Business of Education

Education dates back to the very first humans ever to inhabit Earth. Why? To survive, every generation has found it necessary to pass on its accumulated knowledge, skills, values, and traditions to the next generation. How can they do this? Education! Each subsequent generation must be taught these things. Stretching the idea wider, even animals educate their off springs in matters of safety, food-gathering and survival in some ways.

Education is a Human Right and ‘Education in human rights’ is itself a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education. Right to education entails

  1. Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal
  2. Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free and
  3. Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free.

The Right to Education Act 2009 describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. Compulsory means no child can refuse to be educated.

This act has made education a fundamental right for every child. Delivery of Fundamental Rights would not be a business even if the government were to entrust it to any of its instrumentality, agency or authority.

Any business has customers who have the right to accept or reject the products or services offered to them by the business entity. By this definition, at least education for children aged between 6-14 years cannot be a business.

The history of formal education extends at least as far back as the first written records recovered from ancient civilizations. India had the good fortune of having institutions of Higher Education, Takshshila and Nalanda, even before the 5th century B.C. Education in India was always focussed on careers – Scriptures for Brahmins, battle-science and governance for Kshatriyas, and crafts for others. The Muslim invaders and the Christian Missionaries influenced the education system to a large extent, former using force while the latter using demonstration. Macaulay destroyed the system nearly fully though Swamy Dayanand and his contemporaries tried to preserve it.

Horace Mann, credited with creating the foundation of American modern public education system, saw that the industrializing world demanded different skills than its agricultural predecessor. He prioritizes certain aspects over others. For example, lumping students into groups rather than treating them as individuals. This made “education” much easier, even if it did nothing for the individual student who didn’t adapt well to this new system. It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to be emulated in India to this day:

  • Schools focus on respecting authority
  • Schools focus on punctuality
  • Schools focus on measurement
  • Schools focus on basic literacy
  • Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended moulding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

The higher education institutions are plagued by the erosion of academic integrity, corrosion of standards in the curriculum, the oversimplification of admission standards without understanding the importance of true preparation for higher education, and the rise of economic self-interest in both institutions and faculty, places the teaching of classes much lower on their priority.

Even the school education is equally diseased. Government schools face a social burden placed on them by poverty and hopelessness. Troubled children carry the ills of their homes and neighbourhoods into their classrooms every day. In many schools, teachers must feed the bodies and souls of their students before they can even begin to feed their minds. These schools face inflexible bureaucracies, inane regulations, and incompetent administrators and their teachers being called upon to run every chore for the government outside the school other than teaching in the school. High school drop-out rates and students whose performance on maths and science tests puts them at or near the very bottom of their cohorts elsewhere in the world.

It is this set of facts that has provided legitimacy to the private enterprise in education and has sparked business-of-education initiatives.

The business-of-education thrives on the logic: If you can compete, you will be hired for a job. If you are hired, your virtuous habits would eventually lead to your promotion. As promotions accumulate, your pay increases and eventually you reach financial comfort. Or perhaps even significant wealth!

Is this logic responsible for accelerating the acceptance of education as business?

*****

First published 02 Aug 2021

***

“Likes” “Follows” “Shares” and “Comments” are welcome.

We hope to see energetic, constructive and thought provoking conversations. To ensure the quality of the discussion, we may edit the comments for clarity, length, and relevance. Kindly do not force us to delete your comments by making them overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic.

**

If Managers desire to be respected, they must first make their work virtuous

Every discipline or profession has its own self-glorifying vocabulary. It is how its proponents justify themselves, sell themselves, and think of themselves and what they do.

Professors arrogantly celebrate what they do in the noble semantics of truth and knowledge even when they spend most of their time and energy battling one another for position in superbly trivial but venomous campus politics and plagiarising to publish to escape perishing. But who would question their commitment to the truth, to illuminating young minds, and to protecting the values of civilization?

Politicians spread out in the concept of public service even while they pursue personal power and abuse the fears and prejudices of their voters. But who would question their virtue of devoting oneself to public service and public welfare?

Eminent ethical doctors feel terribly upset that the doctors, long known as saviours, play a key role in promoting kickbacks and bribes that oil every part of the healthcare machinery. Who would question the value of human life and well-being and Doctors as the angel-guardians who heal and save lives, an undeniably noble cause?

