Archive for the ‘Career’ Category

We don’t need no education

Posted: May 15, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, Education
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Winston Churchill once said – My education was interrupted only by my schooling. Perhaps Churchill should have sought advice from Mark Twain who had said only a few years before Churchill – I went to school, but it did not interfere with my education. Winston Churchill and Mark Twain were not alone in their views on schooling. Several successful personalities (Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein etc.) belonging to different timeframes of the world, have expressed serious doubts about the efficacy of the “education” provided at conventional schools. Though the above statements were made almost a century ago, they are as valid today as they were before. The 21st century might have witnessed a gadget boom, transformed the services industry, ushered in a social media revolution, and changed the way the world looks! But it has failed to influence our schooling system, which has remained archaic, forgotten and ignored like our historical monuments – with old foundations, shaky walls and boarded windows.

Being a civil engineer, I might still pretend to have a hint of expertise in the restoration of historical buildings, but having just finished my student life, I can in no way claim an expertise in redesigning our school system, nor will I pretend to do so. It’s just that my father’s frequent transfers gave me an opportunity to study in five different schools across four states in two different boards. Along with that, being the daughter of a school-teacher gave me a perspective into the thought process of teachers and a chance to strike up numerous dinnertime conversations with teachers across classes. All these experiences concluded in a course on Education that I managed to chance upon in my MBA. Hence this blog post, though not an expert view itself, is an amalgamation of hours of random discussions, snippets from experts and records of experiments, all in an attempt to find the missing spark in our schooling system.

…so long as it’s black.”

When I first watched Ken Robinson’s video talk, I was more enamoured by the creatives rather than the content. Though some of the content did strike resonance with me, being an outcome of the very schooling system that Ken had criticised, I chose to ignore it. It was only later that the essence of what Ken had spoken jolted me. Ken had spoken about the fact that our schools are a derivative of industrialisation, hence are organised on factory lines. That is why the most important factor considered while slotting children in different classes is their ‘date of manufacturing’, not their aptitude or interests or ambitions. Babies are put into the factory of education and then come out as standard products – engineers, doctors, MBAs, CAs – each product category different from the other, but each product in a category eerily similar.

Every child has a varying interest in different subjects. For example, I have always been a lover of English and Mathematics, while my brother was a die-hard fan of Physics and Geography. We had the same upbringing, similar schooling, and same genes – but still our talent and aptitude lay in different things. But no school would ever consider putting me in Standard 7 and my brother in Standard 6 for Maths, and vice versa for Physics. Because we were expected to perform by our birth date, our aptitude being too subjective a term.

A system where children are slotted at different levels for different subjects does exist in some measure in schools in the US. For example, for every class there might be a Basic Mathematics class for students who perform at an average level in the subject, and an Advanced Mathematics for students exceptional in it. Such a system allows students to spend more time in subjects that they are interested in. Not every student can be a historian and not every student will be a mathematician. Hence, allowing students to study the basics in all subjects but be an expert in only a few, is a policy that makes sense. Especially in India, where most students decide their future paths abruptly after Class 10th, such a system would give them time to understand what they like studying, hence allowing them to make better career choices and perhaps solve the ‘engineer-doctor’ syndrome affecting the Indian middle class.

A derivative of the caste system, the ‘engineer-doctor’ syndrome is a vicious circle of hierarchical occupations. Daddy Engineer tells his son, “You have full freedom son, do anything as long as you become an engineer”. Doctor Mommy and Doctor Daddy tell their daughter, “We won’t force you to chose biology, but think of the clinic before you make your choice”. Almost as if Ford was telling his customers, “People can have the Model T in any colour so long as it’s black.”

It’s time to cure the syndrome, to transform our schools from the factories that they are, to centres of learning, to finally let go of Ford’s Black car hangover, and let our children paint their lives with colours of choice from their palette.

To Sir with Love

An important cog in the wheel of the schooling system is teachers. We have all had good teachers, insignificant teachers and bad teachers in our school lives. Of course the bad ones are remembered the most, followed by good teachers, and the insignificant ones don’t matter.

