Education

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Samik Das
Staying Ahead of the Curve

Entrepreneurship education should be the outcome of an urge to manifest such perfection in the learners. An urge to manifest what is innate in mankind, to achieve inner satisfaction.

From a very young age we allow learners to use colours and tools in order to give shape to their imagination. We try to create an environment at home and in school that supports and nurtures imagination, encouraging creativity. As time passes, the learner is guided to excel in what the curriculum and the assessment boards want rather than what his or her mind is craving for.

The need for such an approach to education is strongly felt when it comes to university admissions and is implemented with a success rate measured in per cent and grades. However, there continues to be a need to let imaginations grow and manifest themselves, to let creativity find acceptance and success; a need at the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy. Schools provide opportunities for this through courses like music, art and dramatics etc. in order to cultivate their student’s creative faculties and let them grow. These are important and are extremely helpful for learners in acquiring 21st century schools, but are not so highly regarded by many universities or parents; they are not academic enough and are sometimes pushed to the sidelines of co-curricular.

Therefore, as institutions, schools themselves need to be more creative and offer opportunities for scholarly learning that exercises the imagination. In the process of designing a curriculum (not the same as delivering the syllabus for an assessment board) we keep revisiting such ‘bucket of learning opportunities’ to include what is contemporary and likely to add value and throw out anything that has lost its importance or place in time.

Talking about creativity in today’s context, when ‘startup’ has become a buzzword, entrepreneurship should not be far away from what we are doing in the classroom. Curriculum developers across the globe are incorporating learning from business, economics and behavioural psychology in school curriculum. What if such learning could be verified, tested and applied by students in a laboratory? What if we could imagine and implement a clinical approach to the study of business management, economics and commerce? With almost a third of our students joining university to study economics, management and business, it is an important area for development. Maybe such a laboratory that focused on the design thinking and creativity around these subject areas would become an Entrepreneurial Hub

We have examples of such real-life hubs in the form of ‘Playgound’ situated in Silicon Valley, which brings human and financial capital under one roof. Ajay Madhok, founder of such a hub in Silicon Valley (see his Welcome to the Future interview with Prannoy Roy), believes that while financial capital was scarce at one point of time, it is the talent capital that is scarce. Playground is a shared place where young entrepreneurs collaborate, learn and implement great creative ideas to solve some of the world’s wicked problems. There are more examples of such forums in the form of The Common in Auckland, The HHL Spin Lab in Leipzig and Startup India.

As economies around the world realise the importance of creating environments that support innovative ideas, schools cannot afford to be lagging behind. At The Doon School, Dehradun, we have a society of boys and teachers called Business Club which is our attempt to stay ahead of the curve

Business Club was founded in 2008 with the aim of supporting and nurturing learning through business principles, case studies and contemporary business news. This club, as any club should be, is a voluntary association for the students to participate in discussions and activities planned by them and the teachers. A large number of students from all the age groups show a great deal of enthusiasm about the club. This could be because many students came to Doon from families running their own businesses, so they find such activities relevant and they can connect and contribute well. This will not be unique to Doon, and as is often the case, if students are allowed to contribute, they bring more to the table than we imagine and a club doesn’t need to be confined to the syllabus. We also bring in a regular stream of guest speakers for the boys to listen to and question so that their real world learning comes straight from the horse’s mouth.

As always seems to be the case in business, we soon realised the need to scale up the project and we introduced the Young Entrepreneurship Conference in 2012. It was a conference in which many schools from different parts of the country participated to delve into the concept of entrepreneurship in school. Conference participants take part in various activities designed keeping in mind contemporary business issues. In 2017 our 5th Young Entrepreneurs’ Conference consisted of three activities; a board meeting simulation, an effective problem-solving round and, perhaps the most essential component, a pitching session.

The first activity was based on the proposed merger between two giants in the Eyewear Industry – Luxxotica and Essilor. The apparent formation of an exploitative monopoly was discussion point and it was fascinating to hold simulated board meetings of the two concerned companies. There were two separate meetings of the two companies followed by the final joint meeting. This was essentially testing the impromptu thinking skills of the participants along with their business acumen. The first meeting saw plans and strategies being drawn up by the participants to take to the joint meeting. The debate in the first session revolved around each company developing the terms for the merger. The participants drew up draft agreements to be taken forward to the next meeting and examined them carefully in the joint meeting to agree upon a deal. After intense debate and hastily drawn up documentation, the merger was struck and Luxxotica and Essilor were merged.

In the Effective Problem Solving round each team received a detailed problem that had recently plagued the corporate world. The participants were required to come up with solutions to these problems. With ingenuity being the crux of entrepreneurship, this activity was quite successful in stimulating innovative thinking skills. The case studies included Google firing James Damore over the sexist memo, the unavoidable question of the Indian e-commerce market and the possible survival of Snapdeal in the cut-throat competitive environment of India. The participants presented their solutions and interpretations to these problems; the motto being ‘don’t go for the obvious answer!’

The final activity of the conference was the much-awaited pitching session. The judges were entrepreneurs themselves and were open to the possibility of an actual investment. Almost all teams put up authentic products, which received encouragement from the judges. There were several innovative products such as the ‘Coil’ – a hair brush with an inbuilt oil dispenser and massager. The ‘Safety Sole’ – a sophisticated personal safety product that allowed a person to make a figure-ofeight with their foot when in trouble to notify the nearest police station. We also saw hypothetical products such as Bitcoin currency and irrigation trays. Although the Bitcoin currency proved to be impractical, the irrigation trays intrigued many and were viewed as possible future projects. The pitching session turned out to be the highlight of the conference.

"Entrepreneurship is not about what’s on the syllabus; that’s already out of date! Samik has articulated what we are trying to do at The Doon School to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to business, management and economic education. Let’s not think about this as another course or textbook, let’s adopt the playground, hub or business club concept as a way of life. The world for which we are educating and preparing our students, to the extent that it is known, will always need the imagination, creativity and enthusiasm that is encapsulated in the entrepreneurial spirit.” - Matthew Raggett, Headmaster, The Doon School

In the 2018 edition of the conference we had staged a meeting with the Finance Minister. This activity involved assigning various companies’ portfolios to participants and asking them to pitch their concerns related to GST to the government. Participants had to research the impacts of GST on their respective firms and pitch a collaborative resolution for reforms to the government. This activity tested the participants’ collaborative and diplomatic skills, which are extremely significant in the corporate world.

The second activity was based on the creation of an advertisement that challenged the delegates to intelligently design for a product given to them, keeping in mind marketing techniques that influence consumer psyche. They were required to design a poster (digital or hand crafted) and to use audio visual aids to market the product to a panel of judges while explaining the reasoning behind the design choices, colour schemes, catchphrases etc. The activity helped to develop an understanding of the needs, methods and impact that advertising has on the sale of a product. We kept the pitch for the third activity.

These activities above helped to bring a number of students together and find meaning and relevance to the knowledge they acquire through classroom discourse. It got scaled up from intra school to inter-school.

Sir Ken Robinson (British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education and arts bodies) opined in his Ted Talk that ‘schools kill creativity’. I wonder, should we not think differently? ‘The batch system of production’ model was adopted for education two centuries ago. It has helped to create executives for the world consisting of simple to complex mechanics and labour, but for a world with autonomous robots, intelligent assistants, human machine convergence and such technological advancements pushes us to think differently. Maybe we will have startup hubs in school to supplement learning for the next generation. Maybe creativity and imagination will find context and inspiration though an educational eco-system that will encourage risk taking, enterprise and the resilience required to keep going when things don’t go your way.

 

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