A few years ago, I went for a 25th anniversary reunion party of my engineering college class. Along with making fun of how our hair has thinned as our bellies have thickened over these long years, I noticed something interesting. Many of my classmates who were academically brilliant in college, were not doing much with their lives. Conversely, a large number of my friends who were backbenchers seemed to be quite successful with high flying corporate careers or running their own businesses. Those of you who have been for your own school or college reunions may have noticed something similar among your classmates.
Why is that?
Conventional wisdom tells us that students should get high marks in school to get into a good college, then get high marks in college to get offered a good job which will then lead to a successful career. However, considering there is no correlation between a students’ academic achievement and their success in life, it seems this model is fatally flawed.
I have done my Doctorate in Education where my thesisexplored the soft skills needed to build a thriving career. The latest research in this area suggests that students need to develop strong communication skills, solid problem-solving skills, ability to work well with others, a proactive attitude and a professional work ethic if they hope to do well in any work environment. However, the current exam-oriented approach to education does not help develop any of these capabilities. What is needed is an education system that allows colleges to develop and measure these attributes in students on a large scale.
Why are new measures needed?
Numerical measures are a powerful force for changing individual behavior. For example many fitness trackers, like Fitbit, worn by people on their wrists tell them to reach a walking target of 10,000 steps per day. As each step is measured, people make extra efforts to reach this target of 10,000 steps to get the mental satisfaction of achieving their daily goal. Without this measure, they would not be able to track how much they have walked, so they would not have any incentive to walk more than usual. Due to the simple application of this numerical measure, a large number of fitness tracker users have become healthier than those who do not track their fitness levels.
Similarly, there are ways to measure a person’s soft skills via psychometric tests. These aresometimes used corporate HR departments to assess their employee’s capabilities and subsequent development needs. These are conducted through a combination of questionnaires, activities and interviews by a trained expert. The results of these tests give the individual a measure of their current capabilities and suggestions on what needs to be done to improve those capabilities. The company then sees what the gaps are and can provide training accordingly.
Psychometric tests can be similarly used in colleges to measure students on their communication skills, problem solving ability, pro-activeness, team working ability and professionalism, which are the capabilities needed to succeed long term, as mentioned earlier. Colleges can then incorporate modules based on experiential & problem-based learning to develop these capabilities in their students. As students see how they measure up on these soft skills parameters, they will have an incentive to improve these capabilities in themselves to score better the next time around. Colleges need to ensure they measure the improvement in these students’ capabilities every semester so that they have a pathway and this incentive to improve themselves.
Of course, this will require a radical shift in the mindset of Indian colleges as they need to move away from just measuring students’ memory skills in exams to a more holistic approach. However, as the old measurement model does not actively build students for long term career success, it is imperative that progressive institutions start adopting more suitable measures to achieve this.
By AkhilShahani, Managing Director, TheShahani Group