On an average, the pedagogy that our teachers adopt in schools is uninspiring, insipid and boring. Largely, the teaching styles inhibit participation in class. In fact, most teachers do not entertain questions in the middle of their teaching. They encourage students to speak only when spoken to, not when they want to speak, if they care to want to speak at all. Even if students speak in classes, they do so to express doubts, never opinions. It is assumed that the teacher is better at everything than the student, so the roles of talker-listener are clearly demarcated. Children, of course, are not born with this system in mind. In fact it is almost morbidly beautiful how these roles get reversed over time. When a baby is born, it’s the baby who governs the language of conversation (Ba Ba, Boo Boo, Te Ta etc.) and it’s the parents who oblige by uttering syllable-like words that they can’t make sense of. Gradually, as the kid grows, she starts asking so many questions, that it would make one feel that if unstopped, her barrage of questions could probably cause some serious brain damage. But once she starts going to school, a sudden role reversal happens – this ability to conjure up questions reduces, and slowly the curiosity is stymied by systemic problems. In fact, Albert Einstein has famously said It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. Miracles do not continue indefinitely, hence we need to stop depending on them, and instead develop pedagogy that nurtures this curiosity, rather than suppresses it. Teachers should make special attempts to involve students in class discussions, to prepare examinations where opinions are asked rather than just hard facts, to encourage students to ask more and more questions without fearing that a question might be labelled foolish. A change of attitude is required so that teachers learn with students rather than make students learn.

Not only that, our curriculum also has to be designed in a way that children enjoy their experience in school. Considering that education now needs to compete with mind-boggling and brain-fizzing distractions in the form of internet, playstations and television, it needs to have other aces up its sleeve, as plain textbooks will no longer suffice. The best way to conjure up these aces is to be as mind-boggling and brain-fizzing like the distractions, and that is where audio-visual educational aids step in. In India, the development of digital content in the K-12 (Kindergarten to Standard 12) space is a growing business, but it still has not attained the large scale usage that it should. Currently this digital content is purchased by a few enthusiastic and tech-savvy parents, but for a prolonged solution, this initiative will have to be taken at the teacher-level, school-level or rather system-level.

It’s not simple to make all these changes in the existing system. Teachers will argue that these changes have no point because in the end the board examination gives no value to such learning. Board officials will say that teachers are not skilled enough to handle new systems of pedagogy. The education ministry might point out to the paucity of funds due to which hi-tech educational aids cannot be invested in. The baton might be shifted from the teachers to school authorities to board officials to the education ministry and back from the education ministry to board officials to school authorities to teachers. But someone needs to take the first step, give a nudge to the first domino. Perhaps the need of the hour is an incarnation of Ricardo Braithwaite – who will step into the corridors of our schools or the offices of our education boards or the hallways of our education ministry and start putting systems in place that ensure that the seeds of creativity in children are not lost in the drone of education.

Security Prison 21

In Phnom Penh, somewhere in the inner city lies the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A number of schoolchildren visit it daily, and a lost tourist might even mistake it for a school by looking at its exteriors. It is actually the site of the notorious Security 21 prison by the Khmer Rouge communist regime. But before being converted into S-21, it was actually a high school. Makes one wonder that probably not a lot of work needs to be done to convert schools into prisons. The bells, grills and guards would just be the same, maybe some additional walls could be put in. In fact, not only do our schools look and feel like prison chambers, sometimes we treat them in the same way as well – any child who does the mistake of peering out of any classroom window is promptly admonished, as if a crime had been committed by being curious.

The underlying issue is that we simply consider our classrooms as four walls and a roof, needed to contain students and teachers rather than as learning aids themselves. There have been the occasional manicured gardens, bright posters on walls, colourful notice boards in classes in some schools, but school space and its constituent elements have never been actively used for learning. There are numerous ways in which this can be done. For example, having abacus as window grills, making scale of measurements on desks, drawing shapes and colors on the floor in corridors, graffiti boards on the walls, painting numbers on stairs so as to make learning a part of play for young children. Even for senior classes, the furniture in the classroom can be made movable, such that different methods of pedagogy can be employed – group study, projects, individual study etc.

In technical terms, this creative designing of school buildings is called “Buildings as Learning aids (BaLa)”. Vinyãs is an architectural firm that has invented BaLa and is involved in several consulting projects to publicise the use of BaLa. In fact, Kabir Vajpayee, a Prinicipal Architect at Vinyãs has also written a book on the subject, in case any of the readers wish to learn more on the subject.

According to BaLa, simple creative ideas when deployed in the classroom space can combine with the mundane textbook or blackboard to create a vibrant learning atmosphere. Proper utilization of the classroom and school building can create a space for children where they find comfort and freedom, where they get enthused to experiment and learn. We really need to redesign most of our schools to distinguish them from our prisons. Though Kiran Bedi might want to get education in our prisons, let’s not get the prisons into education.

