Skill India: It’s Not about Few Acres of Land but Many Acres of Grey Matter

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By Rajiv Tewari, Founder MediaNetwork.net.in for CharityWorld.com.  Based on a conversation with Prof Ramola Kumar, Co-founder & Dean of The Delhi School of Communication (DSC). Full introduction of Prof Kumar has been shared towards the end of this article.

“Skill based education is not about land & infrastructure, but about developing many acres of grey matter”, says Prof Ramola Kumar. The current system of monitoring the quality of education, based on infrastructure and land, may be a handicap for those who have smaller facilities but are genuinely engaged in providing quality education, thereby making a contribution, howsoever small it may be. There are many examples of dedicated educationists doing a good job with minimum infrastructure in India. It may be a good idea to provide infrastructural support to the smaller institutes so that they can scale up to create capacities.

“There is no doubt about the power of the Skill India’s vision but to execute it on national level, it requires entrepreneurial support as even the government has acknowledged the need for aligning with  a large number of institutes to cover such a large population. Matching the powerful Skill India vision with entrepreneurial talent, so rich in India, would take a leap into the future at the national level given the flexibility with regard to resource availability, its management and its delivery,” said Prof Ramola Kumar.

The story of DSC provides interesting insights into how the Edu-entrepreneurs can achieve success in-spite of the constraints. It also provides an insight into how a lot more can be done by supporting quality educational institutes which in return can scale up quickly to catalyse the desired change.

Power of the vision
Prof Ramola Kumar, along with Late. Prof. Surojit Lahiri, after a long and successful innings in the mainline education system, decided to depart from the traditional ways of teaching by replacing it with a learn – do -learn methodology. Their team designed a totally off beat course that required the students to be at the campus for half day and use the second half for working in an organization. A new syllabus was created and the concept seemed to make a lot of sense to Ramola, but, there were very few takers outside of the core team. Most felt comfortable with the old system of largely class room driven learning. Convincing the first batch of students for a skill based diploma was even tougher as India is largely a degree driven market.  To make the matters worse, the founders were severely constrained on funds too.

Solutions began to emerge from the power of the vision. Ramola & her co-founders reached out to a large number of industry leaders, parents and students to share their vision for The Delhi School of Communication (DSC). There is an old saying that “The Moment One Definitely Commits Oneself, Then Providence Moves Too.” The commitment to the vision began to attract support from totally unexpected quarters.  Principal of a renowned school offered to rent out class rooms after school hours.  A media organization agreed to take in the first batch to work with them on a half day basis. Several students & their parents who were taught by Prof Ramola & Prof Surojit Lahiri began to recommend DSC to their friends & relatives. This gradually gained momentum and DSC was started with a small batch of 25 students in 1995.
Personal commitment & accountability
Education should have economic sustainability but its prime objective is to benefit the society by nurturing the students to be better human beings and by increasing their chances of employability. Edu-entrepreneurship is about taking personal responsibility. It’s about personal accountability. This is one of the main reasons why several Edu-entrepreneurs have succeeded with meagre resources and felt highly satisfied, at the personal front too. This simply means that an Edu-entrepreneur would have to be a change agent with a long term commitment as management of change may need a long gestation period. Enormous patience and perseverance driven by passion is the key to success. The most important part is to accept accountability for placement of students, industry reputation and delivery of quality learning in the class rooms.  After all it’s about delivering the brand promise.

Creativity is the key

National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has developed excellent processes to monitor the quality of output while giving a lot of freedom to its partners on the delivery part. According to Ramola, this has given a lot of freedom to use creativity and innovative thinking in delivering knowledge in a simple, applied & effective manner.   In spite of its small infrastructure, DSC has succeeded due to the freedom to innovate and because of keeping critical knowledge benchmarks in place. Imagine what can happen on a larger scale if the Government identifies and supports edu-entrepreneurs like Prof Ramola Kumar by offering required infrastructural support with a reasonable return on investment.

