Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rat race - where did it all start?

Leg-pulling, back-stabbing and the rat race is prevalent and persistent in corporate culture. Manipulations and politicking to get ahead never stops. Soon after people enter the work life, they start reminiscing their childhood days in school or college. But my question has always been, "Where did this rat race start in the first place?" I found my answer today.

As I was conducting the 'Life Skills' class encouraging students to compete only with themselves, the coordinator madam entered the class. She picked one student and said, "Alice, you used to come in the 10th position and now you're 11th. Are you going to win next time? Are you going to let anyone overtake you?" Then she picked another one and said, "Alex, are you going to let anyone win you? You're going to be better than everyone else, right?" The kids nodded their head in agreement and I could see how desperate they were to get ahead of others and be better in relation to other classmates just to please the authority figures including the parents and teachers. That's when it struck me. This culture of rat race begins right from the roots of education.

Competition is a good thing as long as it inspires and encourages you to improve and excel than your previous self. But the way of motivating kids or motivating anyone as such has been through making them compete with someone else. A child who learns in his more than 10-15 years of schooling to compete and win others is definitely going to do the same thing when he enters his work life. Kids are simply not taught the value of co-operation and helping one another. It's not enough to teach 'Moral Science' when the basic form of judging the kids is based on their ranking on examination or how well they have performed in comparison to the next kid.

In one of the Toastmasters' meeting, an experienced Toastmaster said, "Toastmaster is not about competing with anybody else but competing with yourself. It is about improving your previous speech and becoming a better speaker yourself. You compete only with yourself." I also remember the lines from the sunscreen song, "Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and at the end it's only with yourself." But when will the educators and administrators learn about this? When will the kids learn about this? And as long as the kids don't understand the importance of competing only with oneself and the worthlessness and irrelevance of competing with others, how can we expect the workplace to be any different? We might enter a workplace and long for the good old days with friends without understanding that what we long for was the very place where the feeling of competition and the desperate urge to win was inculcated in our basic drive and instinct.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Plan vs. Implementation

My college is planning to implement a new set of procedures for the management program once again. It’s probably the third time that they have changed their way of teaching students. More class room participation, student-centered and web-based activities and thought-provoking session among students are encouraged. The intention of doing all this is good. In case of an effective implementation of this plan, the results would bring very remarkable results. More proactive students and critical and creative thinkers can be produced through this program. But the question is – will this program be effective? I can find myself nodding my head in a ‘No’ not because I don’t trust the plan but because I don’t trust the implementation process.

First, this plan does not consider the limitations of the inputs or change agents (in this case, the teachers). The new way of teaching demands the teachers to be more creative and flexible. In a two-hour period, it is the responsibility of the teachers to make the class interesting by not just focusing on the lectures but also making the subject more participative and interesting. It can be through the introduction of games, use of stories or audio-visual materials. But not all teachers who are the masters of a particular subject know how to be creative with the delivery. Aren’t we the ones who learnt in the old ways of teaching? So how can someone expect the teachers to suddenly come up with new alarming techniques to hold the fleeting attention of students? While much is being expected from the teachers, effort is not being put into the training and development of those concerned ones who will actually play a major role in the delivery and success of the plan. 

Second, this plan does not consider the basic characteristics and preference of the recipients of output. For example, I know I should be reading extra books to acquire more knowledge that will help me succeed in my career. Instead, my natural instinct prefers to go out on a movie with a group of friends. There is always a gap between what we want to do and what we ought to do. Considering the age of students majority of them will prefer to do what they want to do rather than what they ought to do. This does not mean they are bad students. It's just that human brains are wired to seek for pleasure and instant gratification. The program focuses too much on what the students ought to do - read more books, do more field visits, engage in more thought-provoking discussions and give more presentations. But what about what the majority of students want to do? Thus, telling them plainly that getting better grades will help you become more successful in life is just not done. What can be the innovative ways to motivate the students to actually work out of their love for doing what they're doing rather than as an obligation to fulfill the college requirement? It is because as long as the attitude of the students are not changed rules are not going to help in bringing real change at all. To attain the intended results one must think creatively to motivate the students. Of course, trust is essential. We trust the students to do their best. But then, it's human nature to find an easy way out. How could the same program be designed in such a way to make the students more excited about and committed towards it?

Third, the motivation part of the change agents are completely ignored. Not every teacher is a social worker who wants to make a big difference in the lives of students. Most are teaching for the sake of earning a living. A lot is expected out of the teachers. If a student is not original, then make him/her repeat his work and presentation. But at what cost? Doesn’t repetition mean additional burden not just for the students but also for the teachers? As a part-time teacher, why should I come on a Saturday to re-evaluate uninterested students at my own time and expense? Of course, I want to make a difference in the lives of people and do a good job. But not this way, not here. I would give my time and attention to the ones willing to learn but definitely not waste my effort coaxing an uninterested student. So where is the monetary motivation that would inspire me or any other teacher to give extra effort? I'm just thinking this from the perspective of an economist. Wouldn’t I rather go to an oldage home or an orphanage where the recipient of my service is much happier by my presence instead of the student who resents me making him/her repeat his/her project?

Every great project starts with a great plan, a vision. But in order to achieve the vision one needs to take proper steps and use the right techniques to get there. I have full respect and support for the plan my college management has come up with. However, it fails to consider the characteristics and capabilities of the inputs. It fails to consider basic human psychology and the factors regarding motivation. Any plan cannot be executed unless the tools of execution are in right order and right place. Also people seem to totally ignore that it is humans who make all the difference. I wish the plans of my college management would succeed. But before that wish comes true, I'm yet to see people understanding the importance of developing and motivating the change agents who actually help in making the plans turn into a reality.

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