The little girl at the window

The story of Tottochan was written by a Japanese author, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Tottochan was a young girl, who was thrown out of her first school because of her excessive curiosity, divergent thinking and overzealous nature – in other words for looking out of the window constantly, calling over street-musicians to the class and talking to swallows. She is subsequently admitted to a different school – Tomoe Gakuen, which turns out to be a Wonderland for our Tottochan. Tomoe Gakeun is a school where classrooms are held in stationary train wagons, self-study is the prominent mode of education with teachers stepping in only when one has doubts, there is no demarcation of periods for every subject – you can do any subject anytime as long as you finish all the work by the end of the school-day, physically challenged children study together with everyone else to make sure that they mingle in the world naturally, lessons in science are taught on nature walks and constellations are taught by holding night camps for star-watching. It is a school where learning was imparted in such a subtle manner that it left its pupils wanting for more, where each day held something new for Tottochan, where Tottochan could dream and conjure up a future of her choice.

Like Tottochan, I have a dream too, a utopian one perhaps. Of a school like Tomoe Gakuen. I have a dream of a school where a child is understood by her interests rather than age, where teachers are guides and not gods, where classrooms are a whirlpool of colors, where classes are a smorgasbord of subjects. I have a dream where the little girl staring out of at the window is not reprimanded but rather the whole class is taken outside to show the others what she is able to see.

I have a dream….


Dear Class of 2011

Posted: March 27, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, IIM, life
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The words of wisdom below have been penned down by our dear friend, mentor and teacher – Prof. Nagesh Rao, who teaches Managerial Communication at IIM Ahmedabad.

Dear Class of 2011

A person, a nation’s character is best defined in difficult times.  An earthquake and a tsunami have wiped out thousands in Japan.  Yet, her grace and her generosity are inimitable.  In Miyagi where the tsunami would hit, a man who owned a fish processing plant was hosting 20 interns from China. When he heard the tsunami alarm he sensed that the interns couldn’t know what might happen or what to do. He got them all together and took them to a safe higher ground, and then rushed back to his home to rescue his family. He and his family are among the thousands lost.

Or we could talk about Mr. Raja, Mr. Kalmadi, Miss. Radia, or the IAS Joshi couple.  The choice is ours. Yours.

At 16, when my classmates were rushing to take science classes to pursue engineering and medicine, I chose commerce.  I thought I was a trailblazer, a deviant and one of a kind.  Four years later, after several gut-wrenching and listless accounting and economics classes, I knew it was not me.  I had chosen a major only slightly off the path and still within the norms of societal approval.  Did I take a radical step and follow my dream – my love for acting, my passion for dance, and my keen visual eye?  No.  I was afraid to leave the comfort of a stable boat.  Afraid to fail.  Worried what the Iyers and Guptas would think of me.  Afraid of myself.

The solution was simple and brilliant.  Procrastinate.  Now, I will work hard, make money, and dabble in my passion later.  Happiness, you see, is a choice.  Unhappiness is a choice.  The choice is ours.  Yours.

So, in a Mary Schmich/ Kurt Vonnegut MIT urban legend speech style:

chuck your blackberry.

listen to the silence.

have a pillow fight.

sing in a public bathroom.

drink some wine.

take a pilgrimage.

give your kids time, not the latest igadget.

mow your neighbor’s lawn.

be gentle with yourself.

surprise your grandma.

belch in a boardroom meeting.

keep a pygmy shrew for a pet.

plunge.  binge.

mail a hand-written letter

save strangers.  leave an imprint.

– Prof. Nagesh Rao

Can be reached at

The Risk-free Indian

Posted: February 6, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, Indian, life
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I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

The Road not Taken by Robert Frost

Multiple horror movies have shown “The Road Not Taken” as a scary path to walk on – full of shocks that will spring upon you out of nowhere, a dangerous route where every step needs to be taken with utmost care. And we, the current Indian student generation, consider the vision shown by these movies as the truth. Thus, we live all our lives, trying to follow the footsteps of previously successful people who have gone down “The Road Most Taken”. A large majority of us aspire to be engineers, that too IITians, and then MBAs, that too IIMites, and then consultants, I-bankers, traders. Those who go to commerce or other engineering colleges regret not having an IIT degree, those who go to the MDIs and the XLRIs of the world, wish that they had cracked CAT and many who go into marketing wish that they had got a Day 0 job. The people on the other side of the line gloat on and on about the perfect life that they have managed to create for themselves. But this is a glossed-over version of the truth. In reality, several of those IITians are misfits who could have done much better in an Arts degrees, several of those IIMites would have been better off doing entrepreneurship or doing an MS in their field of engineering, and several of those Day 0 candidates would have been much happier in an advertising career. The only reason for these skewed career paths in our generation is our basic risk-aversion, which pushes us towards certain well-known and successful career paths and keeps us averted from other so-called “different” career paths.