Garnering industry support
Edu-entrepreneurs need to realize that skill based education needs a deeper invovlement from the industry practitioners from the selection stage till the students step out of the campus. This is also very important for placement of students otherwise the institute would only be handing out certificates which may not increase the employability chances of their students.  When DSC was started the founders had met a very large number of industry leaders but the flow of negative responses seemed unending.  Finally after several months of efforts, the Indian Express Newspapers agreed to take the first batch. By the end of the first year support from many other organizations began to trickle in.  Industry needs quality manpower and it’s a concern area for them too, but then the industry is driven by bottom lines so unless there is concrete proof of talent they would not buy in. DSC students need to be credited along with the faculty members and support staff for demonstrating their capabilities in such a powerful way that there was pressure to release the first batch much before the completion of course.

Continuous learning
Continuous learning is the only way to adapt to a fast changing world. Course content as well as the teaching methodology needs to keep pace with the industry. This applies to the curriculum as well as the non-academic areas.  The beginning at DSC was chaotic as neither the industry partners nor the academic team at DSC had a good idea of how to combine theory with practice. Ramola resolved it by inviting the industry gurus to the campus for interaction with the students as well as the faculty members on a regular basis. Academicians had to be counselled on why the practioners needed to be equal partners in shaping the students. Changing mind sets was not easy and the settling in took time and loads of patience. Each student had to be given personal attention for making them industry worthy. This meant intensive grooming in how to communicate a positive attitude that would be welcome in the industry. At DSC, the students are closely monitored with a feedback system from the industry partners so that corrective steps can be taken much before the placements. Quality checks with regard to student evaluation, both at the academic and corporate front, were critical. A delicate balance of theory & practice had to be maintained, continuously.

Government can be a great enabler for edu-entrepreneurs
Government of India has taken a commendable step by providing a collaborative platform to empower all the stakeholders under the Skill India programme… There are several studies indicating that over 80% engineering graduates and over 90% of management graduates are unemployable. This shows that change is required, continuously, in our education system. If we can achieve much better results by supporting  the real Edu-entrepreneurs & Change Agents  who in-spite of all odds have succeeded in providing quality education and who are willing to do so , India can truly become a nation to contend with.

About Prof Ramola Kumar
Prof Ramola Kumar has redefined the entire system of imparting knowledge and skills to the Marketing Communication professionals in India. She has been a pioneer in introducing the concept of learn – do – learn by placing her students for half day in select organizations, after an intensive grooming at the DSC campus. It was not easy to convince the practitioners to allow the students to work like regular employees when the industry practice was to have interns for a couple of months only. Prof Ramola Kumar reached out to the industry leaders for Vidya Daan (Knowledge Charity) by sharing their practical knowledge with the students and helping her to upgrade knowledge based on industry needs.  It took time but gradually many respected names began to patronize the institute’s learning system based on a unique combination of practice and learning. This approach has resulted in a hundred percent placement of the DSC students. from the first batch of 1995 itself.

An academician for over three decades, Prof Ramola Kumar started her career from the Institute of Management Studies. She moved to the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), as a professor, in 1985. She was subsequently promoted as the Chairperson of IMT Delhi centre. During this period, she was actively involved with the Times School of Marketing. It was here that she saw the need for a different approach to teaching marketing communication and the idea of DSC began to germinate in her mind. She finally started DSC with meagre resources and help of some well-wishers in 1995. Today DSC is one of the most respected brands in the area of Marketing Communication in India.

Prof Ramola Kumar is equally committed to helping the underprivileged children. She finds time from her busy schedule to teach the underprivileged children and also works with select NGOs in this area. She has been widely covered in media and is a well-known face on various forums and live TV shows… She has been educated in India, USA & Canada. She completed her MBA from the University of Otawa, Canada and was ranked 4th in the management programme. A proficient poet she has authored 7 poetry  books. A strong believer in the philosophy of Karma, she is watchful of her own performance, daily.

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