My favourite part about speaking at design schools is the opportunity to interact with students across the country. It has also helped me understand what makes Indians the most diligent students, in comparison to their international counterparts. This meticulousness bleeds into their work ethic as well. It’s no surprise that a growing number of them that are comfortably taking up leadership roles globally. In fact, a lot of them unlock their true potential only when they head overseas. As a recruiter, I wonder how we can shape our curriculum and workspaces to give them the same environment that allows them to excel in India too.
Our current traditional approach towards education already commands some solid merits. A large part of the commitment Indians bring to a team can be attributed to our rigorous education system. Most colleges here continue to offer structured programmes, in contrast to the flexible ones offered in say, US colleges. Being able to excel within the constraints of the conventional classroom format equips them with skills like better adaptability to different work environments. According to a Steelcase survey, Indians were reported to be the most satisfied with their work environment, with 73% reporting that it made them feel ‘relaxed and calm’. This stems from a culture of gratitude and discipline that is ingrained in us right from school through college.
Another strong point of the Indian education system is our focus on precision. We’re trained for critical thinking by being nudged to seek the right answers. This is vastly different from the American system which doesn’t just encourage students to find answers, but also ask the right questions. When put into this kind of an environment, Indians thrive. The growing number of Indians in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field globally is a testament to that.
I do understand why more Indians are drawn to pursuing higher studies abroad. It’s not just the exposure that most students crave from a global ecosystem. It’s also the flexibility that most international institutions allow. Right from the application process to the selection of the course, most US and UK universities empower their students with choice. Students are encouraged to pick a major they’re most invested in personally. This personal connection to the subject leads to a culture of curiosity and research, while building on one’s unique abilities. A few Indian colleges such as the Srishti Institute are starting to offer this freedom – I expect the trend to catch up across the country.
A key trait that gives the American education system an edge over ours is the future-centric course material. I believe that can be easily incorporated within the Indian ecosystem. Many design institutions in India are now working towards evolving in real time and making the learning process more fine-tuned to the requirements of the market.
Besides focusing on the major, American students are also encouraged to view their education as a holistic process. This means the ancillaries around the main subject are also honed. This is possible because the prime aim is not to get grades, but to actually learn. Meanwhile, in India, we’re still living in an environment where grades are treated as a gateway to better opportunities.
This airtight approach will have to give way to a more evolved one which yields well-rounded individuals prepared for the challenges of the real world – especially a workplace. I noticed this difference when a Singapore national joined JTCPL Designs for an internship programme. The initiative, passion and enthusiasm he brought to the team made him one of our most pro-active members. Besides, his skills extended beyond just design knowledge, which is why we didn’t have to spend much time in training him to bridge the gap between his college education and workplace requirements. In India, the onus of this is still carried by the hiring companies who have to invest in ‘soft skills’ programmes as part of their induction.
The Indian attitude of adjusting and conformity turns out to be a vital asset when working in a multinational team. But teams are now moving towards exploring individual strengths and unique abilities rather than expecting members to simply comply. It’s a positive movement that I hope the Indian education system evolves to incorporate into its curriculum. Discipline and precision are great. But they generate the best results only when we can apply them to doing what we alone can do best.
I think the best approach we can aim for is the one suggested by celebrated educationist Sir Ken Robinson. We have to move from the mechanical methods of teaching to a more individualistic one – where a person’s distinctive skills can be honed, rather than developing a standardised character for a batch. As Robinson puts it, “human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”