In the case of business, however, the language of self-description is hardly noble or self-glorifying. The simple phrase ‘the bottom line’ and the vulgar verb ‘making money’ summarize a one-dimensional image of business that is disgracefully uncomplimentary and, in the public perception, extremely negative.

We can readily understand why we should applaud people who devote themselves to public service, or search for truth and knowledge or cure illness and save lives. It is not so easy to understand why we should cheer for those who, as they themselves seem to claim, are out only for material gain for themselves. In many ways, business is an exemplary human activity, involving as it does mutual attention to needs, desires and demands, creative and productive activity, face-to-face negotiation, acknowledgment of certain rules of fair play, and the importance of trust and keeping one’s word. When we talk about business as something less than fully human, or as degrading, then these virtues and concerns are lost from view and may even seem irrelevant. There is more than enough cynicism in the world about the callous attitudes in business. We reveal ourselves in the metaphors we choose. The business world is heavily influenced by images and metaphors that shape the strategies, structures and processes of organizations.

Robert C. Solomon (A Better Way to Think About Business: How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) lists some common metaphors used by business that he considers inappropriate to think about business.

Again and again we hear business described as a jungle, a fight for survival, a dog-eat-dog world, a game defined by its so-called winners and losers. “It’s a jungle out there” is one of the most pervasive metaphors that brings into business the classical Darwinian view of the survival of the fittest where the rule is kill or be killed. But this metaphor is grounded on fundamentally wrong scientific premises. Evolutionary systems theory shows that cooperation is an essential strategy in nature, and the jungle metaphor completely ignores this fact. Of course, some of the animal metaphors are charming: A nice boss is a “teddy bear” and a tough negotiator is a “tiger,” but most of them are demeaning. Employees, executives, and competitors are described as snakes in the grass, rats and a wide variety of other rodents, and insects and arachnids. Corporations in turn are described as fish tanks, shark-infested waters, and snake pits, as well as the botanical image of the jungle.

Closely related to the jungle metaphor is the conception of business as war and the marketplace as the battlefield. War, a familiar metaphor in so many corporate boardrooms (“the war room”), conjures up more bloody imagery than Darwinian Theory. The war metaphor feeds on our collective insecurity. Few of us as individuals would initiate a violent conflict.

Self-proclaimed realists will tell you that the world is a rough place, that life is unfair, and that only the ruthless survive. But what they call “real” is only the projection of their own bad faith. Why are hostile takeovers considered good business, whereas taking care of employees is considered soft-hearted and un-business-like? Military metaphors are intrinsically nationalistic, alarmist, pessimistic, conservative, and authoritarian. This has grim implications for the mental health of a productive organization. Paranoia is not usually conducive to creativity or competitiveness.

Just as every discipline has its own self-glorifying vocabulary, it also has its heroes, its role models, those who are admired from afar, looked up to and emulated. University professors sing the praises of Socrates, Newton, Einstein, Vishwamitra, Tagore, Ramanujam and Raman. But in popular culture and films, managers are stereotyped as masculine, selfish, mercenary, conscienceless, greedy, fixers, or out an out idiots. In business, we have a cascade of best-selling books lauding the management secrets of Attila the Hun (a major tribal military ruler in 5th-century Europe, best known for his savage fighting) and Machiavelli (connotes political deceit, deviousness, sneaky, cunning, and lacking a moral code). They are full of enthusiasm for “Sun-Tzu” (the art of war), but they neglect his compatriots Confucius and Kautilya, who know the real “secret” of Asian prosperity: virtue, integrity, and a real sense of community. Now, what does all this say of a civilized modern executive that he should take such characters as a guide to business strategy? And what does it say about business, that it honours such “heroes”?

Less violent but as dehumanizing as the jungle and war metaphors is the idea of business as a money-making machine. The machine metaphor transforms everything human into something cold and mechanical. Emotions, affections, and relationships disappear, to be replaced by mere causes and effects. Corporations are no longer to be identified with the people and personalities that make them up but with the system in which people are replaceable parts and in which personality serves as a lubricant or as grist and inefficiency. The business world as a whole ceases to become a matter of human aspiration and is reduced to market mechanisms. The notion of “reengineering,” for example, captures in a word what is wrong with so much of our current thinking about business. Employees and managers are, after all, “human resources,” to be replenished as needed. Do we expect the carburettor to be loyal to the engine? And what does the engine owe to the carburettor in return?

