largely because of the lack of resources and the problems of implementation. Most of the initiatives that are highlighted in the new document as important initiatives have been in the implementation stage for a long time and academic institutions are struggling, with various degrees of success, to implement them. On the other hand, the new educational approach is certain to create bigger concerns because it wants to separate teaching from practising. This is inconsistent and illogical since robust learning at the higher education level requires a very strong interface between academics and practitioners. There are, of course, other aspects as well that indicate that no real SWOT analysis has been carried out to identify strengths in the existing system and whether it is possible to leverage them efficiently for the national good. To give it due credit, the policy draft talks about accelerating research. However, at this stage, instead of mobilising the already scarce resources for setting up new institutions for the purpose, it should have been suggesting ways to leverage the extensive system that has already been created by the government's own NKN [National Knowledge network]. This network has already connected over 1500 educational institutions across India through dedicated high-speed data carrying network for facilitating research with global institutions.
In fact, higher education in India is a bit of grey area and needs a better understanding before formulating a new transformational policy. Let us peep into the management education sector. The MBA degree continues to be a dream and an aspiration for thousands of students across the country. India is ranked 26th amongst countries as a destination for international students mobility. Management Institutes are mushrooming. There are some exceptional institutions and many who are working hard to get to the benchmark. Unfortunately, there are also a large number of institutions that are at best mediocre but couldn't be bothered. A large number are unable to engage the students, lag in the use of technology, hesitate to innovate and turn out management graduates who are unsure of themselves. Even the industry is unsure of them. Many management institutes are, in reality, conveyor belts for MBA degrees, and are not centres of management learning that they are expected to be. Their objective, primarily, is post-MBA placement and the focus is on short term skill sets. One of the main reasons is that many of these institutes work on business models that demand short term profitability. They teach courses required but are unable or unwilling to invest in helping the students 'learn how to learn'. Our undergraduate education system does not prepare the students sufficiently in the learning process.
The truth is that a very large number of students who get admissions in these management schools actually need to be hand-held and prepared before they are immersed in management theories. The dynamics of the system and oversupply forces the institutes to lower cut-offs for admission which in turn lowers the average academic profile of the
students entering the MBA courses. The process gets even more complicated when, under stress, personal insecurities begin to surface amongst students and personal inhibitions make learning more difficult. Lack of familiarity with industry results in a misplaced understanding of how they need to study and how they need to prepare themselves to be future managers. This is not a new insight. The concern is that we do not give this issue sufficient weight. Even the new education policy falters on this.
Good management education is about creating a passion for finding solutions, helping in understanding the science of management, developing a holistic mindset, and equipping students with conceptual learnings. It requires a lot of rigour, both from the students as well as the faculty. Just like we do not build structures on weak foundations, we should not attempt to create super managers without strengthening their ability to learn. A good management school is expected to not only teach the basics of management but must also focus on empowering students in the real sense, by helping them 'learn how to learn'. This is not easy but then there is no option if you want to be a
serious learning centre for management education. The acknowledgement in the draft education policy, of the need for 'Learning how to learn' could have been a strong pillar for higher education but it glosses over on this crucial reality and falls short. The institutes need to take students' learning capabilities and exposure into account and provide sufficient remedial support through workshops, through training and through personal mentoring. The objective of management education must be to prepare young managers who are confident and conceptually clear and to encourage and develop an inquisitive mindset that can help them grapple the rapidly changing environment.
If the higher education sector in India is to become world-class then we need to meet the issue head-on. The issue is about scarce and inadequate resources and poor implementation. The issue is also about the regulatory approach where we deny accreditation for failing to meet standards. We need to review our approach to the problem, rather than change the policy approach itself. We need to set up working teams of experts in education management who can group the existing institutions into standardised quality classification and then handhold these institutions to help them upgrade to the next quality level. The way forward is for the regulatory bodies to adopt a positive and project management approach. They need to accept accountability if existing institutions are not achieving the next level. It does not require a new refurbished education policy but it certainly demands a totally innovative and committed mindset. Until then, irrespective of reformulated visions, the gap between what we teach, what the student learns and what is required will continue to increase. This becomes painfully evident when we evaluate many of the 'industry-ready' MBAs that are entering the job market today. Many of them are 'Managers By Accident' and not 'Masters of Business Administration'. The new education policy says all the right things. Yet, I am still asking myself whether it knows how to tackle the problem.
(Himanshu Manglik is founder and mentor of WALNUT CAP Consulting LLP. The views expressed are strictly personal)