Risk aversion is inherent in the Indian culture. Even our ancient scriptures preach against risk-taking – they speak of Yudhishtira who took huge risks in the game of Chaupar and lost everything and show how that one incident caused the biggest war of those times. This risk aversion is an accepted fact, but the interesting thing is that we have a habit of continually praising its merits, without looking at its downside. The recent recession and India’s stable situation in it, especially relative to US, has given us even more reasons to praise it. We shy away from loans, we save for the future, we build stable personal careers, and we love MNCs: we seem pretty smart don’t we? The downside is that we grow at a much slower rate, we prefer to jump onto the bandwagon rather than walk alone, we rarely start-up new businesses unless we have an extremely strong financial background, and we almost always take “The Road Most Taken”. Hence, the same risk aversion that we boast of, is the reason why India has had limited returns in the past. And contrastingly, it is the risk-philic nature of US populace, which has led them to be a superpower, that has helped cultivate a culture of innovation and fostered the creation of companies like Google, 3M, Ford and Pfizer. But we tend to concentrate on the Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and choose to exemplify them to show the iconic failure of the “American dream” rather than appreciate the school dropouts who created Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. What we fail to realize is that by our risk averseness, though we have ensured that there will be no Lehman Brothers in India, we have also killed the possibility of creation of hotbeds of innovation like Apple.

Let me clarify that I am no different in this regard. I am an engineering misfit who has chosen the conventional path in the lure of assured returns, one who has not had the courage to try things closer to the heart. In fact, that is why I sat down today to think of the reasons behind this phenomenon. One of the prime reasons is that we are an emerging economy, not a developed one yet. As a consequence, a lot of us have seen our parents in constrained financial situations in our childhood. We do not want to go through similar difficulties; hence continual supply of money is an important factor for us, which drives us away from the perceived risks in entrepreneurship. Another reason is that in the professional job-space in India, a Curriculum Vitae (CV) holds more value than people themselves. And that is because the interviewers are themselves risk-averse, hence they trust a CV more than a personal interview. This drives people to try and acquire maximum number of good brands on their CV, thus driving them towards the conventional path again. One reason is also that our society and peer group places certain professions on a pedestal as compared to others, thus societal pressure pushes everyone to go for those professions where there is more perceived respect. In fact if a graduate goes into entrepreneurship, we all tend to believe that it was because he/she was unable to land herself a good job. An overarching cause is also that the above reasons combine to create a vicious circle – since some career paths have been more treaded-on they have become more developed and hence more profit-making. For example, the probability of a CA earning a high salary is higher than that of an artist, just because the art scene in India is still in its initial stages.

In this situation, I cannot expect a utopian transformation to occur in this generation – that we suddenly start valuing the “different” career path and all of us start doing what our heart truly desires. In fact I am not even sure whether the next generation will be very different in this regard, whether we will give them enough space to try alternate careers. But I can only hope that with more stability in their backgrounds and more confidence in their personal selves, at least some of them will hopefully venture out to explore those untreaded-on paths with more courage than we did.

As for me,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and a generation after:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one more travelled by,
And that was recipe for disaster.

The Yellow Canary

Posted: September 7, 2010 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, Women
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It was a yellow canary. When she broke out of the egg, she came out all fluffy, yellow and grey. They taught her how to take flight with her tiny wings. They trained her to sing, in a soulful voice that became the fame of the jungle. They showed her to track seeds, and build her cup nest in the best of shrubs. Then one day as she was flying high in the sky, a netted cloth closed on to her, clipped her wings together. Next she awoke, she found herself in a golden cage, with an abundance of seeds, with people co-cooing her all around, urging her to sing.

She never sang again. And a few days later, was no more.

Similar to the life of the yellow canary, will be the life of several young women of our generation, whom for lack of better words, I will chose to call Alpha Females. These alpha females have been considered equal to boys since childhood. They have competed with the boys (and defeated them) right from school days – in exams, debates, tests – and then later on in higher levels of competition like college entrances, job interviews etc. This continuous competition and regular winning has ingrained an indomitable fighting spirit in their minds. They are employed by the best of firms, in the best of careers, and feel that their journey for success has just started.

And exactly at that point of time, comes along their netted cloth – marriage.

Suddenly the alpha females find themselves in completely unfamiliar terrain. All of a sudden, the expectations from them change. Their parents start expecting that they will now leave their career ambitions to have a fruitful and happy married life. Their husbands appreciate their success till date, but want them to become adjusting now. They do not want conflicts and believe that the important career in the household is their own, and hence the secondary career can be sacrificed a little. All this in the name of a happy married life.