The sad truth is that the image of materialistic selfishness easily eclipses the many virtues of business and people in business, their dedication to their work and their companies, their surprising selflessness in facing the job to be done, their pride in their products and services, and their relationships with colleagues and customers. People do not just serve purposes; they first of all have purposes and personalities of their own. It is the “art of the deal” that gets celebrated, not the production and distribution of quality (even lifesaving) goods and services. It is the windfall profit, the “killing” in the market, the outfoxing of the competition, the cost-cutting and axe-to-the-max downsizing that make reputations and headlines, not the routine addition of jobs, the satisfaction of jobs well done, the camaraderie within the corporation, the unpaid (but not unrewarded) compensations of integrity.

Competition is extremely valuable and often necessary in business, but it is not as such the purpose or goal of business life. There is healthy competition, and there is sick, debilitating, depraved competition. There is constructive, positive, even inspiring competition, and there is mutually destructive, negative, inhibiting competition. War and jungle metaphors give us the latter, along with all zero-sum games whose point is to punch out your opponent, debilitate the competition, and win at his or her expense. Business competition, by contrast, offers us the best example of the former, in which competition serves as a spur to one’s own excellence and productivity. It provides incentives to improve, creating new heroes, ideals, and possibilities.

How we do business, and what business does to us, has everything to do with how we think about business, talk about business, conceive of business, practice business. If we think, talk, conceive, and practice business as a ruthless, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog activity, then that, of course, is what it will become. And so, too, it is what we will become, no matter how often, in our off hours and personal lives, we insist otherwise.

If, on the other hand, business is conceived, as it has often been conceived, as an enterprise based on trust and mutual benefits, an enterprise for civilized, virtuous people, then that, in turn, will be equally self-fulfilling. It will also be much more amiable, secure, enjoyable, and, last but not least, profitable.

Unless we transcend the dominator paradigm (to control, govern, or rule by superior authority or power), which seems to permeate the thinking and actions of people in Western civilizations, it will be difficult to come up with alternative metaphors and new visions like ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् the world is one family)’ to guide the evolution of the business world and the emergence of evolutionary corporations. Let us be reminded of Trimurti or Trideva (त्रिमूर्ति trimūrti, “three forms” or “trinity”), the triple deity of supreme divinity in Hinduism, in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified as a triad of deities, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Let us not forget that the Supreme-Manager is Bhagwan Vishnu and let us draw out the symbolic and inner meaning of each of His incarnations (https://www.amrita.edu/news/inner-significance-dashavatars).

*****

First Published 28 Jul 21

***

“Likes” “Follows” “Shares” and “Comments” are welcome.

We hope to see energetic, constructive and thought provoking conversations. To ensure the quality of the discussion, we may edit the comments for clarity, length, and relevance. Kindly do not force us to delete your comments by making them overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic.

Globalisation: Did We Stretch It Too Far?

Globalisation refers to the integration of markets in the global economy, leading to the increased interconnectedness of national economies.  Markets where globalisation is particularly significant include financial markets, such as capital markets, money and credit markets, and insurance markets, commodity markets, including markets for oil, coffee, tin, and gold, and product markets, such as markets for motor vehicles and consumer electronics. Interconnectedness has also created inter-dependencies. The globalisation of language, media, information, attire, culture, food, sport, entertainment, taboos, behaviour and styles of human interaction is also a feature of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

After years of hedging or discounting the malign effects of free trade, it is time to face facts: globalisation caused job losses and depressed wages, and the usual remedies – such as instructing affected populations to accept the new reality – aren’t going to work. Unless something changed, the political consequences were likely to get worse.

It was only a few decades ago that globalisation was held by many, even by some critics, to be an inevitable, unstoppable force. “Rejecting globalisation,” the American journalist George Packer has written, “was like rejecting the sunrise.”

The decline and fall of the Soviet Union came about not because of any lack of its military might. Rather, it imploded because the West, and specifically the United States, used freedom of thought, capitalism and the enormous power of the free market to marginalize, reduce, and collapse the Soviet Union. They simply couldn’t compete on any level with the West. From technology to the quality of life provided for its people, the Soviet Union became a nation without a future. United States has since then been leading a uni-polar world. The US dominance spread far and wide but did not see any interdependence.

China learnt from the Soviet collapse and decided to pursue the goal of global dominance, and become the second of the bi-pole. The first action was managing its domestic affairs. China imposed unprecedented restrictions on its citizens while introducing its version of state-capitalism. This combined thought control with billions in international trade that, in turn, has funded a growing and potent military armed with nuclear weapons. For China’s leadership, however, that is still not enough. The United States continues to dominate the 21st century.

Trump was the first US President to acknowledge that globalisation had resulted into hundreds of billions in investment, manufacturing, jobs, and entire factories leaving the United States for China. This created consternation, alarm and quite a bit of anger in Beijing, which had not expected America ever to acknowledge that China benefitted due to US policies and thought. China quickly recognised that if the U.S. continued to demand economic reciprocity, China could easily lose its ability to claim solo superpower status for the remaining decades of the 21st century.

It is not certain that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, actually said, “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” but if he didn’t, he certainly thought it, and if still around would like to claim that foresight as his own. China’s leaders have long believed that America’s unsustainable trade imbalance with China is that rope. US have given its technology, its funds and its markets to China and China now has the rope round the US neck. And this has not happen for the first time. Eighty years ago, it was Hitler and Pearl Harbour, and more recently 9/11. US have been attacked using US technology and US funds.

The interconnectedness of the globe and integration of the global-supply-chain of the contagion has been demonstrated by the pan-world spread of Sars-Cov2 virus within a few weeks. Can one ask for any higher efficiency of exchange?

The entire World in general and the US in particular need to revisit the idea of globalisation and reorient it to interconnectedness of national economies minus the public welfare including but not limited to food-safety, national defence, healthcare and national-leadership. Dilution of nation-state which has taken place over the last 3-decades has to make way for a renewed sense of patriotism that will protect our nation today and far into the future. SWAADHYAAY, SWADESHI and SWAAVALAMBAN are the mantras which were never obsolete but forgotten in the allure of ‘wealth-creation’ for ‘shareholders.’

 

(First published on 09 May 2020 on LinkedIn)

——————————

“Likes” “Follows” “Shares” and “Comments” welcome.

To ensure the quality of the discussion, comments may be edited for clarity, length, and relevance. Comments that are overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic may be deleted.

Adept at Adapting UFE: A Crucial Skill

May be about 250 years old, formal employment in private enterprises is relatively a younger phenomenon. Following a slow period of proto-industrialization, the first industrial revolution spans from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. It witnessed the emergence of mechanization, a process that replaced agriculture with industry as the foundations of the economic structure of society. Mass extraction of coal along with the invention of the steam engine created a new type of energy that pushed forward all processes thanks to the development of railroads and the acceleration of economic, human and material exchanges. Other major inventions such as forging and new know-how in metal shaping gradually drew up the blueprints for the first factories and cities as we know them today. Industrialization created formal employment.

Barring very few jobs requiring very lofty proficiency and knowledge, most jobs have been created not through any need for an exclusive domain-expertise but as a requirement for an amalgam of multiple skills. Most of these jobs do not have any underlying founding discipline. These jobs have tended to attract people who could not succeed in their field of preferred proficiency by being too applied and/or too heterodox and/or simply not good.

This is the context that could possibly explain the subsequent success of vocational schools and business schools.

A key reason could be that vocational and business education has gradually served as a creator of “universal function expertise” (UFE) and “universal function technology” (UFT). For example, internet are technologies/innovations that have multiple applications and are scalable (consider FaceBook or Amazon algorithms). Vocational and business education imparted knowledge and skills which in part share these characteristics of UFE.

Vocational Schools kept improving in numerous ways adding new materials to their curriculum and focussing on emerging processes and tools. Business schools themselves kept improving drawing on their disciplinary foundations of economics, sociology, psychology and quantitative methods while increasingly aiming to adapt to business reality and develop and improve new theories for their own purposes.

Things have actually been slightly more nuanced than the mere focus of education on relevance and usefulness; but they are however not going to be always so good. Vocational and business educators have succeeded only when they have focussed on teaching, engagement, relevance and impact; otherwise they have simply fallen by the wayside.