In the process, the alpha females get hurtled around. The concept of taking their foot off the pedal or slowing down their success rate is too foreign to digest. They have two options, to stay alone or to slow down. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation. If they stay alone, the loneliness will finally get to them. If they slow down, their lack of achievement, after the hard work they have put in throughout life, will always pinch them.

If this is what equanimity between men and women finally gets you, one wonders about the efficacy of the efforts, when the expectations are skewed in nature. It is like encouraging women to run the 500 metres sprint, and then asking them to slow down after the first 100 metres; and then justifying it by saying that at least they got the experience of running the first 100 metres.

The recent years have seen a multitude of efforts being put in, all across the world, to confer on women a way of living similar to that of men, to enable them to stand in the world as equals in all respects, to feel liberated and emancipated.

But this emancipation is inherently flawed. It provides you with a liberated lifestyle while you’re young, but once you have experienced the freedom and independence that the lifestyle gets you, the society comes back again to strike you with its burden of expectations of adjustment.

This flaw, unless solved, will leave several young women utterly confused and torn apart in the process of their growth.


Posted: July 24, 2010 by Anindya Dutta in Career
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The last few weeks have given me an opportunity to take a long hard look at myself , as I go through the excruciating mental grind of making some important decisions related to my future professional career choices. Not that I have not tackled difficult issues before, but this time the approach was different. On this occasion, true to WIMWI style, I decided to approach the problem the traditional WAC way. Lay out options which are available to you, outline criteria for evaluation and then judge your options on the basis of the outlined criteria. Although this piece is no excerpt from “How to make career-related decisions for Dummies”, I have outlined certain generic criteria which anyone, I believe, should apply to judge a career option.

So here is how it goes…

Assume you are evaluating a career option at company A.

Criteria 1: When you look around at what the senior people in company A are doing, does that excite you?

Typically, people talk a lot about enjoying what you do. But most of us enjoy what we do when we can unleash our creative or analytical abilities to help us take key decisions, and then back those decisions with compact strategic execution. And that typically does not happen when we start our careers as analysts/associates or whatever fancy designations different companies may give us. That usually happens when one has gone through the muck, the grind and earned greater business experience which gives people around us greater confidence to allow a person to take responsibility. So judge a profession/company based on what you think you will be doing 5-6 years down the line, and not what you are doing now.

Criteria 2: Does company A give sufficient regard to your need for work-life balance?

Now, all of us have heard a lot about work-life balance. The reality is that the more you earn, the less you tend to balance. In fact, most job descriptions which claim to provide you with a great work-life balance are typically bullshitting you. It’s a competitive world out there and if you want to be at the cutting edge, you need to slog, and that usually comes at the expense of other worldly benefits. The important point, however, is whether the company/sector recognizes the need for work-life balance. I stress on the word “recognize” purely because no company/sector can provide you a great work-life balance all the time. However, as long as the company/sector recognizes the need for work-life balance as a prerequisite for high work quality and sustainable efforts from its employees, it will ensure that you never typically burn out. As I said, its not just about talking the talk but also about walking the walk….

Criteria 3: If you were to want to try out something else after a relatively long stint at company A, where does the experience at A leave you?

Although this applies more to a sector or industry choice rather than a company-specific decision, I know of friends for whom this has been a deciding factor in making company level decisions as well. Well, this criteria can be likened to checking whether the insurance policy you are buying is good or not. Most of us, I presume, are looking to progress in our careers with a diverse range of experiences, and it is important to be able to take calls on industry and company of choice keeping an eye on exit options, if and when we want to bail out or move on to the next challenge

So, that’s just about it!!! Plain and simple as I had promised…

Now many people will argue that there are several other factors which need to be given due importance while assessing available career options. Well, that’s true. For some people factors such as monetary compensation or location might as well turn out to be dealmakers or dealbreakers. However, in my humble opinion (and I am no authority on this subject), for successful sustainable fulfiling professional careers, the above three criteria are necessary condititons on which a given career option should be evaluated. These criteria are no red flags in anyway whatsoever, but establish very good preliminary ground to begin evaluating options in more granular detail.Once you are satisfied with how a company performs on these criteria, it is highly recommended that one should look at other more personally relevant criteria as well.

Purely as a rule of thumb, in my opinion, a company which fails on any two out of the above three criteria should be immediately rejected. However, the actual rule one would apply would depend on the relevant context.

Well, I am off to continue my search for answers to questions which I am confronted with at present. If you radically disagree with any of my thoughts, please drop in your comments.