The World Development Report 2019, of which a draft has now been placed in the public domain, is focussing on ‘The Changing Nature of Work’ and contains some uncomfortable truths.

It is true that in some advanced economies and middle-income countries manufacturing jobs are being lost to automation. Workers involved in routine tasks that can be “coded to machine language” are most vulnerable to replacement. However, technology provides opportunities to create new jobs, increase productivity, and deliver effective public services. Through innovation, technology generates new sectors or tasks. The forces of automation and innovation will shape employment in the future.

Innovations are changing the basis of competition in many markets. This is also changing the business-critical roles — jobs which enable businesses to be differentiated for their competitors and deliver success while executing the business strategy. Businesses will be forced to rethink the talent they will need to play these business-critical roles in the future.

Investing in human capital is the priority to make the most of this evolving economic opportunity. For individuals already in jobs, the implications are huge. If these changes are to take place in less than a decade, the challenge for the people in jobs would be to remain relevant through and after such changes.

Complex economic environment, rising social expectations and fluctuating ideological shifts, technological advances and personal aspirations; and it’s clear that individuals are hard-pressed to structure a coherent formula to address all of this.

Factors such as immigration and neo-protectionist policies by governments are going to contribute to the confusion. And so would increasing supply and competition from numerous sources including new national markets and alternative providers. The question whether competition harms or helps expand the market remains an open one.

Inclusion of ethics, governance and sustainability–related issues in the knowledge-skills-expertise triad will be in focus. These issues would still follow rather than lead business strategy. Dealing with social and economic sustainability requires a focus on ethics and morality –this can come from philosophy. The influence of philosophy and epistemology on business and vocational studies has so far been minimal. Antitrust action requires incorporating law. Law and economics have found applications in the corporate governance debate but here, too, managers mostly followed the economists’ emphasis on shareholder value. Things are changing, but slowly. Incorporating law into ones knowledge-skills-expertise can help. The same applies to politics. The current power of big tech is much more than market power — it has morphed into political power. It is important that power becomes a major subject in managerial skills — hence politics and geo-politics as well.

Three types of skills are increasingly important in labour markets: advanced cognitive skills (such as complex problem-solving), socio-behavioural skills (like team work), and skill-combinations that are predictive of adaptability (e.g., reasoning, self-efficacy). An appreciation of liberal arts, philosophy, economics and sociology will help people become adept at adaptability and help them succeed.

People with necessary skills for the World during and past 4.0 waves would come from the existing workforce only. For the talented from amongst those of the 3.0 era, the way forward for remaining relevant is by becoming proficient at acclimatising their UFE to the transforming changes.

_______________

“Likes” “Follows” “Shares” and “Comments” welcome.

To ensure the quality of the discussion, comments may be edited for clarity, length, and relevance. Comments that are overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic may be deleted.

Take a PAUSE ! THINK !!

Profitability of business is associated with the efficiency of deployment of an input-mix comprising of – Machines, Manpower, Materials, Methods, and Money.  The era of increasing the component of Manpower in this heady mix is long gone and the emphasis has been on reducing the Manpower to a LEAN extent possible. Technology (Methods) makes labour a commodity-input that can be contracted as easily as any other. The shifts from outsourcing to ‘Uber’isation have been largely driven by the corporate imperative to create shareholder value, and under our current conditions, creating shareholder value and creating good jobs are largely incompatible. Corporations are “job creators” only as a last resort.

Out there is a sea of humanity, which more than anything in the world, wants a regular job with a wage. Jobs provide income, inclusion, confidence, comfort, security, a meaning to life and are a source of engagement that keeps people busy. Good jobs are essential to the good life. Yet good jobs are a minority and India needs lots of them.

Jobs and wages have to be at the heart of all economic growth. Growth without increase in jobs could trigger the rise of anti-nationalism, populism, crime, fanaticism or civil-unrest. Neither a Socialist nor a Capitalist approach to economic management can overcome the threats and consequences of job-less growth.

Technology is not destiny; nor is globalisation. Their direction is not random but shaped by decisions made by firms, governments and individuals. In other words, there is a choice, and it is up to leaders of governments, corporations and civil institutions to shape it in ways that will benefit ordinary citizens as well as themselves – or, as we have seen, ordinary citizens will do it